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Say cheese: men who allegedly published thousands of mugshot photos arrested for extortion


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The arrests expose the murky industry behind mugshot publishing



Thomas Keesee and Sahar Sarid, two of the alleged owners of Mugshots.com. The defendants are accused of extracting more than $2m in mugshot-removal fees from over 5,000 people in a three-year period. Photograph: Palm Beach Sheriff's Office / Broward Sheriffs' Office


Karma can be painful, as the alleged owners of a controversial website which publishes police mugshots and charges people to have them removed, have discovered.


On Wednesday, Thomas Keesee and Sahar Sarid, two of the alleged owners of Mugshots.com, were arrested in Florida, following an investigation led by the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force. California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has brought criminal charges against both men as well as the other two co-owners, Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie and David Usdan.


The four defendants are accused of extracting more than $2m in mugshot-removal fees from over 5,000 people in a three-year period. Of those people, 175 have billing addresses in California, where the alleged Mugshot.com owners will face trial for extortion, money laundering and identity theft.


“This pay-for-removal scheme attempts to profit off of someone else’s humiliation,” Becerra said in a press release. “Those who can’t afford to pay into this scheme to have their information removed pay the price when they look for a job, housing or try to build relationships with others. This is exploitation, plain and simple.”

The murky world of mugshot publishing

Mugshots.com isn’t the only business to have turned a profit from people’s arrest photos; it’s part of a wider, deeply controversial, industry. There are “mugshot tabloids” like Just Busted, for example, which make money by selling papers full of booking photos of people arrested in the local area, with captions describing the crimes they are accused of committing.


Just Busted makes money from schadenfreude and, perhaps, people’s vigilante instincts. People buy the paper to leer at local “justice” being done. Meanwhile websites like Mugshots.com, which bills itself as a “Google for mugshots”, make money from reputation management: people paying to get their photos removed from a central, easily searchable database.


Many of these mugshot-related businesses style themselves as public services and an innovative form of journalism. “A picture worth a thousand words, and a mugshot worth more,” proclaims copy on the “About” section of Mugshots.com. Really, the co-owners deserve to be put in jail for their grammar alone.


Despite the mugshots industry’s high-minded proclamations, many companies dealing in monetizing booking photos have been accused of extremely low-life behaviour. They have also ruined many people’s lives.


In 2016, for example, the Guardian profiled Michael Lakey, who found himself in Just Busted with a caption saying he’d been arrested for the sexual assault of a child under 12 years old. In actuality, Lakey was the victim of a series of unfortunate errors. The police computer system hadn’t logged that he’d paid a driving fine and when he was pulled over one day in 2009, with no proof on his person that’d he’d paid the fine, he’d been arrested. Then an employee at Just Busted had accidentally put the wrong caption on Lakey’s mugshot. He became a pariah in his community and had to leave his home. Lakey eventually won five figures in a defamation suit against Just Busted, but that didn’t quite make up for his life being destroyed.


There have been numerous, largely unsuccessful, legislative attempts to crack down on the mugshot industry in the past. The Mugshot.com arrests may well be a turning point when it comes to the fortunes of a very badly behaved business.



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