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Compensation for Bandwidth Costs is Extortion? 865

Posted by Cliff
from the now-this-is-ovekill dept.
Tha_Big_Guy23 asks: "According to this article, a man who created a website for his local Sheriff's department is being charged with extortion. This was caused by taking down the website after repeated attempts to get compensation from the county to cover the bandwidth costs. As a result, all his personal computer property, and company computer property was seized and he was jailed."
"After being jailed he was charged with extortion, larceny by conversion, using a computer to commit a crime, and obstruction of justice. This website explains in more detail the circumstances surrounding the situation. Has anyone on Slashdot ever had an experience where a client was unwilling to compensate you for either your work, and/or the resources required to do your work?"

While the end result of this situation is a shame, let this situation serve as a warning for those of you who work, without a contract in place. While it is the general hope that people will behave in an honorable manner, sometimes this is just not the case, and contracts exist to protect both parties, when things go sour.
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Compensation for Bandwidth Costs is Extortion?

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  • by The I Shing (700142) * on Friday March 05, 2004 @02:54PM (#8478179) Journal
    This guy gives website designers a bad name. I'd say he definitely belongs in prison. 3.5 million hits per month? Oh, yeah, right. I get the feeling that this guy was planning to pull this stunt all along, but I bet he wasn't counting on getting arrested. Another clue is the fact that he set the domain name up as his own property so the town would be unable to switch to another server. What a noble thing to do. And then there's his final bill... $300,000?! To offset the "huge expense" of running the website? WHAT huge expense? How much was he paying for hosting? DIdn't want to lose any more money? Why didn't he just set it up on a different server and let the town pay for it themselves? I think this guy wants to the town to pay for the loss he's taken running his business in the first place, and shutting the server down while handing over such a massive bill is, IMHO, extortion, and should be treated as such. I hope they throw the book at him, and throw it at him hard, to serve as a warning to anyone else thinking of pulling a stunt like this. Whew, I'm outta breath. Gotta go lay down for a minute.
    • Thankyou sir (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Performer Guy (69820) on Friday March 05, 2004 @02:57PM (#8478220)
      My knee was jerking furiously until I read your excellent post. I can rest easy now knowing that there's two sides to this story and we have another sensationalized /. article.
      • Re:Thankyou sir (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ohreally_factor (593551) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:11PM (#8478418) Journal
        And another highly misleading headline. "Compensation for Bandwidth Costs is Extortion?" is a real twisting of the reported facts, even if the webguy's claims are reasonable (They aren't). His actions certainly are not reasonable.
        • Re:Thankyou sir (Score:5, Insightful)

          by TwistedGreen (80055) <twistedgreen@gmaiAUDENl.com minus poet> on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:23PM (#8478556)
          The way I see it, Slashdot is providing is readers with valuable lessons in critical thinking. At what other news site could you exercise your mind to read between the lines, besides Slashdot?
          • by EpsCylonB (307640) <{eps} {at} {epscylonb.com}> on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:26PM (#8478582) Homepage
            At what other news site could you exercise your mind to read between the lines, besides Slashdot?

            Fox ?
          • Re:Thankyou sir (Score:4, Insightful)

            by the_mad_poster (640772) <shattoc@adelphia.com> on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:34PM (#8478680) Homepage Journal

            You're not real familiar with North American "news" sources, are you? If they're not sensationalizing completely baseless conclusions drawn from inconclusive scientific reports ("the gay gene has been discovered!") they're just making shit it up and hoping nobody notices (NYTimes, anybody?).

            I guess it was inevitable. Once slashdot got big enough and had a clearly defined set of agendas within the readership, sensationalizing headlines and distorting the actual news reports to play on the mores and taboos of the group became a good way to get eyes on stories and, in turn, a good way to get more hits for squeezing advertiser wallets.

          • Re:Thankyou sir (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Mr. Piddle (567882) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:47PM (#8478822)

            This is why Slashdot is relatively good journalism, IMO. Even when the submitters and editors are clearly biased, it is only a few comments into the following discussion that things get balanced out. How often do we see on the big cable and broadcast networks retractions and alternatives being shown within minutes? Almost never.

            Even for the frequent story about Microsoft or SCO, there'll be at least a few comments among the flames adjusting the facts of the story. Actually, by being so harsh on these companies, for example, we can help the public better understand what is true and what is misrepresented regarding their actions. Hold the feet to the fire, so to speak.

        • Re:Thankyou sir (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Jerf (17166) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:35PM (#8478692) Journal
          I know Slashdot has never been a place you trust unquestioningly for your news, not that trusting any source unquestionably is a good idea, but is it just me or have the editor's knees been getting a much better workout over the past couple of months?

          Based on my understandings of the problem, just looking at the current YRO frontpage [slashdot.org], two of the last four stories have blurbs that are just plain wrong ("Courts Overturn FCC - Return of the Monopoly?", "Do You Have A License For Those Facts?" (my debunking [jerf.org] and I'm a certified IP wonk). One of the others ("MSN Search Blocking Results For XFree86?") didn't really have enough data to prove or disprove (so it's probably not worth the 868 comments it attracted).

          Now this article, where I think the blurb is deceptive enough to constitute being "wrong".

          Slashdot editors, you are getting sloppy and going from moderate benefit (at least it provided some reasonably centralized source of information) to positive menace. Please, either spend more time digging into these stories, or stop posting the blurbs. You can disclaim responsibility for the accuracy of the stories until you're blue in the face, but the fact is that posting does constitute some degree of approval, since there is a selection process.

          This is an intervention. Please stop damaging our cause. You're marginalizing all of us who are legitimately concerned about the way things are going when you post so much obviously wrong stuff under the guise of "being on our side".

          (At least do us the courtesy of starting to shill for the RIAA and MPAA if you don't want to be bothered with improving your accuracy.)
          • Re:Thankyou sir (Score:5, Informative)

            by SkunkPussy (85271) on Friday March 05, 2004 @04:00PM (#8478959) Journal
            One of the others ("MSN Search Blocking Results For XFree86?") didn't really have enough data to prove or disprove (so it's probably not worth the 868 comments it attracted).

            What are you talking about? if you either click on the link in the story, or go to msn.com, type "xfree86" in the box at the top, then click on search, you only get 1 result, which is porn and it warns you about.

            If you go to any other search engine there is more than one result and it isnt this nightcrawler business. google has 2.4 million.

            tellingly if you search on google for xfree86 nightsurf, you only get 28 results, none of which is the website that msn throws up.
        • by Ralph Wiggam (22354) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:41PM (#8478763) Homepage
          And what have we learned today, children?

          Do not attempt to scam people who have the power to throw you in jail. The elderly are a much better target.

          Thank you and goodnight.

          -B
          • Re:Thankyou sir (Score:4, Informative)

            by paganizer (566360) <thegrove1@ho t m a i l . c om> on Friday March 05, 2004 @04:34PM (#8479314) Homepage Journal
            Noo....
            What we have learned is, when you are setting up a sweetheart deal with the local sheriff's office, and you bill them an outrageous amount, pocket half and give the other half to the sheriff, make sure you have some sort of evidence on hand to use against the sheriff if people start noticing, so you can say "he made me do it! ".

            Good Old Boy Politics 101, learned in CLarksville, TN "The Crime and Corruption capital of Tennessee".

        • Re:Thankyou sir (Score:5, Informative)

          by pla (258480) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:43PM (#8478785) Journal
          His actions certainly are not reasonable.

          They didn't pay, he shut down the site. Explain the part of that you consider "unreasonable", please?

          Whether or not you consider the magnitude of his bill to the county as reasonable, it boils down simply to "he provided a service, sent a bill, bill went unpaid, he stopped providing the service". Nothing more than that.

          Theft of service also breaks the law. Key difference, a private individual doesn't have the power to abuse to have people from the country government frivolously arrested.


          Also, RTFA (in particular, the second link). He did not send them a bill for $300k... He said his total expenses came out to $300k (not unreasonable, if he actually worked something resembling full-time for 2-3 years... That alone gives $200k+ depending on the going rate in his area for a network admin). He didn't even attempt to recover any of his past expenses on the project. He merely requested they start paying for his services, and when they refused, he stopped providing the service.

          If this counts as extortion, it sets a VERY dangerous precedent... A precedent that basically makes slavery legal, by making it a crime to stop performing a voluntary service.

          On the bright side, assuming he doesn't end up in prison for a few years, he has a fairly good case for harassment, with monetary damages resulting. He could end up getting considerably more than his $300k (which, again, he did not actually try to bill the county for).
          • Re:Thankyou sir (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Tanlis (304135) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:57PM (#8478921)
            Richard, a former reserve deputy in the sheriff's marine division, more than three years ago offered to provide the Web site at no cost to the county as an in-kind contribution. Hackel, who enthusiastically supported it, said Richard agreed to operate it in exchange for publicity for his company.
            He agreed to host it at no cost. If he waited 2-3 years before asking them to pay, then he is only owed from the point he asked to when he stopped hosting the site. He truly was a fool though to run the site for that long if he expected payment from the beginning. Of course the second link states he tried getting paid during this period of time. Someone isn't telling the truth. So unless the guy has proof he tried to obtain payment on certain dates, he's not going to win.
            • Re:Thankyou sir (Score:5, Interesting)

              by pla (258480) on Friday March 05, 2004 @04:10PM (#8479071) Journal
              Someone isn't telling the truth.

              I agree, and didn't mean to imply that he necessarily went about this with the best of intentions (not many people would blow $300k of their own money purely for the benefit of the county government).

              But, I can't see any way that the this can count as outright extortion. Even if he did it for publicity or other non-monetary considerations, without a contract (which both articles make clear as one of the big problems in this situation), he has no obligation to continue providing the service.

              So does the county "owe" him any money? I'd say morally yes, but legally no. But does he need to keep providing the service if they don't pay? Again, no. Not extortion, just basic capitalism. If I stop paying my cable, and my cable company shuts me off for not paying, I'd get laughed out of court if I cried "extortion!". Even lacking a contract (let's say I found the cable live when I moved in, and just started using it), I would get charged with theft of services when the CC noticed, not the other way around.
              • Re:Thankyou sir (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Glonoinha (587375) on Friday March 05, 2004 @04:38PM (#8479368) Journal
                Well the way I read it he didn't 'blow $300k of his own money.' The $300k was in "time, money, and resources". Thus I have a strong feeling that of that $9,000 per month, every month for 33 in a row he is claiming to have spent to total the $300k, a pretty good chunk of it was his self-assigned pay rate of $150 an hour (my guess, no basis in fact) for his own time 'webmastering'.

                Did he actually write checks for $9,000 per month is true expenses? Electricity, new hardware, bandwidth charges from his upstream provider? I'm guessing no fscking way.

                And according to the first article, yes he did plonk down a bill, a piece of paper saying something to the effect of 'you owe me $300,000'. They told him to get bent, then arrested him.

                That said, I think this entire thing is stupid. No farm-team sheriff office needs a web site that has 3.5 million 'hits' a month from 60 countries. And for damn sure no farm-team sheriff office web site is worth $300,000 over three years, traffic or no traffic. Someone is about to earn a few whacks from the clue stick.
          • Re:Thankyou sir (Score:5, Interesting)

            by cbreaker (561297) on Friday March 05, 2004 @04:08PM (#8479053) Journal
            Good response. Gotta love people that actually read an article and get it all wrong.

            The thing is, if this was any other business besides a government one (more specifically a police one), they would have to sue him like anyone else, not immediately seize all his gear. This is the problem with cops in general, they have the power to act and ruin your life, and ask questions later.

            I don't care if this guy DID try to inflate the prices and such, I do not feel as though the police should have the right to do this to him without a court order.
          • by Hatta (162192) on Friday March 05, 2004 @04:32PM (#8479290) Journal
            He forgot the 285th rule of acquisition: "No good deed goes unpunished."
      • uh, whatever! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Scudsucker (17617) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:32PM (#8478663) Homepage Journal
        They guy was frikkin arrested, his equipment impounded, and he's being threatened with 20 years in jail. For a dispute that should be settled in civil court. Is the guy snow white innocent in the whole affair? Probably not. Is the police department committing a huge abuse of authority? Hell yes!
    • by (54)T-Dub (642521) * <tpaine@@@gmail...com> on Friday March 05, 2004 @02:58PM (#8478228) Journal
      Before everyone gets their tin foil in a not, a few quotes from the article to show that there are two sides to every story:
      Richard then demanded $300,000 of taxpayer dollars from the county. Richard said the money would offset the huge expense of running the Web site for the 33 months.
      This for 3.5 million users per year.
      Richard lied to investigators by claiming he sold the domain name to a Virginia company, Hackel said. Hackel said his mistake was placing too much trust in Richard and agreeing to have Richard pay the nominal domain fee. Richard retains authority of the domain name.
      Appearently he was holding the domain name until they paid him $300,000
    • by Lizard_King (149713) on Friday March 05, 2004 @02:59PM (#8478251) Journal
      3.5 million hits per month

      "hits" is such a crappy way to measure bandwidth. Depending on how the site is built and which web traffic monitoring tool you use, a single unique visit to a site can result in hundreds of hits. My shitty site gets in the order of 50-70k hits a month and I know its only my mom.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      This man is being arrested because he refused to work for free.

      'Richard's Running Wolf Inc. operated the sheriff's office Internet site for nearly three years as a free service before shutting it down three months ago because the county wouldn't pay him.'

      He operated the web site for free for three years. He probably hosted it as his own expense, too.

      I get the feeling he designed and managed this website at his own expense, expecting payment. After a few years of no payment, he finally closed the websit
      • No no no no no. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by amarodeeps (541829) <dave@LAPLACEdubitable.com minus math_god> on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:29PM (#8478626) Homepage

        Wait, please RTFA. He OFFERED to run the site for free initially, I quote:

        Richard, a former reserve deputy in the sheriff's marine division, more than three years ago offered to provide the Web site at no cost to the county as an in-kind contribution. Hackel, who enthusiastically supported it, said Richard agreed to operate it in exchange for publicity for his company.

        Doesn't sound like he was getting screwed to me. Sounds like he pulled a turnaround when he asked the county for $300,000 all of a sudden.

        I've actually been in a situation when we've had to shut someone's site down because they wouldn't pay. It took us more than 6 months to do it though, because we were professional and considerate, and it wasn't even a big site, just one of our small clients. But we had to do it after a while because he was just totally ignoring our bills and communications. He did eventually pay a reduced sum that we agreed to through negotiations. We then surrendered his domain gladly. But my point is, we gave him a long time and we tried really hard to communicate with him before shutting him down. It was the most drastic thing I've EVER done to a client, and I still feel a little weird about it.

        This sounds different. Sounds like ye old bait and switch to me. And it doesn't really sound like they were out of communication--something I'm sure should have been worked out before the drastic step of shutting down their site happened. ESPECIALLY considering this guy offered to do it for free initially. You don't just shut down someone's site, especially not a high profile client like this. You just don't. There are other avenues way before that happens.

      • by LostCluster (625375) * on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:38PM (#8478726)
        Nope... he was operating on the "free drugs" model of business...

        Give the county free services for three years, then hit them with the price and tell them that they can't live without him... that's not true, the county can take those three years of free service and give him nothing but a thank you, and then take their business elsewhere.

        While the extortion charge is a bit extreme, he's lost all hope of doing business with any local government in the area ever again. He should know that local governments have to follow strict purchasing rules, and usually any contract worth $300,000 a year has to go out to bid.

        His claim of ownership of the domain is a bit weak. He's not the Macomb Sheriff. The sheriff's office could very well create a trademark and then sue for posession of the domain name.
    • Read TFA, not skim TFA.

      According to the second link in the article, he spent $300,000 of his own money and is not asking for his inventment back. He simply tried to tell the county that, going forward, he couldn't afford to pay for it himself. When they ignored him, he closed up shop to keep from losing more money. They retaliated by arresting him and slapping him with exortion and other charges.
      • by Wakkow (52585) * on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:09PM (#8478386) Homepage
        I read both articles, and they contratict each other.. The news article says he demanded $300,000... The other site says that he didn't want that money back. Who do we believe?
      • Come on, 300,000 bucks to run a web site? And he did it out of the kindness of his heart? 300,000 of his own money to "promote his business".

        RTFA again:

        A year or so ago, Richard started talking with Hackel's staff about earning income from the site. An attempt was made to secure advertisements for the site with profits going to Richard, but Hackel said that generated only a small response.

        Richard then demanded $300,000 of taxpayer dollars from the county. Richard said the money would offset the huge exp
        • For two years, Pat attempted to negotiate a way to pay for the site. For two years, Pat worked without pay. For two years, RunningWolf was not compensated for its server space or its bandwidth costs. For two years Pat spent $300,000 of his own money to host and maintain the site, never asking for nor receiving a profit.

          Pat did not ask for payment of any of that investment, but simply explained to the county he could no longer afford to host and maintain the site for free. For 2 years the sheriff refused to negotiate a way to continue paying for the site.


          Considering that it is undisputed that this guy donated nearly 3 years of his time to this county before asking for anything, I find it much more likely that his side of the story is more accurate. You don't see greedy/selfish people work selflessly for 3 years with no return on investment.

          You do however, see greedy/selfish people willingly leach off of generous people for years, and then sue or otherwise take legal action when those generous people stop.

          You seem to be very ready to believe that a guy would be willing to work for you pro bono for 3 years, then suddenly turn and try to extort you by withholding his free service? How am I the one with the tin-foil hat? I have more faith in people than that.
          • I don't see why both can't be true.

            What if the guy thinks to himself, after three years, "this is bull. I have worked on this site for three years and have yet to see any money from the publicity. I can't afford to float it along any more, and these guys keep making demands of me."

            So he says to the Sheriffs, "Hey guys -- listen. I've lost about $300,000 of my own money running this site, and I'm going to need you to start paying for it. I'm turning it off, but I'll put it back on when you pay." The figure is an exageration (obviously). Maybe he's expecting a few hundred dollars a month.

            And the Sheriffs hear this as, "Guys, I want $300,000 to bring your site back up." That IS extortion. And obviously, since it's not in the budget, they can't pay it. This is government -- you can't wipe your ass if it's not in the budget. That's why everything's budgeted so high.

            So maybe the guy exagerates, and maybe the sherriffs hear the exagerated sum before the real one. Nobody thinks, because there's a lot of emotion.

            Not saying that's what happened. Just saying that neither group has to necesarily be lying.
      • Re-read TFAs (Score:5, Informative)

        by Gr8Apes (679165) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:16PM (#8478480)

        The quotes you state are from the Justice 4 Pat campaign, an apparently biased source drumming up support for Pat.

        Personally, I'd trust a newspaper over blatant assertions by an activist site any day.

      • Theres still something fishy here -- 300,000$? I could build a fucking datacenter for 300,000. Think about how much hardware that is. At my last job I bought 2.6TB of SUN storage and a 4 way SUN server for 100,000$. 300,000$? Thats one HELL of a website!! I'm paying like 150$ a month for a TB of traffic and a colo'd p4.

        I don't think we can settle anything about this case until we see documentation on this 300,000$. Either he's the stupidest web developer in the world, or he's a fraudster.

    • This rant gets modded interesting? The guy created the web site for free. He maintained it for free. He paid the domain name registration. The site is his to pull or sell as he sees fit. If it is really important to the sherrif's office, then they should be willing to pay for it. If not, they're free to do just what they did, put up a new site and create their own content.

      Abusing the law by arresting this guy, just makes the LEO's look like the extortionists.
      • This is it exactly. The copyright on the material, even if he didn't include his disclaimer about being the property of his company, is HIS. The domain is HIS. He asks for 300k, and you don't pay, it's entirely within his legal right. Besides where is the line between extortion and not? The article says that it's extortion because so much money is involved. So, if he only asked for 50k, it wouldn't be extortion?

        The fault for this even being an issue falls squarely on the collective shoulders of the sherrif's department. First of all, friends are friends, and business is business. If it's important to your business (the area residents and to a lesser but entirely legitimate degree all of the residents of the USA being the customers) then you need to treat it like a business, and document things, sign contracts, and so on. A verbal contract is not worth the paper it's printed on.

        The fact is that it doesn't seem that he's broken the law. The site belongs to him. The domain belongs to him (and that's the department's own fault, since he offered and they could have told him no.) How is he not within his legal rights?

    • by Performer Guy (69820) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:09PM (#8478391)
      On ballance this is blatant abuse of power by the Sherrif's office. The guy paid for the domain and ran if for 3 years for free. What you believe w.r.t. what was said about payment should be decided in a civil court. As it is the Sherrif is using their power to force the issue and screwing a guy who did them a favor for 3 years. The Sherrif is incredibly claiming that they were doing this guy a favor by letting him host their site. No, their site was chicken shit without this guy. He build it into the famous property it became and paid for the frikin domain. They should be ashamed of themselves for doing this to the guy. Now they have all his computer gear impounded and he has to arrange bail and hire a lawyer while faving multiple felony charges.

      This Sherrif's office are scum, no two ways about it.
    • by StewedSquirrel (574170) on Friday March 05, 2004 @04:36PM (#8479346)
      He's an idiot for claiming that the website cost him $300k. That I will agree on.

      But... there were two links. One said he did NOT demand back-payment and just wanted forward-payment for his site. That is perfectly legal and if they refuse that, then he has the right to close it. It sux and is shitty business practice, but it's legal.

      If he DID demand back-payment for that rediculous amount of money, he deserves trouble. 50 years is excessive. Give him 3 months and keep his computers...

      Ever been in jail? Two nights feels like a month... trust me, he'll have plenty of time to think about it in a few months.

      I think everyone should spend a weekend wrongly imprisoned in jail... just for the perspective. I did it (not by choice) and many of my opinions about the justice system changed drastically.

      Stewey
  • Wow what a site! (Score:5, Informative)

    by ericspinder (146776) on Friday March 05, 2004 @02:54PM (#8478192) Journal
    3.5 million hits per month
    www.macombsheriff.com [macombsheriff.com] must be one busy site. no wonder he wanted $300,000 dollars. That link is down, so what did he have on the site, lets check [archive.org]. Just in case your wondering the sherrif's office is in Mt. Clemens, MI
    • Well, that does sound a bit absurd, but I sure betcha the copy of the site in the Wayback machine will probably surpass that in this one single day thanks to ericspinder's helpful little url link in the parent :-)
  • Written Contract? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 4of12 (97621) on Friday March 05, 2004 @02:55PM (#8478203) Homepage Journal

    I could see something getting out of hand with just verbal communications, misunderstandings, etc.

    Anyone providing or buying services ought to insist on a written contract that both parties sign. Then, there's no question of consequences if someone doesn't pay within 30 days, etc.

  • by blue_adept (40915) on Friday March 05, 2004 @02:57PM (#8478222)
    everyone on his MSN contact list was placed under observation.
  • More Information (Score:3, Informative)

    by Johnny_Law (701208) * on Friday March 05, 2004 @02:58PM (#8478225)
    An article from today [zwire.com] on this topic.

    Perhaps this should be a lessong to all to work out your contracts a bit more clearly in advance.
  • by bc90021 (43730) * <<ten.12009cb> <ta> <12009cb>> on Friday March 05, 2004 @02:58PM (#8478230) Homepage
    $300,000 for three years is...
    $100,000 for one year, which is...
    $ 8,333 for one month of hosting.

    (blatant_plug)
    Well, don't host with that guy, come host with Tigerhost.com [tigerhost.com]. We only charge $100/month for businesses! (And $16 for personal sites.)
    (/blatant_plug)

    Seriously, though, at those rates, he could retire on just that one site.
    • Agreed. This is horrible. Throw him in jail. I started out feeling honestly bad for this guy, but the further I get through the article the more I see that he is a waste of our good breathable oxygen. 3.5 mill hits. hahahahaha. Well let's look at it differently. Hosting costs: $100 / month = $3600 for 3 years Design costs: $5000 Interest: $292,000 I think he is figuring in uncle sam too.
    • 300,000 - so what? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Poligraf (146965) on Friday March 05, 2004 @06:21PM (#8480522)
      Have /. crowd heard about art of negotiation?

      Just look at lawyers - sue someone for a 100 million and then settle for 100 thousand.

      Him asking 300,000 is nothing more than starting point. What sucks big time is the sheriff refusing to come up with a reasonable agreement at all.
  • Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by El (94934) on Friday March 05, 2004 @02:58PM (#8478236)
    Since the site shut down Jan. 1, the sheriff's office set up its own site, www.macomb-sheriff.com. The new site is bare bones compared to the original one, but Hackel said it provide the most important function -- public communication with his office in the form of e-mail.

    I see why they needed somebody else to build their web site -- they think they need a web page in order to receive email!
    • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Muerto (656791)
      They do to receive email.. when you have a domain change... this also changes the domain for the email.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Homology (639438) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:06PM (#8478355)
      I see why they needed somebody else to build their web site -- they think they need a web page in order to receive email!

      A homepage is certainly not needed in order to recieve e-mail, but for giving contact information to the public it is very useful.

    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mamba-mamba (445365) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:08PM (#8478369)
      Heh, I laughed at that too. But later in the article, I realized that the web-designer guy actually owns the domain. So he would be in a position to totally shutdown their email.

      MM
      --
  • Ouch.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by hookedup (630460) on Friday March 05, 2004 @02:58PM (#8478242)
    Now this is weird, I _just_ took a break to read slashdot from desiging the website for the police service in my city.

    Thank god I'm not going to be hosting it.
  • Heh (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 05, 2004 @02:59PM (#8478260)
    He's going to be pissed once he realises he's been slashdotted.
  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tuxedo Jack (648130) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:00PM (#8478266) Homepage
    If it didn't have the bandwidth problems before, it sure will now!
  • The only hits this guy's getting now are if he runs a webcam in jail! 300 grand for a website... did he neglect to mention hosting the site on a SunFire 5k with 25 CPU's in it or something?
  • by DroopyStonx (683090) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:02PM (#8478299)
    First off, there was no contract.

    Second, he told them that he'd discuss pay at a later date since they were to busy to handle it to begin with. If I donated 2 years of my time, I'd sure as hell want compensation.

    He did what any normal person would do: shut off their service since they didn't pay. In fact, he did one up on what most would do. They didn't pay for TWO YEARS and he let them go on that long. Try not paying YOUR hosting bill and see what it gets you. A shutdown site, that's what.

    How the hell is this extortion? Not even REMOTELY. People are stupid. They don't realize it takes time and money, not to mention VALUE of what he had turned the site into.

    Granted he didn't have a contract, but both parties are at fault. You can't NOT have a contract then call "extortion" and throw him in jail. Sorry, that's not how it works.
    • If I donated 2 years of my time, I'd sure as hell want compensation.

      Donate. [reference.com] You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. ;)

    • by nacturation (646836) <nacturation AT gmail DOT com> on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:17PM (#8478488) Journal
      They didn't pay for TWO YEARS and he let them go on that long.

      The agreement was that he would host it for free in exchange for the publicity it would generate for his firm Running Wolf [runningwolf.com]. It's not that they wouldn't pay -- the agreement between them was that they didn't have to. Then the guy pulls the site, asks for $300K, and won't put it back up unless they pay? Well, that borders on extortion. As other people mentioned, he should have contacted a lawyer first since he needs one now even more.
    • by mamba-mamba (445365) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:19PM (#8478502)
      Well, I think most of the charges against him will be dropped. But the fact is, it sounds as though the guy also owned the domain, and essentially held it for ransom (for example, it sounds like the deputies all had email addresses on the domain since the article mentions that they couldn't use email after the guy pulled the plug).

      If that's the case, I don't believe the guy behaved professionally or intelligently. He should have just cut off the website, or replaced it with a note saying that, due to an inability to reach an agreement with the sherrif's dept., the site was removed.

      Alternatively, he could have sold them the domain for some reasonable price, and they could have kept their email up and running and so on.

      Anyway, the Sherrifs were stupid to arrest him. At some point, it will probably come back and bite them. This guy will sue for false arrest or something, and the county will have to spend a bunch of money defending the suit.

      MM
      --
  • by Bodhammer (559311) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:02PM (#8478301)
    and the law won...
  • by ausoleil (322752) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:02PM (#8478302) Homepage
    First of all, $300,000 is extravagant by any standards. He should have charged his actual costs, after all, he did agree to do the site in exchange for publicity. Thus, the designer should have asked to have the county pay the real cost. I simply cannot imagine the ISP involved was charging that much.

    Secondly, the designer should have never shut the site down without sending the county properly served due notice. In other words, registered or certified mails, preferably coming from an attorney.

    Finally, the designer should have sued the county, and then through the litigation a settlement would have been obtained -- most likely through binding arbitration.

    But, at the same time, to settle a civil disagreement through criminal prosecution seems to be abuse of power at most naked.

    Both of the parties should be spanked by their Mamas.
    • by stratjakt (596332) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:16PM (#8478481) Journal
      The courts will decide.

      "You owe me $300,000 for services rendered."

      vs.

      "Pay me $300,000 or I'll shut you down and keep you out of your data"

      What was the oral contract? The Sheriffs dept most likely owns the website and the content on it, and this guy was just hosting it.

      If he doesn't want to host it, fine, they take their business elsewhere. He sues for services rendered, etc..

      But if he threatened to hold the content hostage, he probably crossed the line into extortion. He was demanding money to release property he didnt have a claim over. It would be like me taking home the sourcecode from my company, and demanding a payoff to give it back.

      DA's file charges, not local podunk Sherriff's (With whom I work with every day so I know how little power they actually have). DA's usually aren't very thrilled when Barney Fife shows up with some frivolous overblown charge.
    • by drooling-dog (189103) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:34PM (#8478686)
      But, at the same time, to settle a civil disagreement through criminal prosecution seems to be abuse of power at most naked.

      Which should be a lesson to all of the conservatives out there who think that unlimited police power is only a threat to those who are doing something illegal. In reality, unchecked police power is a threat to anyone who annoys it, whatever the reason.

  • by madMingusMax (693022) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:03PM (#8478311)
    It does appear the webmaster is a scumbag, and probably had evil intentions from the getgo. However, the sheriff's office made an oral agreement, no written contract, with this person.

    The evil webmaster then said, after 3 years and however many hits later, I need some cash. Pay me a lot of money or I'll shut it off to cut my costs.

    Sheriff replies "Screw You!" and throws him in jail.

    This is a Civil Issue, not a bullshit criminal case.

  • by lightspawn (155347) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:06PM (#8478350) Homepage
    The article lists www.macombsheriff.com as the offending web site.

    Which begs the question: Why does it have a .com TLD? Was it a commercial web site? I'm sick of .gov and .mil sites using .com because it's k00l3r. These sites should use the proper TLD, and of course it should be impossible for a _person_ to own these domains.

    Of course, when I rule the world there will be different TLDs for individuals, companies, military, government, and nonprofits - and a commercial site would never be able to even claim an individual's web site is infringing (or whatever) since they will live in different namespaces.

    Ironically, the alleged extortionist's domain is justice4pat.com, seeming to suggest that this is a business venture for him.

    Or maybe he just decided not to use .org because he felt like supporting Verisign, what with all of their sitefinder-related legal fees.

  • by Dr. Zowie (109983) <slashdot@@@deforest...org> on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:06PM (#8478351)
    If you RTFA you will see that the web designer hit up the county for $300,000 for three years of serving the web page -- far, far more than the actual costs.

    The response of the Sheriff's Dept. is clearly overblown, but this guy was clearly not operating on the level.

    To be honest, I wouldn't want to do business with either party.

  • by Superfreaker (581067) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:06PM (#8478353) Homepage Journal
    This site is ranked 4,978,900 in traffic.

    It never broke the top 100,000, so there is no way it had 3 million hits, unless each page contained 1 million invisible gif images.

    http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_detail s? q=&url=macombsheriff.com

  • by corporatemutantninja (533295) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:06PM (#8478354)
    If an Indian firm had built the site, some podunk sheriff couldn't abuse his authority over a contract dispute. Offshoring: good for civil liberties.
  • by Doesn't_Comment_Code (692510) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:09PM (#8478389)
    Have you seen their website? http://www.macomb-sheriff.com/ [macomb-sheriff.com]

    Their new web designer should probably go to jail too.
  • by da3dAlus (20553) <dustin.grauNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:10PM (#8478402) Homepage Journal
    "Welcome to the Springfield Police department web site."
    "Press YES if you have committed a crime, and wish to confess. Otherwise, press NO."
    [Click]
    "You have selected NO, which means you have committed a crime, but do not wish to confess."
    "A padywagon is now speeding to your location."
    "In the meantime, please look at our online store. You have the right to remain...Fabulous!"
  • by jordandeamattson (261036) <jordandm AT gmail DOT com> on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:11PM (#8478423) Homepage
    The fact is that he did, based on my reading of the statue commit extoration.

    The lesson to be learned:

    1. Have a contract in place, don't do things on a handshake and a nod.

    A contract - and the exercise of building one - isn't just a legal play. A good contract is an agreement on what X will do for Y, and what Y will do in return for X. It is like an API definition.

    2. If you have a dispute, don't take it into your hands.

    He should have sat down with an attorney and have had them put together a letter of the following form:

    "Dear Sir,

    The service I have been providing to you per our oral agreement of December XX, XXXX and subsequentally afirmed in various conversations and by you use of the service, is currently costing me $XXX.XX a month to provide due to the traffic level of XXX,XXX visits per month.

    To date I have not received payment for this service. Given the current situation, I can no longer continue to provide this service beyond (today+30 days).

    If you aren't willing to pay for the service I am providing, will work with to transition to another service provider within these 30 days.

    Please note, any assistance in such a transition, doesn't indicate a release of my claims for services provided for XX months at a cost of $x,xxx a month.

    Yours,

    Joe WebMaster

    3. Didn't anyone every teach him "you don't spit into the wind, you don't tug on Superman's cape, and you don't anger the local Sheriff!"?
  • by cmburns69 (169686) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:13PM (#8478444) Homepage Journal
    I haven't read a single comment that is at the heart of this issue. The reason the Sheriffs department considers it extortion, is because they claim they own the content.

    Demanding money to give a person something that he/she owns IS extortion. But does the Sheriffs department own the content, or does the hoster (since he was hosting it for free).

    It should probably have been a civil case first to resolve the IP. The owner of the IP would then have had firm legal ground for whatever action they wanted.

    But I don't agree with slapping him with a criminal suit right off the bat.
  • by buzzoff (744687) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:17PM (#8478485)
    - Don't offer things like this for free
    - If you do decide your work is worth something then don't jump from free to $300,000

    You shouldn't offer things for free if you really want to profit. All you'll do is make yourself miserable at best. If you're really stupid you might even lose touch with reality and demand $300,000. Did he really expect them to pay? Unbelievable...

  • by bangular (736791) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:20PM (#8478519)
    I'm a programmer. My friend works in IT at a local USDA lab. One of the scientists there told my friend they needed to automate some of their "blasting". They needed to take DNA they found in plants and compare it to a bunch of national databases and depending on the results take it to other national databases, etc. etc (these national databases were all websites so it was A LOT of text processing). The final results needed to be put into an excel spreadsheet. I worked for a couple of months and had about 4 complete rewrites. It worked fine at my house, but it did not work at their labs.

    What happened was, they had many many computers being natted with one ip address. These websites would see one ip address flooding their servers and cut them off or give one of MANY random errors. It was almost impossible to reproduce anywhere else. I got almost no co-operation on their part to get more ip addresses for the boxes doing the dna blasting. All they would say is "It doesn't work right". That was the extent of my bug reporting. "It doesn't work right".

    It was basically impossible to get meetings with them and the project lasted about 5 months with only 5 meetings (each lasting less than a half hour). After not seeing one penny of payment and MANY thousands of lines of code later, I told them I'm not going to work on it anymore until I get some payment. That's about when I couldn't get a hold of them anymore.

    That was my first and last time working on code without a contract before hand. I did not recieve a single penny for my months of work. They acted like they were in it to help out a young programmer. The USDA was in it to help the USDA. About the end of it all they hired a "programmer". One of these people who had many degrees and could "program" in many languages, but couldn't write a simple program on the spot. From what I understand they tried to get him to write it because he was supposed to be this experienced programmer with many degrees. It made me feel good that after 6 months they still don't have anything from him.

    They were greedy. They taught me a lesson. Don't work for ANYONE, without a contract before hand. No matter how much they pretend they are looking out for your interests, THEY'RE NOT.
  • by Dave21212 (256924) <dav@spamcop.net> on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:23PM (#8478551) Homepage Journal

    To all of you posters claiming he should have had a contract, I say why... he offered to run the site for free, a site the HE OWNS and worked on. Was he supposed to contract with himself ? Or maybe a contract that states that he would work for free until such time as he didn't want to any longer ?

    I don't get it ? Is there really any legal reason he can't pull down HIS OWN website ? If he approaches the Sheriff and suggests that he need money for bandwidth or he's turning HIS WEBSITE off, how is that extorting ?

    All you William Hung fansites [williamhung.org] take note... don't take them down or else !

    An arrest, possible prison sentence, confiscation of equipment... if anyone doesn't see this as a small-town Sheriff abusing their position they are missing the point.
    It's not illegal to ask for money to support YOUR website...
    Wouldn't that make Slashdot guilty of extorting money by withholding stories from non-subscribers [slashdot.org] ?

    Nuts...
  • Another issue... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TwistedGreen (80055) <twistedgreen@gmaiAUDENl.com minus poet> on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:26PM (#8478594)
    putting aside the blatant extortion, since when was "using a computer to commit a crime" a crime? Commiting a crime is bad in itself, but when you use a computer to do it, it's even worse? Does that make sense?
  • Check your WHOIS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dracolytch (714699) on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:30PM (#8478640) Homepage
    Of interesting note... The domain justice4pat.com (The 2nd link) has their DNS hosted by runningwolf.com servers... Runningwolf was the name of Pat's company. Hmmm....

    ~D
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Friday March 05, 2004 @03:31PM (#8478646)
    The way the website offer should have started the process was by sending them a registered letter informing the sheriff that he no longer could afford to offer the county his services for free, and that as of a certain date he intends on terminating the service unless another agreement can be made.

    He could then conclude the letter by informing them that he is willing to provide services to the county at less then his normal prices, and would be willing to consider a request for an extention of the deadline for a reasonable time if needed to ensure continuity.

    Extortion charges are a bit extreme, but if he's trying to show his power over the site to the sheriff, he shouldn't overreach. He managed to get the sheriff to overreach as well, and while the charges will likely be overruled by a court, that isn't a fun thing to have to go through.
  • by Anita Coney (648748) on Friday March 05, 2004 @04:05PM (#8479014) Homepage
    Never piss off people who can legally carry guns.

    Seriously though, let's look at the charges:

    Extortion: How could Pat Richard extort anyone by shutting off his own server? Imagine loaning your car to someone, then deciding you cannot afford paying the gas, the insurance, and the up-keep. You give him an ultimatum, either buy the car or I'll take it back. Under what system of justice could you be charged with extortion under that scenario?!

    Larceny by conversion: How could he convert his own property? Via this charge the Sheriff's Office is essentially admitting that the website was theirs, but on the other hand, they refuse to pay for it. They should not be able to have it both ways.

    Using a computer to commit a crime: Turning off your own server is a crime?!

    Obstruction of justice: See above.

  • by gbulmash (688770) <semi_famous@yahoo . c om> on Friday March 05, 2004 @04:31PM (#8479282) Homepage Journal
    I see people arguing he charged $300,000 for services rendered (sheriff's story) and people arguing he merely claimed it had cost him $300,000 over three years, and refused to go forward without payment.

    Regardless, with the domain name it's IP, a civil issue. It's parked, so the sheriff's office can do the WIPO cybersquatting claim, but, AFAIK and IANAL, it's not criminal.

    Who owns the content? If the sheriff's department does, holding the content hostage may be illegal. But then again, there was a private towing company that illegally towed my car from a private lot where I had a legal right to park, and would not return it. They violated two sections of the vehicle code in the illegal tow, then had additional violations (actually flaunting some of them) in the operation of their impound lot. What did the cops say? "This is a civil matter. Pay the impound fees and then sue them."

    The cops probably threw him in jail to try to intimidate him, which forced the DA's hand to prosecute, or perhaps it's collusion between the DA and the cops.

    The facts will come out at trial. Both sides will tell their stories, a judge and 12 people too dumb to get out of jury duty will decide who is telling the truth, and regardless of the outcome, a civil suit will follow.

    Welcome to America, where our courts, fine instruments of law, capable of incredible intricacy and precision in legal thought, are used to bludgeon people like a sledgehammer.

    - Greg

  • by Newer Guy (520108) on Friday March 05, 2004 @04:52PM (#8479548)

    First off, let's dispense with the "he said, she said" content here. My divorce lawyer once said to me: "There are three sides to every divorce: your side, her side and the truth!"

    So, let's try to stick to the facts:

    Fact #1. This guy built and hosted the web site and paid for the domain name. Last time I looked, it cost money for bandwith, so some one was paying something. The Sheriff's Dept. admits it wasn't them paying, so it must have been him. Bandwith for 3.5 million hits costs what? $1000.00/month? $5000.00/month? I don't know the exact amount, but this still is a tidy sum of money.

    Next, someone paid for the computers to host this site, the rent for the place to house them, the electricity to run them, upgrading, maintenance, etc. Another fairly substantial cost.

    Next, someone had to build the web site. It's likely quite slick to win all these awards, and took someone quite a bit of time, not to mention the cost of the computer programs used to create it.

    Okay, no one disputes that the guy did all these things. Maybe in the beginning he DID offer to do them for free....

    BUT.....(and this is a big but....)

    A year ago, he went to the Sheriff's Dept. and told them he couldn't afford to do this for free any more. I'm sure that the bandwidth cost for millions of hits/month were getting pretty steep for him. I'm sure he had to provide mega large servers out of his pocket for hosting too. The Sheriff offered to help him by allowing him to sell ads on the site. It's fairly obvious that the Sheriff was getting MUCH MORE from this site then the guy was. I'm sure the site got much bigger then both of them ever expected it to... In any event, it's fairly obvious that the guy let the Sheriff know of his hardship at least a year before he actually pulled the plug. The Sheriff even admitted this when he allowed the guy the right to place ads on the site.

    The way I see this is that it was unreasonable for the Sheriff to expect unlimited web hosting in perpetuity, especially where the costs of providing such hosting had obviously increased dramatically over when the offer was first made (of course, I'm assuming the web site didn't have 3 million + hits a month the first day it opened). There IS an implied contract here actually. That contract was to provide web hosting and email for a small county's Police Dept, NOT a mega site visited 3+ million times a month by people from over 60 countries. The fact that this guy offered his benevolence (and his money!)for as long as he did (in a major economic downturn no less!) should not be cause to put him in jail for extortion. The Sheriff should have known that the gravy train would eventually come to an end, and actually HAD a year's notice that it was fast approaching the station! This sheriff should be fired for several reasons. The first is stupidity. A high school student should have been able to see that this site was costing much more to run then one man can provide for free. Worse, the guy TOLD HIM it was a year BEFORE he pulled the plug! Second, is due to police brutality. There was NO criminal activity here! At best, this should have gone to a CIVIL court. Finally, for theft. The Sheriff had NO RIGHT to confiscate that computer equipment. By doing that (and jailing the guy), he likely put the guy out of business permanently. What a reward, huh? It's like giving the Sheriff a gun for his birthday and then having him shoot you with it!

    With friends like that Sheriff, who needs enemies?

  • by lxs (131946) on Friday March 05, 2004 @05:09PM (#8479718)
    On the one hand you have a Sherrif that locks up people if they look at him funny. On the other hand you have a scheming web-designer that tries to rip-off the Sherrif's department.

    Sounds like a movie remake of the Dukes of Hazzard to me. Well, after the Avengers, Charlies Angels and Starsky and Hutch what would you expect? Have the Duke boys solve the dispute, add car chases to taste and you have a working script.
  • by SykeOpath (579047) on Friday March 05, 2004 @05:26PM (#8479938) Homepage
    In the end, there are really only two ways this can all go:

    1) If this person can prove that they had been trying to negotiate a payment plan with the Sherrif, and that these subsequent charges against him are because he then stopped supplying the service when no settlement could be reached, then he will have a great case; and will probably win more than he says it all cost him.

    2) He will go to jail, and has lost all of his computer equipment forever, and may even be restricted as to their use when all said and done.


    Personally, I find this all to be an over-abuse of police power.. at this point. IF it turns out that there was no 'demand' for money, only a 'request', then the extortion charge seems pretty steep. Most of the other charges are just being used as 'add-ons' to that main charge - this was what was used in the committing of that crime etc.. However, they ARE serious enough to adequately destroy someones life and livelihood.

    Was it reeally called for in this case? Why would they particularly need to seize his equipment and personal effects? Taking these things really do nothing to solve the 'case'.. if anything at all, maybe they would have wanted to server so they cold pull evidence of access logs etc from it, but beyond that, siezing all of his computer and electronic equipment associated with it, is just strong arm tactics.. I'm surprised more people aren't mentioning due process and reasonable search and siezure rules.

    Still, the press is not a good place for finding out the 'truth' about such things.. after all, if you where to believe the press, then the Macomb Sherriff's office has enough problems as it is anyway, what with the Old Sherriff Hackell who was brought up on charges for rape (I think it was), and now his son taking over.. who is the currect Sherriff probably involved in this.

    Basically, there's more to this than meets the eye, but I still feel there is something wrong when peoples property gets taken without there even being 'good reason'.

    But that's just me I guess.. and I'm a bit of a SykeOpath ;-)

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