US man pleads no contest to operating revenge porn site

WinByState.com posted nude photos of women and charged them a fee to have the photos removed

The operator of a so-called revenge porn website has pleaded no contest to criminal charges, including extortion, in a California court.

Casey Meyering, operator of WinByState.com, pleaded no contest Friday in Napa County Superior Court to one count of extortion, three counts of attempted extortion, and one count of conspiracy, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced.

WinByState.com encouraged users to post and trade nude photographs of women, including their ex-girlfriends and current girlfriends. WinByState.com asked uploaders to identify their "wins" by city and state, sometimes using the victim's complete or partial name. At one point, the website claimed to have more than 60,000 members and more than 30,000 pictures posted.

WinbyState.com charged victims $250 to have their photographs removed. The site used a Google Wallet account to process the payments, according to the attorney general's office.

The no contest plea is considered by the court to be the same as a guilty plea. Meyering, 28, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is expected to be sentenced on June 8.

The plea sends a clear message that there will be severe consequences for those who profit from exploiting women online, according to Harris. "This is a turning point in the fight against cyber exploitation and a message to those who cowardly profit from victimizing, belittling, and harassing women," she said in a statement.

Meyering's Google Wallet account was registered to him at a fictitious Beverley Hills storefront, according to Harris' office. Law enforcement agents purchased a photo "takedown" for one of the victims in Napa, California, then traced the funds to Meyering's bank account in Tulsa. Surveillance footage from the bank identified him withdrawing money from the account.

Meyering was arrested in Tulsa in February 2014.

The California investigation started in February 2013 after a Northern California victim contacted the police, saying she suspected that her computer had been hacked and nude photos of her retrieved from it by a college classmate. After obtaining search warrants, law enforcement investigators confirmed that the victim's suspicions were correct.

The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office convicted the classmate for identity-theft related crimes, and he received an eight-month jail sentence.

In September 2013, the victim sought law enforcement's help again because her images appeared on WinByState.com. After police failed to get Meyering to take down the images, they paid his $250 fee.

Meyering's plea comes as Harris and U.S. officials are cracking down on revenge porn sites.

His plea follows the conviction of Kevin Bollaert, the operator of a similar cyber exploitation website, and his sentence in April to 18 years in prison. The Bollaert case was the first criminal prosecution of a cyber exploitation website operator in the country, according to Harris' office.

In January, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Craig Brittain, operator of Isanybodydown.com, another site that allegedly charged women to have intimate images of themselves removed.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags U.S. Federal Trade CommissionKamala Harrise-commerceCalifornia Office of the Attorney GeneralCasey MeyeringlegalinternetCriminalKevin BollaertCraig Brittain

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