Smear Tac­tics

What can you do when some­one at­tacks you on­line? Not much

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - NEWS - Pho­to­graph by Chris­taan Fel­ber By Dune Lawrence

Isaw the photo first, me in a bloody wash of red with “RACIST” puls­ing over my face. A cou­ple of clicks brought me to this: “In the dark­est shadow of Bloomberg’s glossy of­fice build­ing in Man­hat­tan, you may find a woman by the name of Dune Lawrence—a ‘jour­nal­ist’ who has built a ca­reer on writ­ing sala­cious ar­ti­cles about China.” That was my in­tro­duc­tion to The­Blot, a web­site I hope you’ve never heard of. The ar­ti­cle went on and on: I’d been kicked out of China for poor job per­for­mance and eked out a liv­ing on min­i­mum wage. My ap­pear­ance was rav­aged by “years of con­sum­ing hor­mone-packed fried chicken and stress­ing over money.” Now, I’d found a way to save my sink­ing ca­reer by writ­ing neg­a­tive ar­ti­cles about China and tak­ing kick­backs from short sellers. In a cin­e­matic scene set at Ken­tucky Fried Chicken, this In­ter­net ver­sion of me laid out a strat­egy: “‘Bash­ing the Chi­nese could be a prof­itable niche for me,’ Lawrence said to a source while bit­ing off a juicy chicken leg quar­ter at KFC. ‘The Chi­nese don’t vote, the Chi­nese don’t sue peo­ple, they just sit there tak­ing the s---. How much bet­ter can it get? I am mak­ing a liv­ing out of it!’ ” It was dif­fi­cult for me to keep read­ing. In ad­di­tion to all the lies, the story was laced with creepy sex­ual im­agery: I’d had my “panties ripped off” and was like “a dog wag­ging her tail try­ing to at­tract a mat­ing part­ner.” I felt over­whelmed; it was as if some­thing heavy were press­ing into my fore­head. I wanted to fight back, and I also wanted to hide. I haven’t been able to do ei­ther. The story, pub­lished on Jan. 8, 2014, had the by­line “John Ster­ling.” The site’s other ar­ti­cles were an odd mix of celebrity gos­sip, en­ter­tain­ment news, and stabs at re­port­ing on se­ri­ous top­ics such as drug mar­ket­ing. It wasn’t ex­actly high jour­nal­ism, but it looked pro­fes­sional, not like some am­a­teur blog. Google seemed to think so as well, be­cause the story in­stantly went to the top of the re­sults when I searched my name. In Septem­ber 2015 the FBI ar­rested the man be­hind The­Blot, one Ben­jamin Wey. Not for smear­ing me or the other peo­ple he imag­ined were his en­e­mies. He’s pri­mar­ily a fi­nancier, and he was charged with se­cu­ri­ties fraud and other fi­nan­cial crimes in­volv­ing Chi­nese com­pa­nies he helped to list on U.S. stock mar­kets. The U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice al­leges Wey pock­eted tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in il­licit prof­its that he fun­neled through as­so­ciates over­seas and back into ac­counts in the U.S. Wey de­nies the charges. A trial has been set for March 2017. Mean­while, The­Blot’s lies about me still pop up on­line. The same is true for a young woman who won an $18 mil­lion judg­ment against Wey and his com­pa­nies for sex­ual ha­rass­ment and defama­tion, a jour­nal­ist who wrote about her, a re­tired Nas­daq of­fi­cial, and a Ge­orge­town Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor. As Wey, 44, awaits trial, he reg­u­larly posts Blot ar­ti­cles call­ing all of us, and oth­ers, frauds, racists, and ex­tor­tion­ists. He’s found a way to ex­act re­venge with few con­se­quences, and he’s milk­ing it.Imet Wey in Septem­ber 2010, when he sailed into the Bloomberg of­fices for an in­ter­view. He wore a suit, and his black hair was short and slick. He main­tained a stud­ied smug­ness, as if his pub­li­cist hadn’t e-mailed me cold to pitch the visit. I was a reporter who’d re­cently lived in China; Wey wanted some pos­i­tive press for his busi­ness help­ing com­pa­nies there raise money here. Ev­ery­thing about him seemed re­hearsed, from his­pos­ture—chin down, fin­gers tented—to the way he used my name in al­most ev­ery sen­tence. China’s econ­omy was grow­ing at roughly 10 per­cent a year, and Wey por­trayed this as a sort of per­sonal val­i­da­tion. “The phi­los­o­phy is very sim­ple,” he said. “If you be­lieve China is go­ing to con­tinue to grow as it has, who’s go­ing to bridge the gap be­tween the two coun­tries?” The an­swer, ob­vi­ously, was Ben­jamin Wey. Still, the life story Wey sketched for me was fas­ci­nat­ing. He said he’d ar­rived in the U.S. from China in 1992 with $62 in his pocket, then boot­strapped his way to Wall Street riches. A few years af­ter our meet­ing, Wey would tell a longer ver­sion of the story in a doc­u­ment he claimed was a busi­ness school case study. His father died when he was 10, the story went, leav­ing his mother to raise him alone on $120 a month in the north­ern Chi­nese city of Tian­jin. Wey con­sid­ered English the key to his fu­ture. He rose at 5 ev­ery morn­ing to study, then biked 90 min­utes to school, all the while recit­ing English phrases. One day it paid off: He struck up a con­ver­sa­tion with a for­eign cou­ple on a bus. They hailed from Texas—a word that had an al­most mys­ti­cal ring to him. This chance meet­ing led him to col­lege at Ok­la­homa Bap­tist Univer­sity. Suc­cess fol­lowed suc­cess. First, he founded and ran a cam­pus cater­ing com­pany with a gross profit mar­gin of some 95 per­cent. Next, while still at school, he bro­kered ship­ments of silk box­ers, Brazil­ian sugar, and Rus­sian fer­til­izer. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he got him­self hired as a China ad­viser at Ash­ton Tech­nol­ogy Group. It’s hard to know what to be­lieve in Wey’s “case study,” but he did work at Ash­ton. In the late 1990s he opened a con­sult­ing busi­ness with part­ners in Bei­jing, and in 2003 he founded New York Global Group. That’s the busi­ness Wey was pro­mot­ing when I met him. NYGG ad­vised mostly small and mid­size pri­vate Chi­nese com­pa­nies look­ing to list in the U.S., Wey told me. He em­pha­sized that he turned away 99 per­cent of po­ten­tial clients. Staff ac­coun­tants, he said, per­formed as much as 11 months of due dili­gence, and then, for com­pa­nies deemed wor­thy, NYGG en­gi­neered merg­ers with “shells”—com­pa­nies that are all but de­funct but still pub­licly listed. Such a trans­ac­tion, called a re­verse merger, trans­formed the Chi­nese en­tity into a U.S. pub­lic com­pany overnight. Hun­dreds of Chi­nese com­pa­nies had taken this route—and so, Wey pointed out, had Berk­shire Hath­away and Texas In­stru­ments. Wey was say­ing one thing about Chi­nese re­verse-merger com­pa­nies, but the mar­ket was say­ing an­other. Short sellers were rais­ing doubts about the ac­count­ing at many of th­ese com­pa­nies, and shares in some were fall­ing. Wey was an as­sertive de­fender of the com­pa­nies and ac­cused the shorts of il­le­gal mar­ket ma­nip­u­la­tion. I’d read up on Wey and knew he’d had his own reg­u­la­tory is­sues: The state se­cu­ri­ties reg­u­la­tor in Ok­la­homa had ac­cused him of fail­ing to tell clients about his con­sult­ing re­la­tion­ships with com­pa­nies whose shares he was tout­ing. Wey was cen­sured, and he agreed to a ban from the se­cu­ri­ties in­dus­try in the state, with­out ad­mit­ting or deny­ing the al­le­ga­tions. I met with Wey again in Novem­ber 2010, and the next Jan­uary I wrote a story for Bloomberg Busi­ness­week about short sellers and Chi­nese re­verse merg­ers. It men­tioned Wey and NYGG. In Jan­uary 2012 the FBI searched NYGG’s of­fice. Wey wouldn’t com­ment at the time, and the FBI didn’t give de­tails. Af­ter that, I heard only oc­ca­sional news of Wey. A friend who’d read my sto­ries on re­verse merg­ers men­tioned meet­ing him. In Septem­ber 2013 the friend showed me a group e-mail Wey had sent say­ing he was an alum­nus of Columbia Busi­ness School and tout­ing the case study about him­self. Columbia had pub­lished it, Wey wrote, and was plan­ning to use it “in the

Wey out­side the Man­hat­tan

court­house, where he was found li­able

for sex­ual ha­rass­ment and

defama­tion. He hasn’t paid the $18 mil­lion

judg­ment

train­ing of global lead­ers for years to come.” The at­tached doc­u­ment, ti­tled “Ben­jamin Wey: Global En­tre­pre­neur,” ap­peared to be on let­ter­head from Columbia’s Case­Works se­ries and listed a Columbia Busi­ness School pro­fes­sor and Wey him­self as the co-au­thors. This was the story that in­cluded such de­tails as the 90-minute bike ride to school and the nice cou­ple from Texas.

The study isn’t a Columbia pub­li­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to Christo­pher Cash­man, a spokesman for the busi­ness school. “The doc­u­ment you have is not a case study and was not pub­lished by Columbia Busi­ness School,” Cash­man wrote in an e-mail. “In fact, no re­search or case study about Mr. Wey has ever been pub­lished by Columbia Busi­ness School.” The pro­fes­sor cred­ited as Wey’s co-au­thor de­clined to com­ment.

The doc­u­ment opens with Wey wav­ing good­bye to his Columbia class­mates on their last day to­gether. They’re headed to­ward the sub­way, while Wey hops in his Maserati to get back to Wall Street. The rest of the nar­ra­tive mostly sticks to Wey’s per­sonal tri­umphs; it does touch on the Ok­la­homa trou­ble, de­scrib­ing it as po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and say­ing Wey ac­cepted the cen­sure be­cause he was no longer do­ing busi­ness in the state. Still, the story notes, news of the cen­sure gave his en­e­mies fod­der. The les­son, Wey quotes Wey as say­ing, is that “per­cep­tion mat­ters more than facts or re­al­ity.”

By the time Wey dis­trib­uted his case study, I was work­ing on a story about a for­mer client of his: AgFeed In­dus­tries, a Chi­nese an­i­mal-feed com­pany em­broiled in bank­ruptcy, a share­holder law­suit, and a U.S. Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Wey didn’t re­spond to my calls or e-mails. I re­con­structed some of his in­volve­ment from In­ter­net searches and turned up a press re­lease from NYGG say­ing it had helped AgFeed raise $86 mil­lion in the U.S. My story came out in De­cem­ber. Less than three months later, the SEC sued AgFeed and its Chi­nese ex­ec­u­tives for al­legedly fabri­cat­ing rev­enue from 2008 to 2011. The com­pany set­tled with­out ad­mit­ting li­a­bil­ity and agreed to re­turn $18 mil­lion in il­licit prof­its.

Wey e-mailed me on New Year’s Day 2014. He said he was seek­ing com­ment for a se­ries of in­ves­tiga­tive ar­ti­cles about short sellers and fraud, and he had a list of ques­tions for me. Here’s a sam­ple. (All cor­re­spon­dence from Wey in this story is pre­sented as he sent it, un­cor­rected.)

“If you have no busi­ness back­ground and nei­ther have you ob­tained any education in the field of ac­count­ing of busi­ness, how could you have de­rived con­clu­sions on your own in­volv­ing com­plex global busi­ness mat­ters men­tioned in your var­i­ous ar­ti­cles?” “We were told you were ‘emo­tion­ally scarred’ while liv­ing in China and you are racially bi­ased against t he Chi­nese peo­ple. Is it true?”

“Sources told us that you have an ac­tive busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties out­side your Bloomberg em­ploy­ment. What are those busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties? How are you able to sup­port your life­style? What com­pen­sa­tion have you re­ceived from stock short sellers, hedge funds and other tabloid writ­ers?”

He ended with: “This is the time for you to come out clean, Dune.”

I didn’t re­spond. He fol­lowed up two days later with ad­di­tional prompts, in­clud­ing “Sources told us you have gained a lot of weight due to stress.”

Wey had al­ready started tweet­ing that I was im­pli­cated in “mas­sive frauds.” When Bloomberg’s lawyers sent him a let­ter telling him to take down the tweets and stop de­fam­ing me, he fired off an­other long e-mail. “You are a tabloid writer, a sen­sa­tional woman, a to­tal loser with ab­so­lutely no sense of moral­ity,” read the mes­sage, which none­the­less went on to say that “this is just the be­gin­ning of end­less ef­forts to ex­press our opin­ions for­ever, and con­tin­ues the de­bates of our dif­fer­ences in ci­vil­ity.”

I knew some­thing was com­ing, so I kept Googling my name and Wey’s name to see what it would be. That’s how I dis­cov­ered my star turn on The­Blot.

I was rat­tled for days. I couldn’t fo­cus on a story I was re­port­ing about—as it hap­pens—on­line pri­vacy and anony­mous brows­ing. Still, some things struck me as ab­surdly funny. Wey tried to drum up traf­fic to the story with a tweet claim­ing I was im­pli­cated in a “new Bernie Mad­off fraud.” His e-mails, which kept com­ing, re­ferred to “twits” in­stead of tweets and to Bloomberg’s out­side law firm, Wil­lkie Farr, as Wilkie Fart.

Wey’s name wasn’t on the story, but he wasn’t try­ing too hard to cover his tracks. The web­site’s terms of use iden­ti­fied the­blot. com as part of FNL Me­dia, which a copy­right form placed at the same of­fice ad­dress and floor as NYGG.

As I looked into how to get Wey’s vile ma­te­rial off the In­ter­net, I saw that FNL’s busi­ness reg­is­tra­tion listed Hol­land & Knight, a re­spectable law firm, and a firm part­ner, Neal Beaton. That gave me some hope—maybe some­one there would be will­ing to talk sense into Wey. I reached out through Bloomberg’s lawyers. The mes­sage came back—sorry, can’t help. (Hol­land & Knight says, through a spokesper­son, “Our in­volve­ment with FNL Me­dia was only in re­la­tion to the for­ma­tion of the com­pany in 2013.”)

I had no bet­ter luck with the com­pa­nies Wey used to spread Blot posts. The site had a Face­book page, and Bloomberg’s le­gal team tried to get Face­book to re­move ref­er­ences to me. No re­sponse. (The “RACIST” photo was in The­Blot’s photo stream when I checked as I was writ­ing this story. I re­ported it and got an au­to­mated re­sponse say­ing Face­book would re­move any­thing “that doesn’t fol­low the Face­book State­ment of Rights and Re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.” It’s still there.) When I com­plained to Twit­ter that Wey’s ac­count was abu­sive, I got a re­sponse from Twit­ter Trust & Safety, telling me Wey wasn’t vi­o­lat­ing Twit­ter’s rules and to block his tweets so I couldn’t see them. I sent in more ex­am­ples of Wey’s tweets, and Twit­ter sus­pended his ac­count. He was back in less than three weeks. Some­one opened a Twit­ter ac­count im­per­son­at­ing me. The only fol­lower was Ben­jamin Wey. Twit­ter did block that one.

My hus­band was en­raged and im­pa­tient: Couldn’t we

do some­thing? How could this guy be al­lowed to get away with this? My mother wor­ried this was all just a pre­lude to some­thing worse—vi­o­lence, phys­i­cal ha­rass­ment. I soothed them the best I could, and I kept look­ing for help.

Friends and col­leagues told me ap­peal­ing to Google was pretty much hope­less, and I found that to be true. Google didn’t seem to of­fer any way to re­port defam­a­tory con­tent, al­though there was a “re­port im­ages” op­tion that I’ve been us­ing to no avail for two years. Later, Google for­warded me its of­fi­cial pol­icy. In the U.S., the com­pany re­moves search re­sults from its in­dex only in spe­cific sit­u­a­tions in­volv­ing im­ages of child abuse, copy­right in­fringe­ment, or ex­po­sure of sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion such as So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers. Google will also re­spond to a court or­der iden­ti­fy­ing pages or con­tent as defam­a­tory.

I didn’t sue for defama­tion; I talked to peo­ple about it, and all of them told me the same thing: It would be long, in­va­sive, and hor­ri­ble, and Wey would likely use the op­por­tu­nity to fur­ther at­tack my pri­vacy and rep­u­ta­tion. Wey kept at his trolling, with at least four more sto­ries de­voted to me, plus ref­er­ences in posts about his other tar­gets. When­ever a new im­age of me came on­line, a Blot ar­ti­cle fol­lowed, with the same insults stamped over the im­age: FRAUD, DUMB, RACIST, IN­COM­PE­TENT.

There were real con­se­quences. My hus­band and I were turned down for home­own­ers in­sur­ance; the un­der­writer told my hus­band I was “high-pro­file.” I traded cards with an­other jour­nal­ist at an event, and the next day he e-mailed to ask what the heck I’d done to make any­one so an­gry at me. I felt as if I had a dirty lit­tle se­cret. I’d for­get, and then mo­ments like that would up­set me again. Not many peo­ple both­ered to ask for my side of the story. Maybe that was be­cause not a lot of peo­ple saw the Blot sto­ries—the en­tire site got only 50,000 views a month. But I imag­ined peo­ple I con­tacted for work, es­pe­cially na­tive Chi­nese, com­ing upon the Blot posts. How many of them would re­turn my calls or e-mails?

I wasn’t the first per­son ac­cused of racism on The­Blot. Be­fore me, there was Michael Emen, a Nas­daq of­fi­cial. In 2011, Nas­daq delisted a Wey client called CleanTech In­no­va­tions. (The de­ci­sion was over­turned by the SEC in July 2013 af­ter the com­pany ap­pealed.) A piece la­beled “opin­ion” ap­peared on The­Blot fo­cus­ing on Emen’s role, al­leg­ing abuse of his pow­ers, dis­crim­i­na­tion, and racial pro­fil­ing. “Michael Emen Re­veals Racism at Nas­daq” is still at the top of a Google search on his name.

Sim­i­lar “in­ves­ti­ga­tions,” as they were tagged, be­gan to ap­pear reg­u­larly on The­Blot. The at­tacks re­flected Wey’s ob­ses­sion with what he saw as the un­fair treat­ment of Chi­nese com­pa­nies by the U.S. me­dia and reg­u­la­tors. The­Blot went af­ter Roddy Boyd, a free­lance reporter who’d doggedly an­a­lyzed ac­count­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties at U.S.-listed Chi­nese com­pa­nies; Jon Carnes, a short seller; Francine McKenna, who wrote about AgFeed on her ac­count­ing-fo­cused blog; and a pair of Bar­ron’s re­porters who’d cov­ered re­verse-merger com­pa­nies and Wey’s busi­ness. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing graph­ics grew coarser and coarser, in­clud­ing pho­tos of toi­let bowls full of fe­ces.

The­Blot found a new tar­get in July 2014, a Swedish woman named Hanna Bou­veng. She met Wey at a party in the Hamp­tons in 2013. Not long af­ter, he of­fered her a job at NYGG, a visa, and a chance to stay in New York. She ac­cepted. A law­suit she later filed al­leged that Wey, who was mar­ried with chil­dren and al­most 20 years her se­nior, pur­sued her re­lent­lessly, buy­ing her tight clothes that he asked her to wear at the of­fice and forc­ing her to share a room with him on busi­ness trips. Even­tu­ally, the suit said, she slept with him, and when she de­clined to keep do­ing so, he fired her. Bou­veng sought $850 mil­lion in dam­ages.

The­Blot spewed out in­flam­ma­tory ar­ti­cles and lurid il­lus­tra­tions about Wey’s lat­est en­e­mies: Bou­veng, her lawyers, her friends, even a New York Daily News reporter who wrote a brief item about the law­suit. Just a sam­ple of the head­lines:

“Op-Ed: Hanna Bou­veng, Co­caine User Caught with Co­caine and Gun Crim­i­nal, Swedish Shame”

“Bank Fraud Dooms Morelli Al­ters Rat­ner Law Firm, Bank­ruptcy, Law­suit Charges, FBI In­ves­ti­gates”

“Bar­bara Ross, Racist NY Daily News Writer Fab­ri­cated Judge’s Or­der, Prej­u­diced Jour­nal­ist Ben­jamin Wey”

Bou­veng’s lawyers tried to per­suade the judge in the case to stop Wey from con­tin­u­ing to pub­lish defam­a­tory ar­ti­cles, as­sert­ing that they amounted to re­tal­i­a­tion and wit­ness in­tim­i­da­tion. Wey’s lawyers ar­gued that this would in­fringe on Wey’s right to free speech. The judge didn’t rule on this as­pect of the case un­til af­ter the trial was over, when he said the money judg­ment made it a moot point. Many of the sto­ries re­main on­line, up­dated with new ma­te­rial.

The trial be­came tabloid fod­der as Bou­veng tes­ti­fied about her sex­ual en­coun­ters with Wey. (From her tes­ti­mony: Q. Did you kiss him? A. No. Q. Did you hug him? A. No. Q. Did you re­cip­ro­cate in any way? A. No. Q. How long did it last? A. A few min­utes.) For Blot watch­ers like me, it also re­vealed Wey’s meth­ods. He re­ally had es­tab­lished a web­site, hired writ­ers, and pub­lished ar­ti­cles just to have a plat­form for his at­tacks. The site’s for­mer editor-in-chief tes­ti­fied that all Wey re­ally cared about were the pieces on his en­e­mies and that he tacked on com­ments un­der fake names to push the ar­ti­cles fur­ther up in search re­sults.

A jury awarded Bou­veng $18 mil­lion last June. She has yet to re­ceive any money, ac­cord­ing to one of her lawyers, David Rat­ner. Wey’s tweets af­ter the ver­dict in Bou­veng’s law­suit spun de­feat into vic­tory: “#GRAT­I­FIED #fi­nancier @Wey­Ben­jamin DE­FEATS #ex­tor­tion #hannabou­veng FALSE sex­ual as­sault, re­tal­i­a­tion claims, VIC­TORY.”

Rat­ner sent me a com­ment from Bou­veng, say­ing she’s “pleased that the U.S. govern­ment is pur­su­ing a crim­i­nal case against Wey. He will ul­ti­mately get what he de­serves.”

On the day of his ar­rest in Septem­ber 2015, Wey ap­peared in fed­eral court in Man­hat­tan to hear the charges: se­cu­ri­ties and wire fraud, con­spir­acy to com­mit se­cu­ri­ties fraud and wire fraud, fail­ure to dis­close own­er­ship in ex­cess of 5 per­cent of com­pa­nies’ stock, and money laun­der­ing. Wey ma­nip­u­lated Chi­nese com­pa­nies and in­vestors, ac­cord­ing to

“Howdy! Ni Hao! Hello! … You know me well so let’s get to the point. … In­ves­tiga­tive re­porters are eval­u­at­ing pub­lish­ing new sto­ries about you”

Bou­veng is “pleased that the U.S. govern­ment is pur­su­ing a crim­i­nal case against Wey,” says her lawyer. “He will ul­ti­mately get what he de­serves”

the Jus­tice Depart­ment, tak­ing hid­den stakes through fam­ily mem­bers and front com­pa­nies, then ma­nip­u­lat­ing trad­ing in the shares to ben­e­fit him­self and his fam­ily. The in­dict­ment out­lines how he al­legedly took a cut of al­most ev­ery trans­ac­tion as he shep­herded com­pa­nies such as Deer Con­sumer Prod­ucts and CleanTech to U.S. list­ings. He owned hid­den stakes in the shell com­pa­nies used for re­verse merg­ers, which then be­came shares of the new en­ti­ties. He hid th­ese stakes in off­shore en­ti­ties, through which he parceled out stakes to friends and fam­ily to boost the num­ber of share­hold­ers to the thresh­old re­quired for a Nas­daq list­ing. He also used th­ese off­shore en­ti­ties to con­duct fraud­u­lent trad­ing, at times ar­ti­fi­cially in­flat­ing share prices and then sell­ing to gen­er­ate mil­lions in prof­its. He caused stock and prof­its to be trans­ferred over­seas through ac­counts in Switzer­land and Hong Kong. (Wey’s Geneva-based banker, Seref Do­gan Er­bek, was also charged. He is at large.) The money re­turned to the U.S. and even­tu­ally to Wey, of­ten, the in­dict­ment says, as non­tax­able gifts to Wey’s wife, Michaela.

On Sept. 15, Wey pleaded not guilty to all charges. He’s also a de­fen­dant, along with his wife and sev­eral other peo­ple as­so­ci­ated with NYGG, in a civil suit filed by the SEC at the same time as the crim­i­nal com­plaint. Wey and his wife haven’t filed a re­sponse in the SEC case and are seek­ing to have it stayed un­til the crim­i­nal case against Wey is re­solved.

Wey is also bat­tling law­suits stem­ming from The­Blot. A Ge­orge­town law pro­fes­sor named Chris Brum­mer sued him in April 2015. Brum­mer had the poor luck to be an ar­bi­tra­tor in a Fi­nan­cial In­dus­try Reg­u­la­tory Au­thor­ity (Finra) dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against two bro­kers who sold shares of Deer Con­sumer Prod­ucts with­out dis­clos­ing to cus­tomers that they were paid con­sul­tants for the com­pany. Deer was a client of Wey’s. Finra barred the two bro­kers from work­ing in the se­cu­ri­ties in­dus­try, and Brum­mer was on a panel that up­held the de­ci­sion in 2014. Sto­ries on The­Blot ap­peared promptly, pil­lo­ry­ing Brum­mer as a fraud, call­ing him an Un­cle Tom (Brum­mer is black), and ac­cus­ing him of be­ing in­volved in pump-and-dump stock schemes.

Wey re­sponded to Brum­mer’s law­suit with a mo­tion to dis­miss. It con­tends that Wey didn’t write the posts and that the suit is a “trans­par­ent at­tempt” to chill free speech, be­cause no rea­son­able reader would in­ter­pret the ar­ti­cles as fact, rather than opin­ion. The mo­tion notes that “it is undis­puted that the Posts are avail­able only on a sen­sa­tion­al­ist in­ter­net blog.” Pre­pos­ter­ous though this might sound, es­pe­cially given Wey’s reg­u­lar dec­la­ra­tions that he’s an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist, it ap­pears to be de­signed to cloak Wey and The­Blot in the man­tle of the First Amend­ment and pro­tected free speech.

Brum­mer wouldn’t talk to me, but one of his lawyers, Whit­ney Gib­son, agreed to dis­cuss defama­tion in the on­line era in gen­eral terms. In­ter­net com­pa­nies, he told me, are pro­tected un­der a clause in the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions De­cency Act that says no provider or user of an “in­ter­ac­tive com­puter ser­vice,” such as a web­site, a host­ing com­pany, or a search en­gine provider, can be held li­able for third-party con­tent. That al­lows com­pa­nies to ig­nore the headache of ar­bi­trat­ing right from wrong and fact from fic­tion on­line, for the most part. It also leaves Brum­mer, and all of us, vul­ner­a­ble to the likes of Wey, who dis­guised many of his at­tacks as sto­ries sub­mit­ted by anony­mous read­ers. Decades into the In­ter­net Age, there’s no sure­fire method to get defam­a­tory ma­te­rial taken down if the per­son re­spon­si­ble for it is ready to put up a fight.

Ear­lier this month, Brum­mer’s law­suit cleared a ma­jor hur­dle: The judge ruled against Wey’s mo­tion to dis­miss and spec­i­fied that Wey hadn’t shown the Blot ar­ti­cles should be pro­tected un­der the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions De­cency Act. It’s a vic­tory, though Brum­mer still has to pre­vail in the over­all case— and in the mean­time, the Blot ar­ti­cles stay up.

Al­most ev­ery­one I con­tacted for this story, in­clud­ing Emen, Brum­mer, and oth­ers who’d been at­tacked on The­Blot, chose not to com­ment, and I un­der­stand that de­ci­sion. What’s the up­side? I know what the down­side is: more at­tacks. It took me a long time to de­cide to write about my own ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause I just wanted to avoid any more in­ter­ac­tion with Wey. But I did have to give him a chance to com­ment for this story, par­tic­u­larly on the ori­gin of the Columbia “case study.” I e-mailed the lawyers rep­re­sent­ing him in his var­i­ous le­gal bat­tles, and in less than three hours, I got a 1,600-word re­sponse from Wey. This is just a piece:

“Howdy! Ni Hao! Hello! I am Ben­jamin Wey—your old friend. You know me well so let’s get to the point. I am an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­tiga­tive reporter and I like The­Blot Mag­a­zine (www.the­blot.com)—Voice for the Voice­less, mil­lions of read­ers a year. In­ves­tiga­tive re­porters are eval­u­at­ing pub­lish­ing new sto­ries about you, your pe­cu­liar money en­tan­gle­ments with il­le­gal stock short sellers (Roddy Boyd, Jon Carnes etc) as their bribed mouth­piece, your al­leged ex­tra­mar­i­tal affairs with a man call­ing him­self ‘niu bi’—‘a cat­tle’s d---’—in Chi­nese on your own Twit­ter page, as well as your racist at­ti­tude to­wards the Chi­nese peo­ple. Be­cause you just reached out to me again af­ter two years of peace, you just did your­self a fa­vor by re­viv­ing our in­ter­est in you. …

“You men­tioned a non-pub­lished Columbia Busi­ness School re­search pa­per. I re­call you and your sex part­ner Roddy Boyd col­lec­tively pub­lished a tabloid hit piece on this mat­ter in 2013 in the NY Post. You said the Columbia pa­per was never pub­lished. Then how did you get a copy? How did you get hold of a draft Columbia Univer­sity in­ter­nal doc­u­ment? When and how did you hack into Columbia’s com­put­ers? How did you steal Columbia’s doc­u­ments? Who else was in­volved in your theft? Come clean please so our read­ers can judge. How long have you been steal­ing doc­u­ments from your em­ployer? You know, theft is a pat­tern. …

“We have 18 more ques­tions for you to an­swer. Each an­swer can be a sep­a­rate, fea­tured ar­ti­cle. Dune, to save you time, let’s start with the above list. Okay? Our dealine for your an­swers is 5 pm, Feb 24, 2016. As it is said, ‘a thief re­mains silent’. If you do not re­spond, we will re­port to our read­ers such. …

“Don­ald Trump said the main stream me­dia is full of dis­hon­est peo­ple. I have to say I agree with him. You are one of those duck­ings feel­ing like some white swan. There is no swan lake in my life to dance around, okay? I know your tricks and how you ‘me­dia’ peo­ple think. I am one of you, a fear­less reporter and I have buck­ets and buck­ets of ink—more than you do. ”

I wrote this story be­cause I have a plat­form to fight back. How can I, with the re­sources and reach of a global mag­a­zine, let him in­tim­i­date me? It’s my job to write about Wey. Still, I’m not look­ing for­ward to what’s com­ing next. <BW>

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