Pornhub’s parent company MindGeek is being sued by 34 women who accuse it of knowingly profiting from videos of them, which were uploaded without their consent.
The civil case was filed on Thursday in a California court, and each of the plaintiffs alleges they were the victims of sex trafficking.
Out of 34 plaintiffs, 14 say they were victims of underage sex trafficking. The plaintiffs come from various US states, as well as the UK and Thailand.
“This is a case about rape, not pornography,” the lawsuit states. It claims that MindGeek knowingly allowed non-consensual content to proliferate on its sites as part of its business model.
One of the plaintiffs says a nude video which her high-school boyfriend had coerced her into making when she was 13 was shared on Pornhub n 2014. She says it took Pornhub four weeks to remove the video after she flagged it to the website, but it continued to be downloaded and re-uploaded, and most recently a version of it was found on Pornhub in June 2020.
Another of the plaintiffs says she was trafficked from age seven up until she went to college, and was at one point trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein. At least seven videos of her were uploaded to Pornhub, according to the lawsuit.
Pornhub refuted the lawsuit’s claims in a statement to the BBC. “Pornhub has zero tolerance for illegal content and investigates any complaint or allegation made about content on our platforms,” a company spokesperson said. MindGeek was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Insider.
The Pershing Square Capital Management boss was browsing Twitter last December when he came across “The Children of Pornhub,” a damning indictment of the porn site by The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. The article detailed how Pornhub allowed unverified users to upload videos without authorization from the people featured in them, enabling revenge porn and other exploitation.
Ackman noted in Kristof’s story that Mastercard and Visa processed payments for Pornhub. The hedge fund manager, who has waged activist-shareholder campaigns against several companies, realized he could leverage his influence to push those publicly listed payment groups to make changes.
Unaware that American Express already banned payments on porn sites, he texted Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga a link to the story and the following message: “Amex, VISA and MasterCard should immediately withhold payments or withdraw until this is fixed. PayPal has already done so.”
Banga swiftly replied, “We’re on it,” according to Institutional Investor.
Days later, Mastercard announced it had instructed its partners who connected Pornhub to its payment network to cease accepting the site’s charges. The payments group had found evidence of illegal activity and was continuing its investigation, it said.
Visa promptly cut ties with Pornhub too and launched an investigation. The porn site declared less than 24 hours later that it had removed 10 million videos, or 80% of all the videos on its site.
MindGeek didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
Pornhub-owner MindGeek was already under pressure from human rights activists such as Laila Mickelwait, while litigator Michael Bowe was signaling to the credit-card companies that lawsuits might be on the way, Institutional Investor said.
However, Ackman’s text to Banga and his tweets about the issue may have tipped the balance. “It wasn’t until Bill really laid on the pressure and said, ‘Do the right thing,’ that they did,” Mickelwait told the publication.
The billionaire’s key takeaway from the episode was that investors can influence companies to act more responsibly, especially now that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards are gaining momentum. “CEOs get a zillion emails, but the one group that rises to the top of the line … is its biggest shareholders, influential shareholders,” he told Institutional Investor.
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is under investigation by the FBI, was in the unusual position Thursday of questioning the director of the agency, Christopher Wray, as part of congressional oversight hearings.
On Thursday Wray appeared before the committee and was questioned on several ongoing investigations by lawmakers including Gaetz.
Gaetz has strenuously denied the trafficking allegations, claiming that they are part of a plot against him.
On Thursday Gaetz questioned Wray about the FBI’s investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, an issue Republicans have seized on in recent weeks.
The claim was pushed by Donald Trump and allies in the early months of the pandemic, but was initially dismissed by the World Health Organization and experts. In recent months it has gained renewed credibility.
“I have to be careful not to discuss specific investigations,” Wray replied. He continued: “There are differences of view within the intelligence community about the origins of the coronavirus and we’re taking a deeper dive on that subject.”
Prosecutors are looking into whether Rep. Matt Gaetz obstructed justice in the sex-trafficking investigation that he is the subject of, Politico reported Wednesday.
The Justice Department is investigating if the Florida congressman violated federal sex-trafficking laws and had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.
Sources told Politico that the obstruction of justice probe concerns a call Gaetz had with a witness in the case. The witness was on the phone with Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend, who then dialed in the congressman. The contents of the call are not clear, but they will determine if Gaetz is charged with obstruction, the outlet reported.
Obstruction of justice is an act that “influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice.”
Gaetz has denied all of the allegations against him. A spokesperson for Gaetz did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on the obstruction of justice inquiry, but one said in a statement to Politico the congressman has not broken any laws.
“Congressman Gaetz pursues justice, he doesn’t obstruct it,” the statement said.
Gaetz ex-girlfriend, for her part, is seeking a deal over concerns she might have violated obstruction of justice laws, Politico reported. CNN reported in May one of Gaetz’s ex-girlfriends was cooperating with prosecutors, though it’s unclear if it’s the same ex-girlfriend involved in the call with the witness.
The investigation into Gaetz, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, reportedly stemmed from an investigation into another Florida Republican, former tax official Joel Greenberg, who is an associate of Gaetz.
In May, Greenberg pleaded guilty to six felony counts, including the sex trafficking of a child, and agreed to cooperate with the US government on the investigation and prosecution of others.
Since it surfaced that Rep. Matt Gaetz’s former wingman Joel Greenberg is cooperating with prosecutors in a wide-ranging sex-trafficking investigation, Gaetz has zeroed in on skewering Greenberg’s credibility as a witness for the government.
But on Friday, a Daily Beast report indicated that Greenberg may have receipts to back up his claims.
“This is not good news for Matt Gaetz,” Sherine Ebadi, a former FBI agent who served as the lead agent in the government’s case against the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, told Insider.
The text messages detailed in the story do not feature Gaetz; they were between Greenberg and his friend Joe Ellicott, who previously worked for Greenberg when he was a Florida tax collector.
According to the report, the texts were exchanged on the encrypted messaging app Signal and with a disappearing time of 30 seconds. But Greenberg took screenshots of the messages, in which he and Ellicott expressed fear that they and others in their circle could face criminal charges for having sex with a minor. Ellicott has not been charged with a crime and did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.
Although Gaetz was not a participant in the conversations outlined in the story, legal experts say the existence of the screenshots themselves could spell trouble for the embattled lawmaker as he continues to cast doubt on Greenberg.
“If Greenberg has texts between himself and Ellicott, it’s certainly feasible he has other evidence and was savvy enough to take screenshots of those texts,” Ebadi said. “It seems to follow that he may have kept all the evidence that he may have needed to use for leverage. I would not feel really comfortable if I was anyone that had committed a crime with him right now, because he’s kept files on people, potentially, which could be very damning and very useful to prosecutors.”
Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Justice Department, echoed that view.
“Looks like Greenberg had more foresight than the congressman,” he told Insider, adding that the fact that Greenberg kept records of his conversations “absolutely bolsters his credibility.”
Gaetz has not been charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing. His spokesperson did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on this story.
It’s routine practice for investigators to search for additional evidence – like electronic records, emails, and financial documents – to corroborate witness testimony. That’s especially true for a witness like Greenberg, who was charged with nearly three dozen felonies and pleaded guilty earlier this week to six of those counts, including carrying out the sex-trafficking of a child.
“The fact that Greenberg has screenshots of his conversations with someone else, in which they talked about their unlawful activities, that certainly helps his credibility with the feds,” Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor who worked on drug and human-trafficking cases, told Insider.
“This is an admitted felon and someone who’s going to be a convicted sex offender. Prosecutors have to make sure that he’s cooperating and being truthful, not just saying what they want to hear to get a reduced jail sentence,” he added.
As far as the text screenshots go, Ebadi said, “it makes Greenberg’s statements more credible when he has proof.”
‘The way you work your way up to the bigger fish is that you cooperate up’
The investigation into Gaetz centers around whether he violated federal sex-trafficking laws. According to The New York Times, he’s suspected of having had sex with someone who was 17 years old at the time of their alleged encounters in 2019. That same individual was involved in the sex-trafficking count against Greenberg.
The Daily Beast previously reported that Greenberg also put it in writing that he and Gaetz had paid for sex with a minor. Greenberg sent the letter to the longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone in a last-ditch bid to obtain a pardon from President Donald Trump in the weeks before he left office in January. And as he did with Ellicott, Greenberg also took screenshots of his conversations with Stone, who is himself a convicted felon.
Ellicott’s name surfaced recently after Politico reported that he was named in a federal grand jury subpoena that investigators sent to another individual.
Along with Ellicott, the subpoena mentioned Gaetz, Greenberg, and former Florida state Rep. Halsey Beshears, who knew Gaetz from their time in the Florida statehouse. Beshears also traveled with Gaetz to the Bahamas in 2018, a trip that investigators are scrutinizing as part of their sex-trafficking probe.
“The way you work your way up to the bigger fish is that you cooperate up,” Ebadi said. “So the feds got Greenberg and they could have cooperated him against Ellicott. If they get Ellicott, they might use him to get to Beshears, who they could use, in turn, to get to Gaetz. Taking that sort of path up would not be abnormal at all, and I think it’s fairly reasonable.”
Flipping witnesses to testify against someone higher up in importance is a standard prosecutorial tactic. And if a case like this ends up going to trial, Ebadi said, “when all these people are saying the same thing, that’s a lot more powerful, believable testimony than just that of one cooperator who’s a convicted felon.”
The former Florida county tax collector Joel Greenberg will plead guilty to six felony counts including sex trafficking, identity theft, and wire fraud, a significant downgrade from the 33 federal charges he was facing through multiple indictments, Insider has learned.
Greenberg is scheduled to appear in court Monday morning to formalize the plea agreement with Justice Department prosecutors, who are investigating whether he and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida violated federal sex-trafficking laws. A judge will have to sign off on the agreement before it is finalized.
Federal prosecutors in Orlando, Florida, initially charged Greenberg in June 2020; after a series of superseding indictments, the total hit 33 felony counts as varied as sex trafficking, stalking, and cryptocurrency fraud.
But a source familiar with the plea deal said the former Seminole County tax collector would admit to six of those charges.
The plea deal is expected to include standard language that Greenberg must cooperate fully with the US government in his case and any other related matters. That could mean testifying in court or before a federal grand jury in the event of a trial. That could be bad news for Gaetz, a GOP congressman and Trump loyalist.
Greenberg’s cooperation with the federal government has been widely known. When news broke in April that his client seemed interested in plea deal, Greenberg’s attorney Fritz Scheller told reporters, “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.”
Legal experts told Insider the prosecutors’ decision to whittle the charges down suggested he had information of significant value.
“His cooperation requires him to be providing truthful testimony and to provide it at the government’s request,” said David Weinstein, a former assistant US attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He told Insider that Greenberg’s plea agreement would also be significant because it could mean he’d testify in front of a grand jury should Gaetz be charged with a crime and go to trial.
Prosecutors accused Greenberg, among other things, of carrying out the sex trafficking of a minor between the ages of 14 and 17. Gaetz is also suspected of having had a sexual relationship with the same person, who was 17 at the time of the alleged encounters in 2019.
Cooperating since late 2020
Greenberg had been cooperating since last year with federal authorities in the case against Gaetz, The New York Times reported in April. He’s said to have given investigators information about an “array of topics,” according to the report, including telling them that he and Gaetz had interactions with women who were given cash and gifts in exchange for sex.
According to The Daily Beast, Greenberg also said in a recent letter that Gaetz paid for sex with a minor. Greenberg is said to have sent the letter to the longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone in the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency in a last-ditch bid to obtain a pardon.
“From time to time, gas money or gifts, rent or partial tuition payments were made to several of these girls, including the individual who was not yet 18. I did see the acts occur firsthand and Venmo transactions, Cash App, or other payments were made to these girls on behalf of the Congressman,” Greenberg said in the letter, according to the report.
This week’s latest developments come days after CNN reported that federal investigators were also seeking the cooperation of a former Capitol Hill intern who used to date Gaetz. The intern did not work in Gaetz’s office.
Gaetz, who has not been charged with a crime, has vehemently denied the allegations against him and insisted the Justice Department’s investigation is part of an elaborate, multimillion-dollar extortion scheme against him and his family.
“The first indictment of Joel Greenberg alleges that he falsely accused another man of sex with a minor for his own gain. That man was apparently innocent. So is Congressman Gaetz,” said Harlan Hill, a spokesman for the lawmaker. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gaetz has hired legal representation amid the growing investigation, and his office released a statement in early April from unnamed female staffers in his office insisting their boss “has always been a principled and morally grounded leader.”
Sherine Ebadi, a former FBI agent who served as the lead agent in the government’s case against the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, told Insider that Greenberg’s cooperation would be a nightmare scenario for Gaetz.
“What Gaetz would be concerned about is if there’s a cooperation agreement in this matter that involves the defendant flipping on him,” she said. “That gets scary for coconspirators because they know someone who’s either aware of their crimes or someone they coconspired with is now working with the government.”
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz paid to have sex with a minor, his longtime associate Joel Greenberg said in a letter obtained by The Daily Beast.
“On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District and myself,” Greenberg said in the letter, referring to an individual who was 17 years old at the time of the alleged encounter with Gaetz, according to The Daily Beast. “From time to time, gas money or gifts, rent or partial tuition payments were made to several of these girls, including the individual who was not yet 18. I did see the acts occur firsthand and Venmo transactions, Cash App, or other payments were made to these girls on behalf of the Congressman.”
Insider could not immediately verify the letter.
The Justice Department has been investigating since last year whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws and engaged in a sexual relationship with a minor. The investigation into him stems from a broader inquiry into the former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, a close associate of Gaetz’s who was indicted on 33 felony counts, including carrying out the sex trafficking of a minor between the ages of 14 and 17. Greenberg previously pleaded not guilty.
Both Gaetz and his father have confirmed the existence of the investigation. Greenberg, meanwhile, appears to be close to striking a plea deal with prosecutors, and The New York Times reported that he’s been cooperating with investigators since last year.
Gaetz has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct and wrongdoing, and his office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The letter obtained by The Daily Beast was written as part of Greenberg’s pleas to Roger Stone to help him secure a pardon from President Donald Trump. The outlet also obtained communications between Greenberg and Stone, a longtime Republican operative who had his prison sentence commuted by Trump.
According to the exchanges, Greenberg offered Stone $250,000 in Bitcoin, to which Stone replied saying he “cannot push too hard because of the nonsense surrounding pardons.” A week before Trump left office, Stone told Greenberg to be “prepared to wire me $250,000 because I am feeling confident,” The Daily Beast reported.
Stone confirmed to the outlet Greenberg wanted to pay him for help with a pardon, but denied asking for money or acting on the request.
The Greenberg letter is the latest development in the Gaetz saga since news of the investigation broke late last month. In addition to looking into whether he broke sex trafficking laws by paying for a minor to travel with him, investigators are also said to be examining whether Gaetz used campaign money to fund travel and other expenses for women.
When Democratic Rep. Katie Hill had sexually explicit photos of her published in a British tabloid alongside reports of a relationship with one of her staffers, she found an unlikely ally in GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Gaetz defended Hill after the House Ethics Committee opened a probe into the lawmaker over the alleged relationship.
“Who among us would look perfect if every ex leaked every photo/text?” Gaetz said in a tweet. “Katie isn’t being investigated by Ethics or maligned because she hurt anyone – it is because she is different.”
“Knowing now that that could’ve been just because he was trying to kind of cover up for whatever his own indiscretions were or be able to use my name and invoke that defense later on,” Hill said. “It’s just gross.”
On Thursday, The Beast reported Gaetz, a Republican from Florida, paid $900 via Venmo to his political ally Joel Greenberg in 2018. Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector, then sent the money in various amounts to three young women. All of the women were over 18, according to The Daily Beast, which reviewed the Venmo transactions, and the funds were marked for “tuition” and “school.”
Greenberg was charged with multiple counts of sex trafficking last year, an investigation that prompted the probe into Gaetz. The Justice Department is also probing whether Gaetz violated sex-trafficking laws and whether he had a sexual relationship with an underage girl, The New York Times reported.
Greenberg and Gaetz have both denied the allegations against them. Gaetz has said he has “never” paid for sex or had a sexual relationship with a minor.
Republicans have largely been quiet on the accusations against Gaetz, including former President Donald Trump, of whom the lawmaker was a staunch supporter. Several of Trump’s aides had advised him against publicly defending Gaetz due to the seriousness of the accusations, The Times’s Maggie Haberman said.
The former president broke his silence on the matter Wednesday to dispute reports that said Gaetz had sought a preemptive pardon from Trump before he left office.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” Trump said in a statement. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
Two of Gaetz’s aides have abandoned the lawmaker since news of the investigation came out. Devin Murphy, Gaetz’s legislative director, told people he quit because “he was interested in writing bills, not working at TMZ,” according to The Times.