As an experienced internet marketer who found success in the online reputation management industry, Rich Gorman was already well aware of the damage that can be caused by internet defamation. Then, Gorman said, he became the victim of a series of online reputation attacks himself.
Well over a year after the online smear campaign began, Gorman has continued to work on repairing his reputation, which is being aided by the recent ruling from a federal judge awarding him more than $3 million in damages.
On May 20, 2015, Judge Gerald Austin McHugh of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania entered a judgment in favor of Gorman and against defendant Karl Steinborn in the amount of nearly $3.05 million: $3 million in compensatory damages for non-economic losses such as mental anguish and emotional suffering, in addition to almost $48,000 in special damages (covering both investigatory expenses and legal fees incurred).
The judge also issued an injunction against the defendant to protect Gorman from further threats and damage to his reputation, specifically ordering the defendant to:
- stop defaming Gorman, his family or employees;
- remove the defamatory statements from the internet, including by submitting the Order to internet search engines such as Google; and
- refrain from threatening and extorting Gorman, members of his family, or Gorman’s employees.
“Justice has been served,” Gorman told the Defamation Removal Attorneys Blog in a phone interview. Gorman went on to say that he remains in litigation with one of the other alleged attackers of his reputation.
Despite the legal victory, Gorman explained that his reputation has been “forever changed.”
“I don’t know if it will ever be restored to what it was,” Gorman said.
Pursuing his online reputation attackers
Late in 2013, unknown people began attacking the internet entrepreneur, his family members, and employees through a series of internet postings, Gorman said. According to Gorman, false accusations included that he was a convicted child molester and that his daughter had been conceived as a result of the rape of her mother (who latter tragically passed away in a car accident).
In light of these egregious attacks on the reputations of Gorman and others, the Pennsylvania businessman said he did not hesitate to pursue the attackers. He and others acting on his behalf – including private investigators and attorneys – conducted “countless hours of research” to determine the source of these attacks.
“These guys went to great lengths to seal their identities for the purpose of ruining my professional and personal reputations,” Gorman said of Steinborn and another man, two of the people to whom Gorman said his team traced the internet defamation.
Gorman said the men, with whom he did not have a prior relationship, and other unknown persons used prepaid debit cards to register one particular defamatory website with fake names, which was hosted on a Malaysian web server. He was able to go through GoDaddy.com to get the website removed, which then prompted them to target Gorman further, in the form of the aforementioned defamatory accusations and related threats, Gorman said.
In early 2014, Gorman filed suit against Steinborn and the others. In November, the judge entered a default judgment and later, on April 17, Steinborn failed to appear at the hearing on damages.
In a memorandum that preceded the order granting judgment and injunctive relief, Judge McHugh wrote: “the evidence is clear that (Gorman) was the target of a reprehensible campaign aimed at impugning his character with the specific purpose of harming his ability to conduct business and destroying his personal business.”
Consequences of defamation
Gorman said that the decision to pursue his attackers was a simple one, primarily because the consequences of not taking any action would be too great. Gorman said that the harmful information posted about him was publicly posted where people could have found it and believed it to be true. This is “always in the back of (my) mind at business meetings,” he said.
Gorman added that he believes free speech is a “wonderful thing” and should not be suppressed; however, he said the line must be drawn at false and defamatory statements.
“I’m passionate about this,” Gorman said. “It has hurt my family, hurt my business, and hurt my friends.”