Companies cashing in on mugshots - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

FOX19 Investigates

Companies cashing in on mugshots

(PHOTO: FOX19 File) (PHOTO: FOX19 File)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

If you wind up behind bars, chances are your picture will end up plastered in a mugshot magazine sold at convenience stores across the Tri-State.

“You know, I have a family. I have a job,” said a Kentucky man who didn't want to be identified. He drank too much at a party one night and was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). Once arrested, he knew his mugshot would end up in one of the magazines.

He emailed the publisher of Crime Times, which calls itself the “Best Mug Mag on the Planet” and asked for a favor.

“'As a professional courtesy, could you not put me in this publication?' And they said no,” he said.

At least not for free. The publisher told him the only way to keep his photo out of the paper was to pay an “omission fee” which would cost him $500.

“And so I had to make a choice if I wanted to appear in this magazine or risk being humiliated,” he said.

And the mugshots magazines are hot commodities. At Gramer's Market in Erlanger, Ky., the owner has to keep a copy of Busted away from other magazines and under plastic.

“Everybody wants to look at it to see if they know anybody in there and they hold up the line, so we tell them they have to buy it if they want to see it,” said Gary Hansman, who owns Gramer's.

"I think everyone recognizes this is wrong. I just don't think they know how to get their arms around it yet,” said Scott Ciolek.

Ciolek is a Toledo-based attorney who sued a group of websites for doing virtually the same thing as the printed mugshot magazines. But in the website's case, they put up the mugshot first, then charged people to take it down. He settled the lawsuit and three of the websites stopped the practice.

A fourth - mugshots.com - still does it, charging $400 to $1800 to remove mugshots depending on how many someone has. Ciolek calls that online extortion.

"That is extortion. That is how every extortion scheme has worked from the beginning of time,” said Ciolek

The Kentucky Attorney General's Office disagree, however, saying the criminal definition of extortion is exposing a secret. The AG's office points out mugshots are public records.

Crime Times also denied wrongdoing.

"Actions that qualify as extortion, by definition, requires the use of force or direct threat to one's possessions or well-being, none of which take place in our omissions process," the newspaper said in a statement. "Rather, it is quite the opposite. We do not advertise this process, and simply offer it as a service only to those who inquire and request to be omitted."

The Kentucky man who wanted his DUI mugshot to remain unpublished decided to pay the price for omission. He then found out, he wasn't the only one capable of making a mistake when the magazine published his mugshot in a later issue.

He got a refund but not the privacy he was told he had to pay to protect.

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