Power of good journalism: Cyberstalker jailed, no bail set

December 15, 2010

Good journalism is more priceless than gold.

Federal authorities arrested Vitaly Borker in New York for his threats against customers whom he had defrauded in on-line purchases of eyeglasses and frames.

The arrest came eight days after the New York Times published a lengthy story on Borker’s abusive behavior: Vitaly Borker advertised designer eyeglass frames on line; when a purchaser actually bought a frame, Borker would substitute a cheap knock-off worth much less than the purchaser paid. If and when purchasers complained, rather than cheerfully make a refund Borker would stalk them and make threats online, telling the purchasers he knew where they lived, and sending photos of the building in at least one case.

Authorities failed to act. It’s a shocking story that you should read; the Times reported:

Soon after, she discovered that DecorMyEyes had charged her $487 — or an extra $125. When she and Mr. Russo spoke again, she asked about the overcharge and said she would return the frames.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with these glasses?” she recalls Mr. Russo shouting. “I ordered them from France specifically for you!”

“I’m going to contact my credit card company,” she told him, “and dispute the charge.”

Until that moment, Mr. Russo was merely ornery. Now he erupted.

“Listen, bitch,” he fumed, according to Ms. Rodriguez. “I know your address. I’m one bridge over” — a reference, it turned out, to the company’s office in Brooklyn. Then, she said, he threatened to find her and commit an act of sexual violence too graphic to describe in a newspaper.

Ms. Rodriguez was shaken but undaunted. That day she called Citibank, which administers her MasterCard account, and after submitting some paperwork, she won a provisional victory. Her $487 would be refunded as the bank looked into the charge and discussed it with the owner of DecorMyEyes. A final determination, she was told, would take 60 days.

As that two-month deadline approached, Mr. Russo had dropped his claim for the contact lenses he’d never sent. But, she said, he began an increasingly nasty campaign to persuade her to contact Citibank and withdraw her dispute.

“Call me back or I’m going to drag you to small-claims court,” he wrote in an e-mail on Sept. 27. “You have one hour to call me back or I’m filing online.”

A few hours later, Mr. Russo sent details of what appeared to be a lawsuit filed in Brooklyn. It included a hearing date and time, the address of the court, a docket number and a demand for $1,500, which, the e-mail said, “includes my legal fees.”

On the strength of the Times’ reporting, federal authorities arrested Borker about a week later — the judge refused to allow bail.  Other agencies lined up to press charges once the man was in custody.

“Muckrakers” and investigative reporters long told that sunshine exposing wrongdoing is beneficial to the public, simply by the exposure.

Don’t we need more such reporting?

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