Libel Takedown Litigation

9 Months in Prison for Forging Court Orders Aimed at Vanishing Online Material

"Arnstein ... submitted the counterfeit orders, which appeared to be valid on their face, to Google and requested that Google de-index the websites containing the purportedly defamatory information."


From a Justice Department press release put out last Friday, about a case you may have seen discussed here and here:

Michael Arnstein was sentenced today to nine months in prison for conspiring to forge a federal judge's signature on counterfeit court orders that Arnstein submitted to Google to get negative reviews about his business removed from Google search results. Arnstein pled guilty on September 15, 2017, before U.S. District Court Judge Andrew L. Carter Jr., who imposed today's sentence.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: "Michael Arnstein's blatant criminal scheme to exploit the authority of the federal judiciary for his company's benefit was outrageous. As Arnstein has learned, his attempts to remove negative reviews about his business from Google search results by forging a U.S. District Court judge's signature may have worked in the short term, but it also earned him nine months in a federal prison."

According to the allegations contained in the Complaint, the felony Information to which Arnstein pled guilty, and statements made during court proceedings:

Between February 2014 and February 2017, Arnstein engaged in a scheme to submit counterfeit federal court orders to Google, Inc. ("Google") in an effort to get websites containing unfavorable postings about Arnstein's business de-indexed from Google's internet search results. In furtherance of this scheme, Arnstein and others forged the signature of a United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York on more than 10 counterfeit court orders. These counterfeit orders listed the websites containing purportedly defamatory information about Arnstein's business and ordered the removal of such information from the websites. Arnstein then submitted the counterfeit orders, which appeared to be valid on their face, to Google and requested that Google de-index the websites containing the purportedly defamatory information.

* * *In addition to the prison term, Arnstein, 41, of Yonkers, New York, was sentenced to three years of supervised release, the first five months of which Arnstein must serve in home detention. Arnstein was also ordered to pay a fine of $20,000 and to perform 200 hours of community service during his term of supervised release.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Marshals Service. He also thanked Google for its helpful assistance in this investigation.

The prosecution of this case is being overseen by the Office's Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sheb Swett and Daniel S. Noble are in charge of the prosecution.

Here's an excerpt from an e-mail from Arnstein mentioned in the criminal complaint:

[N]o bullshit: if I could do it all over again I would have found another court order injunction for removal of links (probably something that can be found online pretty easily) made changes in photoshop to show the links that I wanted removed and then sent to '' as a pdf—showing the court order docket number, the judges [sic] signature—but with the new links put in. google isn't checking this stuff; that's the bottom line b/c I spent $30,000 fuckin thousand dollars and nearly 2 fuckin years to do what legit could have been done for about 6 hours of searching and photoshop by a guy for $200., all in ONE DAY ….

I should note that the Lumen Database was also instrumental in the prosecution.

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  1. They sent over a dozen emails with a litany of urls to deindex over just a few years to Google, usually in short spurts? All from the same judge? Not the smartest group, clearly.

  2. “When asked what he planned to do when he got out of prison, Arnstein replied, ‘ ‘s’all good, man.’ “

  3. When Mr. Volokh first told us about this abuse some years ago, I was shocked and outraged that the justice system could be so inept as to allow this.

    So today, I’m mollified to read that although slow, the system did work.

    Thanks for letting us know.

  4. I don’t know about this. After several years, and at least 10 faked court orders, he suffers a minor find and trivial prison time. It’s not quite a slap on the wrist, but it certainly isn’t a serious punishment.

    There’s little disincentive for someone NOT do continue to do this sort of thing; doubly so if they remember to use different base court orders. The chances of being caught are low, and the punishment cheaper than doing the work legitimately.

    1. That’s my thought too, Toranth: Not anywhere close to enough prison time, given the nature of the crime!

    2. Nine days in prison is not “trivial,” let alone nine months.

    3. Makes me wonder if he made a deal to expose the people he supposedly paid “…$30,000 fuckin thousand dollars and nearly 2 fuckin years…”.

  5. It seems a rather light sentence given that simple possession of drugs can get one years in prison and the number outs crimes with mandatory minimums.

  6. Nine months? For actual fraud? With intent and all? Whereas Texas sentenced a woman to five years of hard time for accidentally casting an illegal (provisional) ballot.


    1. I understand your point however it wasn’t accidental by the woman in Texas.

  7. “Arnstein and others forged the signature of a United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York on over ten counterfeit court orders”

    Humm. Who were the others and what became of them? I am curious if one of those “reputation repair” services were involved.

    Does this case deserve a Streisand Effect tag?

    If Arnstein had not tried this, I and thousands of others would never have heard of him or his business.

    1. The outside legal firm produced the first court order.
      (The ten forged court orders were produced by Arnstein’s employees if I read the ArnsteinComplaint.pdf correctly. Apparently only the forged court orders are a legal problem.)

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