Federal Grand Jury Charges Search Engine Optimizers With Extorting Money from a Local Merger and Acquisitions Firm
Defendants Threatened to Inflict Economic Harm
DALLAS, Texas — A federal grand jury in Dallas returned an indictment late yesterday charging a man and his sister, who did business as a search engine optimization company, with felony offenses stemming from their attempts to extort money from a business in Dallas, announced U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña of the Northern District of Texas.
William Laurence Stanley, 51, and his sister, Lynn Stanley Faust, 54, are each charged with one count of transmitting threats in interstate and foreign commerce and one count of Hobbs Act – Extortion. A U.S. citizen, William Stanley most recently resided in Romania with his wife, a Romanian national. He traveled several times in 2013 between Europe and the United States. On March 3, 2014, he was arrested on a related federal criminal complaint at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, where he arrived on a flight from Europe. Faust is also a U.S. citizen who also traveled internationally in 2013. Stanley appeared before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Southern District of Texas and was ordered detained. A date has not yet been set for him to appear in federal court in Dallas.
William Stanley is also known as “William Laurence,” “Bill Stanley,” “William Davis,” “William Harris” and “William L. Stanley.” Lynn Faust is also known as “Lynn Michaels.” Stanley and Faust operated a search engine optimization (SEO) company and used emails reflecting various business names to include “reputation rewards” and “posting showcase.”
According to the complaint filed in the case, in November 2009, Generational Equity (GE), a Dallas-based merger and acquisitions firm, entered into a contract with Stanley for SEO services and reputation management. Stanley was hired because of his ability to improve a firm’s online reputation through search results. However, GE sought to terminate its relationship with Stanley after it determined he had acted outside of his contracted duties. GE also observed websites allegedly created by Stanley that had the ability to damage GE’s reputation by associating GE with a scam. From November 2010 through January 2011, GE paid Stanley a total of $80,000 to terminate the relationship.
According to the indictment, from December 13, 2013, until the end of February 2014, Stanley and Faust transmitted threatening communications, via email and telephone, from foreign countries to GE in the Northern District of Texas. Those communications threatened to post comments on the Internet wrongfully disparaging GE’s reputation, if GE did not send money to Stanley.
Because of Stanley’s threats to harm GE’s reputation through negative Internet posts that would adversely affect GE’s ability to conduct business if it failed to send money, GE responded to the wrongful inducement by sending four payments totaling $29,556 by MoneyGram to Stanley in Brasov, Romania.
An indictment is an accusation by a federal grand jury and a defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence until or unless proven guilty. A federal complaint is a written statement of the essential facts of the offenses charged and must be made under oath before a magistrate judge. However, upon conviction, the maximum statutory penalty for transmitting threats in interstate and foreign commerce is two years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum statutory penalty for Hobbs Act – extortion is 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
The FBI is investigating and can be contacted at 972-559-5000. Assistant U.S. Attorney C.S. Heath is in charge of the prosecution.
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