PHOENIX — Victims targeted for harassment on sex-offender websites pleaded with a Maricopa County jury to financially punish the owner and take away his ability to continue operating.
On Wednesday, the jury listened.
In a unanimous verdict, jurors hit Phoenix-area businessman Charles “Chuck” Rodrick with a $3.4 million judgment on behalf of three people profiled on websites such as Offendex.com, SORArchives and SexOffenderrecord.com.
Rodrick is accused of running an Internet extortion racket that used public records maintained by law enforcement to demand money from sex offenders, harassing those who complained.
The jury awarded victims almost $500,000 in actual damages and $2.9 million in punitive damages, agreeing Rodrick defamed them, invaded their privacy, put them in a false light and abused the court system by filing lawsuits against them as a form of retaliation.
The decision came after the court last week declared Rodrick the defendant in defamation lawsuits he filed more than a year ago against those who publicly decried the websites, including his ex-wife, her boyfriend, a convicted sex offender from Washington and the offender’s mother.
Superior Court Judge Douglas Gerlach also allowed several of the victims’ counterclaims against Rodrick to go forward, reversing the roles of the defendants and making them plaintiffs. The move effectively put Rodrick in the position of defending himself in his own case.
Rodrick, 52, of Cave Creek appeared unperturbed by the separate verdicts. The court clerk had barely finished reading the judgments when Rodrick leaned sideways in his chair and called out to the opposing parties with a promise to appeal.
“Well, gentleman. You know the drill,” he said in a loud, mirthful voice.
Rodrick, who for more than a year has refused to discuss his websites, declined comment after court Wednesday.
His victims said they were elated by the decision.
“I am super glad justice has been served,” Phoenix resident David Ellis said following the trial. “I did ask (the jury) to make their verdict significant enough to keep him from ever climbing out of his hole, and they did.”
Ellis said he was targeted after he began dating Rodrick’s ex-wife while the couple were going through an acrimonious divorce. Court records show Rodrick posted information on several websites suggesting Ellis, a decorated combat veteran with no criminal record, was a child molester.
“It’s kind of a shame. I fought for people’s civil rights,” Ellis said. “Then this guy, he used the First Amendment to attack me.”
Rodrick’s ex-wife, Lois Flynn of Chandler, said she felt vindicated. Rodrick’s websites accused her of having an adulterous relationship, being an alcoholic and working with child molesters who sought to discredit the websites.
Flynn said the Internet postings damaged her reputation and affected her relationships at church, where she once worked with kids.
Rodrick’s sites mined data compiled by law-enforcement agencies across the country and used it to collect money from sex offenders. Operators did not always take down profiles after payments were made, and they launched online harassment campaigns against those who balked at financial demands or filed complaints.
The websites listed individuals as sex offenders who no longer were required to register or whose names had been removed from sex-offender databases. The sites included names and personal information of people who had never been arrested or convicted of a sex crime.
Rodrick, who represented himself in court, painted himself as a victim.
“It’s not easy to be a defendant when you were the plaintiff,” he said in a rambling closing argument Wednesday in which he denied ownership of the websites, argued about the amount of money they generated and complained about various court rulings.