Man running mug shot website operating illegally, secretary of states office says
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A business owner who charges people to have their mug shots removed from various websites may be operating illegally after he failed to file an annual report for his company with the Secretary of State's office.
Jason Watson, of Clarksburg, makes a business charging people steep fees to remove their photos from his website, wvjails.info.
He's compiled approximately 105,000 photos on that website alone and owns 30 more covering several other states.
However, the Secretary of State's office recently administratively dissolved Watson's business license when he failed to file a 2012 annual report for his company, US Support Services, LLC, Jake Glance, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office, said.
This is a fairly common practice for companies going out of business, Glance said. Watson, however, continues to post mug shots and make a profit.
Watson has two years to reinstate himself as a business but must first obtain a certificate of good standing from the tax department and pay a $100 fine, Glance said.
In the meantime he "may not continue to do business except those actions necessary to close the business and give notice to creditors," according to a letter sent by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant to Watson dated Dec. 20.
Seven people have filed complaints about WVJails.info and four more of Watson's company since he created it in 2009, said Derek Walker, chief investigator and director of Field Services at the Attorney General's office.
Walker couldn't comment on any open investigations, but said he's glad a lawyer is pursuing a class action civil lawsuit against similar websites.
Ohio lawyer Scott A. Ciolek, who is pursuing the civil suit, said the biggest problem with Watson is the way he earns a profit.
When someone pays Watson $51 to remove their mug shot from WVJails.info, Watson moves the photo onto another one of his websites.
Ciolek has filed suit on behalf those who had their mug shots on five similar sites and is seeking more West Virginians to join him, the Gazette previously reported . The lawsuit would expand to cover victims of all mug shot websites, Ciolek said.
He said he wants the Attorney General's Office, or county prosecutor's office, to pursue Watson for extortion.
"What could be done in West Virginia is that anyone could bring an extortion claim against these [websites]," he said. "Any prosecutors office or anyone that takes this on is set to make millions of dollars. They would being doing their whole state or country a favor."
Watson doesn't make himself available for questions about his business or its practices.
WVJails is registered vaguely online to a "Mr. Watson." The phone number provided connects directly to a voicemail message telling those concerned about removal fees to leave their name, email address and return phone number.
Multiple messages at Watson's public phone listing in Clarksburg were not returned this week. He blocked a Gazette reporter from contacting him on Twitter.
Watson's website has also had an impact on the news industry. Officials operating the State Regional Jail Authority's website made it harder for people to download mug shots in April to deter Watson.
Watson continually uses the WVJail's twitter account to boast about how many people wake up to his website -- rather than legitimate news outlets or the Regional Jail Authority -- to find out who's been arrested overnight.
In August, some news outlets scrambling for information about the man who gunned down two State Police troopers near Clay County chose to run a WVJails mug shot of the gunman, from a previous arrest.
Reach Travis Crum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5163.