A state court judge in San Diego will now decide if the owners of a San Diego pornography website lured 22 young women into appearing in adult videos through coercion and lies.
Attorneys for both sides gave closing arguments Monday after a nearly three-month-long civil trial of the San Diego-based pornography website “Girls Do Porn [dot] com.”
The lawsuit was filed against the website’s owner, Michael Pratt; videographer, Mattew Wolfe; and performer and recruiter Ruben Andre Garcia.
Attorneys for the women asked Superior Court Judge Kevin Enright to award the alleged victims more than $22 million in punitive and emotional damages. In an unusual twist, the civil court dispute will be decided by a judge, not a jury.
The 22 plaintiffs, all of whom were recruited when they were between the ages of 17 and 22 years old, claim Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and their employees told them a series of lies to persuade them to have sex on camera. In addition to the alleged lies, the plaintiffs claim the website’s owners paid other women to falsely reassure the prospective models that their performances would be sold only on DVDs and to private collectors in foreign countries. The women claim they were repeatedly reassured that none of the X-rated videos would be posted online.
But within a month after recording, the women say the videos were posted on popular pornography websites.
NBC 7 Investigates first revealed the alleged scheme in February 2019 and has reported on the trial since it started in August.
Watch the original report below.
The legal dispute gained national attention when federal prosecutors charged Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and Valorie Moser with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking through fraud and coercion. Pratt was later charged producing child pornography and with sex trafficking of a minor. Authorities arrested Garcia and Wolfe on October 16. Both men are in federal jail awaiting trial.
Pratt, the website’s owner, is a fugitive and might have fled to his home country of New Zealand. (To read more about that, click here.)
In the civil trial, attorneys for the women claim the men knowingly preyed on young women with the promise of quick cash and anonymity.
“The men ran a lucrative business enterprise built on lies and the exploitation of vulnerable young women,” said the lead attorney for the women, Ed Chapin.
Chapin also argued that the women “were harassed, bullied, shamed, and blackmailed” after their videos were released on Girls Do Porn’s website as well as conglomerate sites such as YouPorn, and Pornhub.
“These women have suffered hellaciously from this dastardly scheme...the severity of which goes to the most private and most personal subject matter,” said Chapin.
Attorneys for the men used their closing argument to hammer home their initial and consistent defense: that the women had all signed a binding, legal contract and knew what they were agreeing to when they chose to have sex on-camera.
“The plaintiffs are adult women who have the responsibility to make adult decisions for themselves and they must be held responsible for their own decisions and actions,” said defense attorney Daniel Kaplan.
“Adults make good decisions and adults make bad decisions, Kaplan told the judge. “These were bad decisions for these plaintiffs.”
Judge Enright is expected to rule in the coming weeks.
Reporter Mari Payton and Producer Dorian Hargrove discuss the latest the investigation into “Girls Do Porn” website in an episode of INSIGHT - a podcast from NBC 7 Investigates. Listen to the latest episode below.