Feds Accuse Sapphire Exec of Extreme Google Scrubbing

MANHATTAN (CN) — Sapphire sales are booming, but one New York City jeweler specializing in the gem stands charged of forging a federal judge’s signature to repair his online reputation.

Michael Arnstein, the CEO of The Natural Sapphire Company in Midtown, is known for using sapphires as an ethical alternative to diamonds.

Forbes reported that his brand became a hit after Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton with an 18-karat Garrard rock that he had inherited from the late Princess Diana. The choice catapulted sapphire alternatives to diamonds into the mainstream, spiking sales 300 percent at Arnstein’s company. 

Threatening that success, however, Arnstein has been spent years trying to clean up his online presence.

Michael Arnstein is the third-generation president of his family’s business, The Natural Sapphire Co.

In 2011, Arnstein brought a federal complaint against Prashant Telang, an Indian web designer Arnstein had hired years earlier to buy up domain names. Arnstein claimed that Telang hijacked Natural Sapphire’s website to extort payment after they had a falling out.

Complaining that his customers were being redirected to bogus bad reviews on sites like PissedConsumer.com and RipOffReport.com, Arnstein sued Telang and Telang’s company, TransPacific Software, for cybersquatting and defamation.

Arnstein settled with Telang after U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan ordered TransPacific to take down at least 54 false reviews on various websites. That victory, however, proved short-lived.

A Google search shows that new sites have cropped up tarring Natural Sapphire Company on purported consumer-advocacy sites.

Prosecutors say frustration with the expensive and protracted legal process led Arnstein to take drastic action.

In a three-count complaint against Arnstein made public Tuesday night, prosecutors quote several emails in which Arnstein brags about forging a federal judge’s signature to help him scrub his Google results.

“No 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 ‘removals@google.com’ as a pdf — showing the court order docket number, the judges [sic] signature — but with the new links put in,” Arnstein wrote in a July 2014 email, according to his criminal complaint. “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.”

Another email shows that Arnstein continued boasting a few months later about using a legitimate order to create forged orders.

“I think you should take legal advice with a grain of salt,” he allegedly wrote on Sept. 4, 2014. “I spent 100k on lawyers to get a court order injunction to have things removed from Google and Youtube, only to photoshop the documents for future use when new things ‘popped up’ and google legal never double checked my docs for validity… I could have saved 100k and 2 years of waiting/damage if I just used photoshop and a few hours of creative editing… Lawyers are often worse than the criminals.”

The complaint says Google received at least 10 more emails between Jan. 19, 2015, and Feb. 10, 2017, with forged orders bearing the signature of Nathan, the judge who signed Arnstein’s 2012 default judgment.

Arnstein was arrested on Monday morning and presented before U.S. Magistrate Barbara Moses that afternoon. He faces two counts of forging a judge’s signature and a related conspiracy count, each of which carries a possible five-year sentence.

The judge released Arnstein, who has pleaded not guilty, on his own recognizance.

Arnstein’s lawyer Steven Brounstein declined to comment on the charges.