Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Feds Settle Case of Fake Facebook Profile Lure

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) - Uncle Sam agreed to a six-figure settlement with the New York woman whose name it allegedly used for a fake Facebook page to draw out drug suspects.

The Department of Justice admitted no liability in the agreement filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, offering $134,000 to settle Sondra Arquiett's claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act for infliction of emotional distress and prima facie tort.

"This settlement is entered into by all parties for the purpose of compromising disputed claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act and avoiding the expenses and risks of further litigation," the document states.

The complaint Arquiett, of Watertown, filed against the government in 2013 alleged that an agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration created a Facebook account in her name without her permission to "initiate contact with dangerous individuals he was investigating with regard to an alleged narcotics distribution ring."

That agent, Timothy Sinnigen, also was named as a defendant.

Arquiett was arrested in July 2010 as part of a joint investigation by the DEA, the Department of Homeland Security and the St. Lawrence County Drug Task Force, according to the complaint.

Noting that her cellphone was seized in the arrest, Arquiett said Sinnigen used pictures from it to create the fake Facebook account a month later.

"The photographs used by Sinnigen included revealing and/or suggestive photographs of plaintiff, including photographs of the plaintiff in her bra and panties," she alleged.

Sinnigen, posing as Arquiett, used the page to contact suspects or others who knew her, according to the complaint. The profile stayed active for at least three months, and then reappeared later.

Arquiett said Sinnigen admitted "his unauthorized appropriation of plaintiff's name and likeness" in November 2010.

Because Sinnigen's actions created the appearance that Arquiett "was willfully cooperating in his investigation of the narcotics trafficking ring, thereby placing her in danger," the woman said that knowledge of the profile caused her to suffer "fear and great emotional distress."

The notice of claim Arquiett filed with the DEA, for invasion of privacy and emotional distress, was administratively denied in January 2013, according to the complaint.

Arquiett had sought $250,000 in damages, but her settlement this week voluntarily dismisses those allegations.

The government will wire the proceeds of the settlement to Arquiett's attorney, John Hoggan Jr. of Albany, its filing notes.

The case was given a tentative trial date in Albany in October, following its assignment to a mediator last fall under a pilot program in the Northern District that looks to expedite cases.

Richard Hartunian, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District, issued a statement calling the settlement "a fair resolution" after the Justice Department had promised to review "the behavior at issue" in the case.

"This settlement demonstrates that the government is mindful of its obligation to ensure the rights of third parties are not infringed upon in the course of its efforts to bring those who commit federal crimes to justice," Hartunian said. "It also takes into account emerging personal privacy concerns in the age of social media, and represents a fair resolution of plaintiff's claims."

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