The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Michael James Pratt, upping the stakes in the search of the GirlsDoPorn boss who fled the country in the midst of a civil trial in San Diego.
The New Zealand native is on the hook for a $12.7 million civil judgment and also has been federally charged with a sex-trafficking conspiracy.
Pratt, 37, co-owned an online pornography empire that used coercion, misrepresentation and force to get young women — and at least one minor — to perform sex acts on camera, according to the FBI and evidence presented during the civil trial.
He and co-conspirators advertised clothed modeling jobs around the country, but the women who answered were then told that they would be doing one-day pornography shoots for up to $5,000 per day. The women were repeatedly assured that they would remain anonymous and that the videos were for private DVD collections overseas, not to be posted online.
The shoots occurred in luxury hotel rooms throughout San Diego, where women reported being given alcohol or sometimes marijuana to dull their inhibitions. They would then be pushed to sign a document that gave the company full distribution rights of the footage, according to the federal complaint.
Some were forced to perform acts they declined to do, and some were not allowed to leave the premises until the shoot had been finished, authorities allege. Some women were sexually assaulted, according to the FBI.
The federal charges include production of child pornography and sex trafficking of a minor for the filming of a 16-year-old girl, according to the complaint.
The videos were posted on Pratt’s various websites, a business that generated some $17 million in revenue, according to the FBI. Some viewers went to great lengths to identify the various women and out them to their friends and family in a public harassment campaign.
Attorneys representing the business have argued that the women were not coerced, that they were each paid thousands of dollars for the work and that they knowingly signed release forms.
A hashtag-inspired movement perpetuates myths about sexual exploitation and preys on fear with exaggerated and out-of-context statistics, advocates say
Twenty-two women took Pratt and several others involved in the business to court, with a San Diego Superior Court jury in December handing down a verdict of $9.45 million in compensatory damages and $3.3 million in punitive damages.
But Pratt had fled by then.
He also wasn’t around when, in October 2019, he and five others were criminally indicted in the case.
He left his cat behind in the Meadow Hills community north of Escondido that he’d been living in, paying for a pet-sitting service to visit daily, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Brothers who own the home were suspected of removing numerous pieces of computer equipment that had been left behind. They were federally charged with obstructing sex-trafficking enforcement, but the case against them was later dismissed.
The five co-defendants in Pratt’s case have pleaded not guilty.
Ed Chapin, an attorney who represented the women in the lawsuit, welcomed the FBI reward, saying his clients have yet to receive any compensation from the civil action.
“I’m happy to see that they are continuing to press to try and arrest this guy,” he said.
The GirlsDoPorn website has been taken down. However, Chapin noted: “Video posts are like a hydra-headed monster. They go one place and then all of the sudden spring up somewhere else.”
Anyone with information on Pratt’s whereabouts can contact the FBI at (858) 320-1800 in San Diego or (800)-CALL-FBI or by contacting the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Tips can also be submitted at tips.fbi.gov.
*story by San Diego Union-Tribune