Day: December 2, 2019




(Second column, 1st story, link)

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MORE: Mueller Report's Secret Memos…

BuzzFeed News sued the US government for the right to see all the work that Mueller’s team kept secret. We published the second installment of the FBI’s summaries of interviews with key witnesses.

Last updated on December 2, 2019, at 6:38 p.m. ET

Posted on December 2, 2019, at 5:07 p.m. ET

The report from former special counsel Robert Mueller, detailing Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and the Trump administration’s efforts to obstruct the inquiry, was the most hotly anticipated prosecutorial document in a generation. But at 448 pages, it reflected only a tiny fraction of the primary-source documents that the government amassed over the course of its two-year investigation.

[Here’s the second installment of documents.]

Using the Freedom of Information Act, BuzzFeed News sued to gain access to those documents, which are key to understanding this important chapter in American history.

On Monday, in response to a court order, the Justice Department has released the second installment: summaries of FBI interviews spanning hundreds of pages. These summaries, known as “302 reports,” are some of the most important and highly sought-after documents from Mueller’s investigation. They contain numerous redactions, which BuzzFeed News will challenge in our ongoing lawsuit.

[Make more work like this possible: Become a BuzzFeed News member today.]

Some takeaways from the newest documents:

In February 2017, Trump wanted Comey to know “I really like him.” Comey was fired about three months later.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told investigators that Trump wanted him to talk to then-FBI Director James Comey in February 2017 and tell him “I really like him. Tell him he’s part of the team. I really like him.”

Comey, who was leading the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, was fired in May 2017.

Christie didn’t make the call, saying it was “nonsensical” and because it “would have been uncomfortable.”

“He would not put Comey in the position of having to receive that telephone call,” Christie’s interview notes with the FBI read.

Relevant document on pgs. 165-166:

On May 8 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told the FBI he was brought into the White House for a meeting and left with the understanding that Comey would soon be fired. During that meeting, he was tasked with writing a memo outlining his concerns about Comey.

That memo largely focused on Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. Rosenstein told investigators he was concerned about how the White House would take the memo since it was “not consistent” with Trump’s comments on the campaign.

Rosenstein said his memo rationalizing firing James Comey had to be 100 percent accurate “so he could stand behind it” and didn’t get much sleep that night.

Relevant document on pg. 115:

Rosenstein also said that no one from the White House influenced his writing of the memo.

But he had assumed that either he, or then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, would be the ones to fire Comey. On May 9th, Rosenstein requested that Comey be brought in, only to find out that the then-FBI director had been fired over email. Rosenstein said he was “angry, ashamed, horrified, and embarrassed,” as well as surprised to read in media reports that firing Comey had been his idea.

Rosenstein called Mueller the next day — already thinking about appointing a special counsel. Rosenstein had learned from an FBI briefing that Trump was not a suspect, and said he appointed Mueller due to how the public would react to the firing.

Following Comey’s firing, Christie told investigators that Trump called him and complained that he was “getting murdered,” presumably in the press, for the firing. Christie asked Trump whether he’d fired Comey because of Rosenstein’s memo, to which Trump replied “yes.” Christie then recommended that Trump “get Rod out there” to defend the decision. Trump said he liked the idea and would call Rosenstein.

Relevant document on pgs. 167-168:

The same evening Comey was fired, then-Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Flores relayed a message from the White House to Rosenstein. Though the memos do not make clear what that message was, Rosenstein said he told her that the Justice Department “cannot participate in putting out a false story.”

Flores then told Rosenstein that the White House wanted him to participate in a press conference about the firing, but he refused.

Christie laughed when Trump said “the Russia thing is over” after Michael Flynn left office.

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was was removed from office in February 2017 after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. He later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Christie was having lunch with Trump on Valentine’s Day 2017 when Trump told him, “Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over.”

Christie told the FBI he laughed. “No way,” he responded. “We’ll be here on Valentine’s Day 2018 talking about this.”

Relevant document on page 164 to 165:

More on the Mueller report’s secret memos

The cache released last month included 302s from key players like Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, deputy Trump campaign manager Rick Gates, and former White House official Steve Bannon. They contained explosive details that were not cited in Mueller’s report. For example, in an April 2018 interview with the special counsel’s office, Gates told investigators that while Paul Manafort was running Trump’s campaign, he had pushed the unfounded theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that had hacked the Democratic National Committee’s servers. That theory has been thoroughly debunked by the US intelligence community, but Trump still cites it — most notably during the July 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which is at the heart of the current impeachment investigation.

[We want your help! If you see something in these memos, you can email reporter Jason Leopold at or reach us securely at]

The 302s are just the beginning. BuzzFeed News is pursuing five separate lawsuits to pry loose all the subpoenas and search warrants that Mueller’s team executed, as well as all emails, memos, letters, talking points, legal opinions, and financial records it generated. In short, we asked for all communications of any kind that passed through the special counsel’s office. We also requested all the documents that would reveal the discussions among Attorney General Bill Barr, former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, and other high-ranking officials about whether to charge Trump with obstruction.

In response, Justice Department lawyers claimed the volume of records requested could total 18 billion pages and take centuries to produce.

For Monday’s installment, the government processed 506 pages, produced 231 pages, and redacted the records citing ongoing investigations, grand jury proceedings, and numerous other FOIA exemptions.

Here’s the full file:

Our full coverage of the Mueller Report’s secret memos

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Congress pushes ahead on Trump impeachment with nation split…

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House is plunging into a landmark impeachment week, with Democrats who once hoped to sway Republicans now facing the prospect of an ever-hardening partisan split over the historic question of removing President Donald Trump from office.

Lawmakers were getting their first look Monday night — behind closed doors — at the impeachment report from the House Intelligence Committee. The report, to be released Tuesday, is expected to forcefully make the Democrats’ case that Trump engaged in what Chairman Adam Schiff calls impeachable “wrongdoing and misconduct” in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democrats and Joe Biden while he was withholding military aid.

For Republicans, the proceedings are simply a “hoax,” with Trump insisting he did nothing wrong and his GOP allies in line behind him. Late Monday, he tweeted his daily complaints about it all and then added a suggestive question: “Can we go to Supreme Court to stop?”

He didn’t elaborate.

It’s all boiling down to a historic test of political judgment in a case that is dividing Congress and the country.

Departing Monday for a NATO meeting in London, Trump also criticized the House for pushing forward with proceedings while he was heading overseas, a breach of political decorum that traditionally leaves partisan differences at the water’s edge.

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He predicted Republicans would actually benefit from the entire impeachment effort against him, though “it’s a disgrace for our country.”

For the Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces a critical test of her leadership as she steers the process ahead after resisting the impeachment inquiry through the summer, warning it was too divisive for the country and required bipartisan support.

Speaking to reporters at the international climate conference in Madrid, Pelosi declined to engage with impeachment questions. “When we travel abroad, we don’t talk about the president in a negative way,” she said. “We save that for home.”

Possible articles of impeachment are focused on whether Trump abused his office as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 phone call to launch investigations into Trump’s political rivals. At the time, Trump was withholding $400 million in military aid, jeopardizing key support as Ukraine faced an aggressive Russia at its border.

The report from the Intelligence panel also was expected to include material the Democrats say suggests obstruction of Congress, based on Trump’s instructions for his administration to defy subpoenas for documents and testimony.

The next step comes Wednesday, when the Judiciary Committee gavels its own hearings open ahead of a possible impeachment vote by the full House by Christmas. That would presumably send the issue to the Senate for a trial in January.

The Democratic majority on the Intelligence Committee says its report, compiled after weeks of testimony from current and former diplomats and administration officials, will speak for itself in laying out the president’s actions toward Ukraine.

Ahead of the report’s public release, Republicans pre-empted with their own 123-page rebuttal.

In it, they claim there’s no evidence Trump pressured Zelenskiy. Instead, they say Democrats just want to undo the 2016 election. Republicans dismiss witness testimony of a shadow diplomacy being run by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and they rely on the president’s insistence that he was merely concerned about “corruption” in Ukraine — though the White House transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelenskiy never mentions the word.

“They are trying to impeach President Trump because some unelected bureaucrats chafed at an elected President’s ‘outside the beltway’ approach to diplomacy,” according to the report from Republicans Devin Nunes of California, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Michael McCaul of Texas.

Trump on Monday pointed to Zelenskiy’s recent comments as proof he did nothing wrong. The Ukrainian president said in an interview he never talked to Trump “from the position of a quid pro quo,” but he didn’t say Trump did nothing wrong. In fact, he had strong criticism for Trump’s actions in the Time magazine interview.

With Ukraine at war with Russia, he said, its partners “can’t go blocking anything for us.”

The finished Intelligence Committee report sets up the week’s cascading actions. The panel is expected to vote to send the findings to the Judiciary Committee, which will take the lead on considering articles of impeachment.

As the process intensifies, Judiciary on Wednesday will convene legal experts whose testimony, alongside the report will begin to lay the groundwork for possible charges.

Democrats could begin drafting articles of impeachment against the president in a matter of days, with voting in the Judiciary Committee next week.

Republicans on the committee, led by Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, plan to rely on procedural moves to stall the process and portray the inquiry as a sham.

The White House declined an invitation to participate, with Counsel Pat Cipollone denouncing the proceedings as a “baseless and highly partisan inquiry” in a letter to Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

Trump had previously suggested that he might be willing to offer written testimony under certain conditions, though aides suggested they did not anticipate Democrats would ever agree to them.

Cipollone’s letter of nonparticipation applied only to the Wednesday hearing, and he demanded more information from Democrats on how they intended to conduct further hearings before Trump would decide whether to participate.

Nadler said Monday if the president really thought his call with Ukraine was “perfect,” as he repeatedly says, he would “provide exculpatory information that refutes the overwhelming evidence of his abuse of power.”

House rules provide the president and his attorneys the right to cross-examine witnesses and review evidence before the committee, but little ability to bring forward witnesses of their own.

Asked why not have his lawyers participate, Trump said Monday: “Because the whole thing is a hoax. Everybody knows it.”


Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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Prosecutor: New charges 'likely'…

The Justice Department is “likely” to file additional charges in the case against two associates of Rudy Giuliani accused of funneling foreign money to U.S. political candidates, a prosecutor said Monday.

The disclosure was made during a court hearing in New York related to the case of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. The federal prosecutor didn’t offer any further details on the nature or target of any additional charges.

Parnas and Fruman were charged with violating campaign finance laws. They have pleaded not guilty.

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The two men were carrying one-way tickets to Vienna when they were arrested at Dulles Airport outside of Washington on Oct. 9.

The indictment unsealed the next day accused Parnas and Fruman of making illegal straw donations, including $325,000 to a pro-President Donald Trump political action committee. Federal prosecutors say the two also engaged in a scheme to force the ouster of the then-U.S. ambassador in Ukraine.

The removal of the former ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, in May is among the events House Democrats have focused on in the impeachment inquiry. Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to launch an investigation of Joe Biden, his political rival, and Biden’s son.

Giuliani has acknowledged that Parnas and Fruman assisted in his effort to dig up dirt on the Bidens.

Parnas and Fruman refused to cooperate in the House impeachment inquiry. But last month, Parnas’ new lawyer said he was willing to speak with congressional investigators.

The lawyer, Joseph Bondy, said Parnas was told that Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chief defender of Trump as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, met with Ukraine’s former top prosecutor about investigating the activities of Biden and his son Hunter.

In an appearance on Fox News late last month, Nunes sidestepped a question about the allegation. “I really want to answer all of these questions, and I promise you I absolutely will come back on the show,” Nunes told host Maria Bartiromo.

Nunes added: “Everybody’s going to know all the facts, but I think you can understand that I can’t compete by trying to debate this out with the public media when 90 percent of the media are totally corrupt.”

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Giuliani Associate Cleared to Comply With Impeachment Subpoena…

MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal judge paved the way on Monday for Rudy Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas to comply with a House subpoena for information relevant to the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

“I certainly expect to grant that request,” U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken told Parnas’ attorney Joseph Brody, adding that he hoped prosecutors would turn over the evidence as soon as possible.

“We will,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Zolkind replied, explaining that the paper trail seized by the government can be turned over quickly.

Lev Parnas, center, arrives for his arraignment on Oct. 23, 2019 in New York. He and Igor Fruman are charged with conspiracy to make illegal contributions to political committees supporting President Donald Trump and other Republicans. Prosecutors say the pair wanted to use the donations to lobby U.S. politicians to oust the country’s ambassador to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Prosecutors would not be turning over the files to Congress directly but rather to Parnas’ legal team, which intends to comply with House subpoenas.

Because Parnas has not provided his passwords, however, Zolkind said the file-transfer process could take some time.

Parnas, a Belarus-born U.S. citizen, has been charged alongside the Ukrainian-born Igor Fruman with using straw donors to funnel Russian money into U.S. elections through limited liability companies. Authorities arrested the pair at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, bound for Vienna with one-way tickets.

Prosecutor Zolkind signaled that a grand jury would probably level more charges.

“We think a superseding indictment is likely, but no decision has been made, certainly,” Zolkind said.

Repeatedly emphasizing that the government’s investigation is ongoing, the prosecutor referred obliquely to possible other targets by explaining that redactions on search warrants do not relate to the charged case. Zolkind also explained that disclosing witness statements prematurely could risk compromising the probe.

That revelation could worry Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, reported by multiple news outlets to be the subject of criminal investigations for fraud, undisclosed foreign lobbying, campaign-finance violations and other charges.

Giuliani’s criminal exposure may widen further as prosecutors amass evidence.

Zolkind estimated that the government has well over 9 gigabytes of data from 29 electronic devices, including a satellite phone seized from Fruman’s residence. Extracting data from the devices could take roughly two months if the defendants do not provide their passwords, he explained.

Before becoming New York City mayor, Giuliani served as a U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, the jurisdiction now investigating him.

For nearly a month, Parnas has expressed an openness to comply with the congressional investigation. He already provided audio, video and photographic evidence to Congress a little more than a week ago, ABC News reported.

“Mr. Parnas has vociferously and publicly asserted his wish to comply with his previously issued subpoena and to provide the House Intelligence Committee with truthful and important information that is in furtherance of justice, not to obstruct it,” Bondy, his attorney, told the network at the time.

Igor Fruman, center, arrives for his arraignment on Oct. 23, 2019, in New York.  (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Fruman has not cooperated with the committee, and his attorney Todd Blanche made no such announcement in court.

The hearing brought complaints about the length of the discovery process from all of the defense attorneys. Without a clearer picture of the government’s evidence, they called it premature to set a schedule for pretrial motions or a trial date.

“I don’t want to keep kicking the can down the road until we get a trial date,” Blanche said, asking the judge to put pressure on the FBI and the government to speed up the process.

Attorneys for the other two accused co-conspirators, David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, alleged a holding pattern.

“They indicted the case prepared to go to trial based on the evidence they had, presumably,” Correia’s attorney William Harrington told Judge Oetken.

Kukushkin’s attorney Gerald Lefcourt wanted the government to provide a clearer roadmap for the evidence, which he said includes tens of thousands of bank records.

Prosecutors deny there has been unreasonable delay, noting that the men were arrested in October.

“That is not a significant passage of time,” Zolkind emphasized.

A follow-up hearing has been set after the new year, on Feb. 3, 2020.

This story is developing…

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Despite denial, proof emerges of Warren's kid attending private school…

The Haverford School’s leafy campus, arched doorways, and neatly uniformed boys would seem to denote the sort of class and privilege that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) has decried on the campaign trail.

That may be why Warren, confronted by a school-choice activist in November, denied that her kids had attended private schools. The 2020 Democratic hopeful insisted that “my kids went to public school”—a half-truth, at best, that obscures a reality at odds with her image as a scrappy public school teacher-turned-populist crusader.

While Warren’s daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, attended public schools for the entirety of her elementary and high school education, her son, Alex Warren, spent the majority of his formative years at one of the country’s most elite private schools, the Haverford School, according to yearbooks obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

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Located in suburban Philadelphia, the all-boys college preparatory school employs a “rigorous liberal arts curriculum” that recognizes boys’ “innate competitiveness,” according to the school’s website. High school tuition runs $39,500 a year. Notable alumni include billionaire scions Ronald Perelman and John Middleton, two-time Medal of Honor recipient Smedley Darlington Butler, and Free Beacon chairman Michael Goldfarb.

Alex Warren attended the school for six years, from 1988—when he began as a sixth grader—until his graduation in 1994, the yearbooks show. He spent his junior year in Boston when Warren accepted an invitation to teach at Harvard Law School for a year in 1992. In her book A Fighting Chance, Warren wrote that her son “took the opportunity to reinvent himself at a new high school.”

The Warren campaign did not respond to questions about her son’s education, including where he studied during his year-long absence from Haverford. The prep school declined comment, citing its privacy policies.

The revelation comes as Warren, who a month ago was threatening to overtake former Vice President Joe Biden as the frontrunner in national polls, is struggling to maintain her momentum. And minorities, particularly African-American and Latino voters, are expressing increasing frustration with the leading Democratic presidential candidates, including Warren, for abandoning support for charter schools, according to a New York Times report.

That tension was on display in Atlanta when Sarah Carpenter, the African-American executive director of Memphis Lift, a volunteer school-choice organization, told Warren, “We want the same choice for our kids that you had for your kids…. I can’t pack up and say, ‘I’m leaving Hyde Park and going to Germantown,’—that’s our suburban area—because I can’t afford it, my daughter can’t afford it.”

“Elizabeth Warren’s current problems are a microcosm of a bigger issue for the Democratic Party in general,” said Corey DeAngelis, director of school choice at the libertarian Reason Foundation. “The left says that they want to help the poor, which is a noble goal, but then most of their candidates push hard against giving the disadvantaged populations more educational options.”

The public school Warren decided against sending her son to was far from failing. Property records indicate Alex Warren would have attended Lower Merion High School, a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence cited by the Wall Street Journal as “one of the top 50 schools—public or private in the United States.” Notable alumni include Kobe Bryant and Gong Show host Chuck Barris.

Warren has leaned heavily on her background as a public school teacher on the stump. She touted her status as “the only person on this stage who has been a public school teacher” during September’s Democratic debate.

“I’ve wanted to be a public school teacher since I was in second grade. And let’s be clear in all the ways we talk about this: Money for public schools should stay in public schools, not go anywhere else,” Warren said.

Warren’s campaign has also emphasized her own experience as a public school student and later, as a teacher. In October, just after Warren announced her education plan, it began offering “Public School Made Me” stickers, with the candidate crediting public schools for her success in life.

“This plan is close to my heart, because I attended public school growing up in Oklahoma,” Warren said in an email to supporters. “Every opportunity I’ve had—including running for president—started with a good education from a public school.”

In her book The Two Income Trap, the Massachusetts senator supported vouchers that would have allowed parents to choose among schools.

“A taxpayer-funded voucher that paid the entire cost of educating a child (not just a partial subsidy) would open a range of opportunities to all children,” Warren wrote. “With fully funded vouchers, parents of all income levels could send their children – and the accompanying financial support – to the schools of their choice.”

She reversed that position as she launched her presidential campaign. Her education plan, which has won the support of the country’s most powerful teachers’ unions, calls for the “aggressive oversight” of charter schools and vows to eliminate federal funding for charter school expansion.

Those unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have been generous donors to Warren’s presidential campaign, giving nearly $70,000 combined.

Collin AndersonCollin Anderson is an editorial assistant for the Washington Free Beacon. He graduated from the University of Missouri, where he studied politics. He is originally from St. Louis and now lives in Arlington, VA.

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UPDATE: NFLer bet against his own team…

UPDATE: NFLer bet against his own team...

(Third column, 2nd story, link)

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Marine smuggled guns to Haiti so he could train military, become president, feds say…

Marine smuggled guns to Haiti so he could train military, become president, feds say...

(Second column, 11th story, link)

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TINDER Lets Known Sex Offenders Use App….

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

This article is co-published with Columbia Journalism Investigations and BuzzFeed.

Susan Deveau saw Mark Papamechail’s online dating profile on PlentyofFish in late 2016. Scrolling through his pictures, she saw a 54-year-old man, balding and broad, dressed in a T-shirt. Papamechail lived near her home in a suburb of Boston and, like Deveau, was divorced. His dating app profile said he wanted “to find someone to marry.”

Deveau had used dating websites for years, but she told her adult daughter the men she met were “dorky.” She joked about how she could get “catfished” if a date looked nothing like his picture. Still Deveau, 53, wanted to grow old with someone. The two were — in the popular dating platform’s jargon — “matched.”

A background check would have revealed that Papamechail was a three-time convicted rapist. It would have shown that Massachusetts designated him a dangerous registered sex offender. So how did PlentyofFish allow such a man to use its service?

PlentyofFish “does not conduct criminal background or identity verification checks on its users or otherwise inquire into the background of its users,” the dating app states in its terms of use. It puts responsibility for policing its users on users themselves. Customers who sign its service agreement promise they haven’t commited “a felony or indictable offense (or crime of similar severity), a sex crime, or any crime involving violence,” and aren’t “required to register as a sex offender with any state, federal or local sex offender registry.” PlentyofFish doesn’t attempt to verify whether its users tell the truth, according to the company.

Papamechail didn’t scare Deveau at first. They chatted online and eventually arranged a date. They went on a second date and a third. But months after their PlentyofFish match, Deveau became the second woman to report to police that Papamechail raped her after they had met through a dating app.

PlentyofFish is among 45 online dating brands now owned by Match Group, the Dallas-based corporation that has revenues of $1.7 billion and that dominates the industry in the U.S. Its top dating app, Tinder, has 5.2 million subscribers, surpassing such popular rivals as Bumble.

For nearly a decade, its flagship website, Match, has issued statements and signed agreements promising to protect users from sexual predators. The site has a policy of screening customers against government sex offender registries. But over this same period, as Match evolved into the publicly traded Match Group and bought its competitors, the company hasn’t extended this practice across its platforms — including PlentyofFish, its second most popular dating app. The lack of a uniform policy allows convicted and accused perpetrators to access Match Group apps and leaves users vulnerable to sexual assault, a 16-month investigation by Columbia Journalism Investigations found.

Match first agreed to screen for registered sex offenders in 2011 after Carole Markin made it her mission to improve its safety practices. The site had connected her with a six-time convicted rapist who, she told police, had raped her on their second date. Markin sued the company to push for regular registry checks. The Harvard-educated entertainment executive held a high-profile press conference to unveil her lawsuit. Within months, Match’s lawyers told the judge that “a screening process has been initiated,” records show. After the settlement, the company’s attorneys declared the site was “checking subscribers against state and national sex offender registries.”

After Match connected Carole Markin with a six-time convicted rapist, she sued the company to push for regular registry checks.
(Kendrick Brinson for ProPublica)

The next year, Match made similar assurances to then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris. In a 2012 agreement on best industry practices between the attorney general’s office and the dating site, among others, the company again agreed to “identify sexual predators” and examine sex offender registries. It pledged to go further and respond to users’ rape complaints with an additional safety tool: “a rapid abuse reporting system.”

Today, Match Group checks the information of its paid subscribers on Match against state sex offender lists. But it doesn’t take that step on Tinder, OkCupid or PlentyofFish — or any of its free platforms. A Match Group spokesperson told CJI the company cannot implement a uniform screening protocol because it doesn’t collect enough information from its free users — and some paid subscribers — even when they pay for premium features. Acknowledging the limitations, the spokesperson said, “There are definitely registered sex offenders on our free products.”

CJI analyzed more than 150 incidents of sexual assault involving dating apps, culled from a decade of news reports, civil lawsuits and criminal records. Most incidents occurred in the past five years and during the app users’ first in-person meeting, in parking lots, apartments and dorm rooms. Most victims, almost all women, met their male attackers through Tinder, OkCupid, PlentyofFish or Match. Match Group owns them all.

In 10% of the incidents, dating platforms matched their users with someone who had been accused or convicted of sexual assault at least once, the analysis found. Only a fraction of these cases involved a registered sex offender. Yet the analysis suggests that Match’s screening policy has helped to prevent the problem: Almost all of these cases implicated Match Group’s free apps; the only service that scours sex offender registries, Match, had none.

In 2017, Tinder matched Massachusetts registered sex offender Michael Durgin with a woman, and she later told police he had raped her on their first date; Durgin’s two rape charges were dropped after the woman “indicated that she does not wish for the Commonwealth to proceed to trial,” records show. (Durgin didn’t respond to requests for comment.) OkCupid allowed another registered sex offender, Michael Miller, of Colorado, to create a new account after his 2015 conviction for raping a woman he met through the site. For months, Miller remained on the platform despite appearing on the registries Match screens. Even Pennsylvania registered sex offender Seth Mull, whose 17-year history of sex crimes convictions began as a teen, used Match Group’s dating sites; in 2017, PlentyofFish didn’t flag his eight-year registry status before matching him with a woman who later accused him of rape. Mull is now serving life in prison for her rape and two more rapes, among other sex crimes.

Asked about the CJI data, Match Group’s spokesperson said the 157 cases “need to be put in perspective with the tens of millions of people that have used our dating products.”

The company declined multiple requests to interview executives and other key employees familiar with its protocols for addressing online dating sexual assault. The spokesperson described the steps the company takes to ensure customer safety on its platforms — from blocking users accused of sexual assault to checking across its apps for accused users’ accounts and flagging them on a companywide distribution list. Other response protocols aren’t standardized across Match Group apps.

In a brief statement, the company said it “takes the safety, security and well-being of our users very seriously.” Match Group said “a relatively small amount of the tens of millions of people using one of our dating services have fallen victim to criminal activity by predators.” It added, “We believe any incident of misconduct or criminal behavior is one too many.”

Interviews with more than a dozen former Match Group employees — from customer service representatives and security managers at OkCupid to senior executives at Tinder — paint a different picture. Most left on good terms; indeed, many told CJI they’re proud of the successful relationships their platforms have facilitated. But they criticize the lack of companywide protocols. Some voice frustration over the scant training and support they received for handling users’ rape complaints. Others describe having to devise their own ad hoc procedures. Often, the company’s response fails to prevent further harm, according to CJI interviews with more than 100 dating app users, lawmakers, industry experts, former employees and police officers; reviews of hundreds of records; and a survey of app users.

Even the screening policy on the one site that checks registries, Match, is limited. The company’s spokesperson acknowledges that the website doesn’t screen all paid subscribers. The site has argued in court for years that it has no legal obligation to conduct background checks, and it fought state legislation that would require it to disclose whether it does so.

Markin, whose civil suit led to the registry policy, cannot help but feel the company has failed to deliver. Calling registry screenings “the easiest kind of cross-checking,” she said she had expected Match Group to embrace the practice.

“I did something to help other women,” she told CJI. “It’s disappointing to see Match did not.”

Susan Flaherty grew up in the 1960s outside Hoboken, New Jersey, where she developed a style that her daughter describes simply as “Jersey”: “big-haired, blonde, blue-eyed and loud.” With a head for numbers, she got a degree in finance and spent most of her adult life working as a mortgage broker.

In the mid-1990s, she walked into a bar near Naples, Maine, and came face to face with Denie Deveau, a bartender. They got married and had two children. Seven years later, they divorced. Susan kept her husband’s last name. She bounced from relationship to relationship after that. She always thought she “needed a man to come take care of her,” her 24-year-old daughter, Jackie, said.

Papamechail grew up in the 1960s in Peabody, Massachusetts, just north of Boston. He came from a prominent family that owns a construction company. Since the late 1980s, Papamechail has built a rap sheet consisting of eight criminal convictions, four of them sex crimes. He has pleaded guilty to three separate rapes.

His first rape conviction in 1987 involved a neighbor and resulted in an eight-year prison sentence and a 10-year probationary period “with special conditions to undergo sex offender treatment.” Court records show Papamechail served one year in prison and later violated his probation. Within four years, he was convicted of rape again for two more incidents. During that case, he told police he had a “problem” and needed “help,” court records show. He spent another four years behind bars. By 1994, he had spent yet another year in prison after his second conviction for indecent assault and battery, a sex crime in Massachusetts. Court records show Papamechail has served a total of at least eight years in prison. The state officially designated him a sex offender.

Papamechail declined to comment for this article. He told a CJI reporter over Facebook that “if you ever contact me or my family again I will reach out to the Massachusetts courts.”

In 2014, Papamechail became familiar to sex crimes detectives again. This time, a woman he met through PlentyofFish accused him of raping her on their first date. The claim put him in county jail without bail for two years; he was eventually acquitted after a weeklong jury trial. Still, law enforcement officials raised his sex offender status to the state’s most dangerous category, Level III, deeming him highly likely to offend again.

Nicole Xu for ProPublica

By the time PlentyofFish matched him with Deveau, Papamechail’s heightened status meant he would have already appeared on the state’s sex offender registry — something that PlentyofFish didn’t check, the company confirms. At the time, Deveau, a recovering alcoholic, was living in a sober house near Papamechail’s home. Over the ensuing months, the pair chatted online. They texted and spoke on the phone. They met in person; she went to his apartment twice.

Then, in October 2017, Papamechail picked up Deveau for what would be their final date, court records show. They went for dinner and returned to his home. She “expected to just hang out together,” court records note she told the grand jury, but he had “other plans.” They got into a fight. “He wanted her in the bedroom,” according to her testimony, “but she said no.” Around 7:40 p.m., court records show, she called the Peabody emergency dispatch service for help.

Deveau told the 911 dispatcher “a man was trying to rape her and had threatened her,” the court records state. “He’s coming,” she told the dispatcher, dropping the phone.

Susan Deveau is among the users in CJI’s data who reported being victimized by someone they met through a dating platform. The analysis suggests the problem has grown as the popularity of online dating has soared — in 2015, 12% of American adults were on a dating site, compared with 3% in 2008. Other studies reinforce this trend. In 2016, the U.K. National Crime Agency reviewed police reports over a five-year period and found online-dating sexual assault had increased as much as 450% — from 33 to 184 cases.

Because no one collects official statistics on online dating sexual assault in the U.S., CJI surveyed more than 1,200 women who said they had used a dating platform in the past 15 years. It is a non-scientific questionnaire about an underreported crime, and the results represent only CJI’s specific group. They are not generalizable and cannot be extrapolated to all online dating subscribers. (Read the survey’s methodology at the end of this story.) Among this small group, more than a third of the women said they were sexually assaulted by someone they had met through a dating app. Of these women, more than half said they were raped.

If such results are confirmed by further studies, the numbers would be alarming, said Bethany Backes, an assistant professor in the Violence Against Women Faculty Cluster Initiative at the University of Central Florida. Backes, who reviewed CJI’s questionnaire, noted that this one group of dating app users reported a higher rate of sexual assault than women in the general population do. Backes speculated that’s because the users sampled were actively dating. The results, she added, suggest a need for the platforms to protect their users not just online but offline as well.

“I think anyone has a moral responsibility to do something about it,” Backes said, “whether they think they have a legal or business responsibility.”

Match Group declined to comment on CJI’s survey. Its spokesperson noted that Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg has prioritized customer safety. “I’m a woman and a mom of a 20-year-old who uses dating apps,” the executive said in an interview in 2018 with The Wall Street Journal. “I think a lot about the safety and security, in particular, of our female users.”

In 2018, Ginsberg launched a safety council made up of leading victim advocates and other experts. Interviews with its members show that the council has focused on getting users to take action themselves rather than having the company act.

Match has long argued that such checks were too incomplete or costly for its users. Markham Erickson, a lawyer specializing in internet law who worked with Match to lobby against background checks, told CJI it was “incredibly hard” to screen online dating users. “It’s not like you’re getting the fingerprint of an individual,” he said. All a sex offender “had to do was give a false name.”

A Match Group spokesperson contends that background checks do little more than create what she calls “a false sense of security” among users. “Our checks of the sex offender registry can only be as good as the information we receive,” she said, explaining that the government databases can lack data, have old pictures or include partial information on sex offenders.

But some in the industry have argued that the onus should be on the dating app companies to check users’ backgrounds to protect their customers from predators. Herb Vest, a Texas entrepreneur who made a legislative crusade out of the issue in the 2000s, launched his own dating platform in 2003. Dubbed, the company’s name reflected its policy of screening users for sex crimes and other felonies, Vest said. It paid approximately $1 million a year for third-party services like and, partly because public registries were scattershot at first, and partly because the vendors could do a more comprehensive check.

The contracts allowed the company to screen an unlimited number of subscribers each month, former True president Reuben Bell said, an expense it incorporated into membership fees totaling $50 a month. By contrast, Match charged a similar monthly rate — $60 at the time — without conducting any form of background check.

True even warned subscribers that the company would sue if they misrepresented their pasts. “If you are a felon, sex offender or married, DO NOT use our website,” it stated on its site. In 2005, the company took one registered sex offender to court after discovering he had lied about his status. The lawsuit settled. According to Vest, the man agreed to stop using dating platforms. True ultimately folded in 2013.

Another Match Group rival, a free dating app called Gatsby that operated from 2017 until this year, used government databases to screen its 20,000 users. Gatsby’s founder, Joseph Penora, told CJI in an email he was inspired to create what he calls “a creepy guy filter” after reading about a woman who was assaulted by a sex offender she had met through Match. “Our users are the backbone of our success,” Penora wrote. “Let’s do something proactive to keep them safe.”

Even former Match Group insiders agree the registries are more accessible and have fewer blind spots today. Several former security executives told CJI that such screenings would be a feasible way to help prevent online dating sexual assault — if the company invested the resources. For example, they and other experts say Match Group, which expects to make around $800 million in profits this year by one measure, could purchase an application program interface, or API, from a third-party vendor to allow it to check its users against the nearly 900,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S.

Vest still cannot understand why the industry has resisted such measures. He insists the cost of doing background checks didn’t play a role in his company’s closing. True’s bankruptcy records blame its subscription losses on banking reforms after the recession that left consumers with limited or no credit.

The company’s background-checking policy wasn’t mentioned in the thousands of pages of filings. Nor did True report owing money to its screening vendors.

“People can’t rely 100% on the sites,” Vest said. “But as an industry, we could have done much better.”

Peabody police officers responded to Deveau’s 911 call on Oct. 28, 2017, arriving at a multifamily complex with a purple door. The officers found her and Papamechail outside, court records show. There, she told the police that he had demanded sex. When she refused, she said, he pushed her against the wall and yelled, “I am going to have you one way or another.”

Peabody police had come there before. In March 2014, Janine Dunphy reported that Papamechail had raped her at his home after the two had met through PlentyofFish, which Match Group would buy within the year.

Janine Dunphy at her family cabin. In 2014, Dunphy reported that Mark Papamechail, a registered sex offender, had raped her at his home after the two had met through PlentyofFish. Dunphy saw Papamechail back on the app in 2016.
(Sarah Rice for ProPublica)

Dunphy’s allegations sounded strikingly similar to those of Deveau, court records show. Both said he invited them to his home after a date. When they refused his sexual advances, their victim testimonies state, Papamechail — he is 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighs 260 pounds, according to the state sex offender registry — threw them on the floor or the bed, restrained them with his arms and raped them.

Papamechail pleaded not guilty to Dunphy’s rape charge; at the 2016 trial, his defense attorney claimed the incident was consensual and questioned the influence of her medical prescriptions and financial motivations. “Her story changes,” his lawyer said at the time. “And the truth never changes.”

Dunphy never knew Papamechail was a registered sex offender when PlentyofFish had matched them, she said. During the criminal case, she told a detective that Papamechail had confided that he was kicked off the Match dating site but didn’t say why, the police report shows. Match Group declined to confirm or deny whether its flagship platform has ever blocked Papamechail. Prosecutors tried to subpoena PlentyofFish for records of his correspondence with her. Dunphy remembers that the company, which is based in Canada, refused, saying it didn’t have to comply with U.S. subpoenas.

By 2016, the registry board had raised Papamechail’s sex offender status to the highest level, indicating what the board considers “a high degree of danger to the public.” Papamechail’s listing, including a photo, appeared on the registry’s public website, where it remains today. The Massachusetts board declined to comment on Papamechail’s sex offender history, citing state laws.

“He’s going to do it over and over again,” said Dunphy, who has a lifetime restraining order barring Papamechail from contacting or abusing her. In the winter of 2016, she remembers seeing him back on PlentyofFish, which by then was owned by Match Group.

Ten months later, the Peabody detective responded to the 911 call at Papamechail’s house. Deveau reported he had raped her in a follow-up interview. “She did not tell police on the date of the incident because she stated she was afraid and she wanted to leave,” court records note. By January 2018, a grand jury had found enough evidence to indict him for rape. Papamechail pleaded not guilty. He told police that he and Deveau had been in an off-and-on sexual relationship. He maintained that he didn’t try to have sex with Deveau, and that she “woke up abruptly and was screaming at him, calling him a sex offender and a rapist,” the police report states.

In a February 2018 decision ordering his temporary detention as a “habitual offender,” Superior Court Judge Timothy Feeley ruled that Papamechail’s “propensity for sexual violence against women is uncontrollable.” The judge found that “even house arrest would not in this court’s view protect future potential victims of Papamechail’s sexual violence.” One of the reasons Feeley cited was Papamechail’s online activities.

Papamechail stands out among the convicted and alleged perpetrators in CJI’s data. Most dating app users accused of assaulting another user weren’t registered sex offenders at the time. Some had past sex crime convictions. Others were subjects of prior police complaints. But most of the time checking users’ criminal backgrounds alone would not have prevented the problem, the analysis found.

Match Group presents its rapid abuse reporting system as crucial for protecting customers from sexual assault. “Our brands also depend on our users to report any profiles engaged in concerning behavior so that we can investigate and take appropriate action,” the company states on its website. Any user can log a complaint online or through its apps. Moderators and security agents try to identify the accused user and block his account, according to the company. They check across platforms for other associated accounts.

“If there’s bad behavior on one app,” Match Group CEO Ginsberg has said, describing the company’s response protocols, “we can identify that user, we’ll kick him off all the apps.”

But some users who reported their rape claims to the company describe a different outcome. Brittney Westphal, 31, who lives outside Aspen, Colorado, said she informed Tinder in 2015 that another user had raped her on their first date. She asked the dating app how she could get a record of her conversations with the accused when he “unmatched” her — which instantly deletes the history of communication between two users — leaving her unable to give his information or a record of their conversations to police.

Tinder never replied, she said, and local authorities declined to press charges. “I made it clear to them [Tinder] like how serious this was,” Westphal said, “and then I never heard anything.” Within months, she said she spotted her alleged attacker on the app again.

A Utah college student, Madeline MacDonald, told Tinder in a December 2014 email that she “was sexually assaulted (or something very similar),” records show. She provided the app with pertinent information, including the accused’s name, age and physical description. The next day, their email correspondence shows, a Tinder employee asked for screen shots of his app profile, adding that a link to the accused’s Facebook profile “could help as well.” MacDonald offered screenshots of his Facebook page, which included his employer, town, high school and phone number. An employee responded by asking for a link to the Facebook page. MacDonald said she gave up. Eventually, she said she saw her alleged assailant back on Tinder.

Three years later, according to Dixie State University Police Chief Blair Barfuss, a detective in his unit informed MacDonald that the man she had accused had allegedly assaulted three other women he met through dating apps. Two were Match Group platforms.

And then there’s Kerry Gaude, 31, of Golden, Colorado, whose experience after Michael Miller raped her on their first date illustrates the shortcomings of Match Group’s protocols. When OkCupid matched the two in May 2014, Miller, then 28 and using the handle mike22486, was not yet a registered sex offender. Two women who had met him online told police he sexually assaulted them, but their claims didn’t lead to criminal charges. Gaude reported her rape to police, and then she emailed OkCupid and PlentyofFish. She remembers warning the platforms that a rapist was using their services to meet women.

Kerry Gaude was raped by Michael Miller after the two met on OkCupid. Miller pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation and assault charges. Gaude said she frequently saw Miller on OkCupid after the sentencing.
(Rachel Woolf for ProPublica)

The following year, Miller pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation and assault charges stemming from Gaude’s claim. He got 10 years’ probation with sex offender stipulations prohibiting him from using “any applications to communicate with women in any way about sex,” court records state. He also appeared on the state’s public sex offender registry two days after his sentencing in May 2015, state officials confirm.

Yet Gaude said she frequently saw Miller on OkCupid after the sentencing. Within three months, in fact, he was charged with probation violations after admitting to using an unapproved cellphone to access the app, records show. The violations put him in a Cañon City, Colorado, prison for four years.

During the proceedings, Gaude went on local TV and warned people that Miller could victimize other OkCupid users.

Three women contacted police about their exchanges with Miller on the dating app throughout 2015. Police records show one 25-year-old got a message on OkCupid from a man with the handle lucky4me123. On his profile, the man presented himself as an “independent yet naturally caring” person who lived alone and hoped to “find that special someone.” He was, OKCupid said, a “67% match” in compatibility for the woman. She recognized Miller’s mugshot from a news article about Gaude’s warnings.

By then, Miller had been listed in the state’s online sex offender database for almost seven months. The Colorado bureau that administers the registry had no record of Match Group employees requesting information about individuals on its offender list during this time. A Match Group spokesperson confirms OkCupid never checked his registry status.

“It’s the after the fact that bothers me,” Gaude said of Miller’s ability to keep using OkCupid. “How is that not aiding and abetting?”

Match Group’s spokesperson said the company uses “industry-leading automated and manual moderation and review tools,” and spends millions every year to “prevent, monitor and remove people who engage in inappropriate behavior from our apps.”

Several former OkCupid employees familiar with the company’s complaint process say it is easy for banned individuals, like Miller, to get back on the app. The company’s moderators adopt a general “ban first” mentality for any accused user, the employees said, but once blocked, they have little ability to stop the accused from using different identifying information, or signing up for new accounts. Some say they complained about this issue to OkCupid supervisors, only to be ignored. Others say they found themselves searching public offender lists on their own.

Match Group, for its part, declined to comment.

Miller didn’t respond to repeated interview requests, and nobody answered the door when a CJI reporter visited his house. While on probation, Miller wrote to one woman on OkCupid, apologizing for his crime and pleading for “the opportunity to prove myself that im not a bad indiviual.”

Now on parole, he is subject to intensive supervision. One condition prohibits him from using online dating sites.

Some time after Deveau had reported her rape allegation to police, her daughter, Jackie, remembers being on a lunch break when she got a phone call from the assistant district attorney handling the Papamechail criminal case. Her mother had returned to drinking by then, Jackie said, and shut herself off from family.

Jackie knew her mother had experienced something bad with a date, but she didn’t know anything more until a prosecutor told her. She recalls hearing Papamechail’s litany of sex crime convictions. Still on the phone, Jackie looked him up on the internet and scrolled through news articles on Dunphy’s case. She learned about his registry status. “It was just horrifying,” Jackie said.

Jackie dialed her mother right away. Deveau sounded drunk and incoherent, so Jackie didn’t broach the criminal case. Her mother’s behavior seemed to be unraveling from the ordeal, Jackie said.

In April 2018, Jackie got another phone call about her mother. This time, she learned Deveau was in the hospital, admitted after a drinking binge, her vitals unstable. Jackie arrived at the hospital; within days, doctors were putting her mother on life support.

Deveau died on April 27, 2018, from “acute kidney failure,” her death certificate states.

By May, the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office was forced to drop the criminal case it was building against Papamechail. It filed a formal notice ceasing prosecution on two counts of rape, citing Deveau’s death. “Without the testimony of the alleged victim in this sexual assault case,” it stated in its filing, “the Commonwealth is unable to meet its burden at trial to prove the defendant guilty beyond reasonable doubt.”

Papamechail was released from jail again but remained on the state’s registry. Once again, he would be spotted on a Match Group app.

When Jackie learned her mother had met Papamechail through PlentyofFish, she considered suing. The dating app could have prevented what happened, she said, especially considering “how severe he is as a sex offender.” Intimidated by the well-resourced company, she never did file a civil lawsuit.

Even if Jackie had gone to court, though, the Communications Decency Act would have rendered legal action practically futile. The act, passed in 1996, when internet companies were nascent and viewed as needing protection, contains a provision, known as CDA Section 230, that was originally intended to protect websites from being held liable for their users’ speech.

Companies, including Match Group, have successfully invoked CDA 230 to shield themselves from liability in incidents involving users harmed by other users, including victims of sexual assault. Internet regulation experts say the measure effectively allows online dating companies to avoid legal repercussions. In the few civil suits accusing Match Group platforms of negligence for online dating sexual assaults, its lawyers have cited CDA 230 to try to dismiss nearly every one, records show.

Olivier Sylvain, a Fordham University law professor who specializes in the ethics of media and technology, believes judges have been so overly generous in interpreting CDA 230 that they dismiss cases before an aggrieved party can even obtain information about the company’s response. “That speaks to how these companies are held unaccountable,” he said.

Only one civil suit, filed against Match in an Illinois county courthouse in 2011, has gotten around CDA 230. The case ended in an undisclosed settlement in April 2016. Over its five-year history, it pried open internal Match documents shedding light on how the site has handled online dating sexual assault.

Nicole Xu for ProPublica

The case dates back to December 2009, when Match connected Ryan Logan, then 33, a Chicago technology consultant, with a 31-year-old baker identified as Jane Doe. The woman, whose name has never been made public, asked to remain anonymous for this article. She told police Logan had raped her on their first date, spurring a chain of events that would lead him to be convicted of sexual assault in 2011. Around the time of his criminal trial, she learned another woman had previously accused Logan of rape and had alerted Match.

Logan “proceeded to date rape me,” the woman wrote the site in a 2007 complaint. She warned Match he could use its service to attack others.

Logan didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this article. Currently an Illinois registered sex offender, he was ordered to pay more than $6 million in damages to Doe as a result of her civil suit. The judge in his criminal case barred Logan from using online dating services.

Company documents obtained during the discovery process show Match’s customer service team treated the sex assault complaint as it would any other at the time: It sent the complaint to a security agent, who created an incident case file. But Match’s response ended there. “The employee who was to handle the case did not follow internal procedure and closed the case without taking action,” the documents state. The site didn’t take down Logan’s profile at the time, nor did it acknowledge the woman’s complaint.

During the civil proceedings, Match attempted to dismiss the negligence claims, citing CDA 230. In December 2013 — a year after it promised to implement registry screenings and response protocols — the dating site used the law to argue against any obligation to remove users who become subjects of sex assault complaints.

“Whatever Match does, whether they leave the profile on or take it off, even if they had knowledge, is a protected act,” James Gardner, its lawyer, claimed in court. He maintained the site shouldn’t be responsible for taking action against accused users even if it failed to remove a user after being warned about him. “Why shouldn’t they be responsible for that?” Gardner asked rhetorically. “The law says they are not. And the reason the law says they are not is because we understand that the larger purpose of internet commerce is more important.”

Circuit Court Judge Moira Johnson rejected that argument, finding “the allegations do not support conduct that is immune” under CDA 230, which covers third-party content, a hearing transcript states.

Discovery documents offered a rare window into Match’s response system. As of November 2007, court filings show, the site was keeping track of users accused of sexual assault in a spreadsheet detailing their identification numbers, handles and full names. The site handed over nearly 1,300 complaints of physical and sexual violence filed by users against other users during the two years preceding Doe’s rape. The judge ruled the spreadsheet’s contents could be redacted and the complaints sealed, making it impossible to glean whether or not Match could identify repeat offenders among its subscribers and, if so, how it responded.

Match Group declined to comment on the redacted spreadsheet’s numbers, or to release its own numbers of sex assault complaints filed with its apps.

Doe thought Match executives would be outraged that an accused rapist had been allowed back on their site, she said, but she soon learned otherwise. The site discouraged her from speaking publicly about her case, and it has yet to implement her policy recommendation for a user assault hotline. The Match Group spokesperson notes the company’s safety pages list support services for sex assault victims. But the company doesn’t sponsor its own hotline for its users.

Its lawyers pointed out in court records that Match’s “common sense recommendations” for offline user conduct advise never meeting in a private location. “We’re not going to say, ‘Oh my gosh, it was her fault that he raped her,” Gardner said during a hearing, “but she has to take some responsibility.”

Doe still tears up when she remembers how Match treated her in court. “You are not a victim,” she told CJI. “You are enemy No. 1.”

Janine Dunphy had learned, through a local newspaper article in early 2018, that Papamechail had allegedly assaulted another woman whom he met through a dating app. Then, in May last year, Dunphy got a phone call from an assistant district attorney, the same one who had handled the case involving Papamechail and Dunphy. “I have some really bad news,” she recalls the prosecutor saying. The woman had died. The rape charges had been dropped.

The news sent Dunphy on a quest to find Papamechail on PlentyofFish. She had made fake profiles to try to track him down on the platform before. She created a male profile once and posted some of his photos alongside warnings of his sex-offender status to see if the website would react. Another time she used a fake female profile without pictures to see if the app would connect them. Sometimes, she searched for his dating profiles for hours.

“I lost so much of my life,” said Dunphy, whose health has deteriorated in the years since her rape claim. Doctors have diagnosed her with blood clots from stress, therapists have treated her for post-traumatic stress disorder. Of her Papamechail date, she said, “It’s in my head every day.”

Dunphy said she continued to see Papamechail on PlentyofFish until she stopped searching last fall.
(Sarah Rice for ProPublica )

Dunphy recalls finding his profile on PlentyofFish less than a month after she had heard about Deveau’s death. She recognized Papamechail’s pictures — a photo of himself in a car, another of an orange cat. His username was Deadbolt56. He described himself as a “coffee snob.” She took screenshots of his profile, she said, and notified PlentyofFish. She never heard back.

Match Group would not confirm or deny whether PlentyofFish ever received a complaint about Papamechail. Its spokesperson said the company’s team of security agents removed him from its platforms more than a year ago — around the time Dunphy would have filed her complaint — but didn’t answer questions about why he was barred, how many times he’s been barred or how often he’s gotten back on the apps. According to Match Group, there are no accounts associated with Papamechail on its platforms.

Dunphy said she continued to see him on PlentyofFish until she stopped searching last fall. She got tired of trying to keep Papamechail off the site, she says. She felt like she was doing the work the app should’ve been doing.

Over the past 15 years, as online dating has emerged as the most popular matchmaker among Americans, state legislators have tried to address its potential for real-world harm. The earliest proposals would have required platforms to conduct full background checks. But since online dating companies do business nationwide, and only the federal government can regulate interstate operations, they went nowhere.

State lawmakers then took a different tack and pushed to mandate that apps disclose whether or not they conduct background checks. These laws, typically enforced by state attorneys general or consumer affairs departments, fine companies if they don’t disclose. These measures explain why Match Group platforms adopted the no-check warnings buried in their Terms of Use in the first place.

In 2005, legislators — from Virginia to California, and Michigan to Florida — were debating disclosure bills championed by Vest, True’s founder, considered the company’s legislative campaign a form of marketing that would inspire brand loyalty. Generally opposed to government intervention, he saw an exception in this case. “We have a legislative branch intended to protect the citizenry,” Vest said.

Among the most vocal critics of the bills was Match. In Michigan, for example, Marshall Dye, then assistant general counsel for the website, testified at a hearing on that state’s bill. Match opposed the bill, Dye testified, on the grounds that it would give users a false sense of security. Consumers might assume that everyone on the platform had a spotless record, she argued. But no one convicted of a crime would give his real name. (Dye declined a request to comment on her testimony.)

“It’s just a buyer beware statement,” said Alan Cropsey, a Michigan state senator at the time who sponsored the failed bill because he figured industry support would be a no-brainer. Of the platforms, he said, “They don’t want the buyer to beware.”

New Jersey became the first state in 2008 to pass an online dating disclosure statute, which also required the platforms to publish safety tips — such as “Tell friends and family about your plans,” and “Meet in public and stay in public.” Legislatures in Illinois, New York and Texas soon followed suit. At times, Match lobbyists led the industry opposition in the debates.

Match Group didn’t soften its stance until 2017, when the company helped to push a measure that would lead to California’s first — albeit limited — online dating rules. State lawmakers say the #MeToo movement’s momentum drove passage of provisions that require dating platforms to offer California users the same safety tips and reporting processes already required elsewhere. The regulations don’t mandate any form of background check.

Today, just five states have regulations aimed at improving online dating customer safety. Records requests filed in those states have yielded hundreds of complaints about the industry involving contract disputes or romance scams. None involve online dating sexual assault. No state regulators have taken action against a platform for violating disclosure rules.

Former Texas State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who sponsored that state’s 2011 legislation, said states can only do so much to protect dating app users. “We really do need to have some sort of national framework,” she said.

Last May, Jackie sat in a conference room at her employer’s office in Portland, Maine, taking in a photograph of Deveau. It was three weeks after the first anniversary of her mother’s death, and her grief was palpable. “I need my Mom more than anything,” she wrote on her Facebook page weeks earlier. The photograph in her hand depicts Jackie as an infant, sitting in Deveau’s lap. Jackie, sucking on her mother’s finger, wears an oversized floppy pink hat. Deveau wears a wide grin.

Jackie remembers small moments growing up with her mother: a look the two would share when a snack craving overcame them. Deveau would drive Jackie to a local convenience store to order big salted pretzels. Or the pool parties her mother hosted at their home, where she always put out a good spread and welcomed everyone with open arms.

Deveau spoke constantly on the phone with Jackie as an adult — until she stopped.

Jackie wore a V-neck striped shirt, a tattoo peeking out from underneath. It depicts the jagged line of a heart monitor before Deveau’s last heartbeat. Jackie got it etched over her own heart to commemorate her mother.

Reflecting on her mother’s last months, Jackie portrayed Deveau like so many women who use online dating apps: vulnerable, at risk of assault. She doubted Deveau would have thought about registry screenings and response protocols. She finds it “disgusting” that online dating companies like Match Group would expect its female users to check sex offender lists themselves.

They may be looking for the man of their dreams on these dating apps, Jackie said, but they “can’t do that if these predators are on there.”

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Columbia Journalism Investigations worked with subject matter experts primarily at Columbia University — from public health researchers to sociologists and statisticians — to craft and vet our questionnaire for dating app users. No government agency in the United States has data on online dating sexual violence, and the questionnaire was meant to initiate a larger reporting effort, bringing us leads and directions to follow. It is not a formal survey. Respondents were not selected at random from a population but instead volunteered to fill in the questionnaire. For that reason, we do not claim that our results represent the general experience of dating app users.

We relied on the online survey platform Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) to distribute an initial questionnaire to identify women living in the U.S. who had used an online dating site over the past 15 years. Some researchers have used this platform to ask participants — who receive compensation for their time — about traumatic events and experiences. Following MTurk’s guidelines, we made our questionnaire available to potential respondents in all regions of the country, and we screened out anyone who had a poor record of taking questionnaires.

In all, 2,151 women responded to the initial questions establishing that they live in the U.S. and have used dating apps. Of these, 1,244 volunteered to complete our full questionnaire. Our questions included general inquiries into demographic information, online dating experiences and consensual sexual behavior. Respondents also answered five questions meant to describe acts of sexual assault and rape. These questions, developed in consultation with our experts, followed professional standards for sexual violence surveys. We eliminated results that could be classified as “bad data,” such as those from people who started but did not finish the questionnaire.

Overall, 31% of the women in the survey reported being sexually assaulted or raped by someone they had met through an online dating site.

Our database of incidents of sexual assault involving online dating platforms was created from a web scrape of a decade of news reports and civil lawsuits that CJI reporters vetted and analyzed. Most of the 157 cases took place during the past five years. We then corroborated these cases through court and police records, as well as interviews with officials and additional media reports.

We want to learn more about what actions dating platforms are and are not taking when users report episodes of sexual violence. We need to collect as many stories as possible for further reporting.

If you or someone you know has reported an incident to Match, OKCupid, Tinder, or any other dating app, please fill out our confidential survey.

If you or someone you care about has been affected by sexual assault and would like confidential help and support, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 to talk to a trained staff member from a nearby sexual assault service provider.

Hillary Flynn, Keith Cousins and Elizabeth Naismith Picciani are reporting fellows for Columbia Journalism Investigations, an investigative reporting unit at the Columbia Journalism School. CJI research assistant Andrea Salcedo contributed reporting to this story. Funding for CJI is provided by the school’s Investigative Reporting Resource and the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

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Also Accused Of Having Sex With Dog…

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