Friday, December 23, 2016

Snopes, the Supposed Arbiter of ‘Fake News’ - Accused of ‘Defrauding Own Site to Pay for Prostitutes’

Published: December 22, 2016

By: Claire Bernish

Fraud, embezzlement, and using company funds to pay for prostitution are just a sampling of the accusations against the CEO of fact-checking website, Snopes — a site which, incidentally, is part of Facebook’s new panel to combat “fake news.”

Facebook’s choice to hire Snopes to arbitrate which news items will be allowed to stand and which should receive the Scarlet-Letter label ‘disputed’ already brought outrage — the site is notoriously left-leaning — but an exclusive report from the Daily Mail on alleged shady dealings should turn Mark Zuckerberg’s cheeks a deep shade of red.

David and Barbara Mikkelson, ex-spouses and founders of Snopes, have been hurling accusations allegations at one another in an ongoing bitter legal dispute following their divorce — and many of the claims don’t exactly give the company an air of professionalism.

Last month, David remarried — his new wife is a former porn actress and escort — and is now one of the site’s fact-checkers. As for the accusations, reports the Daily Mail,

“They are accusing each other of financial impropriety, with Barbara claiming her ex-husband is guilty of ‘embezzlement’ and suggesting he is attempting a ‘boondoggle’ to change tax arrangements, while David claims she took millions from their joint accounts and bought property in Las Vegas.”

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As the Daily Mail notes, the couple met on an online message board with a folklore theme in the early 1990s, and created a fake organization — “The San Fernando Valley Folklore Society” — which, according to a Webby Awards profile, is “an entity dreamed up to help make the inquiries seem more legit.”

David, now CEO of Snopes — which the former couple created after marrying in 1995 — told the Los Angeles Times in 1997, as cited by the Daily Mail, “When I sent letters out to companies, I found I got a much better response with an official-looking organization’s stationery.”

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Although they divorced in 2015, the pair remains embroiled in a caustic legal battle — mostly about money — and particularly concerning each other’s use of Snopes’ funds. Legal documents viewed by the Daily Mail — some of which are verifiable, as presented by the outlet, some not — evince a drawn out personal and corporate quarrel, which a lawyer, unidentified by the outlet, described as “contentious.”

Barbara, in court filings, accuses David of “raiding” Snopes’ bank account “for his personal use and attorney fees” and embezzling “$98,000 from our company over the course of four years, which were monies he expended upon himself and the prostitutes he hired …”

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In a court document from June, she contended, “He’s been depleting the corporate account by spending monies from it on his personal expenses,” such as purchasing his ‘girlfriend’s’ ticket to Buenos Aires and $10,000 for a “personal vacation” to India.

David later claimed India to be a business prospecting trip to familiarize himself with the country in order to set up a fact-checking site there, and that the $10,000 only financed 22.5 percent of the total cost of the excursion.

Barbara apparently worried her ex-husband would drain Snopes’ entire account and said he must be prohibited from using the company’s debit card and checks “right away.”

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Another acrid disagreement concerned David’s salary, which Barbara was obligated to approve. As the Daily Mail explains, “David wanted his salary raised from $240,000 to $360,000 – arguing that this would still put him below the ‘industry standards’ and that he should be paid up to $720,000 a year.”

In an April email to his ex-spouse, David wrote, “As I said, based on industry standards and our revenues, my salary should be about 2x to 3x what it is now. I’ll settle for $360K with the understanding that it’s to be retroactive to the start of the year.”

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