May 24, 2024

Online Seller Who Bullied Customers Pleads Guilty

Vitaly Borker, who owned and operated out of his home in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn, admitted in court that he had lied to and frightened his customers, suggesting that business pressures explained his behavior.

“I was answering personally about 100 e-mails a day and lost control of what I was saying at times,” he said, reading a prepared statement before Judge Richard J. Sullivan in Federal District Court in Manhattan. He closed by saying, “I want to apologize to everyone I hurt in connection with my actions, especially those people I threatened.”

Mr. Borker achieved something close to instant notoriety in late November after The New York Times published an article in which he discussed his habit of menacing customers who had complained to him about products bought through DecorMyEyes. Using several aliases, he threatened to kill or sexually assault customers, going so far in one instance that he e-mailed an image of the customer’s home, which had been obtained from Google maps. In addition, he sent warnings like, “P.S. don’t forget that I know where you live.”

The government also contended that he had sent an e-mail to the workplace of a customer of DecorMyEyes that said the customer was gay and dealt drugs.

According to Mr. Borker, who discussed his strategy during an hourlong interview in his home in early November, there was a method to his noxious ways. When irate and frightened customers took to the Internet to describe their ordeal — as dozens did over the years, on sites like — it would elevate his site’s position in Google searches.

A few days after the article was published, Google announced that it had convened a team to look at this issue and had already changed its search algorithm so that no company could use negative feedback to positive effect. The company declined to disclose details but wrote on its official blog, “We can say with reasonable confidence that being bad to customers is bad for business on Google.”

Mr. Borker was arrested on Dec. 6 by postal inspectors, who raided his home and hauled away boxes of inventory and his computer. He was initially denied bail and was kept at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center until April 6, when Judge Sullivan released him on a $1 million bond, citing the findings of a medical expert who had performed a psychiatric evaluation.

“I don’t do this lightly,” Judge Sullivan said at the time. “These threats are chilling, Mr. Borker.”

The judge ordered confinement, barred him from using the Internet, severely restricted his use of the phone and required a security guard to stay in his house — to ensure that all these terms were being met — at a cost to Mr. Borker of $1,000 a day.

The mail fraud and wire fraud counts stem from the government’s accusation that Mr. Borker was selling counterfeit merchandise, chiefly knock-offs of eyewear brands, like Tom Ford, Valentino and Polo.

Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 16. Government prosecutors said that under the guidelines, Mr. Borker should spend at least five and perhaps as many as six and a half years in prison.

Mr. Borker’s lawyer, Dominic Amorosa, said he expected a fraction of that sentence — a year to 18 months.

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