A New Zealand porn boss charged with sex trafficking, after 22 young American women claimed they were conned into appearing in sex videos, is on the run from US authorities.
The United States Department of Justice has issued a media release overnight describing Michael James Pratt as a "fugitive".
Pratt heads adult video provider Girls Do Porn, the target of a claim in the San Diego Superior Court by 22 women.
They claim Girls Do Porn was advertised on Craigslist as a modelling website and they were lied to about the distribution of pornography they took part in, instead allegedly being told the material would only be sold on DVD to "private collectors" and "small video stores" in New Zealand, Australia and Europe, The Daily Beast reported this week.
Instead, the lawsuit alleges the resulting videos were posted directly to the internet where they have been hugely popular — the Department of Justice's US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California said financial records showed the websites had generated more than $17 million in revenue.
By 2016, the San Diego-based company's videos had been viewed 667,612,456 times on PornHub, The Daily Beast reported.
Now Pratt, co-owner Matthew Wolfe and adult film performer and producer Ruben Garcia have been charged with sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion and, with a fourth person, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion.
The first charge has a minimum penalty of 15 years in jail and maximum penalty of life in custody and a $250,000 fine, according to the Department of Justice.
The three other defendants are all in custody or accounted for, but the department said 36-year-old Pratt "is a fugitive".
According to the complaint, the four accused are alleged to have used deception and false promises to lure the victims, who had responded to ads for modelling jobs that would supposedly pay US$5000 ($7900).
To persuade the women to participate, the defendants convinced them they could remain anonymous and their videos would not be posted on the internet, the department said. In reality, the entire purpose was to post the videos on the internet.
Eventually the women, all named as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, were told the job was really for adult films, the department said.
The circumstances of the alleged deal were also "not all what was promised".
Pratt had previously claimed the women were presented with a contract to sign, in which they agreed to the terms of the shoot and the distribution of the material.
But the department alleged in the lawsuit that: "Some of the women were pressured into signing documents without reviewing them and then threatened with legal action or outing if they failed to perform; some were not permitted to leave the shooting locations until the videos were made; family and friends and the general public eventually saw the videos online; some victims were harassed and ridiculed and estranged from their families as a result; and some were sexually assaulted and in at least one case raped.
"Some were forced to perform certain sex acts they had declined to do, or they would not be paid or allowed to leave."
Girls Do Porn developed a huge following and its dedicated fans obsessed over the amateur actresses, sparking web forums where users revealed the women's real names, hometowns and social media accounts.
Some of the women lost their jobs or were expelled from universities. The fallout cost a Miss Teen Delaware winner her crown.