An NBC 7 investigation found the owners of a San Diego based pornographic website accused of coercing women into performing in sex videos had ties to shell companies charged with laundering billions of dollars for a Mexican drug cartel and trafficking illegal weapons.
Nearly two dozen women from across the country have filed a lawsuit against the three men behind the popular website GirlsDoPorn, which according to court depositions is operated out of the Spreckels office building downtown. They allege the men hatched an elaborate scheme in order to convince them to perform in erotic videos that eventually were posted online.
Attorneys representing the GirlsDoPorn website and its owners have denied those allegations and said the women knew what they were signing up for.
Yet, as the trial nears, NBC 7 Investigates looked into the website’s finances along with its corporate affiliations and found a network of offshore shell companies that prosecutors say were used to fund criminal enterprises.
Listen to how the NBC 7 Investigates team uncovered this story in INSIGHT: Episode Two. Listen below or subscribe on your favorite podcast app.
Corporate filings, as well as court documents, show New Zealand native and website owner Michael Pratt purchased the internet domain name GirlsDoPorn in July 2006. By December, Pratt incorporated BubbleGum Films.
BubbleGum Films was created under the umbrella of a larger corporate entity, GT Group Limited, according to the Girls Do Porn website and the company’s financial filings.
GT Group was founded by a New Zealand businessman named Geoff Taylor in 1995. The company name comes from Taylor’s initials and, according to a company brochure, specialized in setting up offshore business entities to take advantage of offshore tax breaks.
NBC 7 Investigates contacted attorneys representing GirlsDoPorn and GT Group Limited, as well as Geoff Taylor and his sons, with questions regarding the company’s finances but they did not respond.
GT Group’s headquarters was located in a small room on Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific. In recent years, the small island nation has been reported to be a tax haven for shell companies that have hidden billions of dollars, according to a 2017 Bloomberg article.
According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), one of the companies incorporated by GT Group was SP Trading. It was created by Geoff Taylor’s sons Ian and Michael Taylor and did business with Russian arms smugglers.
In 2008, authorities arrested Viktor Bout, who was nicknamed the “Merchant of Death” and was the inspiration behind the Nicholas Cage character in the movie “Lord of War,” during a joint U.S.-Thai sting operation, according to a federal complaint.
One year later, agents seized 30 tons of rocket-propelled grenade launchers on a cargo plane destined for Iran. The plane was formerly owned by Bout and was registered to one of SP Trading’s entities when it was stopped on a runway tarmac in Bangkok, according to the charging documents.
Bout was sentenced to 25 years in a United States prison for gun trafficking-related charges and is currently appealing that conviction. In 2016, an Appellate Court denied Bout’s motion for a new trial. Bout is currently appealing that ruling.
In 2010, federal prosecutors in Florida linked another GT Group company to what was called at the time the largest “money-laundering operation in U.S. history.” Instead of Russian arms smugglers, four New Zealand firms, all registered by GT Group, helped the Sinaloa cartel launder billions of dollars, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Court records tied to the laundering prosecution remain under seal, but according to a DOJ news release, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency tied the companies to a Wachovia bank that helped disguise the origins of the funds. Wachovia later agreed to pay $160 million to the federal government to settle the case, according to federal prosecutors.
One year after the drug-money laundering prosecution, according to Auckland news reports, GT Group announced it was shutting down its operations.
But those weren’t the only ties the GT Group had to alleged international criminal enterprises.
At the same time, Prevezon Holdings Limited, another company registered by GT Group, was a front for a group of corrupt Russian officials who were behind a $230 million dollar tax refund fraud scheme in Russia, according to the DOJ.
In a settlement agreement in the case, the DOJ said Prevezon Holdings agreed to pay back more than $5.8 million dollars to the U.S. without its defendants admitting to the charges they faced.
NBC 7 tried contacting Prevezon Holdings at the firm’s contact information listed online but have not heard back.
In 2016, the largest documents-leak in history, known as the Panama Papers, revealed and confirmed the use of vast networks of shell companies, many of which were offshore businesses used to hide criminal activity and shield itself from taxes requirements, according to the ICIJ.
Back in San Diego, Michael Pratt was busy building the adult website that GT Group incorporated, featuring videos of young amateur girls having sex on camera for the first time, according to the website’s home page.
The format for shooting the videos was simple, say court filings in the civil lawsuit against the website and its owners. Costs were kept to a minimum. The women who brought the lawsuit say the men would fly girls from across the country to San Diego to perform in the videos.
According to the lawsuit, the videos were posted on the Girls Do Porn website, as well as popular adult websites such as PornHub, the fourth most-visited website behind Wikipedia, Netflix, and Microsoft. The site is member-only and charges $29.99 for a basic monthly plan. But in addition to the website, court records state Pratt posts the women’s videos on conglomerate sites such as YouPorn and PornHub, both rank in the top ten for most popular websites.
Court exhibits show in November 2015, Pratt transferred assets from his company Bubblegum Films, Inc. to new Vanuatu entities named Oh Well Media Limited and Sidle Media Limited.
Pratt and Wolfe also listed these new Vanuatu entities on corporate registrations for the GirlsDoPorn website in California, Nevada, and Wyoming.
When the civil lawsuit was originally filed in 2016 against the GirlsDoPorn website and its owners, four women were named. Months later, 18 additional women joined the lawsuit, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 22.
NBC 7 Investigates spoke to seven women who are not plaintiffs in the case but shared stories similar to what was described in court filings.
As the civil trial neared, a San Diego Superior Court judge indicated the women’s claims had merit and would likely prevail.
In January 2019, San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil issued a tentative ruling finding there was “substantial probability” that the women would prevail and Pratt and his employees “engaged in malice, fraud, and coercion.”
That same day Pratt filed for bankruptcy.
In his bankruptcy filings, Pratt claimed to make over $60,000 a month, or $722,000 a year in salary from GirlsDoPorn. The filings also show Pratt owed $134,000 in state and federal taxes.
“Mr. Pratt certainly did not file bankruptcy because he was struggling to keep up with his debts,” said Brian Holm, one of the attorneys representing the women in the civil case.
In fact, according to one former employee, the company often spent just ten percent of its budget on each shoot.
In a court deposition, Val Moser said she worked as the website’s Office Manager and also chauffeur, driving the women to and from the airport. Moser testified in the civil case that Pratt, Wolfe, and Garcia often refuse to pay the women all the money they were promised after filming the videos.
Portions of Moser’s testimony were recently made public.
“Models were booked to fly to San Diego with a certain quote or figure in mind,” testified Moser. “It was highballed. They were promised funds for multiple shoots. When they arrived, their body blemishes would reduce that amount.”
Moser testified that half of all the women she spoke to had complained to her about getting paid less than what they were promised.
The women NBC 7 spoke to shared similar stories.
But Moser says that while Pratt, Wolfe, and Garcia had knowingly shorted the women, they often bragged about how much money they could spend on a video if they wanted to.
“I have overheard Andre Garcia say on more than one occasion braggingly, that we could spend up to $50,000 on a shoot if necessary.”
Meanwhile, bankruptcy and civil court filings obtained by NBC 7 show the men lived a luxurious lifestyle. Pratt formerly owned a home in Rancho Santa Fe. Employees testified that Garcia drove a new BMW, Pratt drove a Lamborghini, and Wolfe a Land Rover.
Despite the inner-office boasts, as well as the flashy cars and lifestyle, Pratt filed for bankruptcy protection in January.
“There had to be some other motivation,” says attorney Holm. “Delaying our clients from receiving justice and public vindication is the only thing that makes any sense.”
Pratt’s bankruptcy, however, was short-lived.
In March, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled that the civil case could proceed despite the presence of Pratt’s bankruptcy case. Just two days before the continued meeting of creditors, Pratt voluntarily dismissed that case.
The ruling and subsequent dismissal now allows for the civil lawsuit from the 22 women to proceed. The trial is set for June 24.
An attorney for Pratt did not respond to a request for comment for this story.