Hated blogger leaves U.S., threatens lawsuits

Casey Serin claims to be in hiding in Australia, threatens legal action against his critics. Podcast: Serin issues threats

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
6 min read
A failed real estate speculator who created a popular Web site touting his exploits has begun threatening to sue his critics and claims to be in hiding in Australia.

Casey Serin, arguably the world's most-hated blogger, rocketed to Internet stardom after disclosing his pending foreclosures, marital strife and unwillingness to find a job. But the 24-year-old's online fame was hardly flattering: it arose from legions of readers who call themselves "haterz" and frequent his iamfacingforeclosure.com blog to ridicule his financial missteps and urge Serin to pay back up to $420,000 he is said to owe creditors.

The latest kerfuffle arose last week after Serin blogged about a contract with a mysterious "independent publisher" for self-help material about how to deal with foreclosure. To the so-called haterz, this represented an enticing challenge, which they met by outing the publisher as self-styled Internet marketer Marty Stewart and even unearthing a confidential business plan for iamfacingforeclosure.com and related audio files that Stewart left on a Web site that was not password-protected. The files have since been mirrored elsewhere.

"We've been letting everything go for so long, people think they can just do this without any penalties."
--Casey Serin,

Now Serin and Stewart are crying foul. We're going to "aggressively be pursuing any Web site that has our private content posted on it," Stewart said in a telephone interview with CNET News.com on Tuesday. "Obviously it's copyrighted content and it's being smeared all over."

"We've been letting everything go for so long, people think they can just do this without any penalties," Serin added.

Serin handed the haterz even more ammunition this week by disclosing that he had left his wife, Galina, behind in West Sacramento, Calif., with only about $300 in the bank and had set up operations in an undisclosed location in Australia. Because Serin has refused to get a full-time job--preferring instead to chase dreams of instant wealth through real estate deals--Galina lives with her sister and cleans houses to pay for food and rent.

This interlude highlights the difficult task that Serin has faced in trying to profit from iamfacingforeclosure.com's popularity. Some of his readers are resolute in offering advice to someone they view as a misguided but promising young entrepreneur. Others are devout Christians who urge him to follow the Bible more closely.

But the so-called haterz have become the most vocal. The HousingPanic blog calls Serin "the physical representation of fraud, greed, debt, fear, bubbles and human folly." Others, including some inside the U.S. Department of Justice, have been prodding federal and state prosecutors to indict Serin for mortgage fraud. A more recent suggestion is to take up a collection for a Galina Divorce Fund that would cover "legal fees, basic living expenses, psychological therapy."

Listen up

Serin issues threats
Blogger says he has left his wife, the U.S., and is threatening legal action.

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Along the way, Serin's notoriety led to appearances on Suze Orman's and Robert Kiyosaki's financial-advice shows, and the creation of an entire encyclopedia, Caseypedia.com, with hundreds of entries mocking his exploits. A Casey Serin Dance Remix appeared, as have photo galleries depicting him as, alternatively, Gilligan from Gilligan's Island and McDonald's Hamburglar character. Casey's Web site has even become a case study in a presentation submitted for the Defcon hacker convention discussing click fraud, and he's been called a "national obsession."

A recent tactic of the haterz has been to repost Serin's blog entries on sites like Blogspot-hosted "exurbanation"--arguably in violation of copyright law--in hopes of depriving him of advertising page views. "It's not right for them to continue ripping my posts and putting it in their comments and encouraging people to read it there," Serin said. He has threatened to file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act complaint with Google, which owns Blogspot, to try to force the deletion of his material.

A "heartbroken" wife left behind
One wildcard in the Casey Serin saga, which has played out on the Internet since iamfacingforeclosure.com launched last September, is whether Galina will leave her husband, who ran up $2.2 million in debt and lost five houses to foreclosure.

In a conversation at her sister's townhouse in early May, where the young couple rented two rooms, Galina said that she was becoming frustrated with her husband's spending and had met with her Baptist pastor that afternoon for counseling. But according to her strict religious views, Galina said, "there are only two reasons for a divorce: adultery and physical abuse."

Not helping matters is that some of Serin's former business partners have turned against him. In a series of posts to a haterz blog, onetime partner Duane LeGate recently lambasted Serin and said his wife was heartbroken: "He left Galina with 300 dollars in the checking account to pay bills. He is not planning on supporting her." In return, Serin calls LeGate a "hypocrite" and "back-stabber."

For his part, Serin said he had to escape West Sacramento because his wife and family had been pressuring him to pull the plug on his blog, which he did briefly last month (his brother Steve has publicly berated him for irresponsibility). "I didn't even know I was going until the night before, so I myself didn't have a lot of notice," Serin said. "There was so much drama going on around this blog."

A CNET News.com reader appears to have footed the bill for the Australia trip. In an e-mail message on June 2, that reader offered to pay $1,000 to keep the blog going--and apparently followed through. Serin wrote in follow-up message four days later: "That guy WAS for real. A true supporter. Crazy things happen when you're blogging."

Speculation has turned to where Serin is hiding out and whether he's on the run from the law. Serin refuses to disclose where he is except to say he's somewhere in eastern Australia and is living for the next few months with some fans who offered to let him stay with them for free.

One reader, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Nathaniel, suggested: "Serin is attempting to force his wife to divorce him. He wants the perceived moral superiority of being able to tell others that she was the one who wanted it, not him. He denies leaving her with no money, but then admits that automatic payments drained their bank account shortly after he left the country."

Some wags have suggested that Galina auction off her absent husband's belongings. A Casey-haterz conference call was held Monday night, with one supposedly expected to be more supportive scheduled for Friday.

Amateur detectives have unearthed an Internet Protocol address they say might be Serin's. The address would put his location in the Sydney suburb of Northmead in New South Wales. Others have urged readers to "please contact the AFP immediately," meaning the Australian Federal Police.

(One common charge is that, by lying on mortgage applications, Serin violated state and federal fraud laws. Serin uses the term "my mortgage fraud." He also admits: "I overstated my income, misrepresented owner occupancy intent and concealed the cash-back from the lenders.")

Now that he's left West Sacramento, Serin says he can devote more energy to trying to make some money off his blog. The concept has shown some promise: he was able to earn $2,256 of advertising revenue in one week, but then was forced to return most of it after temporarily shutting down iamfacingforeclosure.com.

Stewart, the new business partner, claims to be an experienced Internet marketer whose PageDaddy.com site promises to help "frustrated and struggling Web site owners drive massive amounts of targeted traffic to their Web pages." (During an interview, however, he was not able to offer any client references or even divulge the number of people that PageDaddy.com employed.)

He blames the haterz for obsessing over Serin's travails. "It just amazes me that these people waste" so much time, he said. Stewart also threatened to "aggressively" seek to find out which haterz are behind reposting the confidential business plan and audio recordings that were left on a public Web site.

Stewart's brainchild was an independently published book titled The Foreclosure Code, with cover graphics reminiscent of Dan Brown's best-selling The Da Vinci Code. But now he's found that his photograph, cell phone number and marketing plans have been immortalized on sites like Caseypedia.com. Thanks to the haterz, that information has been "blasted and smeared all over the Internet. To be frank, I'm very pissed," Stewart said.