Criminal Charges for an Accused Cyberbully

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Raphael Golb has been charged with one felony count of second-degree identity theft, plus four misdemeanor charges related to his online sock-puppeting and bullying activities.

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The Chron reports:

The son of a prominent Dead Sea Scrolls scholar was arrested on Thursday on charges of identity theft, criminal impersonation, and aggravated harassment relating to a complex online campaign designed to smear opponents of his father’s theories.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office alleged in a statement released on Thursday that Raphael Haim Golb, 49, son of Norman Golb, a professor of Jewish history and civilization at the University of Chicago, used dozens of Internet aliases to “influence and affect debate on the Dead Sea Scrolls” and “harass Dead Sea Scrolls scholars who disagree with his viewpoint.”

Raphael Golb’s alleged base of operations was the Bobst Library at New York University, one block away from his home. According to the district attorney’s office, Mr. Golb acquired access to the university’s computers by virtue of his status as an alumnus and a donor to the university’s library fund.

The office contends that Mr. Golb impersonated and harassed Lawrence H. Schiffman, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University and a leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, by creating an e-mail account in Mr. Schiffman’s name and using it to send e-mail messages in which the sender admitted to plagiarism.

Mr. Golb also allegedly supplemented that campaign to discredit Mr. Schiffman by sending letters to university personnel accusing Mr. Schiffman of plagiarism, and by creating blogs that made similar accusations. Two blogs, each with a single entry, accuse Mr. Schiffman of plagiarizing articles written by Norman Golb in the 1980s.

As to how the identity of the accused cyberbully was uncovered:

Robert R. Cargill, an instructional technology coordinator at the University of California at Los Angeles’s Center for Digital Humanities, has for the last two years been tracking the activity of an academic cyberbully who, writing under as many as 60 different aliases, has been waging a campaign to harass and defame opponents of Norman Golb’s theories about the origin of the 2,000-year-old scrolls.

He said that by tracking the Internet protocol addresses attached to a number of e-mail messages, blog posts, and other Web activities, he was able to conclude with reasonable certainty that the perpetrator was working from a series of computers at the Bobst Library. (An IP address is a unique number, assigned by Internet-service providers, that identifies every connection to the Internet.)

Mr. Cargill, who has carefully refrained from making any direct accusations against Raphael Golb or his father, Norman Golb, declined to say whether he had assisted the district attorney’s investigation.

Mr. Cargill began tracking the cyberbully:whom he calls the “Puppet Master”:two years ago after he himself was targeted. At the time, he was a doctoral student at UCLA helping to produce a film about Khirbet Qumran:the site in present-day Israel where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered:and its inhabitants for an exhibit on the scrolls at the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Mr. Cargill said it was then that the aliases began attacking him and his film, both in e-mail messages to his superiors and on various Web forums, for failing to give credence to Norman Golb’s long-held theory about the origin of the scrolls and how they came to Khirbet Qumran.

The Chron identifies a number of other people who may have been attacked online by Golb. The NYT also covered this story, reporting:

Mr. Golb is accused of using stolen identities of various people, including a New York University professor who disagreed with his father, to elevate his father’s theory and besmirch its critics, Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, said at a news conference.

Mr. Golb, 49, was arrested Thursday morning and charged in Manhattan Criminal Court with identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors said Mr. Golb opened an e-mail account in the name of Lawrence H. Schiffman, the New York University professor who disagreed with Mr. Golb’s father. He sent messages in Professor Schiffman’s name to various people at N.Y.U. and to others involved in the Dead Sea Scrolls debate, fabricating an admission by Professor Schiffman that he had plagiarized some of Professor Golb’s work, Mr. Morgenthau said. Raphael Golb also set up blogs under various names that accused Dr. Schiffman of plagiarism, Mr. Morgenthau said.

Raphael Golb, who lives in Manhattan and received his law degree from N.Y.U., also created e-mail addresses using the names of other Dead Sea Scrolls scholars, Mr. Morgenthau said.

“This exemplifies a growing trend in the area of identity theft,”Antonia Merzon, an assistant district attorney, said during the news conference.”It’s very easy to open an account using any name you want on the Internet. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. But when you start using another person’s true identity for some purpose, you’re crossing the line into a possible identity theft crime or impersonation crime.”

Interesting that Golb is an attorney. If he is convicted, I’d imagine his law license will be in jeopardy. Golb’s father suggested in the NYT piece there was some sort of conspiracy at work:

Reached at his office in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, Professor Golb said he was shocked at the allegations leveled against his son, who is a real estate lawyer and has a Ph.D in comparative literature from Harvard.

“My son is an honorable person,”Professor Golb said.”He could not have done such a thing.”

Professor Golb said that opposing scholars had tried to quash his views over the years through tactics like barring him from Dead Sea Scrolls exhibitions. He said he saw the criminal charges as another attack on his work.

“Don’t you see how there was kind of a setup?”he said.”This was to hit me harder.”

Via Crooked Timber.

–Ann Bartow

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