Aspen pet store outs identity of online troll
January 9, 2019
A downtown pet store introduced court papers Monday unmasking Aspen resident Ivan Lustig as the person who allegedly used anonymous profiles to damage the business with negative and false online comments.
C.B. Paws originally sued "John Doe" in March in Pitkin County District Court, claiming he trolled Google and Yelp with anonymous reviews through multiple online identities of people who didn't exist. In April, the Aspen law firm representing C.B. Paws, Garfield & Hecht PC, gained Judge Chris Seldin's clearance to subpoena both Google and Yelp to obtain information about the person behind multiple online aliases who made "false statements and negative reviews" on the two sites.
The firm ultimately learned that Lustig fired off the comments from Pitkin County Library's computers, and on Monday it amended its lawsuit to identify him as the defendant.
The suit seeks a permanent injunction from the court to take away Lustig's rights "to publish or otherwise post any reviews of C.B. Paws' business to any online review sites."
Contacted Tuesday, Lustig said he had no involvement.
"I don't know anything about it," he said.
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The amended complaint, however, contends Lustig was actually an employee of C.B. Paws, which fired him in November 2017. In the ensuing days, Lustig waged a war of sorts on his former employer, issuing a defamatory complaint with the city's environmental health department about the store's sanitary conditions, alleges the suit, adding that the department took no action after investigating the claim.
Lustig also then began blasting C.B. Paws on the review sections of both Google and Yelp under various names such as "Lizzie Gitsul." That surname, the suit acknowledges, is "Lustig" spelled backward.
"The purported negative reviews include false statements regarding C.B. Paws and its business, including that C.B. Paws' store smells of dog urine, feces and drool," the amended complaint says.
All of the complaints in question — whether about the store's prices or return policies — came from multiple aliases of Lustig's, the suit says.
"Lustig made the false statements and negative reviews under circumstances of fraud, malice and/or willful and wanton conduct," the suit says.
Lustig has a history of spreading lies through anonymous means, according to the amended suit's allegations.
"For example, in March 2018, an individual complained to the Aspen Police Department that Lustig had been contacting the individual's employer via anonymous telephone calls and via Facebook regarding false allegations and conduct," the suit alleges. "(Lustig) also posted defamatory statements regarding the individual on social media."
In addition to injunctive relief, the suit also makes a claim of disparagement against Lustig, who "published the false statements with malice and with the intent to cause harm to C.B. Paws' business, to adversely affect C.B. Paws' online rating, to convince existing and potential clients to withhold business, and to harm C.B. Paws' pecuniary interests."
In a December court filing, Garfield & Hecht indicated it wanted to try to settle the issue with the defendant before identifying him in an amended complaint.
When asked if Garfield & Hecht contacted him before filing the amended suit, Lustig said it did not.
Garfield & Hecht did not respond to messages seeking comment, and C.B. Paws owner Steve Fante was not working Tuesday.
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