Blind Date

After Julie met Guido one evening earlier this summer, he plied her with alcohol and then forcefully sodomized her. "The whole time the greasy Italian piece of shit raped me, he kept on saying he had genital warts and that I deserved to have them, too, because I was a slut," Julie wrote this past July on the Miami-based Website DontDateHimGirl.com (DDHG). She also claimed to have caught a sexually transmitted disease. "I can't even have a bowel movement without intense pain and bleeding."

Next to Julie's posting is a picture of "Guido," whose real name, according to the photo caption, is Erik. Dressed in a crisp white button-down shirt, he is shown seated behind a desk, his five-foot-ten-inch, 210-pound figure visible only from the waist up. Light brown eyes and short, dark, spiky hair frame his round baby face. Chubby cheeks, which boast a healthy pinkish glow, give the 25-year-old Italian-American a boyish charm, making him appear more porky frat boy than sadistic rapist.

Julie's posting claims she was too embarrassed to report the alleged rape to police. But according to an anonymous entry posted on DDHG a few days later, living with the memory of the ordeal drove the humiliated young woman to desperation, and she overdosed on antidepressants. "I had been aware of how depressed she was," the note reads, "but I never thought she would end her life. As far as I am concerned, that bastard Erik killed her."


Don't Date Him Girl

Printed adjacent to each listing is a visitor tally: Guido/Erik's profile and photo have been viewed more than 1000 times. "This son of a bitch deserves to be in jail," one angry reader writes. "We need to circulate his picture everywhere and let everyone know what he did."

Indeed Guido/Erik sounds exactly like the kind of scumbag 34-year-old Pinecrest resident Tasha Cavelle Joseph had in mind when she launched DDHG one year ago. She hoped it would be a valuable tool for women fishing for a partner in the murky dating pool: a dating credit check.

Problem is, Erik didn't actually do anything — unless resembling a porky frat boy is a crime.

"The story about Julie is a total fabrication," the real author of the posting — who declined to disclose a real name or participate in a phone interview — explained to New Times via e-mail. "I posted it myself after my friend Erik put me on the Website as a joke."

So there was no barbaric rape, no disease-infested sexual antics, no tragic suicide, not even a Julie. The torrid tale is a complete lie, told to prove a point: "The bottom line is that the Website is dangerous...," the author explains in the e-mail, "and the chances of [a visitor] reading some bullshit story like the one I posted about someone they know are great."

See, none of the allegations about men on DDHG requires any proof. Rapist, pedophile, deadbeat dad, thief, drug addict, lousy lay, violent abuser, hung like a light switch — all are admissible, as is sliming someone anonymously. Skeptics demand it be shut down, claiming posters are allowed to hide behind the Internet's wall of virtual anonymity and publish damaging tirades with no regard for the truth or fear of retribution. Indeed New Times found a number of the scathing allegations to be unlikely and others not even remotely accurate.

Yet Joseph has amassed an impressive following, thanks in part to her touting of the site on most major TV news networks, including Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and CBS. In addition, DDHG has been featured in publications such as USA Today, People, and England's The Independent. Joseph has also made forays into TV talk-show land: as a guest on the Montel Williams show and the Dr. Phil show. (The latter is set to air September 20.) The day she appeared on NBC's Today Show this past April, the site logged a record 1.2 million visitors.

This past June a Pennsylvania lawyer who was described on DDHG as a diseased philanderer filed a defamation suit against Joseph and seven anonymous posters, seeking damages in excess of $50,000. The case is still pending. Last October another man who is equally furious with DDHG created www.classaction-dontdatehimgirl.com to solicit males enraged by their online profiles to file a class-action lawsuit. So far no legal action has ensued, but the site's unidentified creator makes his objections clear. "If the target was your father your husband ... your lover ... and the words were being spread in a public display of hatred, how would you feel?" he asks.

To date, little has been publicized about the deceit and exaggeration that permeate some of the profiles. And even less has been divulged about Joseph's checkered past, which she has deliberately tried to conceal; this raises interesting questions given that she has been nationally celebrated for publicizing the dirty details of other people's personal lives — without their consent and with little regard for truth.

"I find that Website to be completely irresponsible and reprehensible," writes the person known as Julie. "There is nothing to stop [someone] from slandering a guy with impunity.... I would guess the vast majority of the 'stories' posted are completely full of shit."

Tasha C. Joseph is the eldest of four children. She was born in Canada in 1972 to an Indian father and a Trinidadian mother, and then moved to South Florida as a youngster. At age nineteen, she married eighteen-year-old Lemorris Prier in Broward County. She and Prier say they separated one year later.

In the years that followed, public records indicate Joseph as well as Prier had a run-in or two with the law, though details are scarce.

First, in 1994 Prier pleaded no contest to two felony charges: battery on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence. He was sentenced to three years of probation. Joseph failed to mention both the marriage and the crime when she was first interviewed. Later she said she "had no idea" her ex-husband had "ever been arrested." But Prier says her statement is simply not true, and public records indicate they were married until 2001.

Then there's a mysterious February 1995 Miami-Dade County case of grand theft. According to Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger, Tasha Joseph was charged with the crime, pleaded not guilty, and was sent to pretrial intervention. Joseph claims it was not her and says she has "never been arrested." Plessinger responds that the woman accused of the felony is of the same race, height, and date of birth as the DDHG creator. How could this be? One explanation is that this sort of record — if the accused commits no further crimes — is easily expunged from public records.

(After publication, Joseph submitted a letter from the Florida Department of Corrections stating "We have completed a thorough search of all FDC records and do not find any reference to this person as having been in state prison, on state supervised probation or on any other court-sanctioned program in this agency.")

Two years after the alleged felony charge, in September 1997, records show Joseph founded a consulting firm called the Cavelle Company, based in Miami Beach. The vice president was a man named John L. Jackson III. In June 1999 someone with Jackson's name filed domestic violence charges against someone with Joseph's name. Again, Joseph categorically denied it was her when New Times initially approached her for comment. "I don't even know who John Jackson is," she scoffed. Then New Times showed the public records to Joseph's lawyer, Lida Rodriguez-Taseff. "[Jackson] was a guy she dated in the late Nineties," the attorney explains. "She thought [he] was her love partner and her business partner." But Jackson was unfaithful to Joseph, so she dumped him. He then tried — and failed — to get a restraining order against Joseph, alleging she was physically abusive. "It was his way of retaliating," says Rodriguez-Taseff. (Jackson could not be reached for comment.)

But all of that information probably never would have come into the public eye if it weren't for the Website. The idea for the site began eighteen months ago, when the five-foot-six-inch, slender, attractive Joseph was known simply as a media consultant for the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority and a freelance columnist for the Miami Herald. (She also freelanced for Miami New Times.) She was single and lived alone in the Design District.

But then came an impromptu girls' night out. "One of my girlfriends was relating a story, her last dating disaster," Joseph recalls, "and I suddenly said to myself, There has got to be a way for women to warn each other about these guys like we were doing ... but on a larger scale."

That conversation spawned DDHG, which she claims was also inspired by the FBI's Most Wanted list. DDHG officially launched this past September with 600 registered members. The site — which mandates that users check a box indicating the information they post is truthful and renders them solely responsible for content — at first attracted 2500 hits daily. "I feel a kindred spirit of sisterhood among the brave women who post," one avid supporter commented on the site.

Shortly after the launch, Joseph attracted the eye of a prominent local character — and the two began dating. Courtney Cunningham is an attorney, consultant, lobbyist, and government relations consultant whose influence extends from Miami to the halls of power in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. He first called her after reading a Herald story about the Website, she recalls.

"He saw my picture ... and called my lawyer, and [he] set us up," recalls Joseph. "We've been together ever since."

Like Joseph, he has been involved in a controversy or two. When he left a county job in 1997 to become a lobbyist, critics said he was using public connections for private gain. Then, in 2001, state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla alleged in a complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics that Cunningham — then a member of a state board — was involved in an ongoing "feud" with his family. Later he was accused of improperly siding against an ad promoting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride in a state proceeding. (No official complaints against him have been confirmed.)

Now Cunningham is exceedingly wealthy. Gov. Jeb Bush recently appointed him a University of Florida trustee. "I'm very proud of Tasha and the work she has done helping women," Cunningham writes of his fiancée, via e-mail. "I admire her integrity, courage, and strength in defending a woman's right to free speech on the Internet."

Today, only twelve months after Joseph launched the female "free speech" Website, she says it has amassed more than 700,000 registered users and 17,000 profiles. And the site is accessible in four languages. According to Joseph, traffic on the Website has also grown exponentially, logging 500,000 to one million hits per day.

Joseph recently quit her Herald gig to concentrate on managing the site full-time, though she continues to consult on an ad-hoc basis. She declines to say exactly how much she has profited from the Website, but explains she plans to donate 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of DDHG merchandise this year — an estimated $5500 — to the Women's Alliance, an organization that helps low-income women get jobs. In addition, she plans to donate approximately 25 percent of the site's annual revenue to an organization, yet to be determined, that improves women's lives.

These days things are looking up for the young woman. She is the proud owner of — in no particular order — international fame and exposure, a wealthy fiancé, a 2004 Jaguar X-Type, an über-shiny engagement ring, and a $1.375-million-dollar address in Pinecrest. Oh yes, and a newfound sense of fulfillment at having helped the worldwide sisterhood of downtrodden women.

One of her most vocal critics has been Manhattan-based writer and self-described bi/queer editor Rachel Kramer Bussel, who in 2005 slammed Joseph's project on the Website BlackTable.com: "The entire tone of the site assumes some sort of moral superiority on the part of women with a false sense of öwe're-all-in-this-together' when in fact [women are] probably known for being even cattier, colder, and crazier in our efforts to hold on to men."

According to the Houston Press, Joseph posted on the DDHG blog a scathing rebuttal to Bussel's remarks: "Start one for cheating lesbians if you like," she wrote, adding that Bussel's "comments are not worth addressing."

Another detractor is the author of the TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime blog, who wrote last month: "Personally I think the site is deplorable.... I hope Joseph voluntarily shuts it down. Regardless of whether it's legally justifiable, it's morally reprehensible — at least in my constitutionally protected opinion."

Responds Joseph: "You either like the site and you understand why it's important to women or you don't. If you don't, that's great, because I believe in the First Amendment and a person's right to voice their opinion."

New Jersey resident William didn't want to talk about the allegation posted on Joseph's Website that lists him as a pedophile. So we looked him up on the National Sex Offender Public Registry. He's not listed.

Next we turned to alleged deadbeat dad Kevin. Though he failed to respond to a voicemail message left at his Pittsburgh home, we deduced the claims against him might not be 100 percent true. Okay, maybe he enjoys sex with men and sells drugs for a living. But dating 263 women simultaneously? Er, exactly!

Dallas resident Derek, who is 45 years old, hung up the phone as soon as we asked if he really suffers from genital warts contracted from one of his many male lovers. The posting is attributed to his wife of eleven years. (Just a thought: If you were married to a diseased, whoring homo, would you wait for him to leave you for a 24-year-old girl, or would you cite the 'till scabs us do part' clause and bolt?)

New Times got nothing but a dial tone from James, who lives in Oregon, after we questioned him about an anonymous posting that profiled him as a "butt pummeler" who screwed his girlfriend's 72-year-old female neighbor. But we had to wonder why his girl would have taken him back if he really was banging Grandma.

Then we called a man, whom we will refer to as Bill (at his entreaty and because of pesky concerns related to libel) . He was described on DDHG as a five-foot-ten-inch, 25-year-old, muscular, olive-skinned, soon-to-be law school student who was "involved with women in different states a user, manipulator, and a liar." After hearing the description and then briefly hesitating, the native Californian let out a hearty chuckle over the telephone.

"Are you sure you have the right guy?" he asked.

Bill, according to the site, is your standard alleged cheater. No allegations pertaining to young children, child-support payments, or blow-up dolls, for example. So we asked whether he was a pro at the fuck-'em-and-chuck-'em game?

"Er, honestly ... yes," he giggled shyly. "But I can't believe someone would say I'm a womanizer. That's funny. How can I be a womanizer? I've never even technically fucked a girl."

A virgin?

"Hell, no, I'm not a virgin," he scoffed. "I'm gay."

Wait, what?

Bill's initial humor was quickly replaced by bewilderment. First he was told the post claimed he "has no remorse about cheating and hurting women he's a pro at this game." Next he learned more than 800 people had viewed the unsigned discussion of his unscrupulous character.

He racked his brain and then made a startling confession. Four months ago, having recently graduated from college in Southern California with a bachelor's degree in English literature, he moved to Chicago. Prior to the beginning of his fall term at law school, a friend hooked him up with a summer internship at a reputable law firm. He worked more as a coffee boy than anything else.

"I'm comfortable with who I am, but I don't flaunt it," said Bill, explaining he had hoped not to disclose his sexuality while he was on the job. He soon began making friends and went out a few times with one of the firm's young female office workers.

"She seemed to have some emotional baggage, but she was fun.... I didn't really know anyone else," he recalled. "We got drunk one night and I walked her home.... She started trying to make out with me, like full-on," he shuddered. To avoid embarrassing the girl further, he said he was involved with someone in California. "I didn't really feel like giving her my life story and didn't know what else to say."

Rejected, the girl burst into tears.

The following day he brought her flowers by way of apology, only to be met with an icy glare — and she trashed the bouquet. For the remainder of his three-month gig, the girl went out of her way to avoid him, Bill claimed. "She's the only person I can think of that could have written this," he said. "And honestly, it doesn't really bother me, though she clearly has some major issues."

Of course the site does include claims that are likely rooted in truth. Take the case of 25-year-old Adam G.

"He was an acquaintance I knew through a friend of a friend," an unidentified user writes. "He raped and beat me when I was sixteen. He proceeded to keep me locked in a place unknown to me until the police found me a week later. He has been to jail several times and has a long rap sheet. He is dangerous and usually armed. He likes to prey on young teenage girls. I was not the first. I have been granted a lifetime restraining order by the Miami-Dade County Court."

Indeed court records show Adam G. has been arrested in Miami-Dade County at least seven times since 2001 and convicted of lewd and lascivious battery on a child, indecent exposure, and probation violation.

There is nothing in G.'s criminal history to authenticate the specific allegations in the online posting — and despite numerous attempts, G. could not be located for comment. However, a 2002 charge makes similar accusations. In court documents, a single mother of three who resides in West Kendall — call her Jane Doe — contends her daughter Helen (name changed), suffered a similar fate at G.'s hands. The girl was just fourteen years old.

Doe recalls in a sworn deposition that she first met the scrawny five-foot-eleven-inch G. during winter 2001 while shopping with her daughter at the Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami. "He presents himself as this poor person who was an abused child," Doe said in a follow-up interview. "He made you feel sorry for him."

Then Doe explained that G. visited Helen at the family's two-story townhouse on a couple of occasions despite the mother's attempts to discourage the friendship. Helen told police that G. said she "was pretty" and that "he was in love with her." According to police reports, in January 2002 he arrived at the family home, unbeknownst to Doe, and lured Helen to a nearby abandoned golf course. He gave her marijuana and asked her to have sex with him. "I agreed and I just laid there," Helen told police.

When Doe caught G. a few days later on her roof in the middle of the night, screaming, she called police. "I'll be honest," she said, "Helen was scared of him; so was I."

Helen told police that G. showed up at her mother's house the following day, enraged that the cops had been involved. He screamed at Helen and punched her in the face. In September 2002, G. was sentenced to five years of probation for his crimes against Helen. Since then he has been charged with indecent exposure, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct.

"When he was last seen, he had strawberry-blond hair," the anonymous DDHG poster writes. "A distinguishing physical mark is an anarchy tattoo on his right forearm. He was last spotted at Club O'Zone in Miami in 2004."

"He is armed and he does prey on young teenage girls," says Doe. "But people are going to believe what they want to because there are people out there that will write anything just to be nasty."

That sentiment is echoed by many of DDHG's alleged cheaters, a Pennsylvania man in particular.

Last November criminal defense lawyer Todd Hollis completed the 2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run that made up the 2005 Ironman Florida Triathlon in Panama City. He was elated when his local paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, printed his race picture.

But he had no idea that photograph would come back to haunt him.

Six months later, his handsome visage resurfaced on DDHG sided by allegations the 38-year-old African-American was a womanizing, shabbily dressed father of multiple children. "He looks like a chocolate dream until you get to know him," one person wrote.

A family member saw the posting, recognized him, and called to break the news.

"I was very shocked, embarrassed, and concerned," recalls Hollis, who alleges he later identified the anonymous author as Pennsylvania resident Carolyn Meritt Lattimore. "Ms. Lattimore is the friend of someone I casually dated approximately three years ago. She took my picture from the article and posted it as if she knew me, when in fact I have never met her in my life." Lattimore could not be reached for comment.

Hollis, who has practiced law since 1994, claims he immediately requested via phone and e-mail that Joseph remove the posting but that she "snubbed her nose" at his pleas. The posting was mysteriously deleted less than 36 hours after it was published. (Joseph says she did not remove the claim; that's up to people who post.)

Three other anonymous listings subsequently maligned him. Among the allegations: Hollis was bisexual, lived in "a dump," and knowingly spread herpes. Hollis set the record straight for New Times: He is not currently in a relationship; he has, at times, casually dated more than one woman at a time; he does not have herpes; he does not wear dirty clothes; his home is, in fact, clean.

"When you have to explain to someone that you don't have herpes or that you are not a dog, it really bothers you," says Hollis. "You feel awkward.... You don't know whether the whole world knows about it or if someone is looking at you in a different light because of it."

So this past June — in front of TV cameras — he announced his lawsuit against Joseph, and seven individuals who allegedly posted the remarks, for defamation. Hollis's suit notes he is a "well-known and highly respected" attorney. "It is absolutely reprehensible for someone to be able to come up with false, malicious, and defamatory information about someone and be able to do so with impunity and anonymity," he says.

In the three months since the first profile appeared, another five pertaining to Hollis have been posted. To date, they have been viewed more than 50,000 times.

"Todd Hollis is a liar," responds Joseph. "No one would have known about [him] if he hadn't gone to the media and blown the lawsuit up." Indeed the six-foot-two-inch Hollis appears to be playing Joseph at her own media game. Over the past two months, he has appeared via satellite with Joseph on a host of TV news shows and on Pittsburgh's KDKA, Fox News, MSNBC, and Court TV. In addition, Hollis's suit has been featured in a number of periodicals, including the Pittsburgh City Paper.

"The fact that more attention is drawn to my name as a result of my lawsuit is an unfortunate necessity to prevent other men from being victims," says Hollis. "Todd Hollis is just one person in the entire scheme of this elaborate nonsense that Ms. Joseph has created."

At issue is whether Joseph is responsible in any way for the posts on her site. Joseph's attorney, Rodriguez-Taseff, points out that a 1996 federal law protects people like Joseph who run Websites. "She is no more likely to be held liable than the coffeeshop owner would be for comments customers might make."

The provision has been tested. In 1997 Kenneth M. Zeran sued AOL after it published unsubstantiated allegations in a chatroom that he was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing. Zeran lost. In 1998 a former Clinton aide sued AOL for publishing a Drudge Report column in which he was falsely accused of beating his wife. AOL argued that it was not acting as a publisher because it simply reprinted the column rather than supervising or editing it — and a federal judge dismissed the case.

But Hollis's attorney, John Orie, contends the law protects only ISPs, Internet service providers. He says DDHG is "not an ISP. She pays a monthly fee to an ISP. She is a secondary distributor of false information." Thus Joseph is responsible for the postings' veracity, he contends.

Comments Hollis: "Ultimately at the end of the day, my only desire is to protect the one thing that I hold most dear: my name, dignity, and reputation."

He is, of course, not popular in the Joseph camp. "If you topple this Website, I will personally scratch your eyes out!!!" one member warns him in a posting. "And I will start another Website just like this one ... as a service to the women out there who need to be protected from men like you! Got it?"

Tasha Joseph will likely be busy until March, when she intends to get hitched. For starters, there are her two new Websites. She plans to launch the first, GreatGuysToDate.com, at the end of this month. The second, DontDateHerMan.com — essentially a male version of DDHG — was scheduled to launch this past April, but the response was underwhelming. She hopes to get it going soon.

"Men and women are very different, but at the end of the day, we are all animals," Joseph laments. She confesses to having certain reservations about the project. "Men will probably just use the site not to warn other men but just slander," she says. "You know, insult women, or say, 'She's a bitch,' or something derogatory."

Next month Joseph is scheduled to appear at a court hearing in Pittsburgh — the first leg of a process that could eventually topple her Website.

If it comes out that Hollis is guilty of the allegations posted in his profile, he deserves the bad press. If he is innocent, like many of the guys on DDHG, it would be a shame he was fingered wrongly.

But one thing is certain. Because she vets nothing on DDHG for accuracy, Joseph has no idea what is true or false. And who can blame her when she has so much trouble deciphering the details of her own life?

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