The Real Rip-Off Report

Page 8 of 10

There's an e-mail Magedson wrote to a class-action attorney several years ago. The attorney had contacted him about working together to help the clients on the site — but walked away when Magedson asked him for $800,000.

There's the fact that, despite Magedson's posturing, neither of his two corporations has ever been a not-for-profit, which is the case with the Better Business Bureau, his chief competition. He sells his book for $21.95, he gets paid by attorneys for "advertising" after he finds them clients, and his site has plenty of advertisers — yet he's still asking for donations via PayPal.

And then there's the case of a pizza deliveryman named John Unger. New Times profiled Unger in 2001 after he sued Pizza Hut over a host of allegations. He even claimed that his bosses made him pick up crystal meth while on the job.

As it turns out, Magedson had helped Unger tell his story to the media. Magedson also hooked Unger up with his own lawyer, Maria Crimi Speth.

The case eventually settled. But not before some damaging facts came to light — facts that, even today, are in the court file in Pinal County.

And it's not just the transcripts of Magedson's calls to a Pizza Hut executive threatening him with media coverage and a fat class-action lawsuit if he didn't give Unger $200,000. Those don't paint Magedson in the best light, but threatening businesses is an admitted part of his shtick.

Taking a victim's settlement money is not. But as the court records show, Unger told his psychiatrist that he'd signed a contract with Magedson, promising him 50 percent of any settlement he got in the case. (Magedson denies the 50 percent figure, although he admits that he did stand to take a percentage.)

Reports from the psychiatrist, filed as evidence in the case, show that the situation between Magedson and Unger got ugly as the case dragged on.

"There was a lengthy discussion about the threats Ed has made," the psychiatrist reported. "[Unger] reported he has been up and e-mailing back and forth with Ed."

The psychiatrist suggested to Unger that he should just turn off the computer every night at 9. "There was a conversation about cult behavior, of how the person in power gets his followers tired by keeping them from getting enough sleep and then the person is too tired to be thinking for themselves." Unger agreed, the shrink wrote, that "this is what has been happening." He decided to have no more contact with Magedson.

In Magedson's defense, even the angry John Unger admitted that he had first suggested upping Magedson's fee because he'd been so happy at the way Magedson had championed his case. And Magedson's attorney, Speth, says that she believes Magedson is only interested in money because he needs it to keep fighting for his cause.

From his appearance, he's clearly a guy who doesn't care about expensive things. His beloved dog is a mutt. He drives a Chevy Malibu. It would clearly be an upgrade for him to shop at the Gap.

"I laugh when people say he's an extortionist, and he's money-hungry," Speth says. "He wants to make enough to keep the Web site going. He cares about what it's doing — not what it's making."

Speth admits, however, that Magedson's willingness to take money from companies is not a simple matter. "I agree it complicates the issue," she says. "I absolutely and completely disagree that it's extortion — or that there's anything wrong with it."

The trouble with making sense of the riddle that is Ed Magedson is that he's not obsessed with truth; — he's obsessed with winning arguments. And so his story changes. Or there are exceptions. Or caveats.

One of the biggest caveats is Steve Miller, Magedson's sworn enemy. Magedson will tell you he's never sued anyone, but he did sue Miller in Maricopa County Superior Court. (He dropped the suit two months later.) He will also say that he never blocks a business owner from posting a rebuttal to a complaint, but he admits he made an exception in Miller's case.

Magedson says Miller has threatened his life, and he has a tape to prove it, which he's dying to play. Miller says Magedson has done things just as bad: For one, Magedson somehow obtained his social security number, and gave it to another consumer advocate who wanted to sue him. (In his deposition, Magedson admitted to passing on the information, although he claimed, somewhat disingenuously, that there was "no evil intent.")

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske