Thursday, April 17, 2008

The 'Mark Mitchell Mystery' Solved

Updated 4/20

It was never much of a mystery, but the bizarre tale of Mark Mitchell, the eccentric ex-journalist who used to write CJR Daily's Audit column, has been resolved.

White collar crime-fighter Sam Antar has a post today that clears up a question I raised a few weeks ago.

It appeared then that Mitchell -- who fruitlessly pursued for Columbia Journalism Review a hatchet job on Herb Greenberg and other journalists critical of Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne -- was now working for Byrne while masquerading as a journalist.

A Utah college newspaper had referred to Mitchell, who made a joint appearance with Byrne on campus, as a "business associate" of Byrne's, but the reference was pulled at Byrne's insistence. (See also Mitchell's bizarre comments in this Deseret News article.)

Turns out the college paper was right, as indicated by his email to Sam and his reply to this item here. Mitchell now very proudly states that he works for something called "Deepcapture.com."

According to Utah corporate records, Deepcapture LLC is operated by High Plains Investments LLC. According to the SEC, Byrne "holds 100% of the voting interest in and controls High Plains Investments LLC."



Byrne is registrant of the site (see bottom of post), which is lavishly promoted on the Overstock "community" web page, as a tab labeled "deep capture ceo blog." Click on that tab and it takes you not to a "CEO blog" but to "deepcapture" and its bizarre rants, mostly cut-and-pasted from Overstock's antisocialmedia.net smear site.

Why Byrne would create a corporate veil so thin you could puncture it with a butter knife -- I don't know, it is just beyond me. But keep in mind that he is not exactly known for being rational.

In a comment to an earlier version of this item, Mitchell admits he was working for this Byrne-owned-and operated smear site when we spoke in early March. He was pretending to be a "journalist" while taking great pains to conceal that he was actually working for Byrne, and was pursuing a smear piece targeting me and other journalists.

The word for this is "pretexting."

And just to clear up any doubt that Mitchell was pretexting: After this item initially ran, Byrne admitted that he was listening in when Mitchell called me and misled me into thinking that he was functioning as a "journalist":

And best of all, Gary omitted from his description his complete and total meltdown on the phone with Mark. I and two other witnesses to that, besides Mark and Gary themselves. [boldface added]
Nice of him to clear that up.

Byrne says that the website that employs Mitchell is a "separate company." But there's nothing "separate" about Deepcapture. It is openly owned and run by Patrick Byrne and Overstock.

Apart from the corporate data quoted above, the website was registered by Byrne and is operated over Overstock servers (see below).



Note the date the site was created: September 2007. The "separate company" was established on March 3, 2008, according to records anyone can fetch from this site.

Does he really think that whoever raised this issue (his board or the SEC, I imagine) will be fooled by this lame attempt to put a sheet of tissue paper between Overstock.com and its latest misconduct?

© 2008 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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