New York--The president of one New York City sapphire company is being charged with forging a federal judge’s signature to help repair his business’s reputation online.

The Natural Sapphire Company is a third generation jeweler in Manhattan specializing in pieces featuring the corundum. The company made headlines in early 2011 when President Michael Arnstein said sales had increased exponentially thanks to Kate Middleton’s sapphire engagement ring.

Since then, the company has been fighting fake negative reviews online.

In July 2011, The Natural Sapphire Company filed a lawsuit against Mumbai-based Transpacific Software, a web design and software development company, and its founder, Prashant Telang, for cybersquatting and defamation.

The jewelry company had hired Telang to design its website at TheNaturalSapphireCompany.com and to purchase a number of domains on its behalf in 2004, the same year it changed its name from Natural Sapphire Company to The Natural Sapphire Company and moved its business to operating almost solely online.

In January 2011, it terminated its relationship with Telang due to his “failure to cooperate and to perform his duties as required.”

Shortly after that, Telang changed the contact information listed under the domain’s registration, the July 2011 complaint stated, and the company’s website “repeatedly became disabled … as a result of Telang’s attempts to harass Natural Sapphire Company, disrupt and disparage its business and extort money from the company,” court papers state.

After seizing control of the website, The Natural Sapphire Company claimed that Telang was using the domain name to redirect to a website listing links to forums where Telang, posing as a customer, posted false and disparaging reviews of the company. He also sent the company emails taunting them about his actions and how many potential customers they were losing as a result.

According to court documents, Telang asked for $100,000 to stop the harassment and return the domain to the company.

The Natural Sapphire Company’s case against Telang was settled in 2012 when U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan ordered Transpacific to take down at least 54 fake reviews across a number of review and consumer advocacy websites such as ScamInformer.com, PissedConsumer.com and RipoffReport.com.

Now it is Arnstein who is facing a court case, as federal prosecutors have filed a complaint alleging that the jeweler took matters into his own hands to remove reviews beyond those ordered by the judge.

A complaint filed in March in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York charges Arnstein with two counts of forging the signature of Judge Nathan as well as one more count of conspiracy to forge a judge’s signature between 2014 and February of this year.

According to the court papers filed in the case, in October 2014, Arnstein instructed an individual at his company to create a counterfeit judicial order by digitally altering the real one. He then allegedly emailed a copy of the counterfeit order to Google, requesting that the company remove certain URLs from its search results.

In the criminal complaint, the U.S. Attorney’s office also provided examples of email correspondence from Arnstein to various individuals including one that read: “No bullshit: if I could do it all over again I would have found another court order injunction for removal of links (probably something that can be found online pretty easily), made changes in Photoshop to show the links that I wanted removed and then sent to ‘This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.’ as a pdf--showing the court order docket number, the judges [sic] signature--but with the new links put in.”

According to the complaint, Google received at least 10 more emails between Jan. 19, 2015, and Feb. 10, 2017, with forged orders to remove links and the forged signature of Judge Nathan, who signed Arnstein’s initial judgment in 2012.

Arnstein was arrested on April 17 and went before U.S. Magistrate Barbara Moses that afternoon. He was released on his own recognizance.

According to court documents, a preliminary hearing in the case is set to take place May 17.

When contacted by National Jeweler, Arnstein’s lawyer, Steven Brounstein, emphasized that the case has nothing to do with the company’s reputation with real clients, and added that Arnstein was “clearly victimized” in the case involving Telang and his company.

(Telang and his company have no connection to the current case against Arnstein, and Telang noted via email that he has had no contact with Arnstein or his company since 2012.)

Arnstein is pleading not guilty. 

“Our legal team looks forward to working with the Justice Department so we can present the extraordinary mitigating circumstances that led to these charges,” he told National Jeweler. “Our company has been through a tremendous challenge, which we are sure will be of great interest to many trade professionals and internet-based businesses. We cannot make any further comment until we have further discussions with Justice Department on this case.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated post-publication to add a statement from Transpacific’s Prashant Telang.

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