Man accused of faking personals ads on Craigslist charged with online harassment in Denton County
12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, August 14, 2010
By LIZ MARTINEZ / The Dallas Morning News
Michael Martin never anticipated he'd receive so many phone calls, e-mails and text messages after posting an ad on Craigslist to sell an old boat.
The Denton man received many predictable requests at first, but he soon was hearing from dozens of men who were after more than his 20-foot Bayliner.
"As soon as I'd hang up, it would ring again," said Martin, who is married with a teenage stepdaughter. "I know if I ever go that direction, I won't be lonely."
The requests for companionship began after one message that didn't quite float his boat.
"Your boat's not worth it," the e-mail read.
Martin's said he replied, "I guess you won't be a buyer then."
But authorities say the man who sent the initial message, 58-year-old Clark Friesen of Azle, kept at it. Friesen was arrested last week and is the first person charged in Denton County with online harassment under a state law passed in 2009.
Friesen's attorney said his client, who has a hearing scheduled for Aug. 30, is innocent.
"The charges are unfounded," said J. Warren St. John, a Fort Worth lawyer.
Martin, 42, said he was flooded with phone calls from men after he and Friesen exchanged several bitter e-mails in February in what Martin calls a "testosterone contest."
A few of the men who called Martin told him they'd found him on Craigslist's "men seeking men" section.
Shocked, he searched the site and discovered his contact information and a graphic photo of a man that Martin said "I could only wish was me."
Martin had the ad removed, but the calls didn't cease. His phone number and e-mail address were posted on another Craigslist ad in a similar section.
With an idea about who was responsible for the unsolicited attention, he said he researched online and found that he wasn't the first victim.
Martin's aunt knew someone in the Denton County district attorney's office who handles cyber-crime cases. When Martin learned he would need more evidence to pursue a case, he decided to let the matter rest.
"I didn't have the smoking gun," he said.
But then the calls started again. And Martin said he was told "this had only just begun."
That message was enough to persuade the Denton County's Sheriff Department to investigate, and officials soon discovered Friesen is a registered sex offender.
When Arezow Doost at KTVT-TV (Channel 11) reported on the case in February, it wasn't clear whether Craigslist could be defined as a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace, as stated under the harassment law.
But the law can be interpreted to include Craigslist, said Jamie Beck, first assistant at the Denton County DA's office.
"This list is not exhaustive," she said.
After a months-long investigation, a grand jury returned anindictment against Friesen, who turned himself in on the third-degree felony harassment charge a week ago.
Although Martin's ordeal has gained him plenty of attention – he said he been contacted by Dr. Phil McGraw's people – he stressed that the case is for everybody who's ever been wronged online.
"It became bigger than me," he said.
As for the boat, Martin ended up giving it away.