UPDATED: Houston Business Owner Sued for Allegedly Taking Creepy Photos of Women
UPDATED November 19, 2014 at 6:50 p.m.: We were able to get in touch with BJ Farmer and get his explanation. His responses are in bold type throughout the story.
Here's a pro-tip: If you're going to take, shall we say, unusual pictures of your friends and neighbors, make sure said friends and neighbors are explicitly okay with it. If you can't get around to doing that, you probably don't want to keep the photos.
Benjamin Farmer (also known as BJ Farmer, according to social media and the interwebs) has been the president (and is the founder) of CITOC, a Houston-based consulting company for IT and cloud services, since 1995. The company has been named Microsoft Partner of the Year three times consecutively, including this year, and has also picked up a bevy of awards from the Houston Business Journal. All this happened with Farmer at the wheel. So it's fair to say his professional life is going well.
However, things seem a little more murky on the personal side. Farmer and his wife, Felicia Leigh Farmer, filed for divorce last year. Over the course of the divorce proceedings, Farmer's soon-to-be-former wife went through some computers and other things left in her possession and found some pretty unsettling things. Namely, she discovered a whole bunch of creepy photographs of various women, including Andrea Villareal, a woman who had been in the Farmers' social circle for more than ten years, according to Villareal's lawyer, Tommy Hastings.
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Farmer says the photos in question were taken during a pool party, and are simply photos of everyone enjoying the party. He says he is a photo enthusiast and he takes a lot of photos of things happening in his life and stores them digitally. "This was just a pool party that was going on with a bunch of people hanging out and enjoying ourselves. I can see the issue if I'm taking nude photos but that's not even the case here. They're just pictures of a party," Farmer says.
The photos reportedly showed Villareal and other women changing in a bathroom during an engagement party, Hastings alleges. Hastings claims Farmer testified in a deposition before Villareal actually filed the lawsuit and that during the deposition, Farmer said that he crouched in a darkened shower with a couple of friends to take the photos. According to Hastings, Farmer insisted that this whole taking-photos-of-people-changing-while-lurking-in-a-dark-shower-stall bit was completely consensual. "His story is that my client and the other women knew he was there," Hastings said. "He says it was him and two other men in the shower taking those photos and that everyone was okay with it. But, looking at the photos, these were not posed shots." Farmer also told attorneys he did not have any other photos of Villareal and that he had not uploaded any of her photos to the Internet, according to Hastings.
Farmer says that he wasn't crouching down in some darkened bathroom stall and that Hastings has manipulated the details of the party. Farmer says this was a pool party held at the home of a very wealthy friend with an enormous home, including the bathroom. "These were just taken on a cell phone camera. The bathroom this is in is huge, huge, probably 1,000 square feet. When you walk in you're facing a shower that's probably 12 feet by 12 feet. There was a mens side and a womens side and everyone was walking around. It's not this weird behind-a-shower-curtain thing," Farmer insists. "There's a total of probably 15 people in the bathroom, and there's just photos going on and being taken by everyone. Andrea's not naked in these pictures. There's nobody naked in any photo, so the whole invasion of privacy thing is weird. They're just shots of people at a party."
We've tried to get in touch with Farmer via phone and email to discuss these allegations, but we still haven't heard back from him. We'll update if and when we do.
Despite Farmer's insistence that Villareal's photographs were private and would remain that way, Villareal is still hoping to get some legal assurance with the lawsuit, Hastings said. In a civil suit filed last week, Villareal sued both Farmer and CITOC for intrusion of privacy and is asking for damages of between $100,000 and $200,000. The suit is aimed at the company as well because Villareal is concerned that there might be photographs on the company computers, her attorney claims. "My client has known him for more than ten years. She has no idea what else he could have," Hastings says. "All she wants is to be compensated, and she wants an order not to distribute anything he's got; that way he'd be violating a court order if any photos of her ever appear on the Internet."
"It seems quite obvious that this is a shakedown. There are no damages because those photos never went anywhere, they were never sent out to anywhere and it's a room full of people. Its not an invasion of privacy," Farmer says. He says that his ex-wife is friends with Hastings and this all stemming from the divorce which was finalized in September. "I mean no ill will to anybody," Farmer says. "I'm a good, normal guy with 20 years of normal-ness behind me."
Hastings says he offered Farmer a settlement that would have included a "small monetary payment" plus a guarantee that he has not uploaded and will not ever upload the photos to the Internet, but Farmer refused, hence the lawsuit.
Farmer says he left his computer when he and his now-ex wife were having some problems last year and he packed his clothes and moved to a hotel, expecting he would be back in a few days and that they would work things out. However, Farmer says he was served with divorce papers a week later and then someone got into his computer and found the photos. Farmer alleges that Hastings then approached him and asked for money in order to avoid a lawsuit. Farmer says he told Hastings that the photos were taken at a party and that there was nothing non-consensual about the photos and refused to pay Hastings any money. "On principle I couldn't do it. I've been in business for a long time and I know that sometimes it's easier to just go with it and pay up instead of fighting it, but I couldn't do that with this because it was wrong."
Farmer says he still hasn't been served with the lawsuit that was filed last week.
Of course, the moral of this story is, if you decide to crouch in a darkened shower and take some totally-consenual-but-still-pretty-weird photos of your friends, maybe make sure that everyone is really on board with the idea. And maybe don't leave all the photos in the hands of someone you'll later divorce.
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