FORT MYERS, Fla. - Once your mugshot hits the internet, it spreads to dozens of websites and never goes away, even if you're never convicted of a crime. If you're innocent and you want your arrest booking photograph to disappear, that magic trick can be very expensive.
Let's face it, these days we do an online search for everyone: baby sitters, an upcoming date, and job candidates. It's what you find when you search Jay Nehs that he says has caused him so much trouble.
"Maybe it was the fact that when you did a search of my name on the internet, the first thing you saw was my mugshot," said Nehs.
We Google searched Jay, whose full name is James Nehs, and sure enough we found his mugshot on multiple sites. Online he looks like a criminal.
One site says he was arrested for contempt of court and another for battery. What they don't tell you is that all charges were dropped.
Jay tell us he was going through a bitter custody battle and he was arrested for domestic violence. A search of his court records show prosecutors declined to prosecute and he's never been convicted of a crime.
"I ended up with a mugshot that's floating around on the internet," said Nehs.
In the state of Florida and many other states for that matter, mugshots are public record. In the last few years several mugshot websites have popped up with the intent of making money by holding your mugshot hostage.
If you want the mugshot removed, be prepared to shell out a few hundred bucks.
"That's nothing more than extortion. That's highway robbery," explained Bob Diotalevi, Professor of Legal Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University.
He says the mugshot industry could soon take a detrimental hit because there are several class-action lawsuits in both federal and state courts. Many of the lawsuits claim the mugshot websites paint their clients in a false light.
"He wasn't convicted, in fact the charges were dropped, but his picture is on a mugshot site. So for the rest of his life, or even more, people think you committed this crime," explained Diotalevi.
Even if you spend the money to remove your mugshot from one website, you still have at least 80 more to go.
Some states, including New Jersey, Utah, Georgia and Texas, have passed legislation to curtail mugshot websites. For instance, if someone in Georgia is arrested, but never convicted like Jay Nehs, then the mugshot websites have to pull the pictures free of charge.
And just recently, the Sheriff in Pinellas County, Florida announced, he's no longer putting mugshots on the web. They're still available to the public, but you have to request it, first.
Similar legislation was filed in the Florida legislature last year, but the bill died in committee. A bill was re-introduced this year that would make it illegal for companies to ask for payment to remove a booking photograph.
After months of trying, Nehs gave up his job search and started his own landscaping business. He's convinced mugshot websites are to blame for his troubles finding employment.
"Something needs to be done about it. There needs to be some sort of regulation," he told us.
The mugshot industry took a major financial hit late last year when Mastercard, American Express, Discover and Paypal severed ties with mugshot websites. The search engine Google also recently changed its algorithm so that mugshot sites are no longer on the first page of results.