From Amazon to Tesla, even major companies have had to battle for control of a desired internet domain name. While a basic domain name can usually be bought for under $20 a year, some businesses still have to spend thousands of dollars — if not millions — to secure a sought-after domain if it's already owned by someone else.
But for a 27-year-old former social media influencer and entrepreneur, a plot to illegally obtain a domain name for his business has now resulted in him receiving a 14-year prison sentence.
In April 2019, a jury in Iowa convicted Rossi Lorathio Adams II for his part in plotting a 2017 attack in which an Iowa man was held at gunpoint and ordered to transfer ownership of a web domain name Adams wanted. On Monday, a federal judge handed down a sentence of 14 years in federal prison for Adams, who had faced a prison term of up to 20 years for his conviction on one count of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by force, threats, and violence.
Adams started a company called State Snaps in 2015 while he was a student at Iowa State University. The company, a "mash-up of 'Girls Gone Wild' and MTV's 'Jackass,'" according to The Washington Post, (which mostly posted photos and videos of bad behavior with drunkenness and nudity, and which administrators at Iowa State publicly objected to), quickly earned large followings on Twitter and Snapchat and as many as 1.5 million followers on Instagram.
State Snaps used the slogan "Do It For State!" to promote the brand. Adams' company already owned the domain "doit4state.com," the government says, but he wanted the very similar domain name "doitforstate.com" too.
However, the Cedar Rapids man who owned the "doitforstate.com" domain through a GoDaddy account refused to part with it for less than $20,000 — a price that Adams declined to pay, according to court records. (Neither the Justice Department nor court filings from Adams' case reveal the identity of the owner of the domain, who is only referred to as "E.D.")
Now, as part of Adams' sentence, he was ordered to pay nearly $9,000 in restitution to the victim, as well as almost $26,000 to the court and prosecutors in legal fees.
In one instance, in May 2017, Adams showed up at the domain owner's home in Cedar Rapids wearing a "State Snaps" shirt and insisted he was "here for the name, whatever it takes. I'm not leaving without it," according to court documents. Another time, Adams threatened one of the domain owner's friends with a text message that included "gun emojis," according to the Justice Department.
A month later, with the domain owner still unwilling to lower his asking price, Adams drove his cousin, Sherman Hopkins Jr., 43, to the domain owner's home. Hopkins entered the home, kicked in the man's bedroom door and held him at gunpoint to force him to transfer ownership of the domain to Adams' GoDaddy account. Adams had even written instructions for how to transfer the domain to his account in a note he gave to Hopkins, the Justice Department says.
During the confrontation, Hopkins "pistol whipped the victim several times in the head" before a struggle for the gun ensued between the two men. During the struggle, the domain owner was shot in the leg before gaining control of Hopkins' gun himself. The victim then shot Hopkins "multiple times in the chest" before calling the police, according to the government.
Hopkins, who survived the gunshots, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in June 2018 for his role in the attack.
Adams' attorney declined to comment on the case when reached by CNBC Make It.
While Adams' attempt to wrangle a desired domain name away from its owner took a rather extreme turn, it's not at all uncommon for major companies to either shell out large sums of money or get bogged down in long legal battles in order to secure a web domain.
In fact, businesses often pay thousands of dollars to gain control of relevant domain names as part of their branding and marketing strategies. A few years ago, Elon Musk's Tesla reportedly paid at least in the "high six figures" to secure ownership of the "Tesla.com" domain. And ecommerce giant Amazon has been locked in a seven-year legal battle over the ".amazon" domain name with a handful of South American countries that make up the Amazon River basin.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include the results of Adams' sentencing.
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