Some of Seth Warshavsky's ex-lawyers will be in court this week trying to collect unpaid fees. But he's not likely to show. The prince of porn has split town and country. "He carried out his computers and left," says a doorman at Market Place Tower on First Avenue. "That was after he lost his condo across the street." And he went where? "Thailand, I hear."
Right on all counts, it appears. The nasally cyberspace wunderkind who ruled the global Internet sex world from behind a huge desk high above First, left Seattle steps ahead of a posse of bill collectors, attorneys, and former employees stuck with his bounced checks. Warshavsky's own attorney couldn't be reached for comment. But in legal papers, the man known until recently as the Bill Gates of porn is called "a former resident of Seattle [who] currently resides in Bangkok, Thailand."
It's unclear when Warshavsky jetted away (in court papers, one opposing attorney cautions that it appears the defendant has gone overseas). But his luxury Pike Place Market condo was publicly auctioned two months ago after he defaulted on an $845,000 promissory note, records show. Warshavsky has also transferred what's left of his $500 million (he claimed) Internet sex business—the media-hyped Internet Entertainment Group (IEG)—to a California corporation, court documents indicate. And the bell may have finally tolled on his history of bad debts and allegedly wrongful customer billings. According to a court deposition, an IEG official was unable to come up with company financial statements in a recent collection case "because all the documents had been subpoenaed by the federal grand jury." The official said that "Mr. Warshavsky was personally under criminal investigation."
Humidity aside, Bangkok is supposed to be nice this time of year.
Warshavsky, 29, the wily (some prefer slimy) former Bellevue teenager who made a small fortune with a telephone sex-talk line (1-800-GET-SOME), bankrolled IEG as a Web start-up in 1997. His eventual eclectic mix of Net sites included casino betting, psychic advice, housing loans, and Webcast sex-change operations and sex acts. Ballyhooed as the "Bob Guccione of the '90s," he was sued by assorted celebs including Pamela Anderson for pirating and selling her home sex video on IEG's Clublove.com porn site. Warshavsky's business "genius" and fast life of wine, limos, and Hollywood porn stars made the front page of The Wall Street Journal. He was profiled in Time and Wired and featured on TV network magazines. Though his virtual sex sites referred to women as "nasty bitches," "pussy," and "sluts," he was praised as one of the few Net entrepreneurs turning a profit (Warshavsky claimed 100,000 subscribers and $50 million annual revenue). He even addressed Congress on the topic of Internet sex. "My mother's proud of me," he said. "I'm a successful businessman."
What he and most of the media weren't saying was that Warshavsky was building debt, stiffing customers, and hiding from process servers; in one case here last year, a federal bench warrant was issued after he failed to appear for a hearing. Earlier, he'd been arrested for choking his girlfriend during a limo ride in Las Vegas. She and others feared the prince's legendary temper.
Until now, no one has publicly revealed his sudden departure to Southeast Asia. Will he be staying long? Is he lying low? In court papers, Seattle attorney Gil Levy says Warshavsky merely "now resides and conducts business" in Bangkok. (Records reveal that Warshavsky is sparring with an insurance company over a $19,000 Rolex he claims was stolen. He refuses to submit the claim under oath but offered to testify by phone from Thailand; no deal, says the insurer.)
Creditors are unsure where to go for their money. Fifteen former IEG workers say Warshavsky transferred his assets to a California company to avoid paying them. Lycos Inc., attempting to collect a $161,500 judgment, claims Warshavsky has "secreted or disposed of" assets with "intent to defraud." His condo association wants $3,000 in back fees, Netsphere is trying to collect a $180,000 judgment, and Rohde Law Firm of Seattle, in a case to be heard this Thursday, says Warshavsky skipped out on a $16,500 tab.
Bad as things are here, it can't look much better from Bangkok. His debt, estimated at $500,000, comes to 21,030,000 when you're counting in bahts.