DOCUMENT: Internet, Stupid

Prisoner Hoaxes TMZ With Phony Jodi Arias Story

"Exclusive" just latest scam from a notorious convict

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TMZ Exclusive Hoax

APRIL 21--In a Saturday “EXCLUSIVE,” the gossip rubes at TMZ reported that convicted killer Jodi Arias had filed a pro se lawsuit against Nancy Grace and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, alleging, among other things, that she had contracted hepatitis C while in an Arizona jail and that the TV host had somehow intercepted her mail.

Referring to “new legal docs obtained by TMZ,” the site noted that Arias--who was convicted last year of murdering her boyfriend--had “filed the papers without the benefit of a lawyer” and was seeking restraining orders against Grace and Arpaio.

The Arias story was picked up by a variety of news outlets--UPI, the Daily Mail, Perez Hilton, and assorted TV and radio stations--who dutifully credited TMZ with the purported scoop. 

Except, of course, that Arias did not actually file the lawsuit, which appears to be the handiwork of an inmate notorious for such fraudulent court submissions.

TMZ did not bother to mention that the Arias lawsuit--sent by mail this month to the U.S. District Court in Phoenix--carries the name of a second plaintiff, Christopher Alexander. The address given for Alexander on the lawsuit--as well as the envelope in which it was sent--is a state prison in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. In fact, the envelope itself is stamped “Inmate Mail--PA. DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS.”

But Department of Corrections records do not show a “Christopher Alexander” being locked up in the Centre County facility. Additionally, the prisoner ID number included on the lawsuit and envelope does not correspond to a current or former Pennsylvania state inmate.

It is unclear why these facts did not trouble TMZ’s crack staffers, who, in their defense, may have been preoccupied with breaking stories involving wrestling figures, the Kardashian family, and the latest celebrity porn release from Vivid.

So who filed the Arias lawsuit?

The prison in Bellefonte is now home to Jonathan Lee Riches, a 37-year-old Pennsylvania man whose litigious exploits have been detailed in these pages. While serving ten years in federal prison for fraud, Riches filed hundreds of fatuous lawsuits naming as defendants a roster of celebrities and other public figures.

A Pennsylvania corrections department spokesperson told TSG that inmates place letters anonymously through a mail slot, and that prison officials do not review the accuracy of names listed along with the return address.  

Riches, who was released from federal custody in April 2012, was arrested on a state probation violation charge eight months later after engaging in a tasteless stunt in Newtown, Connecticut, two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

Seen at left, Riches has employed several aliases when filing his phony lawsuits--in part because court clerks nationwide are on alert for his phony complaints.   

During the few months Riches was free before he was reincarcerated, he filed a federal lawsuit posing as the father of actress Selena Gomez. The complaint accused Justin Bieber of stealing a credit card and using it to pay for a “penis enlargement.” News of that lawsuit first came in another TMZ “Exclusive.” At the time of the bogus October 2012 complaint, Riches’s Facebook page listed his occupation as a “Creative Writer” for TMZ, which is run by former TV journalist Harvey Levin (seen at right).

According to Pennsylvania prison records, Riches is serving a minimum sentence of 30 months on the probation violation charge (and a maximum of five years). His earliest possible parole date is June 19, 2015. (3 pages)