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Crime & Courts

Airbnb Voyeurism Case Heats Up

South Carolina attorneys spar in virtual hearing …

A scandal involving international homestay broker Airbnb escalated on Tuesday morning when South Carolina attorneys representing the San Francisco-based company were accused of failing to comply with court-ordered discovery in a high-profile voyeurism case.

Lawyers representing the South Carolina plaintiff claimed Airbnb was “refusing to produce documents” in response to an order from S.C. circuit court judge Jocelyn Newman.

“They’ve repeatedly thumbed their nose at these orders,” plaintiff attorney Deborah Barbier told S.C. circuit court judge Cordell Maddox Jr. “They have effectively stayed this case for two years by not providing discovery.”

Given the extent of Airbnb’s alleged voyeurism problem, Barbier said it was incumbent upon the judge to take action to compel discovery in the case.

“It’s a public safety issue, your honor,” Barbier said during a virtual hearing.

(Click to view)

Deborah Barbier (Provided)

According to Barbier, Airbnb doesn’t want to deal with the fallout from the voyeurism scandal involving Rhett Riviere – a wealthy Aiken, S.C. landowner who is facing criminal charges tied to surreptitious recordings at facilities he rented out using the online broker.

Riviere has reportedly settled for an undisclosed amount of money in the civil case – however he remains a party to the action after Airbnb sued him for indemnification purposes.

Airbnb is represented by, among others, powerful state senator Dick Harpootlian. Riviere is represented by, among others, veteran Columbia, S.C. criminal defense attorney Jim Griffin. Airbnb has been through multiple attorneys, however, which Barbier claimed is part of its delaying tactics.

“Every time Airbnb gets a bad ruling, they hire new lawyers,” Barbier said, accusing the company of filing “endless objections and motions to quash (subpoenas)” as part of its bid to “thwart the orders of South Carolina judges.”

Our audience will recall this scandal making headlines last July when Riviere was charged criminally with voyeurism for a second time.

“This man is dangerous,” one of Riviere’s victims said at a July 2022 bond hearing. “This man is a predator.”

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According to Barbier, documents provided in connection with the civil lawsuit demonstrate a pattern of negligence on the part of Airbnb in response to a deluge of voyeurism complaints.

“Basically what those documents reveal is there are about 35,000 Airbnb guests that have complained about being secretly videotaped,” Barbier said. “And a lot of those guests are women and children. They have been filmed in their bedrooms, while they were in the shower, with hidden cameras in the vents, hidden cameras in lightbulbs, hidden cameras in the walls.”

“These are hidden cameras with wi-fi capability,” Barbier added. “So that host can listen and watch unsuspecting people in real time. And predators can post videos to the dark web. So that’s what we’re dealing with.”

According to Barbier, Airbnb’s delaying tactics are intended to suppress the civil lawsuit and force the case into arbitration.

“They don’t want the substance of these documents revealed,” Barbier added.

Harpootlian fired back at Barbier during the hearing, accusing her of “hyperbole, accusations and misstatements.”

Harpootlian declined to comment on the case following the hearing, however an attorney who participated in the videoconference accused Barbier of exaggerating the issue.

“Hyperbole would be an understatement,” the lawyer told me, claiming the vast majority of “voyeurism” complaints involved Ring cameras at the front door of homes.

The attorney further argued the issue was moot because Barbier’s client stayed at a residence where her host had clearly agreed to Airbnb’s terms of service.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.

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