What if they can’t help it?
Fraudsters have been getting caught, convicted and sent to prison for as long as there have been cages sturdy enough to hold defendants. Through perp walks and trials, the public is left to contemplate the audacity of the misconduct (as in the case of Elizabeth Holmes) or its destructive wake (Bernie Madoff) and wonder: What would possess someone to commit a crime so bold that it verges on the unbelievable?
One answer is provided by the ongoing and perplexing case of Vitaly Borker. A 45-year-old native of Ukraine, Mr. Borker was arrested last week in Brooklyn by federal postal inspectors and charged with mail fraud and wire fraud. It’s his third tangle with the law for the identical accusation — bullying and cheating customers of his online eyeglasses store.
As compulsions go, this one seems peculiar. Mr. Borker apparently loves the exhausting work of hounding and threatening eyeglass buyers so much that after more than five years in prison, in two stints, he still doesn’t seem to have sought a new career. Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York allege that Mr. Borker did not even wait until he was a free man to start bilking clients again in June 2020. He was still in a halfway house.
Dominic Amorosa, his lawyer, said in an email that Mr. Borker intended to plead not guilty.
Business and popular culture both prize relentlessness, even when it seems excessive. Michael Jordan used to imagine that basketball opponents had personally insulted him in order to turbocharge his hypercompetitive zeal. Plenty of chief executives have a focus that can seem monomaniacal. Al Dunlap, a former chief executive of the Sunbeam appliance company and a man who brought a predator’s joy to firing employees, was a key figure in a book called “The Psychopath Test.”
But these people have little trouble staying on the right side of the law. For Mr. Borker, it appears to be a struggle, though he lately has curbed the excesses of his early and most noxious methods, suggesting that he understands there is a line between legal and illegal behavior.
In 2010, he ran a website called DecorMyEyes, which routinely sent cheap, counterfeit versions of glasses made by companies such as Dior and Chanel, and erupted into a rage when refunds were demanded.
Then he got even more aggressive. Using the pseudonym Stanley Bolds, he often threatened to maim or murder buyers. In one case, he vowed to cut off a woman’s legs. In another, he sent an email with a photo of a customer’s apartment building and a note that said, “P.S. don’t forget that I know where you live.” He once sent emails to the colleagues of a customer, informing them that the customer was gay and dealt drugs.
At 6 feet 5 inches tall, Mr. Borker would most likely have loomed over anyone he wanted to menace in person. But no one has ever said he followed through on his physical threats. Enough people were frightened, however, that they swamped message boards of consumer complaint sites, like getsatisfaction.com.
In a strangely candid interview a week before his first arrest in 2010, Mr. Borker described his savage approach to customer service as the vanguard of internet commerce. Google searches, he claimed, didn’t distinguish between negative and positive feedback, so the more people who shrieked about DecorMyEyes online, the higher his company ranked in search results.
On its blog, Google announced after his first arrest that it had tweaked its algorithm and that from now on “being bad to customers is bad for business on Google.”
In the latest case, Mr. Borker’s tactics have substantially mellowed. The complaint presented by the government describes an online seller who might, in less legalistic terms, be described as a liar and a jerk.
His website claimed to sell “brand-new and authentic designer eyeglasses and sunglasses.” In fact, the complaint says, the glasses were secondhand or fake. Mr. Borker also refused to provide refunds when customers demanded them. Someone identified as Victim 2 did get a refund, but about $50 shy of a full one.
If Mr. Borker returns to prison, history suggests he’s unlikely to emerge reformed. On the most basic level, he simply enjoys the job. He once explained to a reporter that he relished the chaos and frenetic energy required to constantly badger dozens of buyers.
“I like the craziness,” he said. “This works for me.”
In a previous case, mental health experts assigned by the court concluded that Mr. Borker displayed symptoms of bipolar disorder, narcissism and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In a pre-sentencing letter, he seemed to concur. “Something is just not right inside my brain,” he wrote.