IOWA CITY, Iowa — Authorities have seized a computer and flash drives from the home of a woman whose daughter was convicted of a high-profile murder, based on a search warrant alleging the two worked together to harass prosecution witnesses by spreading defamatory information about them online.
Agents served the warrant Tuesday at the suburban Des Moines condominium of 68-year-old Anna Richter, a court filing shows. The warrant application, made public Wednesday and obtained by The Associated Press, alleges the Richters and associates have targeted those who testified against Tracey Richter, who was convicted in 2011 of the murder of a neighbor.
Sac County Attorney Ben Smith wrote that they "have been engaged in a systematic and ongoing campaign of cyber/Internet harassment and defamation aimed directly at the state's witnesses, in retaliation for their cooperation with law enforcement."
Richter, 48, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in the 2001 death of 20-year-old Dustin Wehde in the town of Early, Iowa. Prosecutors said Richter shot Wehde as part of a plot to frame her ex-husband to gain an advantage in a child custody dispute. Richter claimed she acted in self-defense when two men broke into her home.
Richter and her supporters have waged an aggressive online campaign suggesting she was wrongly convicted. Anna Richter has insisted on her daughter's innocence and accused investigators of corruption.
No one has been charged with a crime in connection with those activities.
Anna Richter didn't return a message. Supporters of Tracey Richter accused Smith of overreaching at a time when she is seeking a new trial, noting that Smith has recently been criticized for garnishing money from her prison accounts to pay victim restitution.
"I believe Ben is on some personal crusade," said Russell Schertz, Richter's one-time fiancee.
Smith wrote in the application that based on hundreds of hours of prison phone conversations and visits between Tracey and Anna Richter, he had "probable cause to believe" the Richters and others had engaged in witness tampering.
The application says Anna Richter paid and provided information to a man who made posts on a website called the Ripoff Report that "accuse the state's witnesses of theft, perjury, fraud, computer hacking, child molestation, murder, and terrorism." Those posts, designed to come up first on web searches of the witnesses' names, have in some cases been devastating to reputations and businesses, Smith wrote.
A Google search for two married prosecution witnesses turns up a Ripoff Report article falsely linking the man to "child torture pornography" and other wrongdoing in a previous business venture, the application noted. The man told Smith that his Internet security business has "suffered greatly" as a result, the application says.
Richter's first husband John Pitman said his plastic surgery clinic in Virginia "has lost an estimated $600,000" since Ripoff Report articles were published falsely alleging that he was a child molester and drug abuser who consorted with strippers and performed shoddy work, Smith wrote.
Ripoff Report editor Ed Madgeson denied wrongdoing. He said the information on his site raised questions about whether Richter was innocent, but that he didn't control it or guarantee its accuracy.