Feb 3, 2016 ยท 4 minutes

[Update: Shokrian has emailed to confirm -- "Paul, I never asked Mike to write you that e-mail and actually very upset he did so without consulting me."]

In 2014, Michael Carney wrote a story here on Pando about Jonathan Shokrian, the co-founder and CEO of “MeUndies.com

Shokrian had been sent to federal prison for a year (and a day) for his role in an illegal asbestos clean-up and dumping incident. 

From Michael's reporting at the time:

While attending Dallas’ Southern Methodist University, Jonathan Shokrian, worked for Califco as a Regional Director. In this capacity, he oversaw an asbestos removal project at a property called Fazio's department store in the Plymouth Park Shopping Center. According to the US Attorney, rather than hiring a specialized asbestos removal service – something he had done previously on other projects – Shokrian simply hired two day laborers to complete the task, providing them with masks, respirators and other tools that offered inadequate protection. The workers then used floor grinders and hand tools to remove the asbestos floor tiles, subsequently dumping the waste material in a city landfill.

The low-budget operation was uncovered by the local fire department when the workers, allegedly at Shokrian’s direction, covered the contaminated tiles with gasoline, prompting neighbors to complain about the smell. The area was evacuated as a result and the case became a Clean Air Act violation.

More than a year has passed since that story, and Shokrian is a free man. I know this because yesterday I received an email from a man called Michael Ladge whose email signature describes him as Senior Vice-President-Global Sports & Entertainment at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

“Can you please call me?” read Ladge's subject line. There was no text in the body.

I can always tell when someone is going to ask me to take down a story. Can just feel it in my bones. As an aside, it's odd how many times those calls come from LA. 

And so it was on this occasion. Mr Ladge explained he was working with Shokrian on "a deal." And then he explained his problem: The top result for his client on Google was Pando's story about his legal troubles. Shokrian is "a good guy," Ladge explained, and it'd really help his future career if I could "go ahead and have [the article] taken down." 

Ladge then taught me some inside lingo from his world. "I work in money management. Someone is trying to get a loan and there's a phrase we use... 'Risk'," he explained. "Reputational risk. Because something shows up [on Google] and he doesn't know..." 

But there was more: In return for Pando erasing Shokrian's felony record from Google’s front page, Ladge would arrange for us to have an exclusive interview with Shokrian where he could tell us all about his recent charity work. "I'm trying to turn something negative into a positive for both of us... to add value." Ladge said. 

Now. A few important points: First, At no point did Ladge ask that our conversation be off the record. Second, Ladge insisted repeatedly that Shokrian didn’t know he was calling us. I have no idea if that’s true, although Ladge seemed certain that Shokrian would be willing to do any interview with Pando that I might agree to. [Update: Shokrian has confirmed Ladge was acting without his permission. See full update above.] I asked Ladge if he was representing Shokrian. "There are some things we're working on with him," he answered. [Update II: Shorkain later told me via email that Ladge does not act as a wealth manager on his behalf.] 

It was perhaps the friendliest take down request we've ever received. But, as I explained to Ladge, journalism doesn’t work that way (or at least it doesn't at Pando). Absent any error of fact, we can’t delete a story just because someone’s wealth manager asks us to. One might even say, especially because someone’s wealth manager asks us to. Most people who get out of jail don’t have wealth managers. The offer of a quid pro quo friendly interview just makes the request even worse.

Asbestos, gasoline and endangering the lives of low income workers notwhithstanding, I have some sympathy for Mr Shokrian. He has served his time in prison, and paid his debt to society. As such he should be free to continue with his life. The Google result thing is likely a gigantic albatros around his neck. I understand his instinct to want it to go away. It’s the same instict that drives many people to support a right to be forgotten law like the one in Europe that has seen countless results disapppear from Google. 

Hopefully over time Shokrian's new found dedication to charity work and good deeds will push Pando’s reporting out of the top ten results. In the meantime, perhaps he should ask the man posing as his wealth manager to stop calling journalists and asking them to take down entirely accurate stories. Or at the very least suggest he keeps those conversations off the record to avoid making the problem worse. Like pouring gasoline on a pile of illegally dumped asbestos, he might say.

Surely by now Jonathan Shokrian has learned the importance of entrusting his clean-up work to people who know what they're doing.