#cyberbullying | #cyberbully | Edward Jones fighting $30M Craigslist sex ad cyberbullying settlement

Officials from Edward Jones say they plan to fight a recent jury decision that awarded $30 million to one of its former brokers who became the target of an online smear campaign involving fake Craigslist sex ads.

In early September, a six-year legal legal battle came to a point of resolution when Dalas Gundersen was awarded eight figures from his former firm and an additional $8 million from Paul Betenbaugh, an ex-colleague who was the alleged mastermind behind the Craigslist scheme.

Lisa Rodriguez, an Edward Jones broker who is still with the firm, was also ordered to pay $937,500 in punitive damages for her alleged role in the Northern California defamation and intimidation lawsuit.

But an Edward Jones spokesperson says the case isn’t over. In a statement provided to Financial Planning via email, the spokesperson said the firm has already started the process of seeking judicial review.

They added that the actions of Betenbaugh, who was fired from Edwards Jones in February 2016, are “inconsistent with the values of our firm.”

“We are disappointed in the jury’s verdict as it relates to this case,” the statement said. “Dalas Gundersen accused former financial advisor Paul Betenbaugh of cyberbullying and defamation. It’s important to note that, before trial, the court ruled neither Edward Jones nor any of its financial advisors had any knowledge of Betenbaugh’s misconduct and are not responsible for it.”

The firm also stands by Rodriguez, affirming that she also was unaware of the scheme Betenbaugh carried out.

“While we typically do not comment on ongoing litigation, the case against Edward Jones and Lisa Rodriguez is without merit,” the statement said. “We will continue to support Ms. Rodriguez in her service to Edward Jones’ clients and their families.”

The path to September 2021’s settlement began in September 2015, nine months after Gundersen was fired from Edward Jones for violating a company policy on trade confirmations.

According to BrokerCheck, Gundersen entered trades based on instructions given to a nonregistered branch office administrator without confirming the trades with his clients. He also admitted to providing inaccurate information to the firm’s compliance department in relation to the trades.

When he was fired from the firm, Gundersen lost access to the $150 million book of business he spent the previous 15 years of his career building. The only thing he retained in the split was his phone number, and he was barred from soliciting any of his former clients.

Gundersen was replaced at the Edwards Jones office in Willows, California by Rodriguez, who was mentored by Betenbaugh.

The Sacramento Bee reported that when a former Gundersen client slated to work with Rodriguez going forward submitted a complaint letter to Edward Jones about his new broker’s fees and attitude, Betenbaugh got angry and wanted to retaliate.

In a sworn declaration from March 2016, Betenbaugh said he decided to make posts on Chico Craigslist that would “annoy” Gundersen. According to a lawsuit filed by the plaintiff, that annoyance took the form of Betenbaugh impersonating Gundersen and posting multiple fake sex ads seeking sexual encounters with men in September 2015.

The graphic ads listed Gundersen’s phone number and physical description. Gundersen’s lawsuit says his phone was soon flooded with unwanted calls and text messages, some including pictures of male genitalia.

Gundersen was visiting San Francisco with his wife when the first call related to the ad came in, according to Gundersen’s lawsuit. Another one of the callers was arrested for a violent crime shortly after contacting Gundersen.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Gundersen’s attorney was able to track down the source of the ads by contacting Verizon, Comcast and Craigslist. Months of subpoenas and court orders led to an email address and cell phone number owned by Betenbaugh.

The attorney also learned that the person behind the ads had been using a router owned by a small family-owned business located near the Edward Jones office where Betenbaugh worked.

Betenbaugh admitted to placing the ads in his declaration. Rodriguez, who was also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, denied playing any part in the plot.

The sex ads weren’t the only incident referenced by Gundersen in his pursuit of damages. Court documents allege that one Edward Jones regional leader visited him after his termination and told him to leave town.

Gundersen’s lawsuit also states that Rodriguez and Betenbaugh began taunting him in March 2015 by placing a newspaper ad that alluded to his inability to contact his former clients. The ad’s headline read: “Is Your Broker Giving You the Cold Shoulder?”

Court records indicate that Rodriguez and Betenbaugh placed the “cold shoulder” ad with company approval.

The Glenn County Superior Court docket has seen a flurry of activity in the wake of the jury decision. All of the defendants have made motions for new trials and judgements notwithstanding the verdict.

Financial Planning has reached out to attorneys representing Gundersen, Betenbaugh and Rodriguez for comment. Edward Jones and Rodriguez are being represented by the same attorneys in this case, according to court records.

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