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How Dan Price’s Social Media Fame Fueled Abuse Allegations

Dan Price was praised for his Seattle company’s minimum salary of $70,000 and for criticizing corporate greed. The adulation helped to conceal and enable his behavior.

Aug. 18, 2022

SEATTLE — Kacie Margis, a model and artist, first learned about Dan Price in 2020 the way many people do: through social media posts that celebrated his progressive politics.

Five years ago, Mr. Price had risen to a rare position as the head of a 110-person payment processor company. He told his employees that he was increasing their minimum wage to $70,000. The New York Times and NBC News covered his announcement. Esquire did a photo shoot. He made an appearance on “The Daily Show”At the Aspen Ideas Festival.

His reputation and online following had grown by the time that Ms. Margis discovered them. His self-described role of a C.E.O. A wide audience appreciated his honesty about corporate greed. His posts on Facebook had been liked by millions. Kelly Clarkson watched as he joked with her on her daytime talk program, while Lionel Richie watched. He introduced Andrew Yang to a Seattle crowd during Mr. Yang’s presidential campaign. Robert Reich, the former Secretary to Labor, called him and he video chatted with him “the one moral CEO in America.”

He was a handsome, young executive who spoke directly to her worldview. He was also a social media influencer who criticised the arrogance and excesses of other business leaders. He shared a seemingly endless stream of tweets, Instagram, and LinkedIn posts about inequality, saying the right thing. About mental health. About women.

Ms. Margis liked an Instagram post by Mr. Price in 2020. He was 35 when he messaged her: “Happy Valentine’s Day beautiful!”

Ms. Margis was 27 when she ignored the message but she replied to it early last year after friends shared one of his tweets in a group chat.

“You’re wonderful,”She wrote.

Soon they began to talk regularly. He visited her in San Diego and flew her from Seattle. The whirlwind courtship that began with a brief visit ended three months later when she was accused of rape.

On Monday, the police in Palm Springs, Calif., said they had referred Ms. Margis’s case to local prosecutors, recommending a charge of rape of a drugged victim. Seattle’s prosecutors had earlier this year accused Mr. Price of assault in another incident.

After answering questions earlier in the morning from The New York Times Mr. Price tweeted that it was his turn to reply. ResignHe was appointed chief executive of Gravity Payments on Wednesday evening. He wrote that he was now a “distraction”And you are required to “focus full time on fighting false allegations made about me.”

Ms. Margis missed warning signs about Mr. Price. Ms. Margis did a Google search and found that many of the top results were for Mr. Price. “Dan Price”His own social media accounts and flattering stories were included. Buried was the reason he almost vanished from public attention a few years back: An ArticleBloomberg Businessweek’s 2015 issue of I wrote revealed that his story regarding the pay raise had significant flaws and that his former wife had accused he of domestic violence.

Overnight, attention largely ceased to exist.

But, Mr. Price discovered an antidote for obscurity: Social media. Tweet by tweet, Price’s online persona grew again. The bad news faded away. It was not the opposite of being cancelled. Just as social media can ruin someone, so too can it — through time, persistence and audacity — bury a troubled past.

Mr. Price’s internet fame has enabled a pattern of abuse in his personal life and hostile behavior at his company, interviews with more than 50 people, documents and police reports show. He has used his online fame to pursue women who claim he has hurt them emotionally and physically. Ms. Margis is just one of many women who spoke out to The New York Times about their predatory encounters with Mr. Price.

“Social allows him to control the narrative,” said Ryan Pirkle, who spent almost seven years running marketing for Mr. Price’s company.

In his statement to The Times by Mr. Price, Mr. Price stated that he had “never physically or sexually abused anyone,”That and more “the other accusations of inappropriate behavior towards women in this story are simply false.”

Mr. Price stated that his description of him as a toxic boss was inaccurate. “Making Gravity an outstanding place to work is my top priority,”He said, “and I believe I’m achieving that goal.”

Inc. Magazine, November 2015.

***

After his story of wage-raising and being everywhere, I met Mr. Price for the first time in the fall 2015. Though his business was obscure — Gravity made a few million dollars a year in profits processing credit card payments — job applications and customers flooded in.

Mr. Price was a charismatic messenger in a moment of growing inequality, but the story he was telling in public didn’t add up. Price claimed that his brother, Gravity co-owner, sued him after the wage rise and that it was retribution. Court documents show that Mr. Price’s splashy $70,000 wage announcement took place after the lawsuit was initiated.

Price stated to media outlets that his divorce from his former wife, Kristie Colon, was amicable. But his former wife, Kristie Colón, had given a TEDx talk in October 2015 in which she described their relationship as abusive.

“He got mad at me for ignoring him and grabbed me and shook me again,” Ms. Colón read from her old journal. “He started punching me in the stomach and slapped me across the face.”She recalled locking herself in a car once. “afraid he was going to body-slam me into the ground again or waterboard me in our upstairs bathroom like he had done before.”

These were the incidents that Mr. Price referred to “never happened.”

The video was never made available to the public. Mr. Pirkle said that at Mr. Price’s direction, he contacted the University of Kentucky, which hosted the TEDx talk, saying the presentation Could be defamatory. The university It “simply decided not to post”The video. Mr. Price denied that the video was his command to Mr. Pirkle to contact university officials. Pirkle stated that he regretted his role in keeping the video from being made public.

The response was swift after the Bloomberg Businessweek article appeared in December 2015. Price was unable to fulfill a $500,000 book deal and WME, the Hollywood talent agency dropped him.

He was gone just as quickly as he rose.

Shortly after the article published, Mr. Price pulled his staff into a conference room and told them that he had protected Ms. Colón. He said she was emotional and young. “There was a period of time where she just had a lot of trouble and she was acting crazy,”According to an audio recording of the meeting, he said. “I would restrain her, which is not right.”

According to Mr. Pirkle, and three other people, he had his staff compile a long dossier of perceived threats. This included his ex-wife, brother, and me. (Mr. Price stated that the dossier was not his idea. He ultimately It is possible to winThe court battle with his brother ended in a verdict that he had not paid himself more than their shareholder agreements allowed.

After his employees surprised him with a Tesla royal blue, Mr. Price briefly regained the spotlight in 2016. He was a tease. , “Are you kidding me?!”

“That was his idea completely,”Matt Dho confirmed the statement of Mr. Pirkle, who was a four-year veteran of the marketing department. This was refuted by Mr. Price. “the idea that some people are trying to soil this cherished memory is deeply hurtful.”

But Alyssa O’Neal, the then 21-year-old employee who people thought had suggested the Tesla gift at the time, said in an interview that one of Mr. Price’s senior lieutenants actually made the suggestion in a small meeting and told her to take credit.

Although the stunt attracted attention from the mainstream media, it quickly faded.

Later that year, Price summoned a few of his employees to his home to watch a documentary on the attempted comeback by Anthony Weiner. Weiner was a New York politician who sent explicit photos to young female supporters. According to several people present at the event, Price was recovering from knee surgery and he sat in bed while his staff sat down on the bedroom floor. He asked them what they knew about drowning out bad news.

“He is definitely obsessed with how seemingly you can just become famous,”Mr. Dho was also present.

Mr. Price turned to social networking, where he could manage his message. Each post about C.E.O. out-of control was met with a new follower. His following grew with each post about out-of-control C.E.O. and stagnant wages.

By 2019, America’s best boss was on his way back. The Wall Street Journal featured him in a group called “The Wall Street Journal”. “luminaries,”Nick Kristof profiled Nick Kristof in the New York Times’ Opinion section.

Mr. Price didn’t write most of his posts himself. He hired Mike Rosenberg, an ex-journalist who was able to ghostwrite. ResignAfter sending, The Seattle Times will send you the following: Messages that are sexually explicitBrooklyn to a female reporter.

“We had employees that were livid” about his hiring, said Bobby Powers, Gravity’s former head of human resources. Mr. Rosenberg declined comment.

Mr. Price claimed that he used social networking to help Gravity recruit customers and employees. “I get over 100 direct messages daily,” and that he shared the company’s story to inspire others.

Morning show SpotIn 2021, Mr. Price stated to CBS that he would be revisiting the wage hike. “way happier now.”The CBS correspondent for Gravity added, “it seems like there’s a lot of that going around.”

— Kelly Clarkson, December 2019.

***

Dan Price, the boss who is good, became viral. More than two dozen former employees claim that the image that fueled his clout and attracted his female followers was a mirage.

“You never knew which Dan you were going to get,”Stefan Bennett, who was with Gravity for almost 13 year, said this. He and others claimed that Mr. Price was an unpredictable leader. He snapped at the smallest of incidents.

Jen Peck, who was in a high-ranking position at Gravity, found it so troubling that her doctor wrote a note to Gravity recommending that she quit. “for her own physical and mental well-being,”The environment can be called “hostile.”Ms. Peck is now an engineer director at Redfin.

But Mr. Price’s profile made leaving the company difficult.

Korinne Ward spent nearly five years in company leadership. “it felt like a part of you was giving up on this thing you had been promoting.”

Mr. Price suggested nine Gravity employees that I speak to before he announced the resignation. Most said they didn’t know him well, enjoyed their work at the company and described him as a boss who had taken feedback that he could be too forceful.

185,000 times.

***

Three months into their relationship Ms. Margis met Mr. Price at Palm Springs in April 2021. While enjoying the tranquility of Tahquitz Creek, Price hiked barefoot and often checked his Twitter. His Message celebrating the sixth anniversary180,000 likes were given to the wage increase, as well as other media including a piecePeople shared his story.

The next morning, Mr. Price called and demanded that Ms. Margis vacate their room. She protested wearing a bikini and a cover-up, but he insisted. She was locked out for hours, and she spent the time messaging friends.

“Drop hiiiimmm,”One friend wrote back.

“It’s a no from me dawg,”Another was also reached.

She recalled that Mr. Price had found her by the pool, and leaned in to give her a kiss. He refused to kiss her. He snapped that she was not a good listener and didn’t understand him. “He said it is so hard being him in the world because of his intelligence,”She later remembered.

Interviews with Ms. Margis detail what happened next. They also provide a police report and contemporaneous messages to friends. Interviews were also conducted with three of the people she spoke with shortly after.

Ms. Margis returned to Room 423, where she took a cannabis edible to counter insomnia, something she’s regularly done since being at the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival. Mr. Price tried to start sex after returning.

“No, I just took an edible and I’m going to bed,”She would tell police she said. “We’ll talk about this in the morning.”

She told police that he entered her body as she fell asleep. She pretended to be asleep and was afraid he would kill her if he tried to stop her.

After he was done, she waited for a while and then went to the bathroom to confront him.

“Did you just rape me?”She told police she said. She told the police that he flatly denied it.

She was “shaking so bad and could hardly speak,”She would text a friend several hours later, adding that “he looked me dead in the eyes and said what I know happened didn’t happen.”

She shared with Mr. Price that she felt pain and had semen within her. He started to excuse himself, saying he was just using his fingers. Then he said the tip of his penis.

“I know what you did,”She responded.

According to the police report, Mr. Price boasted that no one had believed Ms. Colón’s allegations of abuse “because of who he is and that no one would believe her either.”

Mr. Price returned to the front desk, demanded that a new space be provided and gave what the manager said to the police. “back story”: That’s his girlfriend “felt uncomfortable about falling asleep”During sex the manager recalled that so he “opted to leave her alone in the hotel room.”

After the effects of cannabis had worn off, Margis fled home. Her instinct was to fight the next morning.

She texted friends to let them know that she might need them to be witnesses. She saved her underwear and filled out the police report. She called her mother and waited in the parking lot of the hospital while Ms. Margis was subject to a rape test. Ms. Margis then returned to her car and gave her mother one small comfort gift the hospital gives survivors: a heart-shaped, one-word-etched stone. “HOPE.”

179,000 times.

***

Two days later, Ms. Colón, Mr. Price’s former wife, was checking Instagram when she got a message. “I am reaching out and hope this is not triggering in any way,”Ms. Margis wrote.

Ms. Margis went on to say that Mr. Price had raped her and that she believed Ms. Colón’s “every allegation.”

It wasn’t the first time that Ms. Colón had heard from women about bad encounters with Mr. Price.

Ms. Colón had relocated across the country and tried to move on. But escaping Mr. Price’s presence was impossible — even her own therapist had told her she had seen friends share his posts on LinkedIn.

Ms. Margis claimed that she had thought of telling her story publicly. “I want to do all I can to make sure he never harms another woman again in his life,”She wrote, but feared he might. “come after me.”

Eventually, Ms. Colón connected Ms. Margis to a man named Doug Forbes, who had been blogging about Mr. Price for years. Mr. Forbes wanted to make a documentary about Mr. Price, but he was too focused on the fraud he claimed to have committed. Gravity defended their practices In a Facebook post.

Forbes published posts about Mr. Price that were often thousands of words long. He had tried unsuccessfully to get more news organizations, including The Times to run them.

If someone searched the right keywords, his blog would be found. He got in touch with Ms. Margis to post an anonymized version last August.

On Wednesday, Mr. Price claimed that he believed that Mr. Forbes had been funded by a competitor. He declined the name. The claim was made by Mr. Forbes “irrefutably false.”

Other women found the post based on Ms. Margis’s experience and contacted Mr. Forbes, who published additional anonymous accounts and introduced several women to each other. I was also contacted by the informal group of women Mr. Forbes had helped to forge. But there were more women. More than a dozen women were able to be described as exhibiting predatory behavior.

After liking some of his Instagram posts, Mr. Price contacted Serena Jowers (a fitness coach near Seattle) in December 2020. Ms. Jowers claimed that he pulled up videos from Pornhub on their third date to show her what he liked. She said that he forced her to have sex after she refused to watch pornography. She saw that he was touching her only with one hand, and then he was holding his phone. He was recording them.

Ms. Jowers leapt up, grabbed the nearest blanket and yelled at him. He fled, she said. She texted him the next morning, claiming that filming made it feel like she wasn’t in control of her body. “I want you to delete any video/pics you took,”She wrote.

“I’ll do that,”He immediately sent me back a text. He also messaged two other women on social media. They told me that Mr. Price had secretly filmed them.

One girlfriend, who requested that I not use her identity, said that Mr. Price would invite beautiful young women whom he met on Instagram to join him on his yacht. This was where she felt they should entertain them.

“I am tired of being the head of the harem,”She wrote in her journal.

She wrote in her journal that he had sex with them three times in the middle of night without her consent.

She said that when they argued, Mr. Price would grab her and place a pulse-monitoring device on her finger tip. He would tell her that his heart rate was never elevated and that he could make sound decisions. He said that her pulse would beat fast, and she was irrational.

The day after she confided in a friend, whom I spoke with, the friend was on a plane to help her grab things from Mr. Price’s house and yacht, and leave.

Liked 122,000 Times

***

Mr. Forbes shared information on the Palm Springs incident with Gravity employees. The news shocked the office.

“This is supposed to be a company that holds itself to a higher standard,”Dan Ludwig, who had been there for a year, shared his experience. “but it kinda reeked.”

In the fall 2021, Mr. Price took a leave. But at a company meeting last November, Mr. Price, who was the company’s sole owner and board member, said he was ready to return.

Late in January, Mr. Price met Shelby Alexandra Hayne. She is an artist with which he first communicated in 2019 via Instagram.

“I greatly admire your adventurous spirit!”He wrote to her. “And you’re super hot LOLzzz.”They exchanged messages. Ms. Hayne shared with him that she had just graduated college. He shared a clip on Fox Business of him saying: “Here’s my morning so far.”

Ms. Hayne declined Mr. Price’s offer of a meeting at a time that was convenient for them, and he turned it down. He tried again a few more months later.

People she admired regularly reposted items from Mr. Price, and when she ran across Mr. Forbes’s blog, she wondered, “Is this just some person with a vendetta?”

She expressed hope that Mr. Price could offer advice and connections to help her incorporate activism into her art. She decided to meet her boyfriend, even though he might be expecting a date.

“You’re doing the most impressive things,”In December, Ms. Hayne wrote Mr. Price.

In January, they had dinner at a restaurant in Seattle’s Capitol Hill, where she said they discussed politics. The next steps were detailed in interviews, a police report, and text messages.

As the restaurant closed, her Uber app wasn’t working, and Mr. Price suggested they stay warm in his Tesla as she downloaded it again.

She said that he tried to kiss her while sitting in the front seats. He grabbed her throat and tried to grab her throat.

“He did not let go of my throat right away,”She recalled.

“After I rejected him,”She said, “he transformed.”

Ms. Hayne called her boyfriend pretending that he was her brother and asked him to hurry and get her. He drove her to a Park N Ride and then speeded north.

She was scared because he was. “very drunk,”According to the police report.

“Hurryyyyyyy,”She texted her boyfriend.

She said that Mr. Price raced to the top of the parking lot and drove the car in doughnut circles. He pulled into a spot and kissed her. He reached over and kissed her, his hand pulsing out and in. “for minutes,”According to the police report.

“SQUEEZING HARD,”She would text a friend the following morning.

Then he let go. “I’m too drunk,”Ms. Hayne remembered him saying that he was going to pass out in the back seat.

Jesse Snowden, her boyfriend pulled up beside them. “she jumped in and pointed her fingers forward and was like GO NOW,” Mr. Snowden recalled.

When she described what just happened, Mr. Snowden remembered Mr. Forbes’s blog. Ms. Hayne wrote him to tell her story. Mr. Forbes connected her to Ms. Margis, Ms. Colón and several other women.

“I told her she should call the police and file a police report,”Steve Hayne, her father, was a criminal defense lawyer.

Ms. Hayne is not the only woman who described Mr. Price’s hands on her neck. Danni Askini An activist for transgender rights, she recalled her first date with Mr. Price a decade back, when they met via OkCupid. After a pleasant night at a bar he took her back to her apartment, which they entered through a garage. She refused to invite him upstairs, so he snapped and pushed her against a wall.

“He gripped my neck and kinda choked me,”She said. She said that he had pushed her down on the back of her skirt before she could push him away.

She said he tried laughing it off. “‘I just thought this is what girls like,’”She remembered him saying it.

She said that it is difficult to hear that he was suffering. “is the poster child for this politics that I really care about.”

***

Since Ms. Margis’ departure from Palm Springs last April and the birth of Mr. Price, hundreds of thousands have followed him online.

According to Lt. Gustavo Araiza, the Palm Springs police submitted their investigation to the Riverside County District Attorney on Monday. It recommended a charge for rape of a drugged victims. Now, the prosecutors will decide whether to file charges.

Ms. Margis claimed she feared backlash online if her public accusations of him were made. After appearing in a BuzzFeed BuzzFeed video about Las Vegas shootings, she received threats. She was concerned that she might be accused of asking for something she did not ask for because she modeled swimsuits.

But in February, something changed that made her think she could be believed: prosecutors in Seattle charged Mr. Price in Ms. Hayne’s case.

The city brought him to trial for reckless driving, assault, as well as assault with sexual motive. The Seattle Times reportedOn the case in April, Mr. Price stopped posting multiple times per day and went completely dark on social media.

Ms. Hayne claimed that the prosecutor suggested that the city drop the charges because of some of the flirtatious messages she had exchanged with Mr. Price on Instagram. Her father, who is a lawyer, sent her a very serious letter. Mr. Forbes, the blogger, then emailed several women to ask them to share their Instagram photos and stories with him. The prosecutor’s office declined to comment.

On May 31, Price appeared slack-faced and his long, wavy hair slightly dampened during a video conference. The prosecution dropped the assault with sexual motivation charge, but continued with the case for reckless driving assault.

Mr. Price’s lawyer entered “not guilty”He made pleas for his protection and the judge issued a temporary order of non-harassment until the October trial.

“I trust the legal process, and I am looking forward to presenting my defense and proving my innocence,”In his statement to The Times, Mr. Price stated that.

He started tweeting again in mid July. In his first week of tweeting, he received half a million likes.

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