A CAREFULLY MANICURED soul patch graces Jordan Kavoosi's lower lip. His polo shirt exposes tattoos on both forearms—on his right, a Chinese character; on his left, a cover-up of previous work. Curling his mouth up into a sideways grin, the 24-year-old sinks back into his brown leather chair.
"I mean, anybody can do anything," he says, gazing out a window that overlooks the strip-mall parking lot. "You just have to do whatever it takes to get there."
Kavoosi is in the business of plagiarism. For $23 per page, one of his employees will write an essay. Just name the topic and he'll get it done in 48 hours. He'll even guarantee at least a "B" grade or your money back. According to his website, he's the best essay writer in the world.
Kavoosi's business, Essay Writing Company, employs writers from across the country. Most of the customers are high school or college students, but not all. In one case, an author asked Kavoosi's crew to write a book to be published in his own name.
To be sure, there are ethical implications to running a business that traffics in academic fraud. The services Kavoosi offers are the same as those exposed in the University of Minnesota's 1999 basketball scandal, during which an office manager admitted to doing homework for players.
"Sure it's unethical, but it's just a business," Kavoosi explains. "I mean, what about strip clubs or porn shops? Those are unethical, and city-approved."
Kavoosi doesn't apologize for his work. On the contrary, he openly advertises it online and with large signs outside his Apple Valley office. Just last week, he and a couple of employees painted their bare chests and paraded around the suburb's streets to attract attention.
But all may not be as it seems when it comes to Kavoosi. The description on one of his many websites says the business has been "providing high quality essay writing" since 1998. It's actually less than two years old, and Kavoosi was only 12 years old in 1998.
An online listing for Dramatic Smiles Teeth Whitening—which Kavoosi says is a friend's company—advertises a "Dr. Jordan Kavoosi" who claims to practice dentistry in Austin, Texas. Kavoosi's cell phone number is listed at the bottom of the page, though he's not a doctor of anything.
No one is immune to Kavoosi's charm. At one point, Kavoosi even offered a cut of the profits to include his company's phone number and give this article a positive spin.
"We'll give you like 20 percent—15, 20 percent—commission per sale," Kavoosi offered. "So, ya know, if you write something like really good, positive, it gives you a little incentive."
The young entrepreneur has a lot to hide. A quick internet search of Kavoosi's name yields dozens of complaints from former writers accusing him of failing to pay the money he owes.
"The man, he is amoral," says Deborah Morse-Kahn, a former writer for Kavoosi. "He seemingly has no boundaries. Everything is a personal insult to him."
AROUND 1:30 A.M. in earlyJanuary 2009, Apple Valley police officer Greg Dahlstrom patrolled County Road 42. Word came over dispatch that a group of visibly drunk people had just come tearing out of a nearby Kwik Trip in an old Honda Civic and were heading his way.
Dahlstorm slowed his cruiser when he saw the oncoming headlights. The car that passed was crammed with four people and fit the description from dispatch, so he made a U-turn and followed. After watching the vehicle clumsily straddle the dotted line for more than a block, Dahlstrom turned on his sirens.
The officer approached the driver's-side window and found Kavoosi's eyes bloodshot and watery, according to a police report. The car reeked of booze, and Kavoosi couldn't form a cohesive sentence. A Breathalyzer test showed a .128 blood alcohol level; Kavoosi was booked for DUI.
After the drunk driving charge, says Kavoosi, he hit "rock bottom." He was living with his parents. He and a long-term girlfriend broke up. His web design company and a few others didn't bring him the success he had hoped for. Because of the DUI, he couldn't even get around.
"It sucked biking everywhere, ya know?" says Kavoosi. "Trying to make money just to get some Subway."
It was around this time, Kavoosi says, that one of his friends complained to him that he didn't have enough time to write an essay for a class at Dakota County Technical College. Kavoosi had a solution to both their problems: He'd write it for money.
The friend declined, buying an essay online instead. When the friend's professor busted him for plagiarism, Kavoosi says, it gave him the idea for his business.
"That's when I was like, 'There's obviously a market for this,'" recalls Kavoosi.
At first, he charged $80 for a 10-page paper, he says, and outsourced the work to writers in India. But now the company has more than 20 full-time writers on the payroll and dozens more part-timers. He presides over an empire of plagiarism.
"I want to be like a big LA Fitness," says Kavoosi, swiveling back and forth in his brown office chair, "where people can just come in here, play video games, get their homework done. Ya know? That's like everyone's dream."
IN THE FALL of 2009, Deborah Morse-Kahn was broke and desperate. After being laid off by her longtime employer, Morse-Kahn was taking sporadic writing jobs that barely paid the rent.
"There was no money left," she says.
One night, while scanning Craigslist for work, she came across an advertisement for Kavoosi's company and took a chance.
Kavoosi gave her an assignment and paid promptly within two days of completion. The money wasn't much, but it was enough to keep the lights on.
"There was a series of days in the first few weeks where I was working from seven in the morning to 11 o'clock at night," recalls Morse-Kahn.
Then one day, Morse-Kahn didn't receive her paycheck on time. When she contacted Kavoosi, he tried to bargain her down.
Payments became more infrequent. After one assignment, Kavoosi claimed that the student had gotten an F, so he wasn't going to pay. Morse-Kahn later received an email from the student thanking her for a job well done.
"You wrote an outstanding paper for me and you shared that you were not paid!" reads the email. "I really can't go on with my daily life knowing that!"
After the pattern of late or no payments continued, Morse-Kahn decided to cut her losses and look for work elsewhere. But Morse-Kahn wanted to ensure others didn't make her mistake. So she posted complaints on online message boards accusing Kavoosi's company of a being a con. Thanks to her, "Jordan Kavoosi Essay writing companies SCAM Complaints" is the first listing that appears under his name on Google.
When Kavoosi started losing writers due to the bad publicity, Morse-Kahn suddenly had his attention. First he tried to offer her money to replace the complaints with similar postings about his competitors.
"I have an idea," an email from Kavoosi reads, "ill pay you 80.00 to take off all the posting you posted on the internet about my company and me and stop harassing my writers, and then pay you 80.00 to post listings about some companies I don't like what you think about that? Will call you as well tomorrow to rap this issue up as well."
Morse-Kahn declined the offer. If she didn't want the carrot, Kavoosi would give her the stick. Under a pseudonym, someone from the essay-writing company posted messages disparaging her on the same online complaint boards. In one post, she was called an alcoholic. In another, the anonymous person accused her of molesting his child. Kavoosi says the postings were made by one of his "buddies," and not him.
Morse-Kahn says that's when Kavoosi started calling her late at night and threatening her.
"It's an awful way to wake up, to have this slurred voice in your ear," says Morse-Kahn. "He said 'We're gonna take you out. I'm gonna be there in 20 minutes.'"
Kavoosi denies making any threatening calls.
"She posted all that stuff—it's all lies," he says, adding that she only worked for him for three days, not for several weeks as she claims. "She needs to get a life."
He admits to eventually offering Morse-Kahn money to take down the posts and calling her late at night.
"I called her a couple times, sure," Kavoosi concedes. "I mean we're always up, that's just the type of business we're in...there's nothing wrong with two humans meeting up."
MORSE-KAHN ISN'T the only writer who claims to have been shafted. Many share almost identical stories of missing payments and then offers to pay less than the original agreement.
"I'm sure you've heard this before, but he's just never paid me on time," says one writer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "When I signed up with him, he said payday was Tuesday. And then every time Tuesday rolled around I'd send him an invoice but he wouldn't pay me. And then I'd get something back about some excuse that I didn't follow the rules in some way. He'd always come up with something, with some reason that he didn't pay me."
Cindy Sabatino, a writer from Florida, worked full-time for Kavoosi without incident for months. The work was steady, and Sabatino was able to financially support herself. Then the money started coming in late. When Kavoosi would only pay her part of what he owed, she reciprocated by only sending a fraction of an essay. An email thread details their contentious exchange:
" Since you sent me 20% of my pay, you get 20% of the paper. That seems equitable," writes Sabatino.
"fuxck you bitch," Kavoosi's responds.
"Why the attitude and unprofessionalism, Jordan? You owe me the money for legitimate reasons. I don't understand this animosity. I've fulfilled my professional obligation, and you act like a disgruntled school bully. Why are you mad at me?"
"i dont give fuck about about professionialism send your fucking invoice over i cant search for it."
Eric Smith, another former writer, quit earlier this year after producing about 70 papers for Kavoosi's business. Smith says he left because Kavoosi wasn't paying on time. The separation wasn't amicable, especially after Smith told other writers why he was leaving.
"He was just going to come over and 'whoop my ass,'" Smith says.
When talking about disgruntled former writers, Kavoosi downplays the accusations. He says there have been a few unhappy ex-employees who still hold a grudge, but that's not unusual for a burgeoning business.
"I think it's really common with any new company," Kavoosi explains. "With Menard's you have it. With Home Depot you have it."
IN MID-MARCH, a Dakota County County sheriff's deputy approached Morse-Kahn outside her apartment in Linden Hills with papers documenting a restraining order Kavoosi had filed against her.
"I have tried to resolve this matter by phone and email, however she showed no intrest in that and told me several times that all she wants is to destroy me and my business," Kavoosi complained in a report filed with police. "She has posted on internet and my website very negative things about me and my business and caused some of my customers to stop working with me ($5000 loss). Eventualy, I will sue her for slander and defamation of character."
At a court hearing for the restraining order, Kavoosi accused Morse-Kahn of being responsible for his business losing thousands of dollars in sales from writers and customers she scared off.
"We have lost potential writers because they say that we are a scam, which we are not," Kavoosi testified to Dakota County Judge Tim Wermager. "In fact, we are one of the few American writing, essay writing companies and we try, I try, my absolute hardest to make sure that we are as legit as it gets. That is what makes us so unique."
Kavoosi's dad, who works for the company, took the stand to testify as a character witness. His son didn't have the best people skills, his father told the court, but he was an honest businessman.
"So wait," asked Judge Wermager, clearly perplexed. "I want to make sure that I understand this business: So, if I am a student and I have to do an essay, I can contact your company and somebody will, if I pay whatever—?"
"Yep," interjected Kavoosi's father.
"Somebody will write an essay for me?"
"And then the student takes it and turns it into the teacher, the professor, and says, 'Here is what I wrote'?"
"So, the students are basically lying?"
In the end, Wermager threw out the restraining order. There simply wasn't enough evidence against Morse-Kahn to support Kavoosi's claims.
"It seems to me, based on what you just told me, that in terms of libel, slander, defamation, and all of that, both sides are bordering on it, depending on where you are posting and who you're telling," Wermager pronounced.
In rendering his verdict, the judge couldn't help but remark on the absurdity of the situation.
"It strikes me as almost comical," Wermager opined. "If nothing else, this hearing has been enlightening to hear that we now have Harvard grad students submitting papers written by others. It's unbelievable."
UPON REQUEST, KAVOOSI pulls up a spreadsheet of the company's profits. In May, the enterprise made more than $21,000, the records show. In April, the plagiarism business hauled in $43,000.
"Wow, what?" Kavoosi says, leaning in toward the computer screen and squinting to read the numbers, surprised by the magnitude of his own success. "We did $43,000 in a month? What the heck? Where did all that money go?"
For Kavoosi, the future always looks bright. Next he's looking at renting space in the Burnsville Mall, where he hopes to attract more foot traffic. From there, he hopes to continue to grow the company, possibly franchising to other mall locations. He envisions a day when he has hundreds of writers on the payroll, churning out reams of plagiarized papers for the nation's callow youth.
"I only went to college for a year," he says, flashing a satisfied grin. "And everyone working for me has a four-year degree."
There is only one last matter: What do the tattoos on his forearms mean?
Kavoosi explains that the one on his right forearm is the Chinese character for "peace." Then he points to the one on his left arm. "This one's a cover-up," he confirms.
A few years ago, Kavoosi walked into a tattoo parlor and asked to get the Chinese character for "self-discipline" on his left forearm, which he thought was an accurate description of his life, he explains.
He went back to his job at Dairy Queen. It was there that a customer took notice of the tattooed symbol. She asked Kavoosi if he knew what it meant.
"Yeah," he replied, "self-discipline."
"No," the customer corrected. "It means 'deceptive.'"
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