During the pandemic, business at the adult content and porn site OnlyFans has been booming. This has made the site’s majority owner a billionaire, but it has also made people worry about his past.
In October 2018, Leonid Radvinsky, who lives in Florida and is now 39, bought about 75% of a growing business called OnlyFans that most people had never heard of. At the time, OnlyFans was a young video and social site based in London that let adult performers make money without leaving their homes. “Content creators,” who are mostly porn stars, set up accounts on the company’s platform and charge viewers, who the company calls “fans,” a monthly subscription fee that ranges from $4.99 to $49.99. The performers keep 80% of what they charge.
During the pandemic, no movies were made, whether they were for adults or not. This left millions of lonely people stuck at home, which has helped OnlyFans’ business grow. OnlyFans made $400 million in the year ending November 2020, which was a 540% increase over the year before. Eighty percent of that money came from customers in the United States. Up to 1.6 million, the number of creators almost quadrupled, and it now includes big names like Cardi B, DJ Khaled, Fat Joe, and Rebecca Minkoff. At 82 million, the number of paying fans rose by more than 500%. After taxes, profits went from $6.6 million to $60 million. Forbes says that Radvinsky’s stake in Fenix International, the company that owns OnlyFans, makes him a new billionaire with a net worth of about $1.8 billion.
Aside from these shocking financials, which were published in the U.K., not much is known about Radvinsky, who didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment. A person from OnlyFans also declined to say anything.
OnlyFans was started in 2016 by a British businessman named Timothy Stokely, who is now 37 years old, along with his retired banker father, Guy Stokely, and his brother, Thomas. In documents from the U.K., Radvinsky and Guy Stokely are listed as the only directors of the company. Tim, Tom, and Guy Stokely all said they didn’t want to talk about this story.
The few other things we know about Radvinsky are not good. About twenty years ago, before there was a lot of free porn on the Internet, he ran a small empire of websites that sold “illegal” and “hacked” passwords to porn sites, including ones that said they had underage performers. In the late 1990s, link sites like these were common and were used to advertise not only pornography but also online gambling and other “grey market” activities.
Radvinsky, on the other hand, was very aggressive. Forbes looked through the Wayback Machine’s website archive and found 11 of these sites. All of them were made by Radvinsky and his company, Cybertania, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. One of them was Password Universe, which in 2000 put up a link to a site that said it had more than 10,000 “illegal pre-teen passwords” for pedophiles. In 1999, a website called Working Passes had a link for “the hottest underaged hardcore,” which included 16-year-olds. Also in 2000, another site called Ultra Passwords promised a link to “the best illegal teen passwords” and “the hottest bestiality site on the web.” In the U.S., you have to be 18 to act in a pornographic film, and having sex with an animal is against the law in most states. After Forbes asked, the Wayback Machine took down Radvinsky’s old websites from its archive.
But there is no proof that any of Radvinsky’s sites actually linked to child pornography or bestiality. Instead, it looks like Radvinsky used the sites to make money by charging his partners, which were real porn sites, for every click. Forbes was not allowed to see these images, so they asked the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a group that removes this kind of content from the web, to look at archived pages with links to underage pornography. The IWF says that none of the links led to illegal content.
Instead, the links usually led to similar sites with more links to free porn passwords or other adult content. Radvinsky went to Northwestern University and majored in economics. A year before he graduated, in 2002, his company Cybertania sued domain name registrar and internet backbone provider Verisign, saying that Verisign gave one of its websites to someone else. Radvinsky’s company said in that suit that it was working with the same sites whose logins it said it had “hacked”: Cybertania’s lawyers wrote that for each link or password that was used, Cybertania got a certain amount of money from the site’s owner and operator. In another lawsuit against Radvinsky, the plaintiff said that Ultra Passwords “presents the misleading image of providing “hacked” (stolen) passwords to get free services from other pornographic sites, but is actually a profitable affiliate referral site.”
Even though it was a shady business, it made money. Radvinsky’s company said in the Cybertania vs. Verisign lawsuit that its Ultra Passwords site made $5,000 a day in 2002, or $1.8 million for the year.
Radvinsky stayed out of sight for the almost 20 years between when he started his sex link farms and when he bought 75% of OnlyFans. In the early 2000s, he made a number of sites that linked to celebrity sex tapes. One of these sites, MyFreeCams, claims to be the world’s best service for pornography via webcam. He has also been named in a few lawsuits. In 2003 and 2004, Amazon and Microsoft sued Radvinsky in U.S. district court in Seattle for sending spam that used the Amazon name and Microsoft email tools to offer spam recipients “free money from the government” or links to adult websites. Radvinsky denied all allegations. In 2005, the cases were settled out of court, and Radvinsky and his companies were told they couldn’t use Amazon’s name in spam or any of Microsoft’s email tools. Sheila Lussier, a model, sued his Cybertania business in 2005 for using her (clothed) picture on one of his porn sites. The company fought the claim. Lussier says that she settled for a sum that can’t be said.
OnlyFans has had problems with performers who were too young to be on the show. Since the site doesn’t check the ages of its sex workers on its own, it’s pretty easy for people to lie about their age. In late May, a BBC investigation found that a 14-year-old girl had used her grandmother’s passport to sign up for a performer account on OnlyFans. A high-ranking police officer told the BBC that OnlyFans is “not doing enough to put in place the safeguards that stop children from taking advantage of the chance to make money and also from being taken advantage of.” OnlyFans responded by saying that it took the issue “very seriously” and used “state-of-the-art technology” and “human monitoring” to try to stop people under 18 from sharing content on the platform.
Signy Arnason is the associate executive director of The Canadian Center for Child Protection. She says that her organization is often told that models on OnlyFans might be underage. She says that OnlyFans’ attempts to protect performers under 18 are “minimal.” She also says that OnlyFans has a “moral and ethical duty” to do better here.