Business at the adult content and porn site OnlyFans has boomed during the pandemic, making its majority owner a new billionaire – and raising fresh concerns about his past.
In October 2018, Florida-based internet porn baron Leonid Radvinsky, now 39, bought an estimated 75% of a growing but largely unheard-of business called OnlyFans. At the time, London-based OnlyFans was a fledgling video and social site that allowed adult performers to make money from the comfort of their own homes. “Content creators” – mostly porn stars — set up accounts via the company’s platform and charge a subscription fee to viewers (whom the company calls “fans”) that ranges from $4.99 to $49.99 a month —and the performers keep 80% of whatever they charge.
With all film production – adult or otherwise – shuttered during the pandemic and millions of lonely people stuck at home, OnlyFans’ business has boomed. In the year through November 2020, OnlyFans posted revenues of $400 million, up 540% over the prior year, 80% of which came from American customers. The number of creators nearly quintupled to 1.6 million, including more mainstream stars like Cardi B, DJ Khaled, Fat Joe, and Rebecca Minkoff. The total number of paying fans rose more than 500% to 82 million. Profits after tax rose to $60 million from $6.6 million. Forbes estimates that Radvinsky’s stake in Fenix International – OnlyFans’ parent company — makes him a new billionaire, worth some $1.8 billion.
Outside of these eye-popping financials, which were published in the U.K., little is known about Radvinsky, who didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment. A representative for OnlyFans also declined to comment.
We do know that OnlyFans was founded in 2016 by a British entrepreneur named Timothy Stokely, now 37, alongside his retired banker father, Guy Stokely, and brother Thomas. In U.K. filings, Radvinsky and Guy Stokely are listed as the company’s sole directors. Timothy, Thomas, and Guy Stokely all declined to comment for this story.
What little else is known about Radvinsky is not flattering. Some twenty years ago, before Internet pornography was widely available for free, he ran a small empire of websites that advertised access to “illegal” and “hacked” passwords to porn sites, including ones that were advertised as featuring underage performers. In the late 1990s such link sites were common and were used to market not just pornography but online gambling and other grey market activities.
But Radvinsky was particularly aggressive. Looking through the Wayback Machine’s website archive, Forbes uncovered 11 such sites, all created in the late 1990s and early 2000s by Radvinsky and his Glenview, Illinois-based business, Cybertania. They included Password Universe, which, in 2000, published a link directing web users to a site claiming to offer pedophiles more than 10,000 “illegal pre-teen passwords.” In 1999, a site called Working Passes had a link for “the hottest underaged hardcore” containing 16-year-olds. Also in 2000, another site, Ultra Passwords, promised a link containing “the best illegal teen passwords” and “the hottest bestiality site on the web.” The legal age for porn actors in the U.S. is 18, while bestiality (the act of having sex with an animal) is illegal in most American states. (The Wayback Machine removed Radvinsky’s old websites from its archive after speaking to Forbes.)
But there’s no evidence that any of Radvinsky’s sites actually linked to child pornography or bestiality. Instead, the sites appear to have been a way for Radvinsky to earn money by charging his partners (actual porn sites) for every click. Forbes, prohibited from accessing such imagery, asked the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a specialist group engaged in the removal of such content on the web, to look at archived webpages containing links advertising underage pornography. According to the IWF, none linked to illegal material.
It was a scummy business, but it was a profitable one. One of Radvinsky’s sites was bringing in revenues of $5,000 a day in 2002, or $1.8 million for the year.
Instead, the links typically went through to similar sites offering more links to free porn passwords or other adult content. In 2002, a year before Radvinsky graduated from Northwestern University, where he majored in economics, his company Cybertania sued domain name registrar and internet backbone provider Verisign, claiming that Verisign transferred one of its websites to someone else. In that suit, Radvinsky’s company said that it was in partnership with those same sites from which it had claimed to have “hacked” logins: “Cybertania earned a sum of money for each hyperlink connection or password, used from the respective owner and operators of those referral sites,” Cybertania’s lawyers wrote. In another lawsuit against Radvinsky, the plaintiff stated that Ultra Passwords “presents the deceptive image of providing ‘hacked’ (stolen) passwords to get free services from other pornographic sites, but which is in fact a lucrative affiliate referral site.”
It was a scummy business, but it was a profitable one. In the Cybertania suit against Verisign, Radvinsky’s company said its Ultra Passwords site was bringing in revenues of $5,000 a day in 2002, or $1.8 million for the year.
Radvinsky remained elusive during the nearly 20 years between the start of his sex link farm businesses and his purchase of 75% of OnlyFans. In the early 2000s, he created a handful of sites linking to celebrity sex tapes and MyFreeCams, a site that claims to be the world’s number one porn-via-webcam service. He has also occasionally popped up in lawsuits. In 2003 and 2004, Amazon and Microsoft sued Radvinsky in U.S. district court in Seattle for alleged spam campaigns 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. The cases were settled out of court in 2005, and Radvinsky and his businesses were barred from using Amazon’s name in spam or using any of Microsoft’s email tools. His Cybertania business was sued in 2005 by a model, Sheila Lussier, for using her (clothed) image on one of his porn sites, an allegation the company fought. Lussier says she settled for an undisclosed sum.
OnlyFans has run into its own issues with underage performers. Since the site doesn’t independently verify its sex workers’ ages, it’s fairly easy for people to lie. In late May, a BBC investigation revealed that a 14-year-old girl had been able to register an account as a performer on OnlyFans using her grandmother’s passport. A senior police officer told the BBC that OnlyFans is “[N]ot doing enough to put in place the safeguards that prevent children exploiting the opportunity to generate money, but also for children to be exploited.” In response, OnlyFans issued a statement that it used “state-of-the-art technology” and “human monitoring” to try to prevent under-18s sharing content on the platform and it took the issue “very seriously.”
Signy Arnason, associate executive director of The Canadian Center for Child Protection, says her group often receives notifications about OnlyFans’ models potentially being underage. She describes OnlyFans’ efforts to protect underage performers as “minimal.” OnlyFans has “a moral and ethical responsibility to be doing better here,” she adds.