Nik Richie started dirtyscottsdale.com as a lark.
He was having lunch in north Scottsdale one afternoon when he heard people at one table discussing their plastic surgery. Diners at another table were talking about celebrities.
"I thought, 'How great would it be to create an online gossip site geared to real people, where that person becomes a celebrity,' " Richie said. "Because people in Scottsdale think they're famous for absolutely nothing."
The Web site was born on March 7, 2007. At first, it received about 75 hits a day, Richie said.
But last April, thedirty.com (Richie had changed the name) published photos of Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart partying in his backyard with singer Nick Lachey and several college-age girls.
The photos were picked up nationally, and traffic on thedirty.com skyrocketed. The site currently gets approximately 1 million hits per day, Richie said.
"It doesn't make any sense to me," said Richie, who uses a pseudonym and refuses to give his age. "It just took off. I was working for the man, and now I'm doing this. It just blows my mind."
Thedirty.com specializes in the salacious. Richie recently ran one item that accused a local professional athlete of adultery. He has accused another athlete of having a fondness for underage women. He routinely publishes photos of everyday people in compromising positions.
"I enjoy the dirty, but I look at it and I wince sometimes," said AJ Daulerio, editor of Deadspin, another sports/celebrity Web site. "I feel like I'm watching a car wreck. They've obviously stepped it up to another level where a lot of sites are not willing to go. I find a lot of their stuff very funny and I feel terrible about laughing at it."
Richie said he gets his gossip from "The Dirty Army," people who use their camera cell phones and send him up to 400 pictures every day.
He said he tries to verify the information, but admits that, "nothing we say is 100 percent legitimate."
"It's more of a joking manner than somebody stating fact," he said.
Richie said he has a team of lawyers at his disposal in the event he's sued. So far, he said, he hasn't had to use them.
"The Internet is like the wild, wild West," he said. "There's no one really governing it."