Planet13 - 10:45 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)
The only thing that seems suspicious is the copied text and the penalty did happen right after I started changing it.
When you say "copied text" do you mean text that other sites copied from you AFTER you started rewriting the descriptions?
If so, how many sites were copying your original text?
I started sending some DMCAs - should I continue?
Also, the one bad outgoing link that I found was a site selling software designed to create fake content and links to fool google...could that one link cause a penalty?
I can't say for sure, but I would sure mention in your reconsideration request that you removed it and mention any steps that you had taken to ensure that your site doesn't link out to such bad sites in the future.
Right now, are you waiting to hear back from google regarding the reconsideration request? Or have they responded? If they have responded, what was their response?