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Falken press: Ally Miller's ex-aide reactivates 'Az Daily Herald' site

More news about the news website that never reported any news

Although County Supervisor Ally Miller has been slow-walking her response to public records requests that could shed light on who was behind a bizarre website linked to her office, an aide who quit last week has made the "Arizona Daily Herald" live again — using his real name this time instead of an alias.

While he denied it for weeks, and filed an FBI crime report claiming that another person was behind the site, Timothy DesJarlais was widely assumed to be behind the "Arizona Daily Herald" due to the numerous links between his other online activities and the purported news website.

"Things aren't looking very good for Mr. DesJarlais," Miller said Friday afternoon. "This kid swore up and down that he had nothing to do with it."

Friday morning, the site became live again. In the afternoon, DesJarlais sent out an email claiming that he purchased the site from a previous owner on June 1.

DesJarlais did not respond early Friday afternoon to phone calls or online messages seeking comment on the resurrection of the website. He emailed reporters, discussing his actions in the third person, that "Mr. DesJarlais purchased the domain 'azdailyherald.com' from Google Domains and acquired ownership from the previous owner, who had agreed to relinquish it.

Much as he declined to identify claimed third parties involved with the Herald on previous occasions, DesJarlais provided no name or contact information for the supposed "previous owner." A mailing address provided on the updated site is identical to one associated with an email newsletter account that was linked to the previous iteration of the Herald site.

He claimed in an emailed response to a query that the transaction was made anonymously. "I contacted the editor@azdailyherald.com and they sent me the code to transfer the site," he said.

"If he was involved, I want him prosecuted," Miller said in a phone interview. "I don't want to convict him ahead of time, but things are not looking good for him."

The District 1 Republican said that she had no involvement with the site, and believed DesJarlais when he told her that he was not behind it.

"That's why I had him file that FBI report," she said. Miller said she told her aide that it would be a crime to file a false report.

Records requested

Miller has delayed providing public records that could shed light on DesJarlais' connections to the site and any potential involvement by her and her staff. Records were first requested by TucsonSentinel.com more than three weeks ago. She has also attempted to improperly bill both the Sentinel and the Arizona Daily Star thousands of dollars for records, and declined to make them available electronically — as was requested.

DesJarlais quit last week, telling others in Miller's office that the stress from the investigations by reporters into the website was too much for him.

Miller said Tuesday that she "had to take (DesJarlais) at his word" when he told her he was not behind the website, which was launched in May under a pseudonym used by DesJarlais elsewhere online. The fictitious "editor" of the Herald, "Jim Falken," sent emails to other politicians asking for comments on Miller's transportation plan.

"Falken" solicited comments via email on Miller's plan from other candidates for the Board of Supervisors, including Republicans John Winchester — who is challenging Miller in the primary — and Steve Christy. The fictitious Falken also contacted sitting supervisors via email.

Finding the site suspicious, the other politicians declined to comment. Winchester and Supervisor Ray Carroll said they thought the site was set up to gather information that could be used against Miller's political opponents.

"After seeing the empty Arizona Daily Herald website, I decided that it wasn't something I wanted to respond to," said Martin Bastidas, a Green Party candidate in District 5.

The site was quickly taken offline on May 17 after DesJarlais was interviewed by TucsonSentinel.com about the Herald. Other postings by DesJarlais and his Falken alias were also rapidly scrubbed.

Despite his repeated denials that he was not behind the site, and having filed a federal crime report pointing to someone else, DesJarlais made the site live again Friday. This time, the site includes his full name and contact info, rather than using the "Falken" identity that the 19-year-old has used for online gaming and role-playing. Friday, DesJarlais posted a short news story cribbed from other sources about U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, posting links on Facebook and Twitter.

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DesJarlais also sent a request for public records regarding Supervisor Ramon Valadez and his staff on Friday morning.

The purported news outlet that never really published any news has sparked plenty of news developments, including claims that federal crimes were committed.

Last month, Miller and DesJarlais pointed their fingers in the direction of a local Republican activist, and said the FBI told her the case was its "highest priority." FBI officials told local law enforcement there had been no contact between the supervisor and the Tucson FBI office, Sheriff Chris Nanos said.

Miller said Friday before DesJarlais began posting as the Herald again that "I have not yet heard from the FBI."

"If he was involved, I would be very, very disappointed," she said before one of her aides cut short a brief interview Tuesday.

Miller has repeatedly described the situation as involving criminal activities, saying that someone has been "interfering with a government office" and "attempting to influence an election."

Miller said she did not contact the Pima County Sheriff's Department about her allegations because her office is located "in the city." She said Tuesday that she had not contacted the Tucson Police Department because she did not know if they investigated online crimes.

After I provided her with a contact for the head of TPD's cyber unit, Miller said Friday she had called and left a message with that officer, who would not be available to meet her until Monday.

Pima County officials said last month they'll conduct an internal review of the matter if there are no criminal investigations taking place. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry asked Sheriff Nanos to determine if there was a federal probe into the matter as a result of Miller and DesJarlais' complaints. If not, Nanos was asked to determine if a local criminal investigation was warranted. Huckelberry said an internal administrative investigation would be done to determine if county resources were improperly used if law enforcement was not looking into the matter.

What's on the record

Between the claims, various emails denying involvement in the situation, and Miller's delay in releasing public records, the "Herald" has plenty of questions that haven't been answered.

Here's what we do know, and how we know it — and a few questions about what we don't know, and who could tell us:

A communications aide for Miller has been linked to the pretend news site whose "editor" was using a false name: "Jim Falken."

Miller and aide Timothy DesJarlais pointed to another person as the culprit, and said they filed reports with the FBI identifying "John Dalton" as the person who "targeted" them with the site. The only registered voter named John Dalton living in the Tucson area has denied having anything to do with the Herald.

Local FBI officials indicated to Sheriff Chris Nanos two weeks ago that they did not know of any complaint having been filed by Miller or DesJarlais. Screenshots provided by Miller, and history data from computers in her office, indicates that complaints were filed on the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center website. Law enforcement insiders said that the IC3 is deluged with online complaints, and investigations rarely result from such submissions.

But, filing a false complaint with the federal government could be a crime, under 18 USC 1001 — the same statute that sent Martha Stewart to prison.

DesJarlais, who is also running for the Marana School Board and one of the organizers gathering signatures for an initiative that would change Tucson's elections to ward-only, has used "Jim Falken" as a pseudonym in online gaming and roleplaying for years.

The Herald domain name was registered on May 7, with its owner masked from disclosure through private registration. That registration was updated June 1, although what data was updated remains hidden from public view. An update does not necessarily indicate any change in ownership.

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During a May 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, a photograph of the Supes snapped by DesJarlais was posted on the Facebook page of the supposed "Arizona Daily Herald."

That photograph was deleted after word of the posting circulated in the county building that Tuesday afternoon.

Interviewed by TucsonSentinel.com that night, DesJarlais acknowledged his frequent use of the Falken persona, and having taken the photograph, but denied any connection to the Herald.

DesJarlais said he had texted the photograph to a "friend" after being asked for it. During the interview, he refused to identify who he'd sent the photo to.

Just moments after he was interviewed by me, the azdailyherald.com website was taken offline, as was the Facebook page set up for the sham news outlet. Another website that DesJarlais acknowledged was his was also immediately removed from the Internet, and a video he posted posing as Falken was removed from public view. Other online postings that linked him with the Falken persona were also quickly culled, including nearly every posting mentioned during our interview. Others have remained online.

Reports about the Herald and DesJarlais' likely (and now readily apparent) connection were posted on May 19, after TucsonSentinel.com, the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Weekly looked into the situation.

The next day, Miller and DesJarlais told an anonymous online blog that a "John Dalton" was behind the site. They each filed an online FBI complaint naming "Dalton," and in Facebook postings indicated that John R. Dalton, a local Republican activist, was the culprit.

They claimed that Dalton was "impersonating" DesJarlais, even though the aide's name was never used in connection with the account, and only reporting by TucsonSentinel.com uncovered the links.

Miller said that they were "able to directly trace" the photograph taken by DesJarlais to Dalton.

Miller told the FBI that Dalton was "trying to interfere and smear an elected official by impersonating a member of my staff. He is also actively attempting to influence an election by posting false documents."

Dalton has repeatedly and emphatically denied any connection to the Herald.

"I've only met Timothy DesJarlais and Ally Miller twice in my entire life," he said in an interview the day he was named. "I don't know what this is all about. I don't know them; I didn't have anything against them."

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Prior to DesJarlais openly re-launching the site, Dalton said he was examining his legal options. Friday, he said he wasn't sure if he would press a case but had been documenting the situation.

The now-open DesJarlais connection is "a surprising turn of events," he said. "I'd like to see the county digging into this further, to see if public resources or computers were used to do this."

"It's been quite a circus ride," he said.

Saturday, May 21, an email sent from "editor@azdailyherald.com" attempted to deflect the situation, with the author identifying himself as "John R. Dalton Jr." but not the "John R. Dalton Jr." who DesJarlais and Miller had pointed to. The email said that "Dalton" had assumed the identity of "Jim Falken" after observing its use by DesJarlais, and that he had texted the Miller aide to ask him to send him a photo of the board meeting, after identifying himself as "John Dalton."

In that email, Dalton/Falken said that "It has come to my attention that Mr. DesJarlais has gotten me confused with this John Dalton, although we  are two different people with different phone numbers." The email included a number that was quickly determined to be provided by Google Voice, a system that allows anyone to sign up for a second phone number.

There were no responses to calls to that number, or email replies made by reporters.

That evening, Miller sent Dalton messages via Facebook, telling him "You need to come clean."

"I'm meeting with the FBI on Monday to give them the details of what we know about this," Miller told him, saying that the only John R. Dalton in Tucson had the same address and birthdate as the Dalton she was messaging.

Miller said this Tuesday that DesJarlais had showed her a text message from a "John Dalton" in his phone, but acknowledged that the only way for a smartphone to display a name is for the user to assign it to a number. Friday afternoon, she said that DesJarlais had printed out a copy of the text as she requested, but had deleted it from his phone — which she said she had instructed him to not do.

Another email sent to reporters the same Saturday from the same email address further attempted to muddle the situation, with Dalton/Falken pointing to DesJarlais involvement with a University of Arizona club connected to Faith Christian Church, which the Star has reported on in a series the likened the group to a cult.

"It is certainly curious that Supervisor Miller would hire a member of a radical religious cult to her staff," said the email, which was seemingly sent by DesJarlais himself.

History missing

Although DesJarlais strongly denied any connection to the Herald, and Miller repeatedly echoed his statements, a series of public records requests regarding documents in her office has yet to be fulfilled.

A few select emails from other offices regarding the situation have been provided by Pima County officials, and county IT pulled some Internet history files from computers in her office this Tuesday — weeks after the files were requested. Those documents were turned over Thursday, although the number connected with DesJarlais' computer are curiously few in number.

The web history from his computer in Miller's office only listed sites visited on June 3 — his last day working there. Among those he visited are sites connected to his campaign for the Marana School Board, including information on the number of signatures required on nominating petitions.

Although DesJarlais needs to turn in only 255 valid signatures by the August 10 deadline and has been a candidate for months, he posted on Republican Facebook pages this week seeking to pay $1 per signature for petition gatherers.

The other campaign the non-city resident is behind — the effort to put a measure on the ballot that would change Tucson's City Charter to ward-only elections — has not been active, with little apparent public activity to gather the 9,241 required signatures by July 6.

Friday, the Arizona Daily Herald website appeared back online, with DesJarlais posting about it on his Facebook page. An email sent from the domain Friday morning bore his name and requested records about Valadez and his office.

On the resurrected Herald website, a contact page included DesJarlais' name, phone number, and an address with a P.O. box that was identical to the address that was used to create a Mailchimp newsletter account on the version of the site that was taken down.

County officials declined to comment on Friday's developments.

Update: An earlier version of this story included Christy’s campaign among those speculating on the motivation behind the ‘Herald.’ They have not publicly done so.

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DesJarlais, in a Youtube video in his role as 'President Falken.'