The fake social media page for council member Josie Staumbaugh. Screen grab courtesy of Josie Stambaugh
A Facebook social media account pretending to be Edgerton City Council member Josie Stambaugh was brought to light at the Thursday, July 14 city council meeting.
Stambaugh addressed the council and said she was speaking as a resident and business owner.
“This needs to be taken seriously,” she said. “It has been brought to my attention that a slanderous Facebook page mocking me with two council members engaging with it is out there.”
Stambaugh said the page called Fauxsie Stambaugh using her business hair salon Gypsy Rose’s logo had been created in August and felt it was out of pure malice.
She said council members Deb Lebakken and Josh Beem interacted with the site through comments and suspects one of them created the page.
“My campaign money doesn’t fund my personal life,” she said. “I work six days a week. I work hard. I’m a successful business owner. This is childish bullying and cyber bullying. This should be an embarrassment to the City as a whole.”
Stambaugh said she expected the site to be taken down immediately and wanted an apology.
Lebakken said it wasn’t her Facebook page. Beem didn’t make any public comments.
Don Roberts, mayor, said their city attorney Lee Hendricks, had cautioned them in the past about how they use social media sites as a city official once they have been elected.
Hendricks said he understood Stambaugh’s frustration.
“I don’t know who created this,” he said. “I’m against council being on Facebook. I don’t see it as a city matter.”
Stambaugh said it wouldn’t be a city matter if she wasn’t on city council, but since she is she saw it as something the city should help handle.
Hendricks said he had seen numerous unflattering social media posts about the city.
“There will be ramifications from this but I can’t be involved. It creates discontent and I won’t delve into it further.”
Hendricks said he doesn’t represent any individual government official but the City as a whole.
“I take this seriously,” he said. “There are multiple sides to a matter. The approach in past litigation is we don’t comment on it. A few things here have gone off the rails.”
Stambaugh said she planned to proceed with action and make the matter public.
“I’m hoping to shed light on people appointed and elected and put it on public record for public knowledge,” she said.
Stambaugh said online comments were bothersome and very rude.
“I find it very disrespectful people are laughing and mocking when livelihoods are at stake,”she said.
Stambaugh told Gardner News the level of immaturity associated with this page and involvement of city council members that represent an entire city is not only in extremely poor taste, but also damages her reputation and business.
“The fact that this page has been active for over a year and I am just now finding out about it shows complete negligence on their behalf and I consider them libel for what they have said,” she said. “I plan to file a police report and pursue legal action against them, as this page was made out of malice with the intent to harm my personal and professional life.”
Stambaugh filed a police report with the Johnson County Sheriff’s office the next afternoon. She said she talked with two officers who said at the very least this is criminal harassment and possibly identity theft.
Stambaugh said a warrant was being pursued for Facebook to track down the creator; along with a stalking order against council members Deb Lebakken and Josh Beem, Nate Eggleston, John Daly and Shelby Roberts, wife of mayor Don Roberts.
“One officer said because it involves my business and personal (not just politics) that being “an elected official” or being fair game is not accurate in this case,” she said. “I am appalled the city takes no action to reprimand them for their actions and involvement. This should be embarrassing not only to the two referenced council members, but Edgerton as a whole. I will continue to work for the residents and represent them with grace, understanding and class.”
Stambaugh said she was told the case is identity theft and criminal impersonation of an elected official.
However, as of Monday afternoon, the wife of Edgerton police officer Brad Johnson had told the Sheriff’s department they shouldn’t be involved after screenshots of Officer Johnson’s engagement on the page had been presented, she said.
“Captain Martinez and two officers said they can’t find a statute for these types of matters,” Stambaugh said. “Their hands are tied because of the District Attorney.”
Stambaugh said she was disappointed with the Sheriff Department’s reversal in action and has hired former Johnson County prosecutor Jason Covington to represent her.
Gardner News reached out to other public officials for insight on how they would handle this type of matter.
Jim Pruetting, Gardner City Manager, said Gardner doesn’t have a policy on slander but would encourage the party to hire an attorney. He said they would also give the party who created the fake page the opportunity to take it down and hire an attorney.
Sergeant Jesse Valdez, Johnson County Public Information Officer, said he didn’t know if it was fraud, but it sounded like a tough case requiring criminal attorney assistance.
He said unfortunately people aren’t above doing anything when it comes to identity fraud.
Gardner News also reached out to Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office.
John Milburn, public information officer, said their office provides legal representation to the state and its agencies.
“As chief legal counsel to state government, the attorney general cannot serve as legal counsel or advisor to individual citizens or businesses, nor is the attorney general authorized or allocated the resources to provide legal advice, interpretation or counsel to private citizens or businesses,” he said. “You may wish to contact a private attorney for guidance.”
In 1998 the Kansas Legislature passed a criminal statute recognizing that persons who have their identities stolen are victims. KSA 21-4018 is considered a Level 7 Person Felony.
In 2016, Attorney General Derek Schmidt signed House Bill 2460. The bill requires businesses, government agencies and others that collect and hold personal information about customers or others to exercise “reasonable care” to prevent the information in their possession from being improperly disclosed to identity thieves or anybody else.
“For better and for worse we live in a time when information truly is power,” Schmidt said at the time. “All sorts of business and government entities, big and small, collect volumes of information about people that is supposed to be kept private. This new statute guarantees there is legal remedy available to the attorney general’s office when entities that collect that kind of information disregard their duty to handle it properly to prevent unauthorized disclosure.”
Schmidt said identity theft is one of the fastest growing categories of crime in the United States.
“In a world where identity thieves go to great lengths to gain access to consumers’ personal information, it’s not too much to require that businesses, government entities and others that collect people’s personal information for proper purposes be quoted to use reasonable care to prevent its improper disclosure to crooks and criminals,” he said.
At press time, Gardner News was unable to find specific statutes on false impersonation of a government official outside law enforcement, the election office or health care officials.
However in February of this year, Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple sued three lawmakers in a defamation case that began in 2019: Michael O’Donnell, Sedgwick County Commissioner, James Clendinin, former Wichita City Council member and Michael Capps, former state rep.
They were being sued for a false attack ad during the Mayor’s 2019 campaign.
One of the alleged false statement’s claimed the mayor sexually harassed women.
Attorneys said their defendants didn’t know the statements were false.
Mayor Whipple’s attorney counter argued they did know and even though Whipple won the mayoral election it still held merit and caused reputation damage.
The case began July 11.
Gardner News was unable to receive a response from the Johnson County DA Office at press time.