A registered letter arrived this week, with a “demand” that I cease and desist “communicating information about Mr. (Joe) Mullins that you know to be false.”
Okay. Along the same lines I can “cease and desist” tap dancing with koala bears, partying with Vanna White and singing tenor with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Atlanta.
All wonderful experiences, I am sure, but none of which I have ever done. Same as with spreading false stories about Georgia State House candidate Joe Mullins. Not that I would need to do it anyway; the truth seems to beat the Hell out of him bad enough.
At specific issue, according to attorney Randy Frails anyway, are images of purported private Facebook messages between Mullins and a girl named “Jenifer Pascal,” supposedly from January and February of this year. I received these images from an anonymous source at 3:45 p.m., Monday, August 3. As you can see in the accompanying photos of those messages, it appears Joe and the woman are having a rather intimate conversation. The source says there were other references to “partying,” and as a reasonable adult I am going to assume they weren’t talking about a Tupperware party.
About three hours later I was standing face to face with Joe at the open house held at the neighborhood school attended by his children and my son. It was the first time I had seen him in years, and I would not have recognized him had it not been for the name tag he was wearing identifying him as “Joe Mullins” political candidate.
I told him we seriously needed to talk, and he said yes, that his big brother Frank wanted to talk to me as well. (Seemed odd for him to say that, but Frank and I were pretty good friends back in the ‘90s. He has since moved out of town, and I haven’t spoken to him in quite a while.) When I started to push him for a time for this meeting, he began to back away. A little later, I saw him again and reiterated our need to discuss some embarrassing information I was sent about him that day, and he mumbled something about not wanting to “be on Jerry Springer,” and again walked away.
So I tried.
Two days later, when I posted my Metro Spirit column blasting Joe Mullins’ fitness for office, I received several messages from friends of his maintaining that Joe’s well-documented (and admitted) addiction issues had been resolved, and he was 100 percent recovered and well behaved. They claim he had been for years. That seemed to be at odds with the flirtatious man depicted as wanting to hook up with “Jenifer Pascal.” Since Joe refused to discuss these with me directly, I decided to ask those who seemed to know the “recovered and well-behaved” Joe Mullins so well.
In the quest for information, I sent the images to one of those friends, and to Jackie Churchville, a young lady I have known for over 35 years who just so happens to be Joe’s personal assistant (or, at the very least, a paid staffer). She had been strongly defending him in public posts up to that moment.
With the friend, I asked: “Since you seem to have such a personal interest in Joe, perhaps you can ask him about these… check the date.” In the note to Jackie, I wrote: “Jackie… the stuff I am being sent concerning Joe is disturbing…”
That was at 10:09 a.m. There were a few exchanges between us after, mainly her declaring that she tried to stay out of his personal life. Then, she stopped responding.
Later that day, at 3:54 p.m., Jackie sends me a message declaring that “Jenifer Pascal” was in fact a completely made up Facebook profile, created by “____ ____,” and that the entire exchange was fabricated.
Working with the name Jackie gave me, and a few other pieces of information, I was able to verify that “Jenifer Pascal” was in fact a fake woman, created some years ago on Facebook by several local men with the apparent intention of “catfishing” local men dumb enough to fall for the fake pictures and conversation.
(Urban Dictionary: A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.)
From my perspective, Joe’s comments back to “Jenifer” were still germane, because it looked to establish him as something of a con artist, promoting himself as a recovered family man who was now ready for the demands of elected state office. Just because “Jenifer” was fake didn’t mean Joe’s intentions toward her were.
Then, Jackie attempted to convey that the entire conversation was phony, and that Joe was being “impersonated” for the purposes of hurting or humiliating him.
That is a pretty damning and serious accusation, and I informed Jackie that Joe needed to alert law enforcement that such a scam was underway. As a candidate for public office, creating and distributing such a damning exchange could easily be construed as an act of extortion, blackmail or criminal fraud with intent to harm.
I never heard back from Jackie or Joe involving the matter, and I assumed with the story they were floating a “trial balloon” to explain away the embarrassing messages.
Then I get the letter this week from Mullins’ attorney. He states it outright, with no room for doubt: “Someone created a bogus Facebook page claiming to be Mr. Mullins, and therefore created the fake conversation between Mr. Mullins and the alleged female.”
While I appreciate the registered letter addressed to me, I would think Mullins and his legal team would be on the line to Facebook and the legal authorities pronto in the attempt to discover who staged such an event (back in January) and why. Facebook keeps records better than the NSA. If what Mullins and his attorney are claiming is true, they should be able to get to the bottom of this before supper is on the table. Either way, it is a helluva story.
There are one of two possible headlines for this bizarre situation, and personally I can’t wait to see which one ends up being true: “Joe Mullins Impersonated by Con Artist” or “Joe Mullins: Still Recovering, Still Unfit.”