Thursday, March 7, 2013

UNMASKED: Creators of Anonymous Website Attacking Valerie Ervin Revealed // But There's More Than Meets The Eye Here


MYSTERY SOLVED? - This week Maryland Juice discussed an anonymous website attacking Montgomery County Councilmember Valerie Ervin, a potential County Exec candidate in 2014. Incumbent County Executive Ike Leggett condemned the faceless assault, and yesterday Ervin's colleague Councilmember Phil Andrews also released a statement against the anonymous attacks. For what it's worth, Ervin told The Examiner that she "approached legal counsel on action she can take against the perpetrators." But last night The Washington Post reported on the identity of the consultant who created the website at (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: An anonymous Web site that targets Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin ... is connected to a public relations firm whose clients include a county government employees union that has clashed with Ervin over labor issues....

The number attached to the text did not accept phone calls, and the site’s home page has no indication of who paid for it. But a review of the site’s internal code shows the user name of a principal at Kenefick Communications, a public relations and graphic design firm in Annapolis. It specializes in union communications and works regularly for the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization. The local, affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers, represents about 3,700 non-public safety workers in Montgomery. President Gino Renne has been outspokenly critical of Ervin. He did not return phone messages Wednesday.

Tara Landis, the Kenefick principal whose name appears in the code, did not return a phone message to her home Wednesday. Lisa Gebbia, another firm principal, denied involvement but said Kenefick has “done anti-Valerie sites before...”

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE - Below Maryland Juice dissects The Washington Post's trail of evidence unveiling the creators of the Valerie Ervin attack website. Their reporter Bill Turque thinks the trail of clues leads to MCGEO, a union representing many Montgomery County government employees. But after our analysis of the WaPo evidence, Maryland Juice presents an alternate (and potentially more interesting) theory.

CLUES IN THE SOURCE CODE: Let's begin by examining the evidence outlined in The Washington Post's story linking MCGEO to the website. The Post states that the site's internal code points to Kenefick Communications, but Maryland Juice will show you exactly what that means. A normal visitor to the site will see the following image:

But it appears as if the website's creator accidentally left a draft version of the website online at: Visitors to that url see the following draft website:

If you look at the source code to this web page (right-click and "view page source"), you begin to see clues about the identity of its creator:

This is what the source code for the site looks like (I highlighted the interesting part):

Notably, embedded within the anonymous website are references to the following Macintosh owner: file:///Macintosh HD/Users/taralandis/Desktop/. A search of reveals three people named Tara Landis in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area:

The third Tara Landis to appear in the search results is listed as the owner of Kenefick Communications, which denied involvement in the Ervin website to The Washington Post. But the WaPo also noted that UFCW Local 1994 (aka MCGEO) is listed as a client of Kenefick Communications:

WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON HERE? - Maryland Juice thinks it seems highly unlikely that MCGEO (if involved) is acting alone in its attacks on Valerie Ervin. Indeed, I believe that a closer look at the available evidence debunks the single-shooter theory. All signs indicate that a "6th Floor" insider or two may have assisted in the anonymous attacks. For those who are unaware, "6th Floor" refers to the floor of the Montgomery County government building in Rockville where all of the County Councilmembers and their aides work. There are several reasons why I think this to be the case.

ODDITY #1: INCONSISTENT USE OF ANONYMOUS AND PUBLIC WEBSITES: First of all, MCGEO's spat with Councilmember Ervin is not a secret to anybody. In fact, the union has tried to be as public as possible about their disagreements with Ervin. For example, in 2011 MCGEO union created an attack website at, but they did so with their name on it:

This 2011 website was created by Kennefick Communications' client MCGEO

Why would MCGEO create a wildly aggressive campaign website against Valerie Ervin in 2011, but only two years later hide behind the cloak of anonymity? And if this really is just another MCGEO project, why is their consulting firm Kennefick Communications denying involvement in the attack site? Something doesn't make sense here.

ODDITY #2: A STRANGE LIST OF PEOPLE NOT RELATED TO MCGEO RECEIVED NOTICE OF THE ATTACK WEBSITE - There is one big clue that whoever did this was working with inside assistance from within Rockville political circles: the list of people that were notified about the launch of the website. Remember that the way in which many politicos found out about the website was they received a text message to their cell phone numbers. Indeed, the creators of the website about Ervin appear to have sent a mass-blast text message to many people at one time, Maryland Juice included.

WHOSE ROLODEX INCLUDES CELL PHONE NUMBERS FOR JUNIOR COUNCIL AIDES? - Interestingly, the very first person who reported to me that they had received an anti-Valerie Ervin text message was a junior staff member for a County Councilmember. This immediately struck me as strange, because this particular legislative aide would not be a likely target to receive such a message (ie: they are not the Chief of Staff or Communications Director). In fact, it seemed highly unlikely that MCGEO would have had the personal cell phone number for this particular Council employee. Moroever, this source also told Maryland Juice directly that their personal cellphone number is never given out publicly for work purposes.

I poked around a bit to see who else in Rockville received the text messages, and the list is really pretty random. To be sure, some Councilmembers and their Chiefs of Staff received the anonymous messages, but not all of them. Moreover a few oddly random Council aides/schedulers received the text -- but again, not all of them. I reiterate that it is unlikely that a labor organization would have personal cell phone numbers for all of these employees.

One source noted, however, that Council aides are given an emergency card with the cellphone numbers of all 6th Floor staff and officials. In fact, Maryland Juice still has the card he was given when working on the 6th Floor (see below). If such a document was used to build the list of recipients for the anti-Ervin message, it still would've had to have come from a 6th Floor source. But in reality, it seems a lot more plausible that the distribution list for the anti-Ervin message appears random because it simply reflects the real-life randomness of a particular person(s) available contacts.

Maryland Juice's worn out pocket card w/ 6th Floor phone numbers

TRIANGULATE: FOLLOW THE TRAIL OF CELL PHONE NUMBERS - The presence of certain County Council aides' cellphone numbers on the anti-Ervin list is a pretty interesting fact to consider. But they are not the only ones who received the message. Maryland Juice poked around to see who else received texts, and the list includes many MoCo political insiders. To be fair, some of these people's cell phone numbers could plausibly be in a MCGEO rolodex, but for others, you'll have to make your own judgment. Here are a few examples from Facebook:

STEVE SIMON is a PR professional who formerly ran communications for Montgomery College and MCPS. He is also a 2006 graduate of Leadership Montgomery, a network of connected folks in MoCo.

Facebook Source

BARBARA GOLDBERG GOLDMAN is a politically connected land use consultant and co-chair of Montgomery County's Affordable Housing Conference.

Facebook Source

JEANNE ELLINPORT was a teacher-backed candidate for Board of Education last year. She lost her race to the MCGEO-backed candidate Rebecca Smondrowki.

Facebook Source

HEARSAY - For the purposes of this discussion, let me briefly state some pure hearsay. Maryland Juice fanned out to try and discover what other types of people received the anti-Ervin text messages, and our sources reported that people ranging from County Council Deputy Staff Director Glenn Orlin to former Doug Duncan aide Jerry Pasternak reportedly also received the messages. So here's the real question: who made the list of recipients for the anti-Ervin text message? And to be very specific, the question rephrased is: who has the cell phone numbers for a random assortment of high-level and junior County Council aides, politically involved MoCo figures, elected officials, and other random folks.

Some of the people that have confirmed receiving the message make it very difficult to believe that a labor union would have had their cell number. Now I could be completely off-base in my analysis here, and so I will gladly hear out any alternate theories or evidence to the contrary. But until then, all of this smells like more chaos on the 6th Floor!


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