Early one afternoon this past July, a Walnut Creek woman, whom we'll give the pseudonym Dahlia, started getting weird phone calls from strange men. The callers all wanted to make appointments with her for erotic massage, which, well, she didn't do. After the calls persisted, it became clear something was up. Dahlia began asking why they were calling and how they got her number. Why, her ad, they said, the one on Craigslist.org. But she hadn't posted any ad on the popular Internet forum. Obviously, someone else had.
"Mature Blonde Offers Her Erotic Services as CMT," the ad's headline promised. It went on to say, among other things, "Greek is adored" (Greek is code for anal sex), and "420 is always a friend at my home" (420 being shorthand for marijuana). The ad included Dahlia's home phone number and her real first name. When the woman complained, Craigslist reps quickly yanked the vindictive prank ad.
Welcome to the Internet equivalent of the old restroom-wall scrawl, "For a good time, call ..." Craigslist is used for such pranking because mischievous people can mess with ex-lovers or enemies anonymously and for free. Craigslist customer service rep Clint Powell says such pranks are relatively rare considering the Web site gets 200,000 postings every day. Still, it's common enough that the site's FAQ section addresses the issue. Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist's chief executive officer, says his staff provides victims "with any and all information we have relating to the person placing the posting," such as the poster's e-mail address, so the victim can identify the perp and pursue legal action.
Two years ago, a lawyer going through a nasty divorce got a restraining order in Alameda County Superior Court against her ex-husband's new wife after the new wife allegedly pulled a Craigslist prank. At work one day, the lawyer began receiving perverted e-mails from guys who wrote nasty things like, "You will trim your pubic hair to a minimum and shave completely around your dirty little slut pussy lips." She soon discovered that men were responding to a fraudulent Craigslist personal that listed her work e-mail and said she was "in need of a good spanking."
Prank victims can also call the cops, although Emeryville real-estate agent Jason Crouch says he didn't get much help from them. He recalls getting a phone call a year ago from a woman warning him about his offensive posting on Craigslist's casual encounters section. The post, Crouch says, contained a fake e-mail address that included his full name. It claimed he was looking for gay sex with anyone except for Latinos or African Americans; the post's author used racist slurs. Crouch immediately suspected a longtime rival was behind it. He called the Emeryville police, but they balked at pursuing an electronic dispute. "They just made it clear that they could do little if anything to affect the situation," Crouch says.
Walnut Creek police, however, are viewing the erotic-massage prank against Dahlia as a possible identity theft, according to a search warrant affidavit. Detective Bryan Vevera, who wrote that affidavit, acknowledges it's not the classic identity theft case involving a financial scam. Nonetheless he says that anyone who uses any personal information, even just a phone number, for any "unlawful purpose" is potentially breaking the law. Apparently, unwanted phone calls from strange men asking if you speak Greek qualify as unlawful harassment.
The dramatic entry of Ron Dellums into the Oakland mayoral race last week was clearly a blow to city council generalissimo Ignacio De La Fuente's bid for mayor. But the ex-congressman's candidacy also is a blow to De La Fuente's friend and political benefactor, state Senator Don Perata. Nacho, after all, is the Don's man at Oakland City Hall. "I don't think Perata's developer pals would have the same kind of sway with Dellums as they have with De La Fuente," says Perata critic Dan Siegel, an Oakland school board member.
Perata is nothing if pragmatic, or, as Siegel puts it, "Perata is always for Perata." Earlier this year, for instance, he surprised insiders by backing Sandre Swanson, a former Dellums aide running for state Assembly against Perata's old ally John Russo. That endorsement had a lot to do with appeasing members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who are backing Swanson. So will Perata's firm support for De La Fuente go limp with Dellums now in the race? "Ignacio is his horse," comments a semiretired East Bay political consultant, "and it doesn't look like his horse is gonna win. So do you shoot him?"
De La Fuente acknowledged that some of his supporters might defect, but none has yet. Perata, he says, remains "120 percent with me." De La Fuente also has vowed not to go negative, although conventional wisdom says he must attack Dellums -- say, as being out of touch with the nuts-and-bolts realities of running a city -- to stand a chance. But going on the attack would be a huge risk because he could lose anyway, alienate Dellums and his crowd in the process, and then return to his seat on the city council marginalized. But if De La Fuente plays nice in the sandbox, he could salvage some of his political juice and maybe even his throne as council prez. As Larry Hendel, staff director for the Service Employees International Union Local 790, observes, "He knows how to accommodate. He did it with Jerry Brown; maybe he'll do it again."
In the meantime, until next year's election, De La Fuente is still king of the council and gets to play kingmaker -- or queenmaker, as the case may be. It's no secret that he has been looking for someone to unseat Councildiva Desley Brooks next year.
The name that keeps coming up as Brooks' challenger is that of Marcie Hodge, a first-term trustee for the Peralta Community College District. And, well, perhaps not-so-coincidentally, De La Fuente nominated Hodge last week to the city's budget advisory commission, a move seen by Desleyites as an obvious ploy to pad the young pol's résumé for her expected council bid. Kathy Neal, a former Brooks aide, sniffs that Hodge obviously doesn't have impressive credentials, so "they've been working on inventing some." Neal recalls how, during the endorsement meeting hosted by the National Women's Political Caucus last year, candidates were asked about their experience dealing with the big budgets: "Her [Hodge's] response was, 'I haven't really done that, but I balance my checkbook.' The room went silent."
"I thought it was just a joke I was making," Hodge counters. As a Peralta trustee, Hodge notes, she has been a financial watchdog, demanding financial accountability from the high-flying director of the college district's international student program, who has billed the district tens of thousands of dollars over the years for overseas trips, limo rides, and stays at five-star hotels.
De La Fuente, however, was more candid. He told Feeder that Hodge came to him about getting the commission appointment, since she's thinking about running for city council. He jokes that in light of "the beautiful nature of my relationship with Desley Brooks" he was only too happy to oblige.
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