Council member Josie Stumbaugh’s fake social media page. Screenshot courtesy of Josie Stambaugh
A Facebook social media account pretending to be Edgerton City Council member Josie Stambaugh was brought to light at the City Council meeting on Thursday July 14.
Addressing the council, Stambaugh said she was speaking as a resident and business owner.
“You have to take that seriously,” she said. “It has been brought to my attention that there is a defamatory Facebook page mocking me with two council members dealing with it.”
Stambaugh said the page, dubbed Fauxsie Stambaugh and using the logo of her business hair salon, Gypsy Rose, was created in August and felt it was out of sheer malice.
She said council members Deb Lebakken and Josh Beem interacted with the site through comments and suspected one of them created the page.
“My campaign money doesn’t finance my private life,” she said. “I work six days a week. I work hard. I’m a successful entrepreneur. This is childish bullying and cyberbullying. That should embarrass the city as a whole.”
Stambaugh said she expects the site to be shut down immediately and wants an apology.
Lebakken said it wasn’t her Facebook page. Beem made no public comments.
Don Roberts, mayor, said their city attorney, Lee Hendricks, has warned them in the past about how they use social media sites as city officials after being elected.
Hendricks said he understands Stambaugh’s frustration.
“I don’t know who created this,” he said. “I am against the Council being on Facebook. I don’t see it as a city issue.”
Stambaugh said it wouldn’t be a city affair if she wasn’t on the city council, but since she is, she sees it as something the city should help with.
Hendricks said he’s seen numerous unflattering social media posts about the city.
“There will be repercussions from this, but I can’t be involved. It creates dissatisfaction and I will not go into it further.”
Hendricks said he does not represent an individual government official, but rather the city as a whole.
“I take it seriously,” he said. “A matter has many sides. The approach in previous litigation is that we do not comment. Things got out of hand here.”
Stambaugh said she plans to take action and make the matter public.
“I hope to shed light on who was appointed and elected and make it public,” she said.
Stambaugh said online comments are annoying and very rude.
“I find it very disrespectful when people laugh and make fun of their existence when it comes to their existence,” she said.
Stambaugh told Gardner News that the level of immaturity associated with this site and the involvement of city council members representing an entire city is not only extremely distasteful, but is also damaging to its reputation and business.
“The fact that this page has been active for over a year and I’m only now finding out about it shows total negligence on their behalf and I consider them libel for what they said,” she said. “I plan to file a complaint with the police and take legal action against them as this page was created out of spite with 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 spoke to two officers who at least said it was criminal harassment and possibly identity theft.
Stambaugh said a warrant is 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 official said because it’s my business and it’s personal (not just politics) that being ‘an elected official’ or being fair game isn’t right in this case,” she said. “I am appalled that the city is doing nothing to censure them for their actions and commitment. This should not only embarrass the two aforementioned councilors, but Edgerton as a whole. I will continue to work for residents and represent them with grace, understanding and class.”
Stambaugh said she was told the case involved identity theft and criminal impersonation of an elected official.
However, as of Monday afternoon, Edgerton Police Officer Brad Johnson’s wife had told the sheriff’s department they shouldn’t be involved after screenshots of Officer Johnson’s engagement were presented on the site, she said.
“Captain Martinez and two officers said they could not find a law for these types of matters,” Stambaugh said. “Your hands are tied because of the prosecutor.”
Stambaugh said she was disappointed by the reversal of the sheriff’s department’s action and hired former Johnson County prosecutor Jason Covington to represent her.
Gardner News reached out to other officials for how they would handle these types of matters.
Gardner City Manager Jim Prutting said Gardner has no policy on defamation but would encourage the party to hire an attorney. He said they would also give the party that created the fake page an opportunity to remove it and hire a lawyer.
Johnson County Public Information Officer Sergeant Jesse Valdez said he didn’t know if it was fraud, but it sounded like a difficult case that would require the assistance of a criminal defense attorney.
He said unfortunately when it comes to identity fraud, people are not above doing anything.
Gardner News also reached out to Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office.
John Milburn, public information officer, said her office legally represents the state and its agencies.
“As the chief legal adviser to the state government, the attorney general cannot act as counsel or counsel to individual citizens or corporations, nor is the attorney general authorized or endowed with the resources to provide legal advice, interpretation, or counsel to individuals or corporations,” he said. “You may wish to contact a private attorney for guidance.”
In 1998, the Kansas Legislature passed criminal law that recognizes that individuals whose identities have been stolen are victims. KSA 21-4018 is considered a Level 7 personal crime.
In 2016, Attorney General Derek Schmidt signed House Bill 2460. The bill requires companies, government agencies and others that collect and store personally identifiable information about customers or others to use “reasonable care” to prevent the information in their possession located information unlawfully passed on to the identity thieves or anyone else.
“For better or for worse, we live in a time where information really is power,” Schmidt said at the time. “All types of corporations and government agencies, large and small, collect amounts of information about people that is supposed to be kept secret. This new law guarantees that redress will be available to the Attorney General’s Office when companies collecting this type of information fail to do their duty to handle it properly to prevent unauthorized disclosure.”
Schmidt said identity theft is one of the fastest growing crime categories in the United States.
“In a world where identity thieves go to great lengths to gain access to consumers’ personal information, it is not too much to ask that businesses, government agencies and others who collect personal information from individuals for reasonable purposes, to exercise reasonable care to prevent improper disclosure to crooks and criminals,” he said.
As of press time, Gardner News has not been able to locate specific laws regarding the misidentification of a government official outside of law enforcement, the polls office, or the public health service.
In February of this year, Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple sued three lawmakers in a defamation case that began in 2019: Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell, former Wichita City Council member James Clendinin, and former state assemblyman Michael Capps.
They were sued for a false allegation of assault during the 2019 mayoral campaign.
One of the alleged false statements claimed that the mayor had sexually harassed women.
The lawyers said their defendants did not know the statements were false.
Mayor Whipple’s attorney counter argued that they knew, and although Whipple won the mayoral election, it still had merit and caused reputational damage.
The case began on July 11.
Gardner News was unable to get a response from the Johnson County DA office as of press time.