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Showing posts with label gateway project. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gateway project. Show all posts

10 February 2021

Dirty tricks afoot in Talent UPDATED: AFC's Emile Amarotico responds

By Brad Smith

TALENT, Ore. -- Dirty tricks are still afoot in Talent.

They stem from a deceptive advert placed in local publication. Thanks to vetted anonymous sources, The Rogue Free Press has the identity of the individual who allegedly placed the suspect ad.

"We did not take out that ad," said Ashland Food Co-Op's general manager Emile Amarotico. "While it does not clearly indicate that AFC posted the ad, it certainly didn't mention anyone else associated with it."

Since last September's Almeda Fire, Talent's Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood and the TURA Board have been working on a plan to bring home those displaced by the devastating fire. To do so, the Talent Urban Renewal Agency Board and the Phoenix-Talent School District have developed a plan for transitional housing at the publicly owned Gateway site at the corner of 99 and West Valley View for more than 50 households who lost their homes and aren't eligible for FEMA assistance. Eventually, the location will be home to those seeking permanent housing.

However, some have been resistant to the idea, namely Mallory and Nancy Buono -- it should be noted that neither of them lost their homes during the Almeda Fire. During a Feb. 3 virtual town hall meeting, Mallory had been scheduled to speak during public comments but opted out for some reason. Buono, however, did. For the last few years, Both Mallory and Buono have been vocal if not openly hostile opponents to anything put forth by Ayers-Flood and any of Talent's more progressive councilors. During Buono's spiel, she used her few minutes of comments to insinuate underhanded dealings made by both the mayor and councilors.

Some balked at the notion.

"Nancy's comments were at times ridiculous, extremely callous and, at times, overtly racist," David Hampton said in a response to a Facebook post. "This idea of some underground Talent conspiracy led by the Mayor is so laughable, it's just sad."

Also during the virtual town hall, the Ashland Food Co-Op's Julie O'Dwyer spoke. The Co-Op is planning an eventual expansion in the Talent/Phoenix area and she mentioned it in comments. "The Co-Op is fully in support of the communities of Talent and Phoenix in developing transitional housing as quickly as possible for all of the community members who have been displaced by the Almeda fire," she said. "The Gateway Project is by no means mutually exclusive to the intention of the Co-Op to establish a store in Phoenix or Talent. Our timeline (for expansion) is in no way in conflict with this project.”

Then, the dirty tricks started.

A few days after the virtual town hall, the Talent News and Review ran an unsigned advert that appeared to be from the AFC. The advert stated that there were plans to place a store on the Gateway land -- there was also a link to sign up for updates and take part in online surveys that required a person's address, email and phone number.

Then, a day or so after the advert appeared, O'Dwyer sent out this email to concerned individuals:

“We were just as surprised as you to see the ad and the related survey link. This ad and survey are NOT associated with the Ashland Food Co-Op. It is disturbing that our name and organization are being co-opted. No pun intended. Thank you for your concern and please assure anyone you speak with that this is not associated with the Co-Op.”

According to vetted anonymous sources, Buono was the one who placed the fake Ashland Food Co-Op ad in the TNR. At presstime, it's not known what the datamined information would have been used for. The Rogue Free Press attempted to contact Buono but she hasn't responded.

"We have been in touch with the TNR," Amarotico said. "We don't believe the TNR is at fault.  They merely posted a paid ad. At this time we are not planning any public response in the TNR, but likely will do so on our website for those looking for more information."

Amarotico said the AFC has let "the ad purchaser know of our displeasure at having the Co-Ops name and goodwill used in this misleading way."

As for legal actions, he replied:

"I do not believe we would have much to pursue. Had an AFC logo, or other explicit indication that it was the Co-op taking out the ad been used, then I believe we'd have no choice but to pursue."

Meantime, Hampton took a look at the fake ad and its link. "I traced the link to its source and it didn't take me long to learn a number of things." He posted his trace on the Talent News and Events Facebook group he created.

In less than two or three minutes he claimed, Hampton traced the source to servers operated by Prismatic Media Group. From their website: "Founded in 2018, Prismatic Media Group represents  the culmination of  23 years of dedicated experience in the field of web-design and digital marketing plus 8 years of experience engaging in local civic issues here in Lane County."

"Through the use of strategic partnerships, Prismatic is able to offer the wide array of professional services of a traditional large corporate advertising agency without the traditional price.

"No matter the size of your project, Prismatic is dedicated to providing top-level service and support to our clients."

Prismatic is owned Michael Weber and Kevin Prociw. Since 2018, both men also oversee the Oregon Crime News website, which provides mugshots for various groups. Prociw started as an IT worker for Symantec Corp and since then has worked for a number of city governments as a system analyst. 

In an email, Prociw explained that the link shortening URL was "a free public service" provided by their  media company.

Weber issued this statement:"We have nothing to do with the politics involved with anyone who uses our link shortening website."

Since the link redirected data to another location, Weber said it wasn't in their servers.

He added that use of their site does not in anyway mean (Prismatic) align with the users' political believes or agendas.

"In no way are we involved in any political messes down there," he said.

A few IT experts looked at Hampton's trace and Prismatic's setup. they told The Rogue Free Press that it was "highly plausible" that Prismatic's owners were "on the level."

However, one still questioned the quality of Prismatic's work.

"Call me crazy but it's my opinion that if I offered a free link shortening URL, I'd be watchful on where it's going," they said. "I feel that you can't be too cavalier about this sort of thing, especially with phishing and data mining."

As of presstime, Buono still hasn't responded to questions. The Talent News and Review hasn't responded either.

As to why the fake ad was placed, a number of sources have agreed on this possibility: The purpose was to collect people's contact info in order to flood them with misleading and false information meant to derail TURA's project.

"Listen to what (Buono) said during the meeting," one source said. "Just listen to what she said. She made comments about illegal immigrants and that they wouldn't feel safe being so close to Highway 99 -- since it'd be easy for ICE and other law enforcement agencies to swoop in. What kind of person says that? It's clear to me that someone doesn't want certain displaced families back in the community and I feel that's reprehensible."

The article was updated with the AFC response as well as Prociw and Weber's comments and claims they had nothing to do with the fake ad and alleged phishing. This is a developing story and updated as new information is discovered.

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