TOMS RIVER-An FBI cybercrimes complaint has been filed against Maurice Hill’s Media Campaign Manager Arthur Gallagher which also cites Hill’s running mates Kevin Geoghegan, Matt Lotano and Jason Kopf.
The incident stems from a “shakedown” meeting between Hill’s campaign and Shore News Network on Sunday, September 1st.
Maurice Hill is not happy with Shore News Network after publishing many township and state documents to provide transparency into Hill’s often secretive and sometimes misleading campaign messages. Coverage of Hill’s campaign prompted an in-person meeting between Hill’s team and Shore News Network partners Frank Sadeghi and Phil Stilton.
During that meeting, Hill’s campaign team tried to strongarm Shore News Network through harassing measures in order to stop covering the mayoral election in Toms River. The meeting was strewn with threats and attempts by Hill’s campaign to prove wrongdoing by Shore News Network. It culminated with the presentation of a forged check to be used as leverage against Shore News Network to “out” Shore News Network as being “in the pocket” of Democrats. That check, presented by Hill’s media campaign manager Arthur Gallagher was a forgery.
Hill’s campaign was certain Shore News Network was being, “Paid by Democrats to sabotage their political campaign.”
“That’s check isn’t real,” Stilton said to Gallagher, whose rap sheet includes being charged in the past with bank forgery.
“Prove it,” Gallagher said.
“I can prove it because it’s not real,” Stilton replied.
The check was a $3,000 check made out from Hill’s opponent Jonathan Petro in the amount of $3,000 to Stilton. The check included a forged signature, had Petro’s wrong home address and an invalid bank account.
“Art, that’s a fake check, where did it come from?” Stilton pressed Gallagher.
“It was sent to me anonymously,” Gallagher responded.
“Why would anyone send YOU a check supposedly made out by Petro to me?” Stilton continued.
“I don’t know,” Gallagher said.
In the months leading up to the incident, Hill’s campaign had contacted several of Shore News Network’s advertisers to talk them out of continuing advertising on the website.
“We’re going to starve them [Shore News Network] out,” campaign members bragged within political circles in Ocean County, passing the forged check around as if it was the Holy Grail. Upon being notified by our advertisers about Hill’s punitive measures against our coverage, we agreed to a sit down with Hill’s campaign team.
Kevin Geoghegan, a retired police officer at the meeting said, “I thought about suing you, you know, just because anyone can sue anyone.”
Geoghegan, who also runs the Silverton First Aid Squad said Shore News Network’s investigation into the split between the squad and the township over financial grievances was threatening his now for-profit first aid organization. That was also the source of contention between Geoghegan and Mayor Thomas Kelaher whose decision it was to break ties with Geoghegan’s squad. The township had dropped Silverton EMS as a provider of services and Shore News Network filed OPRA requests with the township to find out exactly why. Mayor Thomas Kelaher said the town made the decision because Geoghegan’s now for profit service did not provide a 50/50 financial split with the township like the volunteer squads. The matter remains unresolved, nearly one year later.
Geoghegan took this investigation personally.
“I was there when your mother [died],” Geoghegan said to Stilton during the meeting, then describing in detail that dreadful day.
Geoghegan notified Stilton that he was a former police officer and the tone began to get hostile before Sadeghi said, “OK, let’s not make this personal, let’s not talk about the past, let’s discuss how we all move forward.”
Justin Kopf asked, “If our campaign paid you, would you have done the stories about Mo that you did?”
“You’re saying we did those stories because Mo did not pay us, this is not true,” Stilton responded. “Your campaign was angry because your own political party dumped your New Jersey elec reports and your signature petition in our mailbox two nights before the election and you blame me for reporting that your team hid the support you received from the Orthodox Jewish community, that is not my problem, we report the news, but the answer is yes, advertising with Shore News Network doesn’t stop us from reporting the news.”
In the end, Shore News Network maintains that all of the coverage of Hill’s campaign provided by Shore News Network is factual and in the best interest of our readers.
After the meeting, Sadeghi, at the time a partner in the online news service agreed that Shore News Network would not continue vigorously going after Hill’s campaign, but must still “report the news”. In return Hill’s team vowed to stop their aggressive behavior towards Shore News Network and cease contact with the site’s clients.
Stilton reluctantly agreed, but said “We need to know who forged that check to try to disparage our business.”
Stilton filed a complaint the next morning with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s internet cybercrimes division regarding the forged bank document. The FBI initially referred the matter to the Secret Service in Atlantic City. After determining the check was only sent digitally and not a physical document, the Secret Service sent the matter back to the FBI cybercrimes unit.
“In a meeting with members of the Toms River, New Jersey Township Republican Club Candidate for council, and their campaign manager Art Gallagher, who has past incidents of bank fraud, I was presented as evidence, through intimidation tactics that they were in possession of a check written out to me personally from Jonathan Petro,” the complaint reads. “All three had tried various tactics to get me to admit to ‘working’ for Democrats, which I am not. It culminated with their passing a fraudulent check to me as proof of some imaginary crime.”
“I believe they were coercing me through intimidation to admit that the forged check was indeed real,” the complaint read. “Mr. Petro confirmed the check was a bad forgery.”
“Regarding the accusations raised by Hill’s team, the only people they should be blaming are themselves for the actions they tried to hide from the public,” Stilton said. “Not only have they accused me of this, they then sold a bogus story to a desperate reporter, Karen Wall over at Patch and continue to try to harass me and publicly intimidate me into going silent until after this election.”
“I will not be forcibly coerced by politicians to hide or coverup news for them,” Stilton added. “I also won’t be intimidated by a fake news story by a very desperate reporter from a failing national news site who might be jockeying for some public PIO job should she help drag Mo Hill across the finish line somehow.”
Days after the meeting, Gallagher then contacted Shore News Network to attack the Orthodox Jewish community in Jackson