A Sarasota County School District employee is under investigation after she sent an e-mail last week that falsely alleged a former ABC 7 news anchor was arrested for phoning a bomb threat to the TV station. The e-mail was sent from her work computer.
McIntosh Middle School receptionist Alison Scuilla admitted to taking a real Tampa Tribune story about a St. Petersburg man who was arrested for making a bomb threat to a TV station and changing the wording to make it appear that former ABC 7 anchor Ken Jefferson was the man arrested.
Jefferson left ABC 7 eight months ago.
The doctored e-mail included an Associated Press stamp and was written in Associated Press format, so it appeared to be a real news story.
“We were wondering what happened to him,” said Scuilla. “It was just a spoof.”
But Jefferson is not laughing. He said he’s concerned at just how far the e-mail has spread. It was already sent to ABC 7 as a news story, and Jefferson said he’s traced it as far away as North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
“I’m trying to find out the scope of this,” he said. “Obviously, this is an act of complete stupidity, but this is something that could come back to haunt me.”
Scuilla told The Sarasota Observer she only sent the e-mail to one individual, however a copy of the e-mail shows that it was sent to “AS400 Main,” which is a school district e-mail list with 919 people on it, including Superintendent of Schools Lori White.
Jefferson said he is searching for a job right now and fears that if the fake e-mail has spread, it could hinder his search.
“People need to understand that the Internet, with all the good it does in terms of research, is a monster in the wrong hands,” he said. “People don’t realize how much damage they can do.
“Why me?” he asked.
Scuilla didn’t say why, but Jefferson has his suspicions.
“I’ve ruffled a few feathers in my work in communications,” he said.
The school district began an investigation into the event Jan. 27. Scuilla attended a hearing with school administrators to explain her side of the story. She will be notified within 45 days of the outcome and then will have the right to file a grievance if she doesn’t agree with the result. Scuilla will remain on staff throughout that process.
Jefferson is now talking to attorneys and will decide his next course of action.
“I want to assess whether there’s any malice involved,” he said.
Jefferson called Scuilla last week, and she apologized to him and wrote a retraction that she said she sent to the same e-mail list.
But Jefferson said it’s unlikely that the retraction was forwarded to all the people that the original e-mail reached.
“I do feel badly about it, because I do like him,” Scuilla said.
Here is a look at the real Tampa Bay Tribune story as compared to the doctored e-mail.
ST. PETERSBURG - Employees at a television studio were evacuated early this morning after someone called in a bomb threat, and investigators quickly figured out it was a former employee who made the threat, St. Petersburg police say.
The former employee, Jeoffrey Bristow, 48, of St. Petersburg, was arrested and charged with threatening to discharge a destructive device. He is being held at the Pinellas County Jail on $10,000 bond.
At about 3:15 a.m., Bristow made an anonymous call to say there was a bomb inside the American Auction Network TV studio, which is at 289 34th St. N., said Johnny Harris, a St. Petersburg police spokesman.
All employees were evacuated, and police traced the call to its origin, Harris said. It turned out to be the phone number belonging to Bristow, Harris said. Bristow, a former studio employee who had recently been let go, admitted to making the call, Harris said.
Associated Press - January 20, 2010 11:14 AM ET
Sarasota, Fla. (AP) - A Sarasota man has been charged with calling in a bomb threat at a television studio where he used to work.
The American Option Network studio was evacuated Wednesday morning after called in a bomb threat. Police say all employees were evacuated and police traced the call to a former employee, Ken Jefferson.
Police say he admitted to making the call. He was arrested and charged with threatening to discharge a destructive device.
Jefferson was a former studio employee who had recently been let go.
Jefferson did not have a listed phone number. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.
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