New evidence links El Cajon city councilmember Ben Kalasho to false Facebook profiles used to slander his political opponents.
The evidence was included in court filings in a case against Kalasho, reported by the Reader.
The case was filed by Zhala Tawfiq, the winner of the Miss Middle East Beauty Pageant, which Kalasho and his wife Jessica founded in 2011.
Tawfiq's reign as Miss Middle East did not last.
Tawfiq says the $2000 check she received from the pageant was more a work contract than a prize. During her reign as Miss Middle East, Tawfiq's relationship with the Kalashos began to deteriorate. She objected to the Kalashos using her social media profiles to post advertisements and announcements without her knowledge. Then, in April 2017, as the dispute intensified, Tawfiq discovered a fake Instagram account was made with doctored photos of her posing nude on the beach.
Tawfiq told the Reader that she immediately believed that the Kalashos were behind the profile.
“No doubt in my mind," she said in an August interview.
Now, according to court documents, the origin of those fake nudes is coming to light. In response to a subpoena, Instagram and the internet provider revealed that the fake Instagram account was made at a house in Cerritos, California, owned by Elie Malouf.
Malouf's daughter, Stephanie, was the Miss Middle East Pageant winner in 2014.
According to a deposition taken during Tawfiq's lawsuit, Jessica Kalasho was visiting Malouf and another former pageant winner during the weekend that the fake account was made.
Shortly after Tawfiq filed the lawsuit, a restaurant owner in El Cajon also accused Kalasho of using false Facebook profiles and fake polls to slander his business.
Duraid Hallak owns the Tres Taqueria Mexican restaurant in El Cajon (they have since moved to the Hollywood Casino in Jamul). In October 2016 a campaign worker for then-candidate Ben Kalasho entered the restaurant to ask if Hallak would display campaign signs inside the restaurant. Hallak refused.
On October 16, four days after the campaign worker's visit, the Middle East Chamber of Commerce, formerly known as the San Diego East County Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, which Kalasho founded and runs from his home, announced a new online poll to find the best Mexican restaurant in El Cajon.
On October 18 the chamber released the results. The chamber's website stated that after "hundreds" of votes, Tres Taqueria was the last-place finisher, the worst Mexican Restaurant in El Cajon.
But the recent court filings include data from Jotform, the host of the online poll. The data show that only one vote was cast in the poll before the chamber released the findings on its website.
The online attack against Tres Taqueria continued. On the Middle East Chamber's website, two people (Robert Forbes and Ben George) alleged that they became sick after eating at Tres Taqueria.
“I ate at TRES and got really really sick,” wrote Forbes on October 19. "I don’t know how Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego has them in their food court area. Don’t think they will last long.”
Another commenter, Ben George, wrote, “I went to Tres and ordered rolled tacos. They were dry and I got really sick and ended up with food poisoning. If you guys want, I can do a video about my experience and you guys can share it. Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego better wake up.”
But newly subpoenaed records from Facebook and Cox Communications show that the Facebook profiles were accessed 194 times at councilmember Kalasho's residence. In addition, Kalasho's address and IP address were the ones used to delete the Facebook profiles not long after Tawfiq filed her lawsuit.
Hallak says he is disappointed that Kalasho "could stoop so low to hurt someone's business and retaliate against them for merely declining to post their political propaganda.
"There is no doubt in my mind that he is not for the people and/or of the people — he is merely for himself. He actively harmed a constituent’s business for merely disagreeing with him."
In a statement, councilmember Kalasho dismisses the filings.
"The filing is comprised of untruthful allegations. IP addresses which are open to the public aren't proof. No evidence has been produced to me or my counsel. Everything thus far has been pure allegation. Their counsel was accusing me of making the doctored up nudes when this case first started, last month he was accusing another associate of ours and now he is accusing a former queen. He is just harassing everyone at this point. This is nothing but a fishing expedition for money. It's pretty sad that we live in a society where greed and fabricated stories are normal just for 5 minutes of fame."
As for the IP addresses coming from Kalasho's residence, the El Cajon city councilmember doesn't put it past Hallak or Tawfiq creating the profiles in an attempt to frame him.
"All this can be done by just parking outside my home. All the plaintiffs know where I live and work, we have footage of them parked outside my home. I have on a number of occasions offered my laptop to be searched and scanned by a forensics expert to prove I had nothing to do with any of the untruthful allegations against me but the Plaintiffs Lawyer has chosen to ignore my offer because he knows that it will destroy his case. Their game plan is to drag this into the media for as long as possible. We look forward to trial and will not be bullied, harassed or intimidated."
A hearing in the case is scheduled for December 22.