Hack market: Placer Women Democrats officials accuse congressional candidate of deleting financial info

Incriminating financial records tied to Roza Calderon’s tenure with PWD disappeared

Sharleen Finn, treasurer for the Placer Women Democrats, says she woke up from a nap on October 12, while recovering from a cold, to find that her online accounting ledger had been hacked and permanently deleted.

The hack came on the day that SN&R published an article about Roza Calderon, a political newcomer running for a seat representing District 4 in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the article, PWD presents evidence that Calderon, during her own short stint as treasurer of the organization, spent nearly $1,900 of PWD’s money on concert tickets, movies and other personal uses. The article goes on to show that Calderon returned PWD’s money after receiving a demand letter.

Following the October 12 hack, Finn said she believes Calderon was responsible. She says Calderon was the only person other than herself to ever have access to PWD’s online accounting ledger. PWD president Susan Gutowsky said Calderon had set up email addresses for PWD members, including the one that Finn had been using to access the accounting software.

Finn said she filed a complaint with the Roseville Police Department on October 20. Roseville police spokeswoman Dee Dee Gunther confirmed receiving a report “regarding fraud.”

“The entire evidence of [Calderon’s] embezzlement” was deleted, Gutowsky said. “And someone other than our treasurer deleted the account. That seems suspicious to me.”

Calderon didn’t respond to SN&R’s requests for comment before print deadline.

In the same October 12 article that detailed Calderon’s alleged embezzlement, SN&R presented evidence that Calderon was romantically linked to Paul Smith, a controversial Placer County political activist. This relationship was seen as significant by political leaders in congressional District 4 because Smith’s organization, which calls itself Indivisible CA-04, claims to be neutral with regard to the congressional primary race, but seems to be supporting Calderon.

This is where the story begins to resemble a scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, in which the members of the Peoples Front of Judea are appalled to be mistaken for members of the Judean People’s Front.

The CD-4 Indivisible Network, which unlike ICA-04 has the backing of the national Indivisible organization, cites Smith’s favoritism toward Calderon as one of the reasons for their mass departure from his group. Smith has vehemently denied these accusations.

So: One day before the PWD hack, a person using the name “John Findel” sent a Facebook message to the leaders of the groups aligned with the CD-4 Indivisible Network. In his message, “Findel” attacked Democratic candidate (and Calderon opponent) Regina Bateson and accused her of double-counting campaign donations.

Maia Pelleg, Bateson’s campaign manager, said the “allegations reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of how to read FEC filings.” Rob Pyers, research director for the California Target Book, confirms that Bateson’s filings were legal.

To make this claim, “Findel” referenced an email that had been sent in August to multiple parties, including SN&R, by the anonymous address “FECanalyzer@gmail.com.” Brad Hill, a former ICA-04 member and self-described “tech guy,” presented SN&R with evidence that has led him to conclude that FECanalyzer is Paul Smith. He and other Placer political activists also believe that “Findel” is Paul Smith.

Responding to questions from SN&R via email Tuesday, Smith denied forging both identities.

“I, like most other group leaders across CD4 received emails from an account named fecanalyzer@gmail.com. I also received Facebook messages from a Facebook account named ’John Findel.’ I do not know who could be behind these messages. After receiving these messages I did have questions, so I sent an email to Regina Bateson and copied a select group of local leaders requesting clarification. I got the answers I was hoping for and now the matter is resolved. Regina Bateson’s FEC reporting is fine.”

As he has in the past, Smith, apparently ignoring the fact that the national Indivisible Guide has renounced his group, claimed that, using metrics from Twitter and Facebook, “Indivisible CA-04 is now the largest Indivisible organization in the country, dwarfing groups in LA, NYC, SF, San Diego Miami, Chicago, Seattle, and the entire state of California. To put this in perspective, we now have more Facebook followers than every single Republican, Tea Party, and Libertarian group in the district COMBINED.”