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At least two local elections coming up in Long Beach on Nov. 3 have been impacted by what appears to be impersonations of candidates and current officials seeking to influence the campaigns. The impersonations, according to City Prosecutor Doug Haubert, are likely illegal.

Last week, text messages went out to District 8 voters that disparaged Councilmember Al Austin, who’s seeking re-election against Tunua Thrash-Ntuk. The messages, which have been reviewed by the Press-Telegram, said they were paid for, in part, by Fifth District Councilmember Stacy Mungo.

Mungo, in a phone interview, denied any involvement.

Another text message disparaging Austin that was sent to voters said it was paid for by the Long Beach Reform Coalition. Ian Patton, a spokesperson for the group, said the coalition was not involved with the text and has filed a complaint with the city prosecutor; Haubert confirmed receiving that complaint.

And early Thursday morning, Oct. 15, several officials and residents in the Long Beach area — including Long Beach City College Area 4 candidate Herlinda Chico — received a pornographic voicemail that appeared to be sent from the phone number of one of her opponents in the race, Dick Gaylord.

Gaylord, though, also denied involvement and said he believed his phone number may have been “spoofed,” a practice in which a caller can mask their phone number with someone else’s. The technology to spoof a phone number is easily accessible, but it is illegal to use it “with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongly obtain anything of value,” according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Haubert said he was aware of at least seven different communications that appear to impersonate others in an attempt to influence local Long Beach elections, though he said he expected to uncover more. He also said it appears “that multiple candidates running for office are being targeted.

“This is very disturbing and disgusting,” he said in a phone interview, “and it absolutely needs to be investigated, and if we find the perpetrator or perpetrators, there should be prosecution.”

Haubert said he believed there “are probably multiple laws being violated,” including the California Political Reform Act, which requires political campaign messages to include an accurate description of who paid for or sent the message.

He added that investigating the cases will involve “a technical investigation,” and he will ask the Long Beach Police Department to assist.

Haubert declined to provide further information about what that may entail.

“It’s way too early to discuss any details of an investigation,” he said, “but this is pretty disgusting to me.”

On that point, Mungo — who has endorsed Austin for re-election — agreed.

“Utilizing my name and reputation to smear my colleague is disgusting and all that is wrong with politics,” she said in a Friday phone interview. “I continue to support Al Austin and the great work he continues to do for the Eighth District and our city.”

Austin, meanwhile, in a phone interview described the text messages as “cowardice and scandalous, and I think it just shows there’s a desperate attempt to win at all costs.

“I’m hopeful that this will be an opportunity,” he added, “for people to look at future elections and possibly even legislation and protections against this type of act happening in the future because this is just — it’s just ridiculous.”

Thrash-Ntuk also denied any connection to the messages.

“Outside interests are attempting to cause chaos and confuse voters,” Thrash-Ntuk said in a statement. “I call on our City Clerk’s office to investigate the text messages that appear to have been sent from Long Beach organizations without proper disclosure. I will continue to denounce such attacks on me and my opponent.”

And the impersonation in the race for a new trustee to represent Area 4 for the Long Beach Community College District is similarly unclear. Several people — including Chico, supporters of hers and supporters of Gaylord’s — received the same 32-second pornographic voicemail around 4 a.m. Thursday morning, which appeared to come from Gaylord’s phone number.

The Press-Telegram has independently reviewed the phone logs and voicemails of multiple people who received the message. At least four people got it at the same time, 4:23 a.m.

Reached at the same phone number that appeared to leave the voicemails, Gaylord denied any involvement or knowledge of what happened. He said he knows it’s possible for other people to make calls that appear to originate from elsewhere, and said he suspects that is what happened here.

Gaylord filed a complaint with the FCC Thursday afternoon.

“I’m not a perfect person,” he said, “but those who know me know I’ve done a lot of good for a lot of people in the community, and it really hurts — this sort of thing, it hurts.

“I’m not, I guess, as prepared for politics as I should be,” he added, “but that’s as much as I know.”

The campaigns of his two opponents, Chico and Lee Loveridge, also deny any involvement.

Chico, for her part, filed a report with the Long Beach Police Department after receiving the voicemail because, the candidate said, she felt it was an act of intimidation.

“As a woman, I was horrified and shaken when I heard this message,” she said. “It’s disgusting, violating, and I’m shocked that someone would use a tactic like this to clearly try to interfere with this election.

“When the perpetrator is identified,” she added, “I will absolutely file charges.”

Loveridge, meanwhile, did not receive the voicemail. But, he said, he feels it’s “a horrible act.”

“I can say pretty definitively it’s not (my campaign),” he said. “I hope it was not any of the campaigns, because I think that’s a really sad, low tactic.”

Others who received the voicemail include Signal Hill Councilmember Keir Jones, who has endorsed Chico, and Long Beach Councilmember Suzie Price, who has endorsed Gaylord.

Haubert, meanwhile, made clear his view on the impersonations — regardless of the motive behind them.

“I find it disgusting,” he said. “There should be no place in politics for this kind of conduct. I do believe it crosses the line and is illegal.

“I am very early in the investigation stages,” Haubert added, “but we definitely are going to look into this and try to find the person or persons behind it.”

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