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The audience for the March 16 city council campaign kickoff party for Tim Goncharoff, former planner for the Santa Cruz County Department of Public Works, will likely be missing a few of Goncharoff’s most key supporters. 

Because they don’t exist.

 Sources close to the Weekly tipped us off to a collection of several phony accounts on Facebook, each marked by a handful of stock photos of attractive, lingerie-clad women, whose pages are all populated by the exact same postings about local political causes including the plastic bag ban, fracking and needle exchange.

 The phony accounts have one other thing in common: They are all avid supporters of 2014 city council candidate Tim Goncharoff. They all regularly share articles and links directly from Goncharoff’s page, often with similar or even the exact same words of support offered.

A 2012 posting on Facebook by the organization “Protect Your Central Coast”—celebrating the passing of two new environmental reform laws that Goncharoff, then county resource planner, worked on—featured comments by seven different phony accounts. “Go Tim!” wrote one. “So great! Good work, Timmy!” wrote the other.

The same accounts were used in 2012 to criticize a posting current county supervisor candidate Ryan Coonerty made about public safety. 

“Being a woman of color, I can attest from personal experience to the power of prejudice,” wrote one African American avatar, named Elisa Verde. A Google image search of Verde’s photo leads to a stock photo entitled, “Beautiful Black Woman.”

The accounts have been largely inactive since 2012, but the pages are still up and can be easily searched on Facebook. They regularly communicate with one another, posting supportive comments on each other’s half-nude photographs, asking for suggestions for where to get a Brazilian bikini wax and appearing to coordinate the sharing of lingerie outfits for something called the “Save the Tatas” fashion show. Time stamps on the threads of comments from the various accounts show that the comments are generally made within just a couple minutes of each other—about the amount of time it would take for one user to log in and out of multiple accounts.

Using fake online identities to create the illusion of support for one’s self, causes or company is known as “sock-puppeting.” It’s what John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods Market, was famously investigated for by the Securities and Exchange Commission, when he used a fake online handle to promote his company on Yahoo message boards in 2007.

So who’s responsible for these lovely but hilariously fake puppets? When reached for comment on Monday about his harem of supporters, Goncharoff claimed to know nothing. Later, in email, he said that some of the accounts “seem vaguely familiar.” However, he denied that he or his campaign had anything to do with the accounts.

“Of course, I see a great many people on Facebook, many of whom I don’t actually know,” he wrote. “A lot of people comment on my posts, and some share them. I’m sure you could come up with a much longer list.” 

In 2012, Goncharoff posted on his personal Facebook profile a Santa Cruz Sentinel article about new environmental laws. Of the nine comments of support, eight were from the fake accounts.

“Awesome, Tim! You are so inspiring,” posted one fake account, named Solana Gregory. “Yayyy, Tim!” wrote another, Jennifer Mondragon. “Our hero!” wrote still another, Jasmine Guadeloupe.

“If these are old posts, as you said, and people who are not even my Facebook friends, I’m not sure what this has to do with me,” wrote Goncharoff.

Hmm, well, whoever is behind the accounts had to know they were doing something misleading at best, and possibly illegal to boot. (The Santa Cruz District Attorney’s office hadn’t responded as of press time.) The lingerie shots add a certain creepy touch.

“Friends have suggested to me that people in the public eye should avoid social media, and I know many elected officials who do so,” Goncharoff added in his email. “I can certainly see why.” So can we.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show James

    What a major league pervert and fraud. This guy is supposed to be running for Santa Cruz City Council?  If this guy was in charge of our city, then we would be in trouble.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show Tim Goncharoff

    To my friends in the local media and beyond,

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that there are people who want to tarnish my character and reputation.  After all, when you enter a campaign for public office, you have to expect such things.  But it’s hard to express my disappointment that the Santa Cruz Weekly would be a party to such spurious attacks.  Supposedly there are people with fake Facebook accounts who have said some positive things about me while also posting some questionable photos.  Maybe so.  Social media is rife with such things.  But claiming that these people are avid supporters of my campaign in one breath, while in the next acknowledging that these accounts seem to have been inactive for a year or more is stretching reality to the breaking point.  It is even more outrageous to claim that I have had something to do with this, based on no evidence at all. 

    The campaign season is a long and hard one, and serious scrutiny is to be expected.  But I hope in the future we can expect a higher journalistic standard from our local papers than that practiced by the National Enquirer.

    Tim Goncharoff

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show Velia Anderson

    James, are you a phony person too?  Because you obviously don’t know Tim Goncharoff and are condemning him based the assumption that he had something to do with the posts.  I have known Tim for 15 or 16 years, and his family, and Tim would not do such a thing, nor would he have the time to, nor the need to.  What is your full name James?

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show Sean

    The key points of this story:

    1) Sockpuppet Facebook accounts were created by someone
    2) That person/group intends to associate people with these accounts in order to   discredit them.
    3) Tim Goncharoff is running for city council.
    4) These sockpuppet accounts commented on articles he shared.
    5) “Sources close to the Weekly” told the writer about it.
    6) The writer decided to post some clickbait, defined as “any content or feature, within a website, designed specifically to gain attention or encourage others to link to the website.”

    I’m trying to figure out if this story reflects more poorly on the writer or the creator of the sockpuppets. Can we please talk about desal, or crime, or homeless issues, or the economy, or the rail trail, or the draught, or any of the 50 things that actually matter in this election?

    • xenathippe

      Sean, spot on point by point!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show S Rankhueller

    Famous last words defending those of the criminally guilty and deranged.  Tim aught to be ashamed of himself.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show Xanthippe

    Tim, come clean. You did it. You made these fake persons. You were friends with them on Facebook until you got wind of this story.

    In fact, you and I, we’ve talked about this before, back in the old Sentinel comments. I asked you how come your friends who were commenting about your plastic bag ban were all so beautiful, and not exactly like the local talent.

    The Save the Tatas lingerie conversations these “women” have with each other takes it into downright creepy territory.

    They share YOUR photos, YOUR stories, and commented on YOUR comments in the Sentinel. Every profile has some commonalities – they are friends with each other, and used to be friends of yours. They “liked” your group. Many of their friends are people who friend anyone (musicians, politicians, et al.). Their photos are stock photos, easily found on the web via google image search – and the only thing they all have in common is you.

    You also used them to attack ideas and people in the Sentinel comments. Why? Why not post those comments under your own name? Do you lack conviction? I think you are trying to hornswaggle people.

    The jig is up. You might as well admit it now. If you can’t man up and admit it, your political career is over. Nobody is going to vote for a leering, creepy swindler.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show brian macdonald

    Tim

    It’s interesting to note that that you don’t come out and flatly claim that this story is untrue.  You just dance around the topic with lots of self-righteous indignation and claim “social media is rife with such things.” 

    But no, it actually isn’t.  Show us another instance (besides in your own mind) where some middle-aged dude with a beard is suddenly besieged by fake beautiful women on Facebook who say things like “Awesome, Tim.  You are so inspiring.”  Just one.  You can post it here in the comments section for us.

    Hey, if the article is untrue, go ahead and sue the Weekly for defamation.  And then, during the discovery phase, you can go subpeona Facebook for the IP addresses of these supposedly fictional supporters, just to prove it wasn’t you. 

    Brian MacDonald (my real name, sorry I don’t have a picture of me in a bikini)

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show Chris K

    Watching “Xanthippe” challenge Tim’s credibility by asking why he doesn’t post under his own name while you hide behind your own fake name Xanthippe?

    *lol*….priceless hypocrisy.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show Hottie Supporter of Tim

    Says “Chris K”, who could be anyone.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show The Truth Hurts

    In order for someone to comment on anything a person posts on their wall, they have to first be “friended” by that person. In order to do that, Tim would have to approve all of these “hotties” request to be his friend. To say he wasn’t aware of his Facebook friends is disingenuous and just plain lying. He approved “friending” every one of these sockpuppets. Unless he wants to claim he doesn’t control his own Facebook account.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show James E Weller

    This article is obviously a political hatchet job. A despicable piece of work. Who is the author, Georgia Perry? What axe is she grinding? Looks like some of the commenters here are in league with her. I have to wonder who benefits behind the scenes from this sort of scumbag journalism. I think it would be wise to ask who else is running for election, or election, who might have a motive to smear Tim Goncharoff?

    • Xenathippe

      James, thank you for posting from a reasonable point of view. I think this writer who jumped to conclusions then stated them as facts. Tim being behind the “sock puppets” has still not been proven even after 5 articles! Who was Georgia bribed by? It is time for the SC Weekly to investigate their reporter to sensor her or fire her for manipulation of facts and a political slander job on Tim G. Let’s not let Santa Cruz dirty politics win victories!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show John Locke

    Isn’t it interesting that Tim categorically does *not* deny having made up these sockpuppet accounts, but instead he expresses outrage, righteous outrage I say, at the notion that the media has insinuated that he had anything to do with this without first obtaining irrefutable proof of his guilt?

    I figured there was a 75/25 slant in favor of his guilt before his response.  Now, after his Clintonian non-denial denial I’m leaning towards 95/5 in favor of his guilt and said non-denial denial is his way of covering his butt in case this ends up in court somehow.

    But even so, he can’t win this one.

    Either he has given us all a glimpse of his porn browsing habits (Google image search reveals many of these photos come from adult sites) and that’s just icky TMI, seriously icky TMI, yet seemingly par for the course for the typical porcine boomer male of Santa Cruz county alas. 

    Or he’s a clueless fossil who actually thought that a United Colors of Benetton Rainbow of Local Hotness enthusiastically supported his political platform.  So either he’s a creep or he’s a political dinosaur like Don Lane and Micah Posner.  Take your pick.

    And for the gravitationally enhanced sunburned hippies backing Tim up here, this *is* *relevant*.  Santa Cruz has a posititively DOA future without a local government that embraces modern technology to build a local tech economy.

    Putting yet another out of touch faux progressive Nimby into office is yet another in a long series of backwards steps that are transforming a beautiful city into a meth mecca.  Do you want this generation’s eequivalent of Grandma who can’t program the VCR in charge around here?

    Choose carefully this Fall.

    Choose the future, not the past.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show Colin Campbell Clyde (come at me, bro!)

    Here are the facts: a) someone set up sock puppets to fake “like” city council candidate Tim Goncharoff and b) at present we have no evidence as to who set up the fake accounts. END OF STORY.

    It does beg the question though: what’s the motive here?  Does the use of slutty porn stars seem more consistent with an effort to bolster an election campaign or with an attempted takedown?  Hmmmm? 

    Look if you don’t like Tim’s politics, then you don’t like his politics.  Fine, nobody said you had to.  Just come at and say “I hate liberals.  Tim is a liberal.  Ergo, I hate Tim”.  That would be more honest than pretending to know who created the sock puppets.  Until more information comes out, the only person who knows that is the person who created the accounts.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show Local Hotties For Tim-Tim

    Oh yes, it’s all so clear now.  The Koch brothers, the bin Ladens and Rupert Murdoch have joined forces to frack the soil underneath downtown Santa Cruz to extract enough energy to build a fully-functioning replica of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant on the Wharf!  Soon after their despicable empire will rule the coastline all the way from Moss Landing to Davenport!

    And all that stands in their way is Tim Goncharoff and his harem of holographic hotties.

    Thanks for spreading the word!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show Eric Rowland

    This real person can back up Xanthippe’s statements.  It was odd back then.  Not that this particular issue will cost him my vote.  He never had a chance.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show John Locke

    I’m a pretty liberal guy.  Bill Clinton was the best president of my adult life.  I think Howard Dean got a raw deal and I’m tickled pink that Alan Grayson is back in office.  However, I was also a big fan of Anthony Weiner until he completely self-destructed in public.  Tim’s behaving like Anthony Weiner right now IMO.

    And Tim is too small potatoes for some sort of grand conspiracy to dazzle him with fake facebook beauties in an effort to discredit him.  He seems more like the type that discovered teh facebook(tm) and he didn’t understand the power of Google Image search to unmask what went on here.  It’s not like this sort of thing hasn’t happened before with seemingly respectable sorts:

    http://forward.com/articles/192427/michael-broyde-quits-modern-orthodox-rabbi-group-o/

    And his flat-out non-denial denial isn’t helping matters.

    His response to this article tells me he’s either
    guilty as sin or he’s a Ted “The Internet is a series of tubes” Stevens of the left. I’m not particularly fond of his comeptition, Ryan Coonerty, either (and especially his whining about online forums) but at least he lives in this century and he possesses relevant experience as a founder of NextSpace.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show Reality and logic

    Colin: you are smarter and more web-savvy than this. For the “setup” hypothesis to be true, whoever was plotting it had to be doing it since 2009 when the “lingerie party” started “liking” Tim and sharing his posts.

    As far as I know, Tim wasn’t on the public radar as a future city council candidate in 2009.

    For the “setup” scenario to be true, you have to believe that Tim’s political detractors had been plotting this for FIVE YEARS! I find that very hard to believe.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show Hana Hanaloa

    Tim, we missed you at the last “Save the Tatas” event. You listed yourself as “maybe”.

    “Maybe” we can do a fundraiser at your kickoff party? Let me know sweetie! Love ya hairbear! XOXO

    https://www.facebook.com/events/205405192921591/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2014/03/04/tim_goncharoffs_political_puppet_show Brian

    There is absolutely no way for Tim to accurately vett through all posts on his social media accounts. It’s best to ignore the fake ones and that’s what this publication should have done.

    It would be great if the weekly could simply focus on the issues facing Santa Cruz and candidate’s positions on each.

    • Political Junkie

      Brian – obviously he DID have time to very the comments since he actively replied and engaged with these fake accounts.

  • http://www.auburn.edu Sarah Wilson

    Have any of you actually read the article? The author never accuses Tim Goncharoff of creating the accounts, but instead comments on their existence and *association with Tim Goncharoff (and their love of bikini waxes).

    To me this seems like exactly what journalists are supposed to do..

  • https://plus.google.com/112095341306774106219 John Colby

    My sister and I are victims of an Internet defamation campaign ever since I debated Mayor Don Lane about disabled homeless people then reported Take Back Santa Cruz to the California Attorney General as a fake charity. This made my sister and I targets for local anti-homeless bigots like Xanthippe and Eric Rowland. Thus it does not surprise me that the same culprits would target Tim Goncharoff using the Internet.

    These bigoted cyber-criminals are despicable cowards who deserve to be prosecuted by a U.S. attorney, then incarcerated in a federal prison.

    • Nathan B

      So you called Eric an “anti homeless bigot”. Seems like the definition of libel to me John Colby. If I was Eric, I’d sue you for defamation. Seems pretty open and shut. I’ve even got a screencap if Eric wants it. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/libel

      • Disgusted SC Resident

        Nathan B, if you are the real attorney Nathan Benjamin or a sock puppet of topix sc trolls it isn’t libel or defamation if it is true.

        Eric Rowland has proven over and over on Steve Pleitch’s “Citizens for a Better Santa Cruz” facebook that he believes in an anti-homeless agenda by calling them all kinds of names and personally attacking people on the group that have stood up against the hateful anti-homeless rhetoric of Eric and other tbsc members who also post there along with him tag teaming people who disagree with them by employing a stance using hate speech, personal attacks, insults, and name calling.

        Such people including Eric R are Samantha Olden, Jane Becker, Jim Sringer, Aaron Whiting, Brannon Schell, Allene Larson, and Robin Jansen etc…

        They brag about their attacks on the pro-homeless people on other facebook groups they belong to openly! All of their bigoted anti-homeless hate has been documented and archived to be brought up in the heat of the city council election. Their posts are going to come back and out their hate discriminatory driven agenda!

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