Mayor John Spodofora secretly uses police to launch inquiry of political opponent

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03/08/2015 by militaryphonies

Stafford mayor uses police to launch inquiry of nemesis

STAFFORD – Mayor John Spodofora secretly enlisted the police department he oversees to investigate a political opponent — a criminal probe that led to a grand jury subpoena, a U.S. Navy investigation and the seizure of emails and files critical of Spodofora, an Asbury Park Press investigation found.
The mayor said he asked for the criminal investigation after the critic posted a phony Facebook page that lampooned the mayor’s Vietnam War record. The mayor called it identity theft — a crime that typically requires some showing that the perpetrator wanted to make money or buy goods illegally. None of that was evident in the Facebook parody.
 
The critic, Earl Galloway, said he was making a free-speech political statement about Spodofora’s exaggerated military service.
Township police secured copies of emails, photographs and other documents stored on Galloway’s government-owned computer files — the materials referenced Spodofora and his military background. The trove was then shared with the mayor, even though investigators concluded after a more than three-month probe there was no evidence of a crime, according to a police report and Press interviews.
“(Spodofora’s) conduct as mayor is unbecoming, his abuse of office and the possibility of my civil rights being violated warrant investigation,” said Galloway, 51, a Stafford resident and retired Navy command master chief petty officer. “While he and others are protecting their political interests, who’s looking after the citizens?”
Three years after he was shown to have exaggerated his military service in the Vietnam War, Spodofora presides over a six-member Township Council that is divided into two Republican camps. One camp is loyal to him and the other does not trust him. Last month, Councilman Henry Mancini announced he would challenge Spodofora for the GOP nomination for mayor this year. Without attacking Spodofora by name, Mancini simply said the time had come for new leadership.
“Frankly, there are people who are desperate for me to not run for office,” Spodofora said. “I am really shocked by much of this. Having allegations made about me that are so out in left field that it makes my head spin. I have not done anything wrong nor have I broken any laws. Politics are driving this whole thing.”
Galloway was in the Navy for 26 years. He works with the group Military Phonies to “out” individuals nationwide who lie or exaggerate military service in the Armed Forces.
Galloway is a persistent critic of the mayor and has over the past year extended his private investigation into the mayor’s whole biography.
Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora answers questions about using his police department last year to investigate a political rival who had created a parody Facebook account poking fun at his Vietnam era service. STAFF VIDEO BY THOMAS P. COSTELLO
“Intimidated? Absolutely not,” Galloway said, when asked about the police investigation. “Outraged, yes. I’m outraged, given Spodofora’s credibility and the absurd accusations he presented to inflate the basis to launch a multi-jurisdictional investigation that was clearly intended to quell my First Amendment rights.”
For Galloway, there is a missionary zeal to his work. He views the absconding of valor belonging to those who have given life and limb to protect this country as an almost unforgivable offense.
“If this were Pemberton or another town around the Joint Base (McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst), he would be eaten alive,” Galloway said of the mayor.
Spodofora said he has made amends.
“You keep implying I committed stolen valor and that’s bothering me,” Spodofora said in an interview in his office. “If you read the law, you know I didn’t (commit the offense of stolen valor). … I have been as clear as I can be. I said everything I could say. I have apologized for anything I may have said wrong, publicly, on TV and in writing. I’ve done everything I could to be as honest and forthcoming as I could. … I don’t know what else I could do, but I did not commit stolen valor.”
Spodofora, 69, said it’s true he “never had boots on the ground in Vietnam,” but he continues to assert that portions of his military record remain classified more than 40 years after he was honorably discharged from the Navy.
War service
According to his military record, Spodofora served from 1966 to 1973 as a maintenance technician on cryptography machines. He was assigned to temporary submarine duty in the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas during his service and was based at locations in the U.S. and Panama.
Before questions surfaced about his service record during the 2012 election cycle, Spodofora had always maintained that he was a Vietnam War combat veteran who spoke eloquently at times about the horrors of war. Some published news reports had even identified Spodofora as a former Navy Seal, although whether the mayor was misquoted or actually said he was a Seal has itself been the subject of public debate.
All of this led up to the events of last spring, when Spodofora’s young granddaughter discovered the fake Facebook page Galloway had created, poking fun at her grandfather — the mayor.
The Facebook page featured a doctored portrait of Spodofora that Galloway had pulled from the Internet. It featured a present-day Spodofora, donned in a suit jacket and tie, but wearing a camouflage hat and camouflage face paint, while holding an assault rifle. Nevertheless, the Facebook page accurately identified Spodofora’s hometown and correctly stated that he had graduated from the local Southern Regional High School. However, the page also stated the mayor had “Worked at It’s Classified” and “studied at Spy College at Gaya, India.”
The mayor said he was furious. He contacted Stafford Police Chief Joseph Giberson III, who commands a police department over which — as mayor — Spodofora serves as its civilian executive.
On June 3, Spodofora met with Giberson and Detective Drew G. Smith in the mayor’s office on the second floor of the municipal complex. The mayor complained that he was the victim of harassment and wrongful impersonation.
“It was a (Faceboook) page that had a photograph of me and used my exact name,” Spodofora said. “So I was concerned. I went to the chief of police and I said, ‘is this identity theft?’ And he looked at it and he called some people and he said, ‘it absolutely is identity theft.'”
Spodofora told the chief of police and the detective that this was part of a larger campaign to tarnish 30 years of honorable government service. Before this most recent episode with Facebook, hundreds of flyers attacking him had been distributed in the township’s Doc Cramer baseball and soccer fields.
Numerous videos poking fun at him or criticizing him had surfaced online, depicting his likeness and appearance without his consent, he said.
Furthermore, this campaign being waged against him had cost him “significant monetary loss as well as loss of reputation in the community,” he told the officers. No one would hire him anymore. Spodofora is a retired manager of cost analysis at the Navy Lakehurst portion of the Joint Base.
Spodofora had one suspect in mind: Earl Galloway.
“Mr. Spodofora stated that Earl Galloway, a retired Navy chief, has publicly accused him of ‘stealing valor’ on numerous occasions and that this may be further attempts by Mr. Galloway to tarnish Mr. Spodofora’s reputation as well as ruin his political career,” read Smith’s report on the investigation.
From this, a criminal investigation was launched into who was behind the parody Facebook page.
The “fraudulent Facebook profile,” as it is referred to in police documents, was photographed and stored as evidence. Smith contacted the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, where Assistant Prosecutor Robert Armstrong advised Smith that there was indeed sufficient evidence for a wrongful impersonation investigation, according to Smith’s report.
Full-bore criminal probe
Ultimately, Armstrong granted Smith approval to seek two grand jury subpoenas — one for Facebook and the other for Google, so authorities could trace the Internet Protocol address to the computer from which the parody Facebook account originated and hunt down the individual who created the Gmail account in Spodofora’s name that was used to open the Facebook page.
In other words, authorities employed the same sleuthing they use to find child pornographers and track criminals through cyberspace, to confirm that it was Galloway who had lampooned the mayor — for matters already addressed by the mayor in his public apology.
“I honestly can’t figure out, what was the alleged criminal event?” asked Ellen P. Goodman, a professor at Rutgers School of Law—Camden who specializes in First Amendment and Internet law.
“It sounds outrageous to me.”
ELLEN P. GOODMAN, A PROFESSOR AT RUTGERS SCHOOL OF LAW
Goodman said the initial complaint seems to have none of the elements that would traditionally be necessary for an investigation into alleged identity theft, such as in a case where a person steals another person’s personal data, which is then used for illicit financial gain.
“It sounds like (Galloway) was just making fun of him,” Goodman said.
That’s protected free speech, she said.
“It sounds outrageous to me,” Goodman said of law enforcement’s response.
“This was an investigation into possible alleged identity theft,” said Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office. The department was recently in the news for another Internet-related matter — tweets by several Jackson teens that intimated violence against area Jews. In that case, the officials downplayed any suggestion that their inquiry amounted to an official investigation.
“Stafford police followed the correct policy and protocols in this regard. In terms of our involvement: in Ocean County, grand jury subpoenas must be authorized and issued by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. We fulfilled that function in order to help Stafford Township P.D. facilitate their investigation into an allegation of identity theft.”
Stafford Police Capt. Thomas Dellane, a township department spokesman, said the Facebook profile clearly violated the social media giant’s own “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” Users may not provide “any false personal information on Facebook or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission,” Dellane said, quoting Facebook.
More importantly, from a police perspective is the impersonation and theft of identity statute under New Jersey law, Dellane said. It states that a person is guilty of a crime, if a person impersonates another or assumes a false identity for the purpose of obtaining a benefit for himself or another or to injure or defraud another — including using electronic communications and websites to do so.
“It was clear from viewing the Facebook page that someone utilized electronic communications to impersonate and/or assume the identity of John Spodofora,” Dellane said. “What was unknown at the time was if the impersonation/false identity assumption was to obtain a benefit for himself or another or to injure or defraud John Spodofora. That is the reason why a police investigation was undertaken.”
Ultimately, however, Galloway was never charged with any crime.
Exaggerated war stories
Martha Kremer, former president of the Stafford Township Regular Republican Club, said Spodofora has a history of using municipal resources to go after his political enemies.
Three years ago, it was Kremer, then-head of the local GOP, who first confronted Spodofora about the discrepancies in his military service record. Kremer is a widow whose husband Kirk died in 2007 from wounds he sustained in combat in Vietnam in 1969. His name his now on the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., as one of the last casualties of that war.
Kremer had been doing opposition research on the mayor in an effort to discredit a Democratic whispering campaign in 2012 that Spodofora had embellished his service in the Navy. In Kirk’s final years, his wife remembers that Spodofora would wax on with him about the mutual horrors the men experienced as combat veterans of that war.
She was furious when she found out that Spodofora had fabricated those horrors. Spodofora had not only betrayed her, the party and the township, but the memory of her late husband — and Spodofora was unrepentant, in her view.
“Knowing I was on to his little secrets, Spodofora started calling people into his mayor’s office, showing them fake medals and various documents, all the while claiming his service in Vietnam was ‘classified,'” Kremer said of what happened after she challenged the mayor on his record.
Kremer said when she persisted, things became bizarre. Spodofora, she said, threatened her politically. She said he told her that as mayor, he was having her “investigated” and had even surreptitiously obtained her fingerprints.
“Simply more lies,” Spodofora said. “I have never had anybody under investigation nor have I ever said I had anybody under investigation.”
He added: “This is really crazy.”
Making a federal case
The investigation into Galloway did not end with the Prosecutor’s Office. The matter became a federal case after the computer from which Galloway had lampooned the mayor was connected to the Navy Marine Corps Intranet at Naval Weapons Station Earle in Colts Neck.
The subpoenas had revealed that “jspodofora@gmail.com” had been created on the afternoon of Jan. 30, 2014, through the Navy Network Information Center in Norfolk, Virginia — which handles all Navy Internet traffic for the Eastern seaboard.
That required Smith to contact the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, where ultimately three NCIS special agents were assigned to the case.
Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora is interviewed
Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora is interviewed in his town hall office Wednesday, March 4.
(Photo: THOMAS P. COSTELLO / Staff Photographer)
On Sept. 15, Smith received a package from NCIS outlining the results of their investigation. Galloway’s profile on the Naval intranet, which included email boxes and operating system files, had revealed that Galloway had in his possession 99 email-related files referencing Spodofora.
According to the report, there were also 81 documents, 41 graphic files and three presentations in which Spodofora’s name appeared. There was also a “stolen valor” directory that Galloway had created that contained 40 files of which 26 referenced Spodofora. A copy of the mayor’s discharge papers from the Navy were also in the directory, as well as numerous images of Spodofora that had been digitally manipulated to make him appear as if he was a jungle warrior.
Stafford now had access to everyone Galloway communicated with about Spodofora, including Galloway’s inquiries about the mayor’s service within the Navy, to the American Legion, the U.S. Senate, Navy Seal record-keepers and other military officials.
More than three months after the investigation began, Detective Smith reported back to Spodofora on what they had found:
“Mr. Spodofora was advised that although numerous documents, articles, emails, photographs relating to Mr. Spodofora were discovered on Mr. Galloway’s Navy network computer, there lacked sufficient evidence to pursue charges of wrongful impersonation at this time regarding the fraudulent Facebook profile or the fraudulent Gmail account,” Smith’s report stated.
TIMELINE OF AN INQUIRY
Stafford Mayor John Spodofora used his Police Department to investigate a political foe. It soon became a federal investigation – of a Facebook parody.
Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
6/3/2014
June 3, 2014
Stafford Mayor John Spodofora meets with Police Chief Joseph Giberson and Detective Drew Smith about “fraudulent Facebook page with his name and likeness.”
Source: Investigation report by Det. Drew Smith, Stafford Township Police Department
Graphic by: Jeff Colson
Smith asked Spodofora to alert police if he had any additional evidence of “pecuniary loss or loss of reputation.”
The mayor said he had no such evidence. Spodofora raised the issue of whether he could pursue federal charges against Galloway for using his Navy computer to investigate him — a potential violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan politics.
Smith replied that was not within the jurisdiction of the Stafford Police Department — and the mayor dropped the matter, according to the police report.
Councilman Mancini said the six-member Township Council was never informed about the existence of such an investigation.
“There was no official record or any indication that such action was taken by our police department and certainly, I have not seen any copy of a report,” Mancini said.
Meanwhile, Spodofora said he was given copies of everything Galloway had on him that was stored on the Navy’s computer network.
“I have everything that NCIS pulled off of the government computer and there is absolutely campaigning going on in a partisan election against me on Earl Galloway’s government computer,” Spodofora said.
“I have them,” the mayor said. “I have a copy of them. In the last election, they were telling people not to vote for me and bashing me pretty good.”

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One thought on “Mayor John Spodofora secretly uses police to launch inquiry of political opponent

  1. […] claims.  We have published the case of Stafford Township mayor John Spodofora several times here and […]

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