The Potential FBI Case Against Karen Velie

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since CalCoastNews reported on March 25 that District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill’s home was searched by the FBI, several anonymous accounts and key evidence linked to CCN co-founder Karen Velie were removed. Concerned that she was potentially spoliating evidence during a criminal investigation, I decided to release my unredacted report on Velie for public consumption.

CalCoastNews co-founder and publisher Karen Velie engaged in abuse of process and coercion in sweeping and extensive faction, oftentimes weaponizing her website CalCoastNews.com to influence public opinion, denigrate personal and professional reputations of actual and perceived political adversaries. Evidence of these practices began to surface in early 2014.

In March 2014, a confidential source contacted me with an allegation about Velie compromising then-State Senate Sam Blakeslee. The source, who had several conversations with Blakeslee’s then-wife Kara Woodruff, alleged that Velie uncovered an extramarital affair Blakeslee had with his former Chief of Staff Christine Robertson. I reached out to Blakeslee and Woodruff for comment at the time, but never received a response. Around that time, I publicly asked for tips about this potentially explosive lead but had not stated for certain that Velie attempted to blackmail Blakeslee. Given the lack of engagement from the alleged victims, I presumed the allegation lacked merit and decided to publicly disclose what was alleged for transparency purposes.

Since then, I learned that Blakeslee had/has a working relationship with Velie as an advertiser for CalCoastNews (Blakeslee & Blakeslee), a student in her Bridge class, witness in her 2013 criminal trial and was sought for a declaration in her unsuccessful lawsuits against District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill. The extent of their relationship remains unclear.

In May 2014, I served as a writer, web and graphic designer for Information Press, a monthly news and information magazine serving California’s Central Coast since 1991. Soon after Information Press’ publisher Sandra Marshall announced her bid for Congress, Velie contacted Marshall. On Saturday, May 10, Marshall called me to relay the conversation she had with Velie. Velie reportedly claimed she had evidence I was posting and maintaining my Facebook page, “Cal Coast Fraud,” on company time; that I was using my salary pay for operating the page, therefore my employer was susceptible to a libel lawsuit. Velie reportedly suggested that Marshall would face retaliation in the form of unfavorable coverage of her congressional campaign on CalCoastNews and litigation if she didn’t cater to her demands. Her demands reportedly included cash payments, disciplinary action and termination of my employment. Velie reportedly admitted that the idea to contact Marshall originated from her close friend and local radio show host Dave Congalton. In an email I saw between Velie and Marshall, Velie identified attorney James Duenow as a point of contact for her scheme.

Velie reportedly expressed her displeasure about my comments about Blakeslee, falsely accusing me of stating as undisputed fact that she “blackmailed” him. Given the ferocious extent of her protest, I believe the original allegation I received may have validity.

Marshall told me she felt “coerced” after Velie reportedly threatened “to go after” her family and my family. Marshall and I were concerned about our families’ personal safety and believed she was potentially violent. Velie reportedly made threatening remarks about my father, falsely claiming to Marshall that he “assaulted” her. After learning that Marshall promised to communicate with Velie further and place online surveillance on me without my knowledge or consent, I decided to leave Information Press out of an abundance of caution for my family’s safety.

In August 2014, a reddit user named “lightsofslo” created an account solely to disparage San Luis Obispo resident Kenny McCarthy and myself. Velie and “lightsofslo” had personally and exclusively accused McCarthy of being an “administrator” of Cal Coast Fraud to Marshall. In a now-deleted comment, the user also accused me of “sucking dick for coke.” The specificity of these allegations, including the allegation that I falsely accused Velie of blackmailing Blakeslee, led me to believe Velie was the author behind “lightsofslo.” I believe a legal subpoena to reddit would more likely than not confirm this reasonable suspicion.

In February 2015, Velie sent me an email, “How do you respond to allegations you are a government troll?” without any context provided. The email demonstrated that Velie had no interest in performing due diligence or research into the unsourced allegation. Following that email was an anonymous robocall that was dispatched to residents in Morro Bay, California with a number of obscene, unverified and false allegations.

The same day Velie sent the email, CalCoastNews published an article echoing the robocall allegations. The “government troll” allegation originated from comments Velie made in 2013 on the “Dave Congalton Show,” falsely claiming I was paid by Supervisor Hill to criticize CalCoastNews. In the article, I was accused of “impersonating” Velie either as “lightsofslo” or had used image editing software to make it appear Velie was “lightsofslo.”

I was able to trace the image editing accusation to a now-deleted Facebook account named “Robert Mason.” Prior to CalCoastNews publishing their “government troll” article in Feb. 2015, “Mason” falsely accused me of “criminal impersonation” and “photo shopp[ing] a reporters [sic] name on a Reddit post then posted it around the web claiming it was the reporter.” The account also repeated an allegation that I was working with Tribune columnist Tom Fulks, Supervisor Hill and PG&E Director of Government Affairs Tom Jones to “use [me] to do their dirty work.” These allegations would appear on CalCoastNews almost in verbatim from accounts “JordanJ,” “PaulJones,” “Nancy” and “IronHub.” I am confident a legal subpoena issued to CalCoastNews’ Internet Service Provider and WordPress database would properly and thoroughly uncover that Velie has authored multiple anonymous pseudonyms.

In late February 2015, the CalCoastNews pseudonym “Nancy” falsely claimed that I was hired by the City of San Luis Obispo to “teach extended city employee education classes for ‘canned’ computer programs.” This allegation came ten days after a “Andres Guzman” sent an email to the SLO City Council, accusing me of “spen[ding] the last two years working on shutting down Calcoastnews, spreading lies of mental illness, fake Photoshop, Facebook harassment and other Gamergate behaviors.” Once again, the allegations mirror ones that Velie has exclusively made. Monica Irons, City of SLO’s Director of Human Resources, corrected the person. Also in late February, the account “MarkJames” mentioned contacting two of my former employers.

In April 2015, CalCoastNews published an op-ed allegedly by Los Osos resident Sandra Hedges, who was a family acquaintance at the time. The op-ed falsely claimed that unnamed people “turned the Ochs [family] into multiple law enforcement agencies and adult protective services.” Hedges denied writing and/or sending any op-ed to CalCoastNews, but complained she was being “bothered” by Velie. Also in April 2015, SLO County Social Services received an anonymous tip from someone claiming I was “depressed” as a result of unflattering coverage by CalCoastNews, therefore I allegedly posted a health and safety risk to my aunt Linda Arment. A case worker arrived at my home, decided the tip lacked merit and closed the case. The case worker claimed the tipster mentioned my mother being “addicted.” In November 15, “JordanJ” on CalCoastNews revealed specific allegations the tipster had made from an alleged “neighbor” of ours. In Nov. 20, Los Osos resident Peggy Pavek mentioned “word got around that one of [my] neighbors” called Social Services. Pavek stated, “I told the person (who relayed the story to me) that was an outright lie,” but never mentioned the person’s name. I believe that in deposition and under oath, Pavek would reveal that Velie was the person she spoke to.

In June 2015, CalCoastNews’ pro bono private investigator Mike Brennler arrived at my parents’ home searching for me. According to my father Ed Ochs, Brennler acted in a way that “clearly intended to put a scare into our entire family.” Revealing that he was acting as a process server to hand-deliver me a “legal document,” Brennler “became aggressive and tried to intimidate [Mr. Ochs] by threatening that Aaron was in serious trouble, and that if I didn’t tell him where Aaron was he was going to ask my neighbors about Aaron.” Before meeting with Brennler to retrieve the document, which was a correction and retraction demand letter (not a “legal document”), I had a conversation with Brennler by phone. After he told me, “I will keep coming to your house until you’re properly served and you leave Karen [Velie] alone,” I told him by phone to not return to my parents’ home, citing safety concerns. In 2017, Brennler testified under oath that he obtained an illegal recording of my conversation with him on my private property without my consent. Despite telling him not to return, Brennler visited my parents again in Sept. 2016 with a deposition subpoena. I had a conversation by phone with Brennler after my father told me he was threatened. In that conversation, Brennler threatened to “hunt [me] down” and accused me of avoiding service process. He demanded to know where I worked and I refused to provide him that information, stating that his client Velie is mentally unstable and has previously harassed my former employer.

Based on physical and circumstantial evidence I gathered in 2015, I concluded at the time that Velie had carried out her threats against my family by weaponizing CalCoastNews as a platform for disinformation, using various social engineering methods — including but not limited to frequent usage of fictional personas and actual individuals — to enhance the disinformation, artificially generate contempt and ridicule among readers and cripple my economic prospects. Velie also used this disinformation as a false pretext to harm my family. Since Arment had a mental disability, Velie’s actions could qualify for criminal prosecution on disability abuse.

Above I described the harassment and defamation my family and I endured by Velie, and I will provide an explanation how that information is relevant to additional coercion causes of action.

In October 2016, I was subpoenaed to testify in a deposition as a witness in a defamation lawsuit filed against Velie and CalCoastNews by Arroyo Grande businessman Charles Tenborg. CalCoastNews’ purpose was to determine and validate the conspiracy theory that the creation of Cal Coast Fraud and my criticism of the website was part of an ongoing campaign to “destroy” their website. The questions I was asked indicate that they were trying to establish my role in allegedly supporting the lawsuit at Tenborg and/or Hill’s behest. Velie and CalCoastNews co-founder Daniel Blackburn were visibly frustrated with the answers I was providing. They would, in turn, publish an article that liberally and falsely paraphrased my testimony in lieu of providing a court transcript. I contacted Velie by phone, demanded corrections and the public release of the transcript. Velie admitted she wrote falsehoods because I “said [she] was mentally ill.” Velie would later categorize the call as “threatening” under oath, falsely claiming I called her around Christmas 2016. I provided the court with phone records that thoroughly disputed her account.

In 2017, a letter purportedly written by then-CCN editor Bill Loving was delivered to James Wagstaffe, attorney for Tenborg, with false claims about my father and I. Without evidence, the letter accused me — without evidence — of being part of the “Hill gang” and a “Tenborg/Hill-orchestrated gambit to stop CCN from having the money to fund its defense.” In addition to falsely accusing me of “cheering on” harassment and sexual degradation of reporters and their adult children and falsely accusing my father of “parking his car in front of [Velie’s] house,” the letter was largely an incoherent rant. However, despite having shown no evidence I was involved in Tenborg’s case, Loving used false allegations as leverage against Tenborg.

“At this late juncture in the litigation, my clients would still be willing to meet with you in a confidential mediation where a confidential resolution of this matter could be achieved, dismissing the underlying lawsuit and the defendants waiving pursuit of an abuse of process and/or malicious prosecution action with each sidebearing their own attorneys’ fees and costs.” Despite mentioning that he had “clients” in context of legal representation, Loving was and is not licensed to practice law in the state of California. This detail and the repeated allegations exclusively made by Velie led me to believe that once again, Velie was impersonating an actual individual to coerce and manipulate an outcome in her favor.

In July 2017, Velie attempted to file a restraining order against me after I took a photo of her at the courthouse and asked her three questions pertaining to Tenborg lawsuit, which she lost and was ordered to pay $1.1 million in damages. In evaluating the totality of her testimony, evidence and witnesses, Judge Charles Crandall determined her case lacked merit and dismissed the petition. As the underlying justification for her allegations, Velie claimed she filed “multiple” police reports against my father and I for stalking and harassment, but Crandall could not find any such report. The sole witness she cited in her case could not recall and corroborate her claim that I threatened her and ran out of the courthouse with a bailiff chasing me. She stated in her petition that she wanted me to stop writing about her.

I determined that Velie manipulated and abused the legal process in an unsuccessful attempt to quash my First Amendment rights and procure a permanent stain of my personal and professional reputation. Since then, Velie has falsely accused me of expressing a desire to throw bleach in her daughter’s eyes in writing despite physical evidence stating otherwise and using a Facebook account named “Peter Gerold.” After Gerold claimed to be a resident of Cambria, I performed a background check and found no such resident named Peter Gerold resided in Cambria.

In May 2018, I obtained a leaked draft of a letter from Tenborg to the SLO County Integrated Waste Management Authority. Tenborg wrote, “Last fall in an attempt to gain back her credibility, Ms. Velie demanded that I pay her $1 million and help overturn the court judgment against her. If I refused, she threatened to continue to harass me, my company and the IWMA. Since then, Velie filed a lawsuit against Tenborg, which was dismissed.

Since late 2016, Velie has filed a flurry of lawsuits against various people she believed wronged her. In late 2016, Velie filed a federal lawsuit against Supervisor Hill, alleging Hill and county officials including SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson were retaliating against her for her coverage. The case was dismissed with prejudice. Velie re-filed her lawsuit in Superior Court in February 2017. The case was dismissed in 2019. Then Velie filed her appeal in March 2020. The appeal remains ongoing. And in March 2018, Velie sued her libel trial attorneys David Vogel and Berndt Ingo Brauer for malpractice. The malpractice suit remains ongoing.

In late 2019, I looked into the possibility of Velie potentially funneling payments to a shell company in order to avoid paying most of the legal damages she owes while harvesting a slush fund. Despite repeatedly claiming poverty in various debtor exams, Velie has retained a revolving door of attorneys from reputable business litigation firms in Los Angeles without a known funding source. For a while, Velie tapped into a CalCoastNews Legal Defense Fund, which was organized and coordinated by Arroyo Grande residents Mark and Julie London. However, Velie retained representation for costly legal endeavors in appellate court and, at one point, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2018, I learned from a confidential source that former District Attorney candidate Judge Mike Cummins donated $1,000 to Velie to write and promote an article targeting his then-political opponent and incumbent Dan Dow. The article in question was targeting Tracy Nix, an expert witness for the District Attorney who CalCoastNews claimed falsified her qualifications. The donation was made to a company called Cal Coast Press.

Cal Coast Press was incorporated in August 2017, one month after CalCoastNews lost their defamation lawsuit. Around this time, CalCoastNews transferred ownership of their website domain to Cayucos businessman Dennis Pfister and attempted to migrate to a new site called Cal Coast Times, which mirrors CalCoastNews and remains active. According to two sources familiar with his lawsuit, Tenborg tried unsuccessfully to serve Pfister with a subpoena for domain records. The intent was to investigate CalCoastNews.com as a potential asset for liquidation in the event that Velie is unable to pay her judgment debt.

In Sept. 2017, CalCoastNews writer Josh Friedman argued the move was done “to provide local news without fear of reprisal against reporters,” adding that users were concerned they would become “targets of harassment if their personal information became known to Hill, Ochs or Tenborg.” However, CalCoastNews never fully transitioned to Cal Coast Times and both sites remain active as of April 2020. To date, CalCoastNews has not publicly confirmed the existence of Cal Coast Press.

Cal Coast Press is registered as a limited liability company through a registration agent service out of Redding, California. The listed manager for the company is an individual named Sofia Garcia. The address listed is 1241 Johnson Ave #103 in San Luis Obispo. The address belongs to The UPS Store. According to the UPS Store, P.O. Box 103 is not registered under Sofia Garcia. This indicates Velie also goes by the CalCoastNews pseudonym “sgarcia.” The allegations made by that account are ones uniquely similar to ones made by “Andres Guzman” to the City of San Luis Obispo and “lightsofslo” on reddit.

I’ve determined the existence of Cal Coast Press and the use of a false name as a managing member of the LLC violates the spirit of the provisions set forth in Cal. Corp. Code § 17702.01. In Left Coast Wrestling, LLC v. Dearborn Int’l LLC, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35255, Chief District Court Judge Larry Alan Burns discussed the false representation on an LLC form as legally problematic as the falsification could be used to avoid process service or claim they were never properly served. Given Velie had previously bragged on the “Dave Congalton Show” about being skilled at avoiding process service, I believe her intentions are apparent. Corporations Code Section 17702.07(c) also provides provides that an individual who signs a record authorized or required to be filed under the California Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act “affirms under penalty of perjury that the information stated in the record is accurate.” Given Velie’s record of committing perjury on the stand, I believe the illegality is intentional.

CONCLUSION

There is substantial and credible evidence to show Karen Velie routinely engages in calculated and manipulative social engineering campaigns of coercion and attempted extortion to smear alleged political adversaries. Velie’s clear intention is to silence dissent, bury criminal allegations against her, and receive payment through ill-gotten gains and vexatious litigation.

A rigorous discovery process and depositions would likely uncover an extensive network of deception, a clear pattern of criminal harassment and cyber-stalking. But for current circumstances, it would be important to focus on examining the validity of Velie as a source in a criminal investigation with special consideration for possible evidence tampering.

Based on an extensive record of her personal misconduct, I have reason to believe Velie is mentally unstable and dangerous. I’m confident in my layman assessment that she should undergo psychiatric evaluation. Unless Velie is subjected to criminal investigation, prosecution and imprisonment, she will continue to act maliciously and illegally with impunity.

Marketing entrepreneur and columnist from Morro Bay, California.

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