COMMENTARY: Keeping you confidential

June 4, 2008

By THE EDITORS

Internet journalism and Web sites like this wade through uncharted legal and ethical waters.

One of the first difficult issues to surface related to the content not of our news articles, but to the readers’ comments that the news generated. Sometimes edgy, sometimes salty, sometimes border-line idiotic, these comments are nevertheless informative, interesting, fun. We delete only under the most extreme circumstances.

And then a second, more important, concern raised its head: Is the identity of authors who post comments fair game for anyone who might make such a demand?

UncoveredSLO.com said no. We treat our readers’ comments as information from confidential sources.

A series of articles by UncoveredSLO.com May 15-17 generated a flood of comments from readers, many of whom were worried investors.

Our emerging policy was put to a quick test when a posting by “Gloria” suggested that local elite developers and banks might be behaving questionably.

The e-mail contained numbers described as belonging to “secret accounts” at some local banks. We quickly heard from officials at Heritage Oaks Bank. Then, a person describing himself as a spokesman for developers Ronald W. Hertel and Robert JS Fowler wrote an e-mail claiming the numbers in question belonged to them.

Both the bank and the developers demanded IP [Internet provider] addresses of posting individuals. We agreed to obfuscate the numbers; we vigorously declined to provide the IP addresses.

Here’s the posting that started a fascinating and educational exchange:

May 17, 2008

“Gloria says:

“You’re all on the right track, but the monies are moving faster than you know. Here at Heritage Oaks are some of the secret accounts #’s 117XX, 329XX ($2,700,941.25) 7075XXX, 7073XXX, 285496XXX, 7406XXX, 7074XXX and the list goes on and on and on not to mention other financial and banking firms. SLO-HAAS, LLC and Atascadero Ventures, LLC are two of many fronts for developers to open and hide illegal monies and launder assets. Federal Tax ID # 77-0582XXX keep in mind some banking officials have gotten some kick backs to conceal real owners of accounts and conceal monies from all of these joint scams, your correct it is a Ponzi con.”

In our wildest dreams, we could not have predicted the e-mails and phone calls that would follow:

Here’s an e-mail from Heritage Oaks Bank’s Senior Vice President and Risk Manager William R. Raver, May 20, 2008

“Good evening:

“I am just following up on my earlier e-mails and telephone calls to you. Are you willing to redact the private information posted to your blog site? Are you willing to cooperate in investigating the source of the information disclosed?

“If I cannot resolve this privately, I will have no choice but to involve law enforcement. As the editors of the site, you are responsible to insure that the site is not used illegally by third parties. I need to have your response to my query by Wednesday morning, as I will have to notify the affected parties (who will probably want to pursue their own legal remedies) and take whatever steps are necessary to prevent further dissemination of non-public personal information.”

A few days later the following e-mail arrived, from someone identifying himself both as “Ed Rollins” and “Ed Rollings.”

“Dear UncoveredSLO.com:

“We are writing to you in regard to confidential information that has been posted on your website. The information pertains to Heritage Oaks bank account numbers as well as federal tax ID #’s and Social Security numbers belonging to Mr. Robert JS Fowler and Mr. Ronald W. Hertel. This information has been posted in several forums including: “Inside EFI: An Investors Nightmare” posted May 17; “Inside EFI: Under the Microscope,” posted May 18; “Banks on thin ice after risky loans to developer” posted May18 by “Anonymous” and May 19 by David G.

“We realize that you have partially blocked out the account numbers; however a complete deletion of the entry is requested. The continued advertisement of this information violates personal privacy laws and assists in identity theft, a federal crime. Entries containing this information were posted on TOPIX.com and COMPLAINTSBOARD.com. The site editors immediately complied with our request and are willing to provide any information necessary in the prosecution of person/s involved with the assimilation and release of said information. Removing this information from your site will only serve to increase your site’s reputation as a forum for honest and ethical communication. Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.”

There was no prompt attention to this request.

Readers, please note: Once you post, your comment becomes part of the public dialog thread that follows. Our policy is not to remove posts unless we deem them to be vulgar or completely tasteless; posted with an attempt to defame; or completely out of place. We are not responsible for the postings of our readers. Nor will we comply with demands to remove an entry, or to divulge its author.


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5 Comments

  1. ccn_debate says:

    Member Opinions:
    By: Anonymous on 7/31/08
    As a News story broke out of Ventura, yesterday on this Hertel and his cohorts, it is also on The Trib's web site as well all over the media and internet RW Hertel is facing judgments, liens, defaults, and loss of license for legal troubles and bank loan failures.
    By: Anonymous on 7/4/08
    Barb's Friend says:

    Barb:

    Many of the posts trying to link Hertel related entities are all from a certain con man whom Dan Blackburn wrote a cover story about for the New Times in April of 2004. Since moving to town, all he's done is move from one con to another. His next one is to dupe EFI investors a second time. Be wary as to any of the info you take from bloggers. Give Dan a call and he'll be happy to feed you more information.
    By: Anonymous on 6/13/08
    As was recently posted a Notice of Default was served on Atascadero Ventures, LLC for slightly over 21 Million in loan defaults. I checked into this and is does check out the Bank you had listed earlier oddly enough had moved over 21 Million into some accounts controlled by these people then Karen says she has lost that very same amount ?
    By: Anonymous on 6/12/08
    Hey, if you did not know several of these bad companies are all secretly using Summerwind Investors, LLC as a conduit to conceal and more monies. Hertel, Karen, Rossi, Atascadero Ventures, LLC VERDOT Group, LP 5 Mile Bridge , SLO-HAAS, LLC etc are using this to move and hide your monies with two local banks.It is all part of a really big Real Estate Con game.
    By: Anonymous on 6/10/08
    FYI, Your posting on RW Hertel and Atascadero Vwentures, LLC etc.. are all correct the County Clerks office told me over $20,000,000.00 in defaults notices were filed on them for failure to pay Doc # 2008023194 and Dco#2008023195 so the moving of monies with HOB is true and the fraud as well…
    By: Anonymous on 6/7/08
    Iran needs to be mad einto a glass ashtray!
    Somebody with some guts better push that button before it's too late!
    FDR waited too long…6 million jews were killed before he woke up!
    By: Anonymous on 6/6/08
    sm bill is full of s#%t and so is congalton. Marxists!
    This site rocks…boycot kvec!

    (-1) 1 Total Votes - 0 up - 1 down
  2. ccn_debate says:

    By: Anonymous on 6/6/08
    ISRAEL WILL.
    http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/meast/06/06/israel….
    Go to cnn dot com, it's under todays (06/06/08) world news heading.
    By: Anonymous on 6/6/08
    Anonymous says:

    Newsome:

    When Bush declairs Marshall law after the invasion of Iran (per SM Bill),Haliburton will be a bargain @ $49

    If we were to attack Iran, might as well buy your bike and get the horses ready. Iran is huge and the mullhas are just hoping we would do such a stupid thing. Fortunatley Bush does not have either public or military support for such foolish move. Relax, we are over extended as is dealing with Iraq.
    By: Anonymous on 6/6/08
    Newsome:

    When Bush declairs Marshall law after the invasion of Iran (per SM Bill),Haliburton will be a bargain @ $49

    Tinfoil stock will soar as well. Does Walmart stock tinfoil and the hats to mount it on?
    By: Anonymous on 6/6/08
    10,000 shares of Halliburton at $49.xx seems as good an idea as giving your money to Karen Guth to watch over.

    I missed Congálto yesterday, but I do not believe Halliburton is a good play right now as it is trading near its 52-week high. More, importantly, perhaps, is its unknowable future in the middle east.
    By: Anonymous on 6/6/08
    Geez, Sorry I asked.
    By: Anonymous on 6/6/08
    OK, enough talk about SM Bill and Dave. This blog should be about the news article. We are passionate on both sides and no sense wasting space here on this issue.
    If Uslo does an article about Bill or Dave we can spout off to our heart's content.
    But keep in mind; the left never accuses the right of hating America. The right has no cause to do that to the left, none whatsoever. If one wants to pursue this I'm sure Dave would allow a show on it.
    By: Anonymous on 6/6/08
    I listened to SM Bill last nite on the Dave C. Show.

    I'm buying 10,000 shares of Haliburton.

    I'm also Buying an equal amount of Alcoa, the largest manufacturer of tinfoil. Balance
    By: Anonymous on 6/5/08
    What bad things have I ever said about Santa Maria Bill? Show me one thing. You can't. I have never tried to discredit him or tried to keep him quite. For that matter, I would like to see any one show me where I have told an untruth about Santa Maria Bill. What Santa Maria Bill says on or off the radio has no meaning or bearing on me or my life, his opinion about things are meaningless to me. I have never tried to disprove him, debate him or slander him in any way. So please before you accuse me of anything, please check past posting.

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  3. ccn_debate says:

    By: Anonymous on 6/5/08
    So much errata and no action.
    By: Anonymous on 6/5/08
    "Hot Dog", your comments about SM Bill are proven by the reaction of "David."
    By: Anonymous on 6/5/08
    Good for you guys to be bullied or threatened into investigating wrong doing. I see yesterday The Trib had a story on Las Robles Del mar going to sue the City of Pismo, i see once again as i spoke to the City officials and did a public search the same people are behind this as well that being SLO-HAAS, LLC a RW Hertel group and owners being Robert JS Fowler and Ron Hertel with partner's : Larry Persons and Bryan Troxler. I see where the State CSLB has posted their license 683494 is now subject to suspension over unpaid civil judgments. Great Expose on them this is the same builder/developer Fish and Game Warden Toggnazzini asked to be charged in Atatscadero with illegal dirt dumping in the river. Do NOT back off the truth will come out.
    By: Anonymous on 6/5/08
    To Curious Ann,
    Santa Maria Bill is often on the Congalton show on KVEC, as host or caller. He is a passionate voice for progressive issues and knows his stuff, unlike many from the 'other side'. His viewpoints enrage right wing elements of society here, and it is obvious why. He is strong, has his facts right and doesn't spew nonsense. Politics governs our lives and he is very partisan on one side so the other side takes great delight in throwing mud in his direction, usually in a childish and futile attempt to discredit him. Where others shout out emotional responses to current and past events he uses facts and intellect to back up his positions.
    By: Anonymous on 6/5/08
    "Gloria's" published account numbers is just a bunch of numbers strung together, AFAIK. To protect privacy, the numbers could have been randomized or a digit transposed, or whatever. But that would require the site admin to go in and do that. Which, I would guess, gives them some culpability in other blog related issues that they failed to "properly" administer.

    I predict that as this site gets polarized, off-topic, and a free-for-all it will lose its relevance. At least for reasonable people. Like me. That will be sad, because I truly enjoy reading the reasoned opinions of others here.

    On another note:

    I strongly support the notion of anonymous posting, because it allows the discussion of an idea, rather than the discussion of whether you agree with a particular person or what you think s/he stands for.

    By: Anonymous on 6/5/08
    On this site, nobody gives a crap about Santa Maria Bill or Dave Congelton. Go to his blog if you want to vent. This is about local journalism.
    By: Anonymous on 6/5/08
    Who is Santa Maria Bill? This sounds interesting.
    By: Anonymous on 6/5/08
    To John Galt. What does SM Bill have to do with any of this? Uslo has stated they may delete unrelated comments, I suppose you fall under that heading. I guess you don't like SM Bill, that's your right. And you are off base, he is a very knowledgeable patriot. He doesn't spout off silly dogma, he tells the truth supported by historical facts. I vote for SM Bill for president.

    And for the blogger who said Uslo has to beg for money; they never do. I often mention that readers should contribute to Uslo for their service to the community. Their articles have been invaluable to many folks here, especially the victims of the crooks in north county selling TD investments. Uslo illuminates many issues ignored by our regular press.
    You nay sayers read their articles-I rest my case.

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  4. ccn_debate says:

    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    This site is protected by the "Freedom of Information Act". They have a Pro Bono Attorney". Contrary to what you might think, not all attorneys are blinkity balnks.
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    If you say you are all for free speech, then why do my posts regarding Santa Maria Bill from the Dave Congalton Show keep getting deleted? I have posted nothing but the truth that anyone could find this info out and Santa Maria Bill if they wanted to do the digging. Why do you keep supressing the truth about Santa Maria Bill? I have never revealed any private information about Santa Maria Bill only public knowledge that can be found out by anyone.
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    What about Rossi, Wittstrom and filliponi in that mess, with hertel across the road from 5 mile vineyard.??
    Any info on them? R they connected? Jerrald
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    The old west had no Black Heicopters and such…guess weed wsn't as available back in those days

    Tinfoil hats weren't needed either, but not the majority here seem to sport one. Heh, heh
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    It's almost comical reading these blogs. It's like the old west but now on the internet. Who's the bad guys? Who's the good guys? The verbal shootings in many uncoveredslo blogs supply justice to many who need it. Gloria may be found out and fired but without her, the truth may never have been known. Our justice system is devised in such a way that white collar criminals walk and the average Joe can't do anything about it. These blogs again allow the little guy to become the old west hero by shooting off at the right time! Thanks to Karen, Dan and all bloggers with accurate information!
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    The story does not say that any and all info can be posted. I have witnessed a number of posts disappear. I like the fact that we can all give our point of view without fear of others getting our names. I do agree some info should be kept private.
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    Your blogs so often wander off subject, and are so prone to being used as a place to launch personal attacks that I rarely waste the time to read them. It's awonder anyone with a real life bothers with this website at all. Seems like the "Deal or No Deal" of journalism, All Hype.
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    The impression that readers, whether maliciously or with good intent, can post ANY and ALL private information on UncoveredSLO is not a healthy direction for the blog.

    If the private information is potentially useful as background for a journalistic effort, is it of equal value to blog readers? I question that assumption, which is one of UncoveredSLO's premises.

    Readers with information have other options. They can contact the editors directly via email with private information, they can contact P.I.s or the D.A. directly (especially if UncoveredSLO posted their contact info), and they can ask the editors to privately forward info to the affected parties.

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  5. ccn_debate says:

    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    I have no problem with the admins blocking the numbers…they should have. What is more disconcerting is the fact that people here feel it is fine to do something like that in the first place. You cannot sacrifice privacy just because everyone suspects you of wrongdoing. She could have easily contacted the investors and their attorneys through e-mails that were posted here. The larger issue for HO is that anyone that banks there now has a concern about how safe their information is. HO would be crazy not to do everything in their power to find "Gloria", not to protect just a couple account holders, but to insure the rest that the privacy of their financial information is valued.
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    Another great report, Guys. Thanks!
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    I wouldn't be surprised to see this site find itself in lawsuit hell with some of the anonymous comments posted here. A site that has to beg its readers for donations just to stay open is certainly not going to have the resources to survive a litigation blitz, and I think Heritage Oaks Bank, Hertel, etc. know it.
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    To Alpha Blog,
    I agree that there were other avenues that could have been taken. The fact is that a person inside the bank felt that they had pertinent information that could help investors. They posted it on this site in a blog. The administrators of this blog redacted some of the #'s so that real account #'s wouldn't be available in there entirety. That should have been the end of it but it wasn't. The bank (and others)wanted the entire post removed. It didn't happen and there is no reason why it should have been removed. Many people appreciated Gloria's information. Take it or leave it but don't threaten to call the police and demand the persons identity. What a joke.
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    What about your freedom to privacy? Would you now trust any of these institutions with your information? What if the general public "thinks" you have done something wrong? Is that a good enough reason to share your private information for all to see. I don't agree. There were other avenues that could be taken before this information was placed on the blog.
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    It would appear that Gloria exposed real account #'s in her May 17, 2007 post. What we don't know is if there was any real cause to consider her post to contain any clandestine revelations. We really can't make that jump. I'm please that Dan & Karen are standing up to any one who thinks they can silence or bully us or our right to free speech and freedom of the press.Carry On.
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    Hey, Those secret accounts belong to Hertel and Fowler! Hertel built a bunch of junk homes on Jardin and then ran off leaving us holding the bag. The Atascadero Planning dept let him cut corners and now he is showing up as someone with a secret account at HOB.. Did you all read this commentary? I'm pissed. Thank You Dan and Karen for being so forth coming.
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    Thanks Karen & Dan. I wouldn't have expected anything less from you. Post on bloggers and tell us everything!
    By: Anonymous on 6/4/08
    How do we want an honest discussion if we need to wo about the 'WRONG DOERS" able to attack. If eritage Oaks Bank was or is not hiding anything, why should they bother? On the other hand they may be complicit to some degree.

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