The day this news site’s world stood still

January 21, 2009
Online problems can come from many directions.

Online problems can come from many directions.

By THE EDITORS

On a warm afternoon last August, this news site nearly died. It is only because of a considerable confluence of coincidental events, and perhaps some kind of divine intervention, that we are here today to report the events that almost assigned us to history.

UncoveredSLO.com, this site’s predecessor, was just six months old, but already our reporting was irritating some of the county’s most sacred cows. Our work was exposing for the first time the interlaced and problematic relationships between money lenders, developers, and others who then enjoyed favorable reputations, and who were operating without scrutiny. We were hearing threats from bankers. We were receiving vitriolic and anonymous e-mails and postings on the site. And we were getting menacing missives from lawyers. In a word, UncoveredSLO was then, as now, controversial.

Then came the late Friday phone call from Utah-based Heritage Web Solutions, at that time UncoveredSLO’s Web provider. They were just letting us know that they had received a complaint about a reader’s blog comment, and so, as of an hour earlier, UncoveredSLO.com no longer existed. We had been purged from the Web. No further explanation would be forthcoming.

That was a stunning and disturbing announcement. But here’s the coincidence: We were right in the middle of changing our brand to CalCoastNews.com, and shifting to a new Web provider to better accommodate our growing site. We thus avoided extinction, like a lucky sleepwalker in traffic, by a matter of hours.

But who had done this? Why? And… if this kind of easy assassination is the future of online journalism, isn’t this emerging technology-aided craft doomed to whimsical destruction?

With the help of San Luis Obispo attorney Michael R. Pick of James McKiernan Lawyers, we were able to learn that Heritage Web Solutions had received a letter from B. Alan Bergfeld, representing Point Center Financial Inc. (PCF), in Aliso Viejo. Bergfeld contended that a reader’s comment on hard-money lending practices “contains defamatory remarks made against PCF, which are untrue and with no factual basis whatsoever. Those comments appear at URL http:/www.uncoveredslo.com/id=103&showEntry=1.”

After threatening liability, Bergfeld demanded that Heritage Web Solutions immediately remove the “offensive” post. Heritage Web Solution’s response was to surreptitiously torpedo UncoveredSLO.com.

That wasn’t his intention in contacting Heritage Web Solutions, Bergfeld said this week.

“I’m sorry about that,” he said. “But discussions don’t seem to go very far when we try to contact people for a retraction. We contacted them [Heritage Web Solutions] only to remove the post, not to take any other action. I can’t help what they do. But I am sorry about what they did.”

(In many ways, Bergfeld’s argument about retractions holds water. Old, long-settled legal issues face brand new interpretation in an Internet world that didn’t exist a short time ago. However, current court precedent holds that comments posted by readers on a Web site are the responsibility of the posting parties, not the Web site owners.)

Mentioned prominently in the reader comment which generated PCF’s interest is the name Ronald W. Hertel, owner of the development company RW Hertel and Sons. Bergfeld said Hertel “is a borrower of ours. Or was….”

Bergfeld also said he was motivated to contact UncoveredSLO’s Web provider not by Hertel, but by “corporate concern,” adding, “I personally have not spoken to Mr. Hertel in ages.” Bergfeld said his company “regularly does Web searches for postings we find to be inaccurate or offensive. Then we write one of these letters.”

The blindsiding cancellation came at a time when UncoveredSLO was reporting vigorously on a flock of local golden geese – including Estate Financial and Hurst hard money lenders, banks like Heritage Oaks, and Atascadero’s erstwhile “man of the year,” developer and borrower extraordinaire Kelly Gearhart. Bank officials were trying their best to intimidate us with ominous e-mails. Gearhart went on Dave Congalton’s Home Town Radio talk show to denounce our reporting as “lies” and “completely false.” His lawyer fired off back-to-back promises of pending litigation.

All the while, the local daily was spinning good news fairy tales about the county’s ever-worsening fiscal picture and regularly trying, without success, to discredit our reporting.

Heritage Web Solutions Legal Administrator Ryan Nelson said of his company’s cancellation of UncoveredSLO: “It’s a decision usually made by upper management. It depends on the liability posed to our company. If we think something violates our terms of service, then we are within our contractual right to terminate the relationship. We may take down a site at any time without notice.”

So that’s what Heritage Web Solutions did. And it happened right at a time when the minimal expenses of simply funding and establishing a new site was well out of reach for us. (Still might be.) But Fate intervened, as we already were settled on our new site.

For those who wish that we had been exterminated, too bad. Our new site’s contract helps protect us from capricious dispatch. And we know that our best defense is the truth.

Our most vociferous opponents during this financial freefall are either now in jail; under the microscope of state, federal, and local investigation; or simply reduced to sniping comment on this site under pseudonyms.

Meanwhile, our work as CalCoastNews continues.

Tags:None


Loading...

4 Comments

  1. ccn_debate says:

    Member Opinions:
    By: shingh on 4/17/09
    Dear deepblue SLO the only information we know of is Palmer has died.
    By: shingh on 2/4/09
    Cindy, your gotta read this weeks Pacific Coast Business Times, very revealing story on this Santa Margarita Ranch and Hertel partner Robert Fowler owing big back taxes to the State or rather to us Tax paying Citizens, then I read where he and partners donated big monies to Congressman McCarthy over the Ranch so he cheats the State and Tax payers and then donates money to McCarthy on getting the ranch deal done. I'm betting FEC Investigations are next, now that he and his co-con partner are in Bankruptcy.
    By: averagejo on 2/3/09
    WOW… Scott accusing other people of being cons. I recall a New Times cover story from April 7, 2004 titled "King Con". Guess who… Scott Barnes. Here's the link if you want to read something good (and see cute picture of Scott).

    http://archive.newtimesslo.com/archive/2004-04-07

    Apparently, he's spent a lifetime doing this sort of thing… pathetic!!!
    By: Joe on 1/30/09
    Well, lawyers need to do SOMETHING to keep those retainers looking like they are doing something.
    By: shingh on 1/30/09
    Wire service is reporting that RW Hertel & Sons, Inc. was placed into involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy assets are to be seized

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

    By: ronnieL on 1/29/09
    Karen, heard you on the Dave C show, picked my interest. I know of these Hertel and Fowler people there are rightly so many and I stress MANY people looking for them including the State Franchise Board after Robert & Sandra Fowler there FTB Acct # is 1209263774 as of yesterday they owe the State no less than $ 293,756.94 and counting, see recently recorded SLO Doc. # 2009003911 Public Notice to Collect Tax's then there is the HOB Loan # 32936 for over $7,000,000.00 they defaulted and keep the money, Doc # 200124910145, not to mention the Lawsuit Civ-08-0927 where they ripped off Pults firm for about $ 1,000,000.00 and his lawyer Collette Hillier is looking for them as well as Lookout Private Investigations for another client ripped off so the list is long and now the Tax people are going after them. Ron Hertel Sr. said in a court document he has no idea where his son Ron W. Hertel ran off too. ? I hope you help those who got screwed and the authorities are indeed after them as well, I had the chance to speak to a US Attorney this morning who confirmed they are hot on their trail the suits mounting up all over the State is unreal. Keep up the Expose on them and if any of you readers know where they are hiding call 1-916-845-4350 ask for the duty investigator on the Fowler Fraud case account # 1209263774 or call the Lawyers listed on the suits against them. As for this Wacko lawyer trying to stop you a case is being done on him as we speak.
    By: SLORider on 1/28/09
    "nearly died"? Oh, please, talk about drama. Web hosting is nearly free and can be switched in minutes. If your little web-pub was anything, you might consider getting your own server and co-locating it in a data center. I own my machine, why can't a real news publication?? Except most of what I've seen, this is barely more than a gossip site that pats itself on the back every time it pisses someone off. Well, good for you, but pissing people off doesn't constitute good journalism. That's just a measure of good gossip. Best of luck. I hope you succeed, but your product needs improving.
    By: DeepBlueSLO on 1/27/09
    Jayboyd – can you or anyone else please forward me any info about Eddie Iven Palmer, Alan Little, Linda Kennedy, or Carolyn Vickers (the appraiser).

    I am collecting info about their business operations and relationships. Please do not publicly publish anything that may invade their privacy or defame them – only truthful leads. Their attack dog, Kurt Burger, has a long leash.

    Just so everyone knows – Al Brill, Ventana Windows and Doors, and Scott Barnes lost their motion for Mr. Palmer's suit to be declared as a SLAPP. Watch your public comments closely or you may end up on the wrong side of Mr. Berger's subpoena.

    deepblueslo – at – yahoo – dot – com.
    By: jayboyd on 1/27/09
    Talk about trying to censor the media, shame on you people who hide. I see these bad boyz are named in the legal section of todays Tribune Summons and Suit against Ron Hertel Sandra Fowler and Robert Fowler and the many names they use to rip and scam people. If you know where these creeps are hiding call the name and number in the paper Susannah Dudley the Lawyer at 213-443-5100 apparently these guys have just about ripped everyone off. Now my husband tells me they are using Lawyer Kurt Berger to file false suits on behalf of some Convicted Fraud guy named Edward I Palmer and Robert Fowler is behind this, FYI my Husband is in Law Enforcement and knows of a investigation ongoing against these guys. So CalCoast fear not scums and convicts like Palmer and Fowler and Hertel and such will sooner or later get paid for there use of false pretenses. Berger is I'm told a coward and weakling and has done this before. Oh I too never heard of this Scott guy…
    By: jayboyd on 1/27/09
    Talk about trying to censor the media, shame on you people who hide. I see these bad boyz are named in the legal section of todays Tribune Summons and Suit against Ron Hertel Sandra Fowler and Robert Fowler and the many names they use to rip and scam people. If you know where these creeps are hiding call the name and number in the paper Susannah Dudley the Lawyer at 213-443-5100 apparently these guys have just about ripped everyone off. Now my husband tells me they are using Lawyer Kurt Berger to file false suits on behalf of some Convicted Fraud guy named Edward I Palmer and Robert Fowler is behind this, FYI my Husband is in Law Enforcement and knows of a investigation ongoing against these guys. So CalCoast fear not scums and convicts like Palmer and Fowler and Hertel and such will sooner or later get paid for there use of false pretenses. Berger is I'm told a coward and weakling and has done this before.
    By: Cindy on 1/24/09
    I just looked at the posts by the other names that nemesis claims are all Scott Barnes. If Mr Barnes is shingh all I can say is thanks for the post shingh and stay on top of these turkeys. How about you Mondo, are you Scott Barnes and what else do you know about these apparent unscrupulous individuals that go around shutting down websites? I'd like to see them try it again. Ha

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

    By: Cindy on 1/24/09
    To Nemesis,
    You state that you subpoenaed IP addresses and that a Mr. Scott Barnes posts under several names including Cindy. I assure you that I know who I am and I am not Scott Barnes (never heard of him) nor does my IP address reflect any such identity to his or the other names you mention. Mr Hertel, Fowler, & Rossi's names come up again and again and none of it sounds like they are exactly pillars of our commumity. You have certainly raised my curiosity regarding them and I'm sure the curiosity of a few others. "Thou does protest too much".
    By: nemesis on 1/23/09
    Your story is incomplete. The mention on your website of PCF came from a regular troll to your site. His name is Scott Barnes and he posts under various names such as Mondo, Cindy, shingh, joesixpack, among others. It was his attempt (continuing to this day) to impugn and libel Hertel, Fowler, Rossi and others that caused you your problems. He posted social security numbers of some of those people along with bank account numbers that he dug up some where. You were contacted by HOB’s attorney and others asking you to be responsible and remove that kind of information from your website. All you did finally was substitute X’s for some of the numbers.

    At about the same time a resourceful attorney in the area was asked by another person who had been maligned and libeled on your site by this poster and others to see if he could do something about it. That attorney subpoenaed the IP addresses and thus alarmed your provider. If you look at the agreement that you signed with your provider, it gives them the right to drop you like a hot potato if you cause them to expend any time or money defending themselves from your use of their domain. Four of those commenters have been sued, including Scott Barnes and Al Brill.

    Scott Barnes has spent his life as a worthless human being (and that’s being generous). He was kicked out of the army, he was kicked off a tribal police force in Arizona. He was convicted in Kern County and sentenced to three years in jail. He sued his own brother trying to steal his brother’s businesses and his own brother had to get a restraining order against him. The DA of Kern County was quoted in the Bakersfield Californian on August 11, 1996 as saying that Barnes was a “low grade sociopathic con artist”. It is our misfortune to have this scum in our community.

    What you’ve really written about in this article is the consequences to you of not being responsible for what is put on your site. You have standards posted at your sign up page that you don’t enforce and instead rely on the following: “(In many ways, Bergfeld’s argument about retractions holds water. Old, long-settled legal issues face brand new interpretation in an Internet world that didn’t exist a short time ago. However, current court precedent holds that comments posted by readers on a Web site are the responsibility of the posting parties, not the Web site owners.)”. That’s a cop out. You owe it to your readership and the rest of the community to be responsible. At least follow your own set of standards.

    Nemesis
    By: Cindy on 1/23/09
    This is very suspicious. I suspect that Mr. Bergfeld from PCF accomplished exactly what he set out to do.
    Mondo left an interesting post."Have you done any research on PCF and their connections to SLO and who his wife is ? Diane Harkey State Assemblywoman I am told." Keep up the pressure CCN.
    By: newscruzer1 on 1/22/09
    Keep an eye on Paso now that Frank Mechem is on the board of sups. Watch to see how former Paso Robles Chief of Police Dennis Cassidy will make a bid for the office of sheriff and who backs him.

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

    By: shingh on 1/22/09
    Ouch ! appears like someone is trying to silence you ? RW Hertel et all is to have some legal case this morning in Dept 2 SLO Superior Court Case CV-070372 one of many apparently so my guess is you hit a "Nerve" and not only is Hertel facing more suits and loan issues on 1-28-09 he if facing a $1,000,000.00 Plus default sale of his property by Country Wide per Julie at clerks office doc #2009001329 and his partner Fowler according to PI LOOKOUT Investigations is seeking him (Fowler) to serve a multi million dollar suit, Fowler moved to 9480 Calle Milano, Atascadero a home financed originally by PCF ? Fear not the truth is coming hang tough.
    By: Newsome on 1/22/09
    Upon reflection overnight, this article seems more like you are firing one over the bows of *someone*, rather than simply admiring yourselfs. Please excuse my earlier observation regarding horn tooting.
    By: Mondo on 1/22/09
    Sounds like what the Nazi's did to burn the facts destroy the truth and scare the masses of free people. Cal Coast stand up to the abuse and fear these lawyers are there culprits are trying to do, as a new bee to your program, you will get my $ support. You are on to something with the big wigs try to silence you. Keep reporting and connect the dots with ALL who is involved. I am following a similar case in Paso with judge Picquet on a former Federal Inmate who is suing a the Central Coast consumer Guy Al Brill suit is by convicted man Ed Palmer who has ties to this RW Hertel guy so i smell some thing big is up. Stay on this case it will flush out the persons doing wrong. Have you done any research on PCF and there connections to SLO and who his wife is ? Diane Harkey State Assemblywoman I am told.
    By: mccdave on 1/22/09
    "And it happened right at a time when the minimal expenses of simply funding and establishing a new site was well out of reach for us. (Still might be.)"

    Someone really needs to sit you down and explain the interwebtubes to you. Next time this happens, you pay $10 to set up an account at another hosting company, upload your site, transfer your domain, and within a day or two, you're up and running, saving the world with your important, important writing. Some hosts outside the greater Provo area (?!) are less tetchy about letters from lawyers, and you could even host outside the U.S. Of course this doesn't work if you're using Provo Joe's Proprietary Content Management System From Hell.

    (But it's not hard to understand why you went with http://www.heritagewebdesign.com/ . Tasty! And just look at those prices! Why, you'd have to pay one-fourth of that for comparable hosting with one of the more dependable providers.)
    By: Booty_Juice on 1/21/09
    What an epic battle between good and evil, with overtones of devine intervention.

    I got the chills.

    Did you know that hosting companies are a dime a dozen?
    By: Truthbeknown on 1/21/09
    Toot, toot!
    By: Newsome on 1/21/09
    Good on ya, for being nimble, strong, and darned informative.

    This article, however, seems of pretty limited interest to the broader group. Almost like you are tooting your own horn a wee bit.

    (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down

Comments are closed.