Kalasho claims he’s being framed by beauty queens and taco shop owner suing him;
Kalasho’s wife admitted visiting friend In Cerritos, when the allegedly fake nude beauty queen photos were posted online from her friend’s home
By Miriam Raftery
November 6, 2017 (El Cajon) – Today, plaintiffs suing El Cajon Councilman Bessmon “Ben” Kalasho filed an anti-SLAPP motion asking that Kalasho’s countersuit against two beauty pageant contestants and a taco shop be dismissed as retaliatory and violating their First Amendment rights to speak to the press about their case.
California’s anti-SLAPP statute prohibits public officials from filing what are known as SLAPP suits to retaliate against members of the public for exercising their free speech and right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Kalasho’s countersuit took issue with plaintiffs talking to the media, specifically the Reader, about their case.
The plaintiffs include Tawfiq, another pageant contestant, Paris Kargar, who alleged sexual misconduct by the Councilman, and the owner of Tres Taqueria, Duraid Hallak. Defedants are Councilman Kalasho and his wife, Jessica, as well as against the Miss Middle East Beauty Pageant and the Middle Eastern Chamber of Commerce (formerly the San Diego East County Chaldean Chamber of Commerce).
Plaintiffs’ attorney Jimmie Davis Parker also filed a declaration stating that information obtained from internet and social media companies, including documents released under court order, reveal evidence that he contends make the plaintiffs likely to prevail.
That evidence includes an admission made during a deposition by Jessica Kalasho, the Councilman’s wife, that she visited a friend, Stephanie Malouf, a former beauty queen, in Cerritos on the date that allegedly falsified, full-frontal nude photos of dethroned Miss Middle East Beauty Queen Zhala Tawfiq were posted to Instagram from Malouf’s residence in Cerritos. The Instagram “Zhala_Tawfiq_fanpage” purported to show “leaked images of Miss Middle East Beauty Queen.” Tawfiq lost her crown, and a portion of her payment, following a dispute over whether or not she fulfilled contractual duties as a pageant winner. She has denied ever posing for nude photos.
Evidence also includes documents obtained from Internet providers and social media sites that reveal IP addresses controlled by Kalasho have been traced to posts made from his home. Those posts, made under aliases including Ben George and Robert Forbes, included claims that George and Forbes had become ill after eating at the Mexican restaurant Tres Taqueria.
One stated that after eating rolled tacos at Tres, “I got really sick and ended up with food poisoning. If you guys want, I can do a video about my experience and you guys can share it. Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego better wake up,” the post continued, referring to an outlet Tres has in the casino. Kalasho’s Chamber posted a message declining to “bash restaurants” and said it hoped to see poorly polling restaurants strive to improve.
A poll by the Chamber purported to rank Tres as the “worst restaurant” in El Cajon. But raw data for the vote obtained from Jotform Inc. showed the poll “only received one response before the results of the poll were published by the Chamber,” Parker’s declaration states.
Kalasho’s counterclaim has alleged that he and his wife have suffered emotional distress and lost funding from pageant sponsors and ticket sales as a result of the allegations against him, among other claims.
Kalasho did not respond to ECM’s request for comments. However the Reader reports that he issued a statement claiming the filing is “comprised of untruthful allegations. IP addresses which are open to the public aren’t proof,” he stated, adding, “No evidence has been produced to me or my counsel. Everything thus far has been pure allegation. Their counsel was accusing me of making the doctored up nudes when this case first started, last month he was accusing another associate of ours and now he is accusing a former queen. He is just harassing everyone at this point. This is nothing but a fishing expedition for money.”
Kalasho’s statement further suggested that Kallak or Tawfiq could have created the false profiles to frame him, noting, “All this can be done by just parking outside my home. All the plaintiffs know where I live and work,” he reportedly said, adding that he has footage of plaintiffs parked outside of his home.
Kalasho said he has repeatedly offered his laptop to be searched and scanned by a forensics expert “to prove I had nothing to do with any of the untruthful allegations against me but the Plaintiffs Lawyer has chosen to ignore my offer because he knows that it will destroy his case…We look forward to trial and will not be bullied, harassed or intimidated.”
The documents filed by plaintiffs and their lawyer paint a different picture.
Three Facebook accounts under the aliases controlled by Kalasho were accessed at least 194 times from the Kalashos’ home, which is “also the location of where these three profiles were also deleted after the filing of the litigation,” potentially destroying evidence, the filings by plaintiffs and their lawyer state. They provide printouts obtained from the internet and social media companies as evidence. So if posts were made by someone parked outside the Kalashos’ home on the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, the hacker would have had to park there many times.
As for who created the allegedly doctored nude photos, the documents filed by Plaintiffs today don’t suggest that Jessica or her friend, Stephanie Malouf altered the photos electronically. They do, however, include an excerpt of a deposition of Kalasho’s wife, Jessica Marie Deddeh Kalasho, who stated that she does not use Photoshop. Asked if Ben Kalasho use Photoshop, she replied, “For – for pageant-related stuff and for fliers, for mixer events, yes.” The paperwork also indicates that plaintiff’s attorney is seeking to add Malouf to the case in order to question her about the photos in order to learn who posted them, who provided them, and who doctored them, if the allegations that Tawfiq’s face was imposed on someone else’s nude body prove true.
Kargar, the other former pageant contestant, has claimed Kalasho interviewed her in a dark room and offered to trade sex for a win in the pageant. She also claimed she was humiliated when he stated during a pageant rehearsal, “Your boobs are moving too much. Do it again.” Kalasho has denied the first claim but in other judicial documents is quoted as stating the comment on Kargar’s breasts was intended to instruct her on the “correct and classy way to walk down the runway, without bouncing her breasts up and down.”
The lawsuit filed by plaintiffs against the Kalashos contends among other things that the pageant they ran was a fraud. That claim was made before the California Attorney General last week informed ECM that the state has revoked the pageant’s nonprofit status due to lack of paperwork filing and a fee that were not submitted despite multiple written requests. Kalasho previously was found by a jury to have committee fraud in a case involving damage from his carwash and also changed his Chamber’s name after the U.S Patent and Trademark office found the earlier name to be in violation of a trademark held by a Detroit-based Chaldean Chamber. Kalasho had won an earlier court case over the trademark, but lost on appeal.
In a letter from Parker to Kalasho’s attorney, Stephen J. Liosi, Parker indicates that both sides have also accused each other of witness tampering. “Amazingly you allege that my client has been attempting to tamper with witnesses in your cross-compalint” he wrote on August 22, 2017, adding, “Unfortunately, I have proof that Mr. Kalasho is tampering with witnesses and extra-judicially interfering with lawfully issued subpoenas.”
Plaintiffs have asked to have all causes of action against them dismissed, except a breach of contract claim addressed in a concurrently filed demurrer.
Disclosure: Kalasho has threatened to sue East County Magazine and the San Diego Union-Tribune, as well as the City of El Cajon, on various claims. Our response to his baseless threats against us may be read here.