Judicial finding that Kalashos engaged in cyber-harassment, defamation and other intimidating actions comes within days of ECM reporter Paul Kruze filing a police complaint alleging that Councilman Kalasho threatened him with an attack dog and defamed him on social media.
Update: The judge's tentative ruling is now final and the link has been updated.
By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Ben and Jessica Kalasho at a Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce event, before the U.S. Patent and Trademark office forced them to change the name of the organization due to trademark infringement.
July 6, 2018 (El Cajon) – Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor has issued a judgment granting a motion filed by beauty pageant contestants and a taco shop owner against El Cajon Councilman Ben Kalasho and his wife, Jessica. The ruling allows documents and a supporting declaration submitted by plaintiffs’ lawyers to be admitted as facts at trial and most damning, orders evidence of the following admissions to be submitted at trial as true facts--meaning the Kalashos cannot dispute the accuracy of these findings in court:
- Kalasho, his wife their entities created fake nude photos of Miss Middle East pageant Queen Zhala Tawfiq and published them online “intending to cause and causing Ms. Tawfiq severe emotional distress.”
- Kalasho propositioned pageant contestant Paris Kargar, offering sex in exchange to ensure she won the 2016 Miss Middle East pageant. He made statements indicating her declining this proposition cost her a fair shot at the title.
- Kalasho whispered in Kargar’s ear, “You are so f*cking hot, I cannot take my eyes off you.” He also made comments about her breasts jiggling as she walked down the runway.
- Kalasho conducted one-on-one recorded interviews with 2016 contestants including Tawfiq and Karger, but destroyed these videos after the lawsuit in which Kargar contends she was harassed during her interview.
- Kalasho,his wife and his entities created multiple alias Facebook profiles used to make defamatory posts against Tres Taqueria, including fabricated poll results and false claims of food poisoning after the restaurant owner refused to post Kalasho campaign signs.
Judge Taylor issued the ruling after the Kalashos and their legal counsel failed to respond to numerous requests for responses to the motion, in essence abandoning the case. The judge wrote, “Because defendants failed to file any opposition to the motion, the court is entitled to consider that lack of opposition to be an admission the motion is meritorious.”
If a final ruling is issued consistent with the tenative ruling, and if the case doesn’t settle, plaintiffs have requested that the trial begin on November 2, 2018--just four days before the November 6, 2018 election. That could put a crimp in Kalasho's last minute campaigning as a declared candidate for El Cajon mayor against incumbent Bill Wells.
Judge Taylor also ordered Ben and Jessica Kalasho to pay $2,035 in sanctions.
Also see this case management statement for more details.
Kalasho, in response to past requests for comment from East County Magazine on his various controversies, denounced our award-winning news outlet as "fake media" and demanded that he not to be contacted for any further stories.
This isn't the first time Kalasho has been involved in deceptive or abusive practices. Kalasho had the nonprofit status of the Miss MIddle East Beauty Pageant revoked by the California Attorney General's office after an East County Magazine investigation found that he failed to file the required documents for registering a nonprofit.
A jury found in 2015 that he committed fraud and breach of contract in a case filed by Ideal Market.
A cross-complaint filed by Kalasho against plaintiffs in the beauty contestants' case was thrown out by the judge, who found it to be a SLAPP suit aimed at intimidating plaintiffs from exercise their constitutional right to seek redress of grievances. SLAPP suits are illegal under California law.
Kalasho has prevoiusly taunted Union-Tribune reporter Jeff McDonald as a "troll" and threatened to sue him after McDonald asked questions about Kalasho's questionable business dealings and apparent conflicts of interest. McDonald was a contributor to Pulitzer Prize winning articles on natural disasters in our region and has contributed to articles exposing corruption by Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham who was convicted of bribery. Kalasho has also threatened to sue East County Magazine despite not notifying us of any factual inaccuracy.
Most recently, East County Magazine's award-winning journalist Paul Kruze file a complaint with El Cajon Police alleging that Kalasho threatened him with a snarling, snapping dog that Kalasho has posted video on Facebook of himself training to be, in his words, an "attack dog." Kruze further stated that Kalasho threatened him, telling Kruze he would "take you down" along with Kruze's editor, Miriam Raftery. (View his full complaint)
(Note: We did not report this incident sooner because our website was maliciously hacked two days later by a cybercriminal who inserted malware causing google searches of our site to turn up links to pornography. The site is repaired as of yesterday and the hacked notices removed. We cooperated with the San Diego Union-Tribune to ensure the story would get published in a timely manner, as online harssment by Kalasho ramped up. )
After Kruze called police, Kalasho called Kruze a "psychopath" and "stalker" on Facebook posts that incited his followers to post death threats against our reporter, including photos of guns and tips on the type of ammunition best used to commit murder.
Kalasho claimed Kruze went to his house and took video of the attack dog, when in fact Kalasho posted the videos of the training himself on his Facebook page (see link above). Kruze says he has never gone to Kalasho's house and did not even have his address. Kalasho claimed Kruze had a video site devoted only to videos of Kalasho, when in fact Kruze's site has videos from numerous other stories he has covered unrelated to Kalasho, inculding other ECM assignments.
Kalasho also posted our reporter's license plate number and discussion of his address, as his followers openly discussed murder of our reporter, leading Facebook to remove his post and all replies following complaints for violating Facebook community standards. We are not publishing the post due to it containing personally identifying information on our reporter, however police have been provided with a copy. An attorney contacted by ECM advises that threatening someone with a trained attack dog could be charged as a felony threat with a deadly weapon.
This incitement to violence was particularly disturbing given the mass murder of journalists at a Maryland newspaper the same week by a shooter who had previously objected to the newspaper's coverage of his convictions for harassing others.
Kalasho claimed online that he was afraid of our reporter, who was armed only with a camera, while Kalasho was armed with his attack dog. Kalasho knows Kruze is a journalist who attends City Council meetings and has had conversations with Kalasho as a reporter multilpe times in the past.
Kruze took photos in a public parking lot at a shopping mall of a golf cart in which Kalasho transports the attack dog with a sign encouraging the public to take photos of the dog, Zoltan, and post on social media, an invitation Kruze says he believed posed a threat to pubilc safety.
Kalasho has accused Kruze of stalking him, but Kruze says he has witnesses who indicate he was at the shopping center to pick up printed flyers for his church. His rant called ECM a "fake local news outlet" despite our having won 105 journalism awards, including recognition of our reporting on Kalasho.
Kalasho, along with his wife, have continued to attack and defame Kruze, McDonald, and ECM editor Miriam Raftery on social media including with previously debunked smears, in apparent retaliation for journalists reporting the truth--an activity protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press. He falsely claimed we are not nonprofit (www.Guidestar.com shows our parent nonprofit, Heartland Coaltiion, in good standing and lists the IRS tax ID number. This attack is ironic given that Kalasho lost nonprofit status of his pageant due in part to our watchdog reporting.) He falsely claimed we inflated readership numbers to gain sponsors (again, ironic, given that Waste Management pulled its sponsorship of his Chamber after he failed to recuse himself from a vote on city trash hauling services after taking a large donation from the company), and called our editor a "slimy gal." Similary, his attacks on McDonald is nonsensical given McDonald was part of a team of journalists whose reporting on a natural disaster helped the newspaper win a Pulitzer Prize; McDonald also was one of several journalists reporting on corruption by then-Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who was convicted and imprisoned on bribery charges.
Kalasho's baseless attacks on media are troubling behaviors, particularly from an elected official, since reporters' role is to be watchdogs over government and wrongdoing by public officials.
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, once observed, "Our liberty depends on freedom of the press."
Walter Cronkite, retired CBS news anchorman once widely acknowledged as the most respected journalist in America, summed up the importance of that liberty this way: "Freedom of the press it not just important to democracy; it is democracy."