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A reporter in South Dakota has lost his job and is now facing criminal charges for making harassing phone calls to a state Republican lawmaker using Gov. Kristi Noem’s personal cell phone number.
According to The Associated Press, Austin Goss, who was fired from his position at Dakota News Now earlier this week, “reportedly used software to make prank calls to former South Dakota GOP chairman Dan Lederman appear as though they came from Gov. Kristi Noem’s personal cellphone number.”
The broadcast reporter, who was the outlet’s capitol bureau reporter, has been charged in relation to the alleged incident, Stanley County Sheriff Brad Rathbun said on Thursday. He was arrested earlier in the day but was out on bond shortly thereafter.
“The misdemeanor count of making threatening, harassing, or misleading contacts carries a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment and $2,000 in fines,” the AP reported.
In a joint statement, Dakota News Now and KOTA Territory News announced that they have terminated the employment of Goss from the stations. They expressed regret for his lack of judgment and stated that they were unaware of his activities, the AP added.
According to The Argus Leader, the probable cause statement identified the recipient of the “harassing phone call” only as a 50-year-old with the initials D.L. However, former South Dakota Republican Party Chair Dan Lederman confirmed to the newspaper that he was the one who received the call on January 22.
Lederman did not provide further comment on the matter. However, according to a special agent with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, the call was made through a website called PrankDial, which enabled the caller to make it seem like it was coming from Noem’s cell phone, the AP said.
The pre-recorded call in question involved a supposed mafia member accusing the recipient of stealing boxes of vaccines, using language such as “You telling me you didn’t tell Vito that you were gonna try to move the three boxes of that AstraZeneca outside this family?” The call ended with the message, “You’ve just been pranked by PrankDial.com.”
The AP said that the GOP lawmaker told an investigator that the journalist would “occasionally text him snide or rude remarks” and added that the prank audio recording “caused him concern for his safety.”
Following the phone call, Noem expressed concern about the leaking of her family’s personal information, including her personal cellphone number, and urged the U.S. Attorney General and multiple congressional committees to investigate the matter.
“The previous week, she demanded that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate why her family’s social security numbers were leaked when Congress released its findings in the Jan. 6 investigation,” the AP noted.
“My lawyers have asked the @WhiteHouse, the @USNatArchives, and @BennieGThompson which of them is responsible for leaking the Social Security Numbers of me, my husband, my 3 kids, and my son-in-law,” she tweeted in January, in a post that included images of a letter her attorneys have sent to the aforementioned parties. “What specific measures and remedies will be taken to protect our identities?”
My lawyers have asked the @WhiteHouse, the @USNatArchives, and @BennieGThompson which of them is responsible for leaking the Social Security Numbers of me, my husband, my 3 kids, and my son-in-law.
What specific measures and remedies will be taken to protect our identities? pic.twitter.com/HWBu5ukWPP
— Kristi Noem (@KristiNoem) January 6, 2023
Attorneys for Noem demanded to know “how the breach of privacy occurred, who was responsible, what steps each of you has taken to remedy the breach, and what specific measures and remedies will be taken to protect Governor Noem and her family in light of the public dissemination of their private information and the heightened risk for identity theft and any other future privacy violations.”
Ian Fury, a spokesman for the governor, said, “To my knowledge, we were not notified. The governor was not notified” of the leak, Slay News noted.
Former Trump Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, whose information was also leaked, told the Washington Post: “Whether it was a careless and sloppy handling of records or a deliberate disregard of decorum, either scenario is a perfunctory and callous display of government and a frightening reminder of the current state in Washington. … President Reagan was a savant indeed — the nine most frightening words to hear are ‘I am from the government and here to help.’”