Friday, April 18, 2008

Sirk's Attorney Calls E-Mail "Bogus"

There's a disturbance in the Burghosphere:
allegations of a "bogus" e-mail and of bloggers being used as "pawns".

The attorney for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's ex-press secretary Alecia Sirk claims that an e-mail attributed to Sirk by two Pittsburgh bloggers is a fake.

Not so, say the bloggers.

The anonymous blogger known as The Burgher of The Burgh Report provided me with a copy of an e-mail allegedly sent by Alecia Sirk to Bram Reichbaum of The Pittsburgh Comet. The bloggers offered it to refute suggestions that Reichbaum had threatened Sirk and her husband, URA Executive Director Pat Ford. In the disputed e-mail, the author sounds chatty, friendly, and not at all threatened. The e-mail says "thanks" and "pat and i both appreciate that you always come to us".

Ford is on paid leave while the state Ethics Commission investigates gifts that he and Sirk received from Lamar Advertising executive Jim Vlasach. Sirk resigned from her job in the wake of the revelation of the gifts. Ford describes Vlasach as his "best friend". Together, they negotiated the controversial permit which allowed Lamar advertising to begin erecting a large electronic billboard on Grant Street. Ford himself was the one who went to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review with word of the gifts; he did so after blogger Reichbaum privately questioned Sirk about some references to Vlasach in her own discontinued blog, Love of Chair. In one post, Sirk described her delight at getting a gift from Vlasach -- a surround-sound system.

The Trib reported on April 15th:

...Ford said he believes someone connected to the Housing Authority "mysteriously" resurrected his wife's defunct blog, LoveofChair, which detailed Ford's friendship with Vlasach.
He said blogger Bram Reichbaum called Sirk and threatened to release a copy of the blog publicly if she did not tell him about the surround-sound system.

First, let's look at the e-mail sent to me by The Burgher.

From: "The Burgher" [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Date: April 15, 2008 1:04:30 AM EDT
Subject: Proof Bram did not threaten Sirk

The very threatening Bram Reichbaum ...

Check sirk's frightened post-interview email to bram.

(Sarcasm over).

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Bram Reichbaum [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Date: Tue, Apr 15, 2008 at 12:43 AM
Subject: Fwd: Phone Tag
To: The Burgher [ E-mail removed for this post. ]

Here is a bit of our correspondence. It looks as though I couldn't have spoken with her until 2:30 or maybe 3:00. You may utilize this for anything.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: alecia sirk [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Date: Mon, Apr 7, 2008 at 4:33 PM
Subject: Re: Phone Tag
To: Bram Reichbaum [ E-mail removed for this post. ]

Hi Bram-
Don't forget to email me the blog! I'd love to be able and sit around and read it when i'm 70!

thanks, and thanks for calling to ask me about those things. pat and i both appreciate that you always come to us and say HEY, what about this.

have a great day,



----- Original Message ----
From: Bram Reichbaum [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
To: alecia sirk [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Sent: Monday, April 7, 2008 2:28:12 PM
Subject: Phone Tag

I'm trying to all you back. "All circuits are busy now" for the past two hours, and I don't want to bother you on your cell phone.

Gimme a call at [Phone number removed for this post] and I'll pick up.


Bram Reichbaum affirmed that the above e-mails were authentic when I contacted him. He had forwarded it to The Burgher, who passed it along to me.

Next, I contacted Alecia Sirk using the same address that appears in the disputed e-mail.

----- Original Message ----
From: Bob Mayo [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
To: alecia sirk [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2008 10:26:41 PM
Subject: Re: Missed Interview Opportunity


I wanted to check this with you.

Is the following your e-mail to Bram Reichbaum on Monday after his conversation with you about the entry in your blog?


Bob M

Her response:

From: alecia sirk [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Date: April 16, 2008 10:48:40 AM EDT
To: Bob Mayo [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Cc: law fisher [ E-mail removed for this post. ]
Subject: Re: Missed Interview Opportunity

Hi Bob-

My attorney, Lawrence Fisher, would be happy to speak to you about this issue.

This is his cell phone number: [Number removed for this post].

thank you,


Today I spoke by phone with Lawrence Fisher, attorney for Pat Ford and Alecia Sirk, and asked him if the e-mail is authentic.

His answer:

• "No. The e-mail is bogus. It's part of the smear campaign in which the bloggers have allowed themselves to be used as pawns."

• "The whole story is ridiculous."

• "The idea that a multi-million dollar project could somehow be swayed by a nominal gift is ridiculous."

• "The continued exploitation of this matter is not productive."

Finally, here are the responses from The Burgher and Bram Reichbaum to the comments of Mr. Fisher.

First, The Burgher:

Thanks, Bob.

I'd like to talk to Bram first, but it seems incredible to suggest that someone hacked into Sirk's email account and sent Bram an email collaborating their conversation before any blog posts or subsequent MSM coverage would inform 3rd parties of the event.

So, in other words, they're claiming Bram is lying.

Actually, more than lying; they're claiming that Bram fabricated an entire email conversation with Sirk, and composed a fake email and sent it to me.

Unless their attorney is misinformed, these are desperate lies.

I'll let Bram discuss that with you, but on my end it seems ridiculous to me considering the number of conversations Bram and I have had where Bram expressed sympathy for Sirk. (I'll forward them).

Also, part of the "allegedly" fake Sirk email is collaborated by Bram's conversation with me (by GMAIL chat, if I remember correctly) around the time of the interview where he mentioned that Sirk thanked him for forwarding the PDF.

(This is off the record until Bram responds. I'm assuming he will assert the legitimacy of the emails. If not, please let me know.)

The Burgher later put the above comments on the record.

Next, Bram Reichbaum:


I assume you're talking about the e-mail in which Alecia asks for a copy of Love of Chair, and thanks me for coming to them with my questions?

Yes. Yes, that was authentic.

As a matter of fact, you may have noticed an "X" underneath the text of her e-mail, and above the body of my "phone tag" e-mail to her earlier in the day. That "X" is actually my placeholder for an quote she included underneath her message. Since it was italicized and seemed personal, I withheld it from distribution to you and the Burgher, but if you think there will come a time when it is important to reveal, please let me know.

Burgher, go ahead and forward any relevant correspondence we've had about Sirk/Ford to Bob.


One footnote: the e-mail address in question does belong to Alecia Sirk. It's the personal Yahoo account from which she sent out the news release about Mayor Ravenstahl's endorsement of Senator Clinton. It's also -- as noted above-- the address from which she told me to contact attorney Fisher.



Bram Reichbaum said...

"The idea that a multi-million dollar project could somehow be swayed by a nominal gift is ridiculous."

To me the 'nominal' gift was never the issue, though the State Ethics commission is welcome to disagree.

My concern is, and has always been, that the special 'streamlined' process used to carry out a multi-million dollar project was motivated by a personal friendship (or friendships), to which those gifts are merely evidence.

Bob Mayo said...

This post has brought a number of reader responses. Given my policy on moderated comments, I won't be passing along all of them here. There are other blogs around town that provide forums for unmoderated comments.

Ed Heath's message included, in part:

"Well, a forwarded email could certainly be fabricated. However, if someome examined Bram's computer, I believe they could verify at least where he recieved the email from. Or if they examined records at Bram's internet provider. Or if they examined the records of Ms. Sirk's internet provider."

he later noted:

"... (or someone could examine Alicia Sirk's computer to see if she sent the email, or examine her gmail account from anywhere). "

Someone named Carol wrote to question the wisdom of spending time on this topic.

Carol, I'm paid to be a reporter. That job involves asking questions, examining facts and leads. An assertion by Mr. Ford that he and his wife were in some way threatened made news. In fact, he sought out news organizations to make it. It's my job to fact-check when presented with:

-a document offered by the implied threat-makers calling that assertion into question and

- a claim by Sirk and Ford's attorney that the document is falsified.

One thing I sometimes offer on my blog is a chance for readers to look in on reporter Q&A with newsmakers. It's work I'd be doing whether you looked in or not. You're always welcome to check in and provide feedback.

Char said...

And bless you, Bob, for the work you do do!

Josh Hall said...

Awesome to see all the going-ons behind the scene.

Bram Reichbaum said...

I never mentioned: Alecia has since assured me that there was a mix-up in communication -- I did not "threaten" her, she said. After reading the published reports, I was glad and not particularly surprised to hear it. I took it as innocent an error of the tumultuous atmosphere of that event. No biggee.

I certainly absolutely regret having called Ford a "blaggard opportunist" on one occasion, for my part. I'm glad he's doing penance in the private sector before he inevitably (I'll wager) reapproaches public service.