Elections

Fake Facebook page and dirty politics alleged in contentious House race

Candidate volunteers Ryan Zelazny, (supporting Charlie Geren), Sean Mullins (supporting Bill Waybourn) and Sheridan French (supporting husband Bo French) share a laugh while greeting voters outside of the Westover Hills Town Hall during the March 2016 primary.
Candidate volunteers Ryan Zelazny, (supporting Charlie Geren), Sean Mullins (supporting Bill Waybourn) and Sheridan French (supporting husband Bo French) share a laugh while greeting voters outside of the Westover Hills Town Hall during the March 2016 primary. Star-Telegram archives

Three North Texas law enforcement groups on Friday took a Fort Worth businessman to task for an anonymous Facebook page created last year during the Republican primary runoff for Tarrant County sheriff.

At issue is the “Thiefbillwaybourn” Facebook page that made allegations of improprieties during the 2016 runoff between former Dalworthington Gardens Police Chief Bill Waybourn and then-Sheriff Dee Anderson.

Waybourn won and became Tarrant County’s sheriff earlier this year.

The three groups say evidence shows that the page, which no longer exist, was linked to Bo French, who is again challenging state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, for the House District 99 seat in next year’s election.

“When Bo French created a fake Facebook account in the name of ... Waybourn, it wasn’t merely a political prank, it potentially was a crime,” according to the statement by the presidents of the Dallas and Arlington police associations and the Tarrant County Law Enforcement Association.

“Texas law prohibits the impersonation of a peace officer, and Mr. French owes every officer who wears the uniform an explanation for his intemperate actions.”

No charges have been filed in the case, records show.

French denies allegations

French sent out a statement in response, saying this issue is a political “ploy” by the Geren campaign.

“I did not support Bill Waybourn in his election last year, but am proud of the job he has done as Sheriff since getting elected,” according to his statement. “I’m on the board of the Fort Worth Police Department SWAT Support Group and have helped raise nearly $1,000,000 for local law enforcement over the last 6 years.

“The absurd accusation that a satirical Facebook page in opposition to Mr. Waybourn is an ‘impersonation of a peace officer’ is ridiculous and merely political rhetoric.”

In last year’s primary, Geren claimed 58 percent of the vote to French’s 42 percent and went on to win another term in office.

bo french
Bo French Courtesy

French and his wife, Sheridan, filed a lawsuit one week before the Dec. 11 filing deadline for Texans seeking spots on next year’s primary ballot, alleging that false accusations of child abuse were made against him during the contentious primary race in 2016.

“This is nothing more than a ploy to distract from the fact that we filed a lawsuit against members of the Charlie Geren campaign who we believe knowingly filed a false CPS report against my family in an attempt to take my children away,” French’s statement read.

Geren said he didn’t know anything about the fake Facebook page until Friday, after law enforcer associations sent out the statement.

“I hope he didn’t do it,” Geren said. “Because it is breaking the law. If he did it, it needs to be investigated.”

The Facebook page

During last year’s primary runoff, the Thiefbillwaybourn Facebook page made allegations of improprieties by Waybourn, whose lists of endorsements ranged from former Gov. Rick Perry to Taya Kyle, the widow of Chris Kyle.

In April 2016, a search and seizure warrant was filed by the Precinct 2 constable’s office in Tarrant County, asking Facebook to trace information regarding the fake page to determine who created it.

charlie geren
State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth Eric Gay AP

“We looked into it and felt it met the criteria for online impersonation, a Class A misdemeanor,” Precinct 2 Constable David Woodruff said. “We sent the search warrant to Facebook. Shortly after we sent the warrant to Facebook, ... the page disappeared.”

The Facebook Business Record traced the fake page back to three emails that included the name Bo French.

A reverse Google search of the email addresses showed that one — bofrench@mac.com — was linked to a $500 campaign donation Bo French of Fort Worth made in 2003.

“We sent the case to the Texas Rangers,” Woodruff said.

The group that sent out Friday’s statement urged the Texas Rangers to investigate this case.

Lonnie Haschel, a spokesman with the Texas Department of Public Safety, was looking into whether the Rangers have received the case.

The search warrant noted that the false page “is in violation of the offense of online impersonation, as stated in Section 33.07 of the Texas Penal Code as the suspected party used the name of persona of Bill Waybourn, without obtaining the consent of Bill Waybourn, and with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten Bill Waybourn, then create a website on a commercial social networking site or other Internet website.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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