Bud Kennedy

Deputies say Texas House candidate faked Facebook profile for political smear

State Rep. Charlie Geren, Sheriff Bill Waybourn, candidate Bo French
State Rep. Charlie Geren, Sheriff Bill Waybourn, candidate Bo French pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Tarrant County Republican politics has just become very complicated.

Law officers say one local Tea Party candidate secretly used Facebook to smear another, and now it’s a public mess two months before voting begins in the all-important party primaries.

A county constable says deputies’ 2016 investigation into an accusatory fake online profile of now-Sheriff Bill Waybourn led to an unexpected suspect: defeated Texas House candidate Bo French.

“I was very surprised,” said Constable David Woodruff, an Arlington Republican: “I sure wasn’t expecting that.”

Deputies forwarded records of the Facebook profile for “Thief Bill Waybourn” to the Texas Rangers in April 2016 for further investigation, Woodruff said.

Nothing ever came of it. French is running again in the March 6 primary for Texas House District 99 as a faith-and-values challenger to state Rep. Charlie Geren.

Faking someone else’s online profile is a felony in Texas, and posing as someone else in an email or message is a misdemeanor.

(I’m not saying that makes sense. I’m only saying that’s Texas law.)

Waybourn was then a reserve deputy for Woodruff and in a come-from-behind runoff against establishment incumbent Dee Anderson for sheriff. Waybourn overcame the Facebook smears and went on to win the runoff and election.

Deputies’ Facebook search found the “Thief Bill Waybourn” page was administered under three email addresses listing French’s name, Woodruff said. One of the addresses connects directly to a $500 campaign donation French gave in a different race.

Now, I’ll try to explain what might be behind such political sideswiping between two faith-and-values Republicans.

Waybourn’s campaign treasurer was Taya Kyle of Midlothian, widow of the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and co-author of her own book, “American Wife: A Memoir of Love, War, Faith, and Renewal.”

Just before the March 2016 primary, she warned French to stop using Kyle’s name or photo in his Texas House campaign against Geren. Taya Kyle and French had tangled in court over leadership of Chris Kyle’s company, Craft International.

Geren won the primary by 16 percentage points, 58-42.

Two weeks later, according to county Deputy Craig Driskell’s search warrant affidavit, the “Thief Bill Waybourn” profile appeared on Facebook. It described various supposed abuses of public time or resources when Waybourn was a suburban police chief.

(Anderson did not make such allegations in the campaign.)

“Obviously if you open up a Facebook account saying you’re somebody you’re not, you could certainly make an attempt to destroy someone’s reputation,” Woodruff said.

“You could get online as a police officer and start soliciting inappropriately — that’s why these things are illegal.”

Woodruff said he referred the case to the Rangers because it involved one of his own reserve deputies, and also because Waybourn did not want to pursue it once the page was taken off Facebook.

The presidents of Tarrant County, Dallas and Arlington police associations issued a statement Friday calling on the Rangers to reopen the investigation.

In a statement, French said coverage of the 2016 investigation is “nothing more than a ploy” to distract from a lawsuit accusing a Democratic campaign worker of filing a false child welfare complaint against French and his wife, Sheridan.

French said he did not support Waybourn “but am proud of the job he has done.”

French referred to a “satirical Facebook page,” saying the idea that it is an “ ‘impersonation’ … is merely political rhetoric.”

Waybourn flamed French in a comment to the Texas Tribune: “Any reasonable objective review of the evidence against Bo French results in firm proof of a lack of character on his part.”

Woodruff said he thought a candidate “would be of a little higher moral character. It seems like an awful juvenile thing to do.”

Welcome to campaign season in Tarrant County.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy.

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