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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

'Girls Gone Wild' no joking matter; Pryor office calls FBI

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2012 at 3:30 PM

WHODUNNIT: Sen. Mark Pryor has asked the FBI to find out who put this item up for bid on biddingforgood.com
  • WHODUNNIT: Sen. Mark Pryor has asked the FBI to find out who put this item up for bid on biddingforgood.com

PR IN ACTION: Shows creators claim of spot in Pryor office blew up into national story; but therell be no trip to D.C. for the winner.
  • PR IN ACTION: Show's creator's claim of spot in Pryor office blew up into national story; but there'll be no trip to D.C. for the winner.
Now that Republicans have successfully promoted the "Girls Gone Wild" internship hoax with Sen. Mark Pryor onto the Drudge Report, the Pryor office has gone beyond calling the thing a sham dirty trick and called in the FBI.

Statement by the Press Secretary
Update on the Statement Released by Girls Gone Wild

Our office does not sell, auction or donate internships. We believe someone outside Senator Pryor’s office has broken the law by fraudulently impersonating a U.S. Senator, fraudulently attempting to sell a government position and using the Senate seal without authorization. We have asked the FBI to fully investigate who is perpetrating this fraud against the senator and the U.S. Senate.

UPDATE: Joe Francis is telling TMZ he bought the deal off of a charity auction site and thought it was legit.

Here's link to the page from biddingforgood.com

Oh, yeah, looks legit to me, what with that U.S. Senate seal and all. The page doesn't indicate what "local charity" was to benefit, but I learned later it was the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. Maybe Joe Francis is telling the truth and saw a way to leverage some publicity for a TV show out of what appeared to be a goodwill gesture by a U.S. senator. But there's a stinker in this somewhere. The FBI has the means to find out who it is. An effort to make Mark Pryor look bad might have exactly the opposite effect.

UPDATE: Biddingforgood.com, based in Cambridge, Mass., has been in business since 2003 its spokesman says and has never had a complaint about a fraudulent bid before. She explained that the company, for a subscription fee, provides the technology for people to raise money for charitable causes on-line.

"It might be the best thing that the FBI takes a look," said Kaijsa Kurstin of the organization. "We help good causes raise money. Situations like this usually don't happen in our space."

The Pryor item, closed April 24 with only one bid, apparently Francis' $2,500. I don't know yet how long it was posted. It was advertised as benefitting the Jewish temple in Los Angeles. Kurstin said the organization doesn't vet items posted on the site, it "just provides technology." But, she again added, it has never had cause to be concerned about the posting. I've so far been unable to reach anyone with the temple.

I learned, too, that the same website offered a lunch for Pryor for two in 2006, supposedly to benefit the New York Mercantile Exchange Foundation, and, according to bid history, it sold for $2,550. I've asked the Pryor office if that, too, was a hoax. It promised a "Democrat lunch" and a tour of the Capitol.

UPDATE II: Plot thickens. I got a return call from Joe Francis. He insists he merely bought an item from a charity website, alerted by "friends" to its presence. "I still believe this was just a legitimate auction and the senator got cold feet. That's my take. If the senator doesn't want us there, we won't be there."

Francis said he'd been informed, he wouldn't say by whom, that his money would be refunded. He said he believed the donation by Pryor on the website was arranged by a lobbyist, but he would reveal no names of any of his contacts. He said he has no connection with the temple that offered the item.

As for the request for an FBI investigation, Francis said: "I hope he does. I bet he'll be complicit in that [the auction item] or somebody in his office." He added later, "I'm sure the result of the investigation will reveal the legitimacy of the entire thing." He says Pryor just got cold feet when he learned the identity of the buyer, through Francis' news release. Francis said the resulting controversy was not good publicity for him. Also, he said: "One more woman won't get to go to the Capitol."

To Pryor complicity and involvement of a lobbyist a Pryor spokesman Michael Teague responded:

"100 percent lie!"

UPDATE: The Wilshire Temple sends a statement from Carol Bovill, director of its early childhood centers:

“Wilshire Boulevard Temple has learned that a private party organized to benefit the Temple’s early childhood centers included an auction item bid for by Mr. Francis. We have learned that the party’s organizers returned the money and canceled the item. We agree with that decision.”

Blogger Jason Tolbert further mines the Internet to find that Pryor visited the Wilshire Temple in 2008 , according to a temple newsletter that said Pryor visited as a guest of Chad Brownstein, a venture capitalist who contributed to Pryor's 2002 campaign and whose wife gave $1,000 in 2008 shortly before Pryor's trip.

UPDATE THURSDAY MORNING: A further e-mail from Joe Francis:

Now that you have posted it on your blog I can confirm that the charity has confirmed to me that the Brownstein Hyatt Lobbying Firm brokered the deal on behalf of Senator Mark Pryor to sell the internship. This is what I was told by the charity. They also confirmed that the senator and his office were fully aware of everything and that the Senator is lying if he says otherwise.

The temple has, so far, declined to answer my followup questions.

The image of the 2006 purported lunch auction follows.

pryorlunch.JPG

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