A former Sentinel reporter relied on several layers of subterfuge to dupe a local businessman and the newspaper itself.
The lengths undertaken by Stacy M. Brown, 43, of Carlisle, to concoct this ruse include:
• Emails written by people who apparently do not exist.
• Phone numbers that are disconnected, wrong numbers or lead to voicemails with no identifying information.
• Use of his position as a reporter to leverage funds from a business, which believed it was paying for a legitimately produced concert featuring Damon Harris and the Temptations.
Brown’s actions are documented in a complaint Hotel Carlisle Manager Farouk Hegazi emailed Monday to the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, as well as business records and other documentation obtained by The Sentinel on Thursday.
Brown was placed on paid leave while The Sentinel investigated Hegazi’s claims and was dismissed less than a day later.
Hegazi claimed Brown had run a scam, using a concert that was supposed to feature Damon Harris and the Temptations on Oct. 27 at the Hotel Carlisle and Embers Convention Center in Carlisle, but instead featured two “imposters.”
While employed as a reporter at The Sentinel, Brown was also working in his capacity as a concert promoter for a company called RTJP Events. While he had told Hegazi he would be the middle man between Hotel Carlisle and RTJP, records show Brown himself is RTJP’s owner. Brown never divulged that conflict of interest to his editors at the paper.
Brown used his position as a journalist to write multiple blog posts and stories promoting the event.
Neither Brown’s attorney, Robert Daniels Jr. of Harrisburg, nor Brown returned messages seeking comment Thursday.
The paper trail
A certificate of organization filing with the Pennsylvania Department of State, Corporation Bureau, dated Feb. 1, 2010, shows Brown registered the business name RTJP Company Ltd. The company’s initial registered office is an apartment address in Scranton, where Brown worked for The Times-Tribune before arriving in Carlisle and his employment with The Sentinel.
No other paperwork was available on the company.
On Monday, when Hegazi first suggested Brown and RTJP were closely affiliated, Brown told editors he worked for the company as a freelancer. Later, he told editors he coordinates some events for the company involving Damon Harris. Still later, he told editors that he collects mail for RTJP at an address in Lemoyne.
Yet online records show Brown’s affiliation went even further than that.
A Google search produces a website for RTJP Events at RTJPevents.webs.com. That website includes a contact phone number that matches Brown’s home phone number. And whoisdomaintools.com lists Brown as the owner of the domain for RTJPevents.com, a site that is no longer active as of Thursday. The address on those documents also matches the address in Lemoyne, which is a business building with several legitimate corporations in residence. RTJP does not have its own suite but rather uses a box at the UPS Store at that location.
A phone number matching Brown’s home phone number is included in that listing for the registrant, as well as the email, which was used to contact Hegazi under a false name.
The RTJPevents.webs.com also features pictures of Brown with such celebrities as former President Bill Clinton and several singers, as well as family members.
The story becomes even more convoluted when wading through the large amount of emails provided by Hegazi regarding the incident.
Several people using an alleged RTJP Gmail address contacted Hegazi in regards to setting up the concert, receiving payment and then a situation that followed where Hegazi stopped payment on a check to RTJP.
In those emails from RTJP — sent from conflicting names — Hegazi was accused of attempting to defraud the promoters and the revue band that ultimately played at Hotel Carlisle.
RTJP emails to Hegazi were sent at varying points from “Monte Collins,” “Monte McDaniel,” “Monte McDaniels,” “Monte C. McDaniel” and “MCM.” After being approached by an editor, Brown said the business was based in California and that “Monte” lives in Florida. There are no records of any business containing the letters RTJP operating in either state.
Brown provided a phone number for Monte that turned out to be a wrong number. A number listed as a phone number for “Monte” in one of RTJP’s emails was disconnected.
Other contact information on supposed RTJP emails contain various addresses in New York City, Scranton and Los Angeles — all cities where Brown has lived before moving to Carlisle. No one with any of Monte’s names could be found in any of those cities or their corresponding states.
The emails reveal that Brown attempted to further his ruse by using his RTJP email account to contact himself on a personal account, making it look like a two-way conversation setting up the concert, as well as dealing with the fallout.
He would then also contact Hegazi with this personal account and his Sentinel email account to discuss the situation.
One email, dated 4:53 p.m. Sept. 13 from “Monte McDaniel” to Hegazi, states that Brown is “further authorized to accept payments, autograph requests and other material on behalf of RTJP Company and Damon Harris and The Temptations.”
Another email on Oct. 25, this time from “Monte Collins,” states: “We aren’t able to compensate Mr. Brown for this show the way we normally compensate someone who works for us, but Mr. Harris and the group plan to give him $300.”
It then asks for a matching donation to Brown for compensation.
Once the concert was played, with Joe Phillips and another singer filling in for Damon Harris, Hegazi placed a stop payment on the check he was asked to issue to RTJP.
From there, the situation becomes even more muddy.
Playing both sides
In late October, Hegazi and representatives of RTJP began making accusations back and forth, both threatening legal action.
Brown began emailing RTJP saying they should concede to Hegazi and pay him back, then posing as “MCM” sent an email to himself on his personal account stating that Damon Harris had died from cancer, which was unfounded.
The desperation becomes palpable when Brown’s company, RTJP, threatened Hegazi and Brown with legal action involving the state attorney general and the county district attorney. He also threatened to contact the Better Business Bureau.
“Further, we’ve immediately issued a subpoena of guest and video, which we understand shows Ms. Wafaa Hegazi dancing and enjoying the show,” stated one email from “Monte C. McDaniel.”
An email purported to have been sent from Brown’s wife to Hegazi asks the businessman to be lenient toward her husband as he deals with the situation.
In an email to Hegazi, Brown states, “RTJP Company filed suit against me for $2,135 saying I was the one who did the deal and Damon put me in charge and that the band should be paid.”
When Hegazi told him to send the lawsuit paperwork and he would provide the defense, Brown stated that he would rather deal with paying because, “I can’t afford to be involved in a public suit. It will definitely cost me my job.”
Another email from Brown to Hegazi then claims he had paid the company.
“My heart — and I know you know this — was always in the right place,” Brown stated in the email. “Will yours prove to be so as well? Will you help restore to us at least some of what we had to pay to RTJP?”
Abusing his position
Hegazi alleges that in order to get some sort of payment out of him, Brown then used his position as a reporter at The Sentinel to convince him by implying that coverage in the newspaper could go his way if he did so.
“Also we’re doing a Sunday story this month on the best and worse (sic) hotels to stay in in the Carlisle area for the holidays ... Again, I will offer you an opportunity to comment for the story if you wish,” he said in an email dated Dec. 2.
This story had been pitched and shot down by editors days earlier.
In his allegations sent to the district attorney, Hegazi stated that the proposed story was retaliation for this situation.
“Now the Sentinel newspaper is writing articles about how crooked we are and about what is the worst hotel in the area,” he said in the email to the district attorney.
On Dec. 3, Brown wrote to Hegazi saying, “I’m not sure what you should do, I’m out of it totally,” after being asked his suggestion on the legal tactic to take.
“I have nothing to do with what you and Damon’s people are doing ... That’s between you and them.”
Hegazi then received an email from Joe Phillips, the fill-in singer for the concert, that he had exclusively dealt with Brown during the situation and that Brown was solely responsible for payment. He then accused the paper of knowing of Brown’s actions, stating, “The Sentinel News article, written by Stacy Brown, stated that I, (Joe Phillips) said that the hotel (Hotel Carlisle) refused to pay us. ... Well, that is not true. My agreement was with Stacy Brown only and not Hotel Carlisle.”
On Dec. 6, Hegazi then received an email from RTJP stating they had dropped their claim, stating, “Although we are disappointed in your failure to honor the agreement, your dispute is now entirely with Mr. Brown.”
The Sentinel didn’t know about Hegazi’s complaints until Monday afternoon. Tuesday morning, the newspaper met with Hegazi. The businessman said he now believes Brown was acting on his own accord and that The Sentinel wasn’t part of his actions.
More questions remain
While the situation has yet to be resolved, Brown has been removed from his position at The Sentinel.
Further investigation into allegations led to the discovery that Brown is facing unrelated felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from an incident in Cumberland County before he was hired at The Sentinel.
According to court records, Brown was charged with felony criminal attempt to theft by deception, misdemeanor theft by deception and misdemeanor bad checks on April 27 after Upper Allen Township Police allege that on Feb. 15, Brown issued a check from his own Scranton Times Downtown Federal Credit Union account and deposited it into his Members First Federal Credit Union account for $4,215. He then withdrew $620.57 prior to the check being returned as “account closed.” According to an affidavit of probable cause, he admitted to issuing the check during an interview on March 15.
Brown is scheduled for a pretrial conference in that incident at 9 a.m. Jan. 16 and is scheduled for trial on Jan. 28.