Some days are born different. Like the day you woke up to find Trump was president. You can feel the Earth shift on its axis. You can feel the steep change in air pressure. Nothing looks the same. You rub your eyes. It isn’t just that such a day is different from any day that came before, the world is different, different in a way that it will never be the same again. It’s a milestone, a breakthrough, one for the books.
March 16 was one of those days. It began when I heard Karen Velie and Dan Blackburn of CalCoastNews had unanimously been convicted by a jury in SLO Superior Court of defaming Arroyo Grande businessman Charles Tenborg and ordered to pay $1.1 million to Tenborg in damages.
Spring was in the air, just a week away on the calendar from becoming official. Even the birds in the trees outside the courthouse on Monterey Street were chirping about Velie and Blackburn getting what was coming to them. Justice had been served to Velie and Blackburn on a very expensive silver platter they dropped and broke. Now they have to pay for it.
As pleased as I was that justice unexpectedly made a stop in SLO to deIiver the good verdict, at the same time I was sad for all the others who had been targeted by CalCoastNews over the years and didn’t get the satisfaction of seeing Velie’s face when the verdict was announced. Tenborg’s attorney James Wagstaffe’s courtroom obliteration of Velie, Blackburn and their bumbling pro-bono team of plucked legal eagles is as close as they’re ever going to get to justice.
I was one of the those targets, along with my son, Aaron, ever since Congalton intercepted and published on CalCoastNews an email sent from County Counsel Warren Jensen to Aaron in 2010. In a curious twist in 2011, CalCoastNews approached us about forming a partnership, which we rejected for reasons I’ll explain later. Shortly after, without any provocation, they started lying online about our stillborn business encounter and denigrating us on their blog. Having had enough of their abuse, Aaron and I started investigating CalCoastNews’s reporting and tactics in 2013, writing a series of articles published on my website, The ROCK, including “The Wild Imagination of Karen Velie,” “V is for Vendetta: Inside the CalCoastNews, Congalton Chaos Machine,” and “CalCoastNews and The ROCK: A Brief History,” clearly revealing the motivations behind our articles. Aaron followed up with critical commentary on his blog The Razor, website The Core, and, most effectively, his Facebook page, CalCoastFraud, which became a popular destination for the growing audience of readers and their families directly affected by CalCoastNews’s ceaseless, unsubstantiated accusations and allegations against public figures and private citizens.
We knew they would retaliate against us – they especially wanted to shut Aaron up – but we underestimated just how far they’d go to accomplish that. We soon found ourselves on the receiving end of derogatory emails sent to ROCK readers from Congalton’s camp, then random Congalton potshots at Aaron on the air on KVEC, referring to him as “little blogger boy” and “little Internet troll.” It’s gone on for years, and continues as Congalton seeks to blame everyone but himself for Velie’s fall.
It escalated from there. We soon received calls from the IRS and Social Services. Velie hooked up with a few Los Osos malcontents who claimed to know us back in 2006 and spread the lie that we were paid by Supervisor Adam Hill to write about CalCoastNews, a lie often repeated by Velie. A neighbor began spying on us, listening to our conversations, reporting back to Velie, who claimed she had someone go through our garbage looking for anything she could use. Fake news articles about Aaron were concocted by Velie and Blackburn to incite violence against him. Velie spear carrier, Dane Senser, slandered Aaron at a Morro Bay council meeting and Board of Supervisors meetings, uninterrupted by the Chair. Velie lackey Kevin P. Rice orchestrated a series of obscene robo-calls about Aaron throughout Morro Bay, which led to Aaron resigning from his volunteer position with the Parks & Recreation Committee and Eco Rotary to spare them. Velie called Aaron’s boss at work and tried to get Aaron fired, threatening to write about his boss if his boss didn’t pay for Velie’s silence. Velie’s private investigator/process server Mike Brennler showed up at our door to serve Aaron with a cease and desist order from Velie pro bono lawyer, Stew Jenkins, which, of course, Aaron promptly posted online.
In January 2015, the anonymous FireAdamHill.com Facebook page appeared, long suspected of being a CalCoastNews spin-off (the FPPC says it’s still investigating), ushering in a new low in endless personal attacks featuring and mimicking Velie conspiracies almost word for word. Aaron and I were both prominent targets. Aaron earned a wanted poster sent throughout the county again and again with the phone number of the sheriff’s office, urging CalCoastNews followers and its violent fringe to report him. Others called for direct violence against him and offered to help. My photo appeared along with headshots of other CalCoastNews/FireAdamHill targets under the headline, “Help Arrest and Convict Adam Hill Trolls for Harassing SLO Residents,” which was boosted on Facebook repeatedly for more than a year leading up to the election of Adam Hill. A constant flow of incendiary blog comments against Hill, Aaron and other CalCoastNews targets sought desperately to reinforce the lies and keep the flames of faux outrage burning high through Election Day.
When Tenborg launched his lawsuit in 2012, CalCoastNews shifted its strategy, going after Tenborg on its anonymous blogs, pitching an assortment of conspiratorial scenarios where “the bad guys” were operating against the real victim, CalCoastNews. FireAdamHill was eventually tasked with constantly connecting and conflating Tenborg, Hill, PG&E, Wagstaffe, the law firm of Adamski & Moronski, Aaron, and a changing cast of others in a master plot to shut down CalCoastNews because, it claimed, the forces of corruption had allied against its truthtelling.
In 2016, as the Tenborg trial date approached – after gaining continuances to delay the trial and run up legal expenses in an attempt to force Tenborg to drop his suit – CalCoastNews turned to GoFundMe.com to raise money for depositions and their legal defense. Without a shred of evidence, they blamed Adam Hill and PG&E for being behind Tenborg’s suit, figuring it was a lot easier fundraising against arch nemesis Adam Hill than for a defamation suit they couldn’t really defend. They raised more than $10,000, but not all that money was used for their legal defense in the Tenborg case; part of it went to deposing Aaron to confirm their conspiracy theory that Aaron was a “business associate” paid by Adam Hill to write about CalCoastNews, a clear abuse of process. The allegation is featured in Velie’s personal lawsuit against Hill, which remains active. Immediately following the deposition, Velie made up more fake news about Aaron, claiming revelations that didn’t exist, without a single quote from the deposition transcript because she didn’t have a copy to quote from to support her fabrications. I know how bogus Velie’s account was because I went with Aaron to the deposition and listened at the door. Velie wouldn’t let me in the room, but that didn’t stop me.
When the guilty verdict was finally handed down, Velie again turned to GoFundMe to raise money for an appeal. One of her GoFundMe updates was aimed squarely at me: “We thought our supporters need to know about the constant flow of garbage aimed at CCN by one of SLO Supervisor Adam Hill’s paid flunkies. Although we are loathe to cite the page in any way, we have linked as an example an article from a Facebook page that demeans CCN daily […] Help spread the word!”
Cited was my article that appeared on Aaron’s website, SLOTruth.org, “Karen Velie: The Journalist Con.” Like Velie, I encourage you read it to learn the truth about Karen Velie.
Which brings me back to 2011 and what I told Blackburn when he asked me to explain why we declined to partner with CalCoastNews. I told him I wanted nothing to do with Velie. I told him Velie needed her own editor and lawyer by her side 24/7, and I didn’t want the potential liability of working with someone who required such high maintenance. I knew sooner or later Velie was going to get caught crossing the line one too many times. It was inevitable. You had to be blind, or in love, not to see it. I told Blackburn that if he ever decided to go above ground with their reporting and sources, he could call me. But I also knew that wasn’t going to happen. Finding a scoop and reporting the news were never good enough for Velie and Blackburn. The money, they believed, was in creating news, news that made news. Then they became the news, the kind of news you never ever want to make if you’re in the real news business.
So it was no surprise to me when a jury unanimously found Karen Velie and Dan Blackburn guilty of defamation. I mean, they defamed Aaron and attacked my family for pointing it out! But I have to admit I was a little surprised how long it took for the terrible twosome to be stopped in their tracks. I always knew I was watching a slow-motion train wreck, car crash, ship sinking, or disaster of your choice; I just never accounted for how protected they were by their firewall of attorneys, politicians, extremists, enablers, lackeys and henchmen, and a legal system that makes suing them almost impossible. Until Tenborg stepped forward.
I have no illusions about Velie. She loves to hit the keys. She loves the sound of each letter, each word landing in a space on a computer screen. She loves the idea of writing and reporting more than her ability to actually produce anything remotely resembling good writing and reporting. But it’s a free country, especially for Karen Velie, for whom everything is apparently free, and you can sue a girl for failing, but you can’t make her pay if she claims she doesn’t have any money, living instead entirely off the good will of friends. How convenient. And so Karen Velie will continue to do what Karen Velie does best, what she loves to do most of all: type, type, type. Knitting, knitting, knitting words together, like tricoteuse Madame Defarge in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, knitting her patterns of evil.