MEDIA COURTHOUSE — Republican officials took to the courthouse steps Tuesday to accuse Democratic District Attorney candidate Jack Stollsteimer of coordinating a “hate hoax” press conference last month based on a purported racist email allegedly circulated by a county employee in 2015 that incumbent Republican District Attorney Katayoun Copeland claims is a fake.
“Mr. Stollsteimer and his campaign must release his emails and texts with ‘Nik the Hat,’” said Delaware County Republican Party Chair Tom McGarrigle. “Voters deserve to know if he ever tried to get the facts, like a true prosecutor would have.”
YC News Editor-in-Chief Nikolaos Tzima Hatziefstathiou, also known as “Nik the Hat,” 25, of the 700 block of Cedar Grove Road in Broomall, was charged last week with tampering with public records for allegedly creating the bogus email on a MacBook and attributing it to a supervisor in the Office of Adult Probation and Parole for a story that ran May 25.
Several Democrats, including Stollsteimer, took to the steps of the county courthouse June 5 to denounce the email if true and call for an independent investigation, which broke off into discussions of race in the criminal justice system generally.
McGarrigle and county council Chairman John McBlain, a Republican, called on Stollsteimer to apologize to county employees and their families, whose reputations McGarrigle said Stollsteimer tried to destroy.
“I was pretty outraged by the way that our employees were treated through this whole matter,” said McBlain. “This was a hoax that smelled like rotten tuna from the beginning.”
“Nikolaos Hatziefstathiou is a registered Republican who has made a name for himself by attacking Democrats,” wrote Trevor Maloney, campaign manager for Stollsteimer and other countywide Democratic candidates, in an emailed response. “But now that he has been charged with crimes, the Republicans want us to believe that the Democrats are behind this? It’s ironic that supposed leaders in the Delaware County Republican Party are engaging in the same shameful tactics they are indignantly condemning.”
An image of the email was appended to a story on the YC News website titled “Racist high-ranking official tells friend he’ll have ‘airtight job security so long as there’s a n-----’ in town.”
YC News has not responded to calls seeking comment about the charges, but Hatziefstathiou previously supplied a quote from Anthony Loro, senior executive editor of YC News’ parent company, Original Media Group Corp., stating the publication stands by its reporting. The story remains posted to the YC News website.
The affidavit of probable cause for his arrest claims Hatziefstathiou used his iPhone “to discuss the racist email at the same time it was being created on the laptop,” but a release from Copeland accompanying the affidavit stated that communication was with “a local politician.”
Copeland did not say who the politician was at a press conference announcing the charges, but did say Hatziefstathiou told the politician it was a breaking news story and sought comment.
McBlain and McGarrigle said Tuesday they have no evidence that Stollsteimer was that politician and said they have not discussed the case with Copeland since the charges were filed.
But McBlain characterized the timing of the story, subsequent calls from Harrisburg regarding the email and the press conference 11 days later as “obvious coordination, political coordination.”
“I’m not privy to who sent what email to who; the District Attorney’s press release referenced somebody communicated,” said McBlain. “So what I would say to whoever that politician was that was communicating with this criminal defendant: He or she should come forward and release whatever emails he or she has with this criminal defendant to let us know what those communications were.”
McGarrigle added that regardless of the existence of any evidence that Stollsteimer was that politician, he still came out and made comments on the courthouse steps questioning the racial motivations of those working inside based on information from a “sketchy witness at best.”
County officials from the outset said they could not locate any email containing the language used in the one that appeared with the YC News story, even in deleted emails going back to 2014.
McBlain said Tuesday that the county took the accusation very seriously and poured hundreds of man-hours into investigating the alleged email. He said a person with sound judgment should have been cautious about acting on such “fake news” reports.
“A person of even minimal judgment would have been careful about making accusations of racism against the workers of Delaware County based on the facts at hand,” he said. “I was disgusted by the politicians, both elected and candidates, who stood on these steps and used this fake news story as a basis to call our employees racist.”
Among them was state Rep. Margo Davidson, D-164 of Upper Darby, who acknowledged the email may well be fake at the outset of the press conference, but urged an independent investigation to verify it was not sent out by a county employee.
Davidson – a target of YC News stories in the past – said following Hatziefstathiou’s arrest last week that she did not regret doing so and felt vindicated. Stollsteimer also expressed relief that charges had been filed in the case.
Stollsteimer said at the June 5 press conference that it was important to determine whether the alleged email was factual or if someone was attempting to sew disunity in the community. He pointed to a Pew Research Center survey that found a majority of respondents nationally believe the criminal justice system is biased against people of color, which he said was “a problem in this society and we have to start addressing it.”
Copeland was not present for Tuesday’s press conference, but criticized her Democratic opponent and others who attended the June 5 press conference when she announced the charges.
“They were willing to believe the very worst about people without a shred of evidence,” she said. “The fact that they then stood on the county courthouse steps criticizing our innocent county employees is a testament to sometimes, apparently, how little the truth matters.”
Hatziefstathiou remains free on $100,000 unsecured bail with certain restrictions. A preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge David Lang is scheduled for Aug. 29.