The Oakwood Police Department is working on a case against a Gainesville man involving a newspaper the department believes he fraudulently created called the Gainesville Observer.
Investigator Danny Sridej said Joshua Brian Randolph, 25, started the newspaper, posting a website and social media accounts under the Gainesville Observer name. Randolph, going by the name “Kevin Cobb,” hired nine people, said Sridej, who believes the employees worked for Randolph for no more than two or three weeks. Sridej said some of them had been paid with cash and others had been given paychecks that bounced.
He also suspects Randolph of writing employment and income verification letters to local businesses even though the company did not have any assets to support the claims in the letters.
“They didn’t know that they were being conned, pretty much,” Sridej said. “And my feeling is that he was probably setting them up to get them in and probably use some of their identity or information to further the business. ... I don’t think he has the intention of doing a legitimate newspaper and paying them legitimately, like paying them with actual income, because there’s no assets in the company.”
Sridej, who is investigating the case since the man previously had a number of charges out of Oakwood, said Randolph has not yet been charged in connection with the newspaper, but that charges are forthcoming and likely will include theft by deception and theft of services.
In a news release, Sridej warned against anyone posting their resume or personal information onto the Gainesville Observer website, stating that “their personal information may be compromised or used without their consent.” Sridej said he was attempting to shut the website down.
Sridej also urged anyone who may have provided personal information to Randolph or the Observer to contact their local law enforcement.
An open records request with the city of Gainesville last week turned up no business license for the Gainesville Observer.
Sridej said he had taken out a search warrant for the office Randolph had leased in suites D and E at 720 Main St. in Gainesville. The office had some furniture, including a conference table, but painting and telephone line installation were just starting, he said. Reporters worked mostly from the road, he said.
Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks said the Hall County Sheriff’s Office has charges against Randolph, including eight counts of transaction card fraud for using a card belonging to someone else and theft by deception for using a credit card to make a $2,000 down payment on a vehicle he was not authorized to use.
Randolph is currently being held at the Hall County Jail on $10,000 bond, according to magistrate court records — $5,000 for the fraud charges and $5,000 for theft. He has a preliminary hearing set for June 24. He did not yet have an attorney.
Wilbanks said he had been in touch with a man who said his name was Kevin Cobb and had been working toward setting up a meeting between the sheriff’s office and newspaper staff.
“He’s pretty brazen, apparently,” Wilbanks said. “We’ve got what we consider to be a pretty solid working relationship with our local media outlets. And this is the first time that I’ve personally encountered anything even remotely close to this — where we have someone who’s a known criminal posing as a legitimate media representative.”
Wilbanks said the man posing as Cobb requested information from the sheriff about statistics on gun seizures and forfeitures for an article “he was supposedly working on,” and the sheriff’s office was working to gather that data “under the assumption that he was legitimate.” He also was working to get access to the sheriff’s office radio frequency, Wilbanks said.
Wilbanks said the last email he had sent to the man was to ask who the editor/publisher was so that he could arrange a face-to-face meeting. He said he never got a response to that email.
Kevin Holbrook with the Gainesville Police Department said he had spoken with staff at the Observer and the department was moving forward to have an official meeting, as they do with all media outlets, but he had not spoken with Randolph directly.
The most recent Hall County charges are related to an incident report filed May 13 by the sheriff’s office, which states that a distant relative of Randolph’s reported that the man had stolen his identity and opened four accounts, including a Bank of America credit account where he had $1,800 in charges and an American Express account with $1,300 in charges.
Local authorities also are assisting the Kearny County Sheriff’s Office in west Kansas where Randolph faces a credit card fraud charge. Kearny Undersheriff David Horner said Randolph had represented himself as Jazmine Stephens, a contractor with a website-based hauling company.
Horner said a small-business person had contracted Randolph on May 21 to haul a vehicle. Randolph never hauled the vehicle but is suspected of stealing the person’s information to obtain credit.
Horner said Randolph would have to face charges in Hall before being extradited to Kansas.
Earlier this year, Randolph was charged with transaction card fraud and identity theft in connection with stealing personal information from customers at Greene Ford Co. on Browns Bridge Road, according to an incident report filed Feb. 25 by the sheriff’s office.
The incident report states that William Ferguson reported he had to fire Randolph after multiple calls from customers who had bought cars from Randolph and then had information stolen. The incident report also states that $1,500 was charged on the company credit card without authorization.
Ferguson said Tuesday that Randolph was referred from another dealership. Ferguson said he fired him due to poor performance and later learned about the man's criminal history.
Last year, Randolph was charged with theft and forgery after Sridej said he wrote a check from another man’s bank account. That man was a member of a semiprofessional basketball team called the Gainesville Heat, which Randolph had started.
District Attorney Lee Darragh said that case is still open. At the time, Randolph’s attorney, Dan Parr of Weaver Law Firm in Gainesville, said the charges were false. A call to Parr on Monday was not returned.
Darragh said Randolph was convicted previously in connection with posing as a police officer as well as an attorney and was convicted on deposit account fraud on multiple occasions.