BUCKHANNON — Local business partners of an online publication have been charged with misdemeanor crimes for anonymously publishing a false and defamatory campaign website.
Asad D. Khan, age 19, and Michael L. Morehead, age 42, were summonsed to appear in Upshur County Magistrate Court on August 19, before specially appointed Lewis County Magistrate Michael Gissy, to answer to charges of forbidden acts in the circulation of written matter that violates the regulation and control of election laws. According to court documents, both men allegedly collaborated in the publication and circulation of materials to aid in the defeat of Buckhannon City Council candidate Sheila Sines.
The criminal complaints state that on or about February 22, 2020, Khan and Morehead published an anonymous and false campaign website against the victim. Multiple defamatory references were made against Sines and they referred to her as a “religious bigot.” The false statements were reportedly intended to persuade the population to oppose the victim’s candidacy.
The account was reportedly created under a fake name with Morehead’s phone number and email address, and Deputy Tyler Gordon said he was able to confirm the payment method belonged to Morehead. Khan and Morehead both confessed to their conspiracy to create political ads against Sines and also admitted to creating and using an alias of Jackson Hartman on Facebook to spread bias, according to the criminal complaints.
Magistrates Coffman and Hurst requested reassignment to an out of county Magistrate “to preside over any cases that involve Dr. Khan or his family members,” citing personal reasons and they were granted voluntary recusal. Magistrate Gissy released Khan on a $3,000 personal recognizance bond, while Morehead was released on a $6,000 personal recognizance bond, due to having an additional charge. Both of the accused are prohibited from any direct or indirect contact with the victim, Sheila Sines.