A South Dakota reporter could spend a year behind bars after an investigation into a threatening phone call connected to Gov. Kristi Noem (R) proved to be a prank.
Austin Goss, now formerly the capitol bureau reporter for Dakota News Now, was arrested Thursday and charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor after he was alleged to be responsible for a January call to former South Dakota Republican chair Dan Lederman.
That call, made to appear as though it were coming from Noem’s personal cellphone number, featured a pre-recorded message meant to sound like a member of a crime family pressuring Lederman for information about boxes of COVID shots.
“So now, you answer me this … Between the hours of midnight yesterday, and right now, where they disappear to? … Did you check your basement? How many boxes of the Moderna where there? [sic] … Oh, you think this is funny? … Yo! You’re making me say way too much on this line already,” the arrest warrant reported the details of the call.
“You telling me you didn’t tell Vito,” the call continued, “that you were going to try to move the three boxes of that AstraZeneca outside the family? … You saying you ain’t said that?! … Oh, I’m getting so angry. … You saying, you ain’t said that?! … You come here. Say it to my face.”
Prior to its end, a laugh was heard and the call confirmed its origin as that of the prank site, PrankDial.com with the message, “You’ve just been pranked by PrankDial.com.”
Lederman had initially reported the call to the South Dakota Highway Patrol and, according to the Argus Leader, the following day Noem had urged the U.S. Attorney General and congressional committees to investigate a leak of her family’s personal information, including her cell phone number.
The investigation traced the call’s origin back to Goss via his IP address and Lederman asserted that this had not been the only time he had been harassed by the reporter who would “occasionally text him snide or rude remarks.”
Upon learning of the reporter’s arrest, KOTA Territory News and Dakota News Now released a joint statement on the release of Goss from his employ, “We learned of the incident involving Austin Goss late last night. Once we gathered the facts, we decided to terminate his employment with our stations. KOTA Territory and Dakota News Now were unaware of Mr. Goss’ activities and deeply regrets the lack of judgment he showed, which violated our policies and is contrary to our commitment to the highest standards of journalistic integrity.”
Charged with a misdemeanor count of making threatening, harassing, or misleading contacts, Goss could spend a maximum of one year in jail and face a $2,000 fine if found guilty. He is scheduled to appear in court on May 23.
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