The scandal involving Sarah Phillips, former ESPN columnist is deepening by the minute as new allegations tumble out around her from all angles.
The scandal began with a story from Deadspin.com's John Koblin who detailed a sketchy world that Phillips allegedly inhabited. The story told of her attempts, along with an accomplice known as Nilesh Prasad, to steal or coerce Twitter accounts and Facebook pages from a variety of people.
The Deadspin story alleges that she and Prasad were collecting the accounts in order to push web traffic to a sports/comedy web site. That site, which Phillips once described as a fake ESPN, would generate huge sums of ad revenue based on the traffic they could push. That ad revenue would presumably go to Prasad and Phillips.
They used the supposed revenue to hook their victims, offering to split the ad revenue to gain control of an account then using that control to cut out the creator completely.
It appears that both Phillips and Prasad used the ESPN moniker and backing to gain the trust of their victims and in some cases using the threat of ESPN's formidable legal department to bully their victims into going along with their schemes.
Phillips came to ESPN's Playbook nearly out of the blue. She was a commenter on the internet forums for Covers.com a gambling site whose stories of gambling exploits had gained a following. The editors of Covers decided to give her a column and though there were some discrepancies about a photo she claimed was her, her time at Covers went well.
So well that ESPN.com Editor Lynn Hoppes reached out to her to offer her a job with Page 2 (now Playbook.) The scams in the initial report involved Twitter accounts and a Facebook page called NBA Memes, but as her story was revealed throughout the day on Wednesday, more victims came forward.
There were others she had approached for her bait and switch Twitter account scam that have come forward on various blogs and in interviews. Professional handicapping service EA Sports Consultants even admitted to being scammed by Phillips to Deadspin.
Later in the day, more details about her accomplice Prasad emerged. According to multiple reports, it appears as though the two met in high school in Oregon, and both attended Oregon State together. They have been inseparable, since high school but have always denied reports that they were dating.
While Phillips is 22, public records indicate that Prasad is 26. Sources who knew the pair in Oregon told Deadspin that Prasad is very controlling and is likely using Phillips to perpetrate these schemes, possibly without her knowledge.
However, it appears that Phillips wasn't totally naïve. The pair worked at a Corvallis, Oregon T-Mobile store together prior to the ESPN episode. They were both fired on the same day in 2010 and a source told Deadspin that they were fired for committing massive fraud, while another told the website that the pair were selling phones and activating phones outside of policy (selling them on eBay and other routes) and then claiming the commissions for the sales.
On Tuesday, in the wake of the allegations, Phillips posted a long explanation, in a series of tweets. In that she said that she had severed ties with many people today, and that she had Recovered the Facebook page for Ben. Truthfully, he and I didn't communicate much. I learned much of that story today, with you.
Ben was the name given by Deadspin to the man who had his NBA Meme's Facebook page stolen by Phillips and Prasad.
She also claims that she protected her identity to avoid being labeled as a gambler, to future employers.
No matter how much of her story turns out to be true, and how much is yet more deception, the incident will mark a watershed moment in the days of new media, and online journalism.
ESPN hired someone they had never met and knew nothing about. They gave the full might of their brand to a person they had little to no control over, and little to no knowledge of her actions.
It will be a cautionary tale for media networks going forward into the increasingly anonymous and increasingly fast paced world of the internet.