Would a private citizen take it upon himself to create official-sounding social media accounts in order to spread positive news about a politician?

Apparently so, according to whoever is behind a new social media campaign promoting the work of Sheriff Marlin Gusman and his troubled jail.

Since June 4, the “Orleans Parish Prison Foundation” has been praising Gusman on a Facebook page, using language lifted from the sheriff’s website and news releases. A sampling:

The author of the page even took a swipe at Mayor Mitch Landrieu in a post called “Mayor Blames Everyone Else When the Responsibility Falls in His Lap.” The mayor has been at odds with Gusman over the price of jail reforms.

Among the tweets from the OPPFoundation‘s Twitter account:

You’d expect this from the Sheriff’s Office or his campaign. But the Sheriff’s Office spokesman and Gusman’s campaign manager told The Lens they’re not connected to the so-called foundation.

There is not, as far as The Lens can tell, an actual Orleans Parish Prison Foundation. We found no such records with the Louisiana Secretary of State, where nonprofits and corporations register.

On Twitter, the person behind the OPP Foundation account implied that was coming.

So who’s working so hard on Gusman’s behalf? We asked the person or persons running the accounts, but we didn’t get far.

In a Facebook message, the person said he or she is a “concerned citizen.”

In a private message sent via Twitter, the person said, “We are an agency developing the OPP Foundation to assist in prison reform and positive inmate education and skills development. Pro Nola!”

We asked the Sheriff’s Office if these social media campaigns were being done on the public’s dime.

“I’ve had a chance to look at these,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Phil Stelly responded. “I appreciate the intention, but these are not the Sheriff’s accounts.”

Nor are they being run by a contractor for the Sheriff’s Office, he said.

Nina Suleiman, who handles Sheriff’s Office matters for its public relations firm, the Ehrhardt Group, said she was not aware of the Orleans Parish Prison Foundation until we asked about it.

What about Gusman’s campaign? The sheriff hasn’t actively campaigned since he defeated former Sheriff Charles Foti this spring. But Gusman had about $29,000 in his campaign account as of his last report, filed April 24.

Ron Nabonne, who managed Gusman’s re-election campaign, said he didn’t know about the Orleans Parish Prison Foundation. Campaign treasurer Albert “Joey” Richard declined to say whether the campaign has recently spent money on social media.

State law requires all campaign expenses to be disclosed. The next report isn’t due until February.

The latest response from the OPP Foundation’s Facebook page came Wednesday:

I am just a concerned citizen who wants to promote the good things about Nola – my glass is almost completely full, and I’m happy to find ways to help the incarcerated learn skills so they can contribute to society when they return. Can you understand that concept, Charles? Look for the good in people… it’s now 12:40pm on Wednesday. What are you going to do today to help improve Nola?

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for...