Several San Diego area pharmacies were notified Tuesday they were about to be shut down in what was later revealed to be a series of fake letters from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
As federal prosecutors explained the hoax, a man stepped forward claiming to be behind the ruse.
Letters were received by 20 local pharmacies claiming U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy was going to continue her anti-marijuana dispensaries stance and shut-down pharmacies she believed were not in compliance with prescription drug laws.
The notices claimed the affected pharmacies would be shut down in 45 days.
Around 8 a.m., San Diego news organizations received phone calls and emails reporting the crackdown. One San Diego weekly magazine printed a report citing the “official” releases.
The letters appeared on San Diego County Federal Office letterhead according to CVS media relations spokesperson Mike D’Angelo.
“Those letters were not issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and were not signed by myself,” U.S. Attorney Duffy told a group of reporters hours later.
As Duffy stood in front of the federal courthouse promising to launch an investigation tracking email accounts and IP addresses, a man standing nearby spoke up.
The man, who refused to identify himself, called Duffy “Benedict Arnold” and handed out papers to the press that he identified as information from the Federal Accountability Coalition.
Members of the media followed the unidentified representative of the so-called Federal Accountability Coalition and asked him repeatedly for the motive behind the fake press releases.
He refused to comment.
On a Facebook page that claims to be connected to the Federal Accountability Coalition, a man identified by the name Dexter Haight explains the distribution of the letters.
“Look, I’m not a pot smoker but this issue is bigger than that,” Haight said on video. “This is about personal property rights of American citizens. What’s she going to do next? Take our guns? Take my home and shut down local farmers markets?"
Once federal investigators identify the person behind the hoax, they may levy charges including falsely assuming or pretending to be an officer of the United States.
The charge is a federal offense and carries up to three years in prison and monetary fines, Duffy said.
After the man walked away from the federal courthouse, no law enforcement officers appeared to be following him.
Safe Access Now later released a statement of its own, admitting to the hoax. The group also criticized Duffy's views on medical marijuana.