A local reporter in South Dakota has been criminally charged after making a harassing phone call to a former state Republican leader that was disguised to appear as though it had come from Gov. Kristi Noem's personal cellphone, the Conservative Brief reported.
That reporter, Austin Goss, was also fired by the two local news outlets that employed him, Dakota News Now and KOTA Territory News, after they learned of the allegations against him.
The Associated Press reported that Goss, who was the capitol bureau reporter for Dakota News Now, turned himself in to the Stanley County Sheriff on Thursday and was released on a personal recognizance bond after being booked.
He has been charged with one misdemeanor count of making threatening, harassing, or misleading contacts and, if convicted, faces up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.
The incident occurred in January shortly after the personal identifying information of Gov. Noem and several members of her family, including Social Security numbers and personal cellphone numbers, were leaked to the public by the now-defunct House Jan. 6 Committee, though it is unclear if Goss obtained the governor's number from that leak or through his normal job as a state capitol reporter.
According to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, police records show that Goss made a "harassing phone call" to an individual identified only as D.L. on the evening of Jan. 22 that appeared to have come from Gov. Noem's cellphone.
The recipient of that call has since been revealed to be the former chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party, Dan Lederman, who confirmed the incident but declined to provide further comment.
Records showed, however, that Lederman had told investigators that Goss would "occasionally text him snide or rude remarks" and that the "tone and tenor" of the call, which was a pre-recorded message, "startled him and caused him concern for his safety."
That pre-recorded message came from a website known as PrankDial.com and featured a "Mafia guy" making accusations about illegally trafficking and selling boxes of vaccine vials but ended with laughter and the line "You’ve just been pranked by PrankDial.com."
Local media outlet KELO reported that a joint statement was issued on Thursday by Dakota News Now and KOTA Territory News to announce that Goss had been fired.
"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," the statement said.
"Dakota News Now and KOTA Territory were unaware of Mr. Goss’ activities and deeply regret the lack of judgment he showed, which violated our policies and is contrary to our commitment to the highest standards of journalistic integrity," the outlets added.
On Jan. 23, the day after that prank call had been made, Gov. Noem released a statement that claimed her cellphone had been "hacked" and used to make "hoax calls" that she had "no involvement" within the aftermath of her personal information being leaked by the former Democrat-led House Jan. 6 Committee.
"Callous mishandling of personal information has real-world consequences," Noem said. "If you get such a phone call from my number, know that I had no involvement. I have urged both the United States Attorney General and multiple congressional committees to investigate the leaking of my family’s personal information, and I look forward to whatever resolution they can provide."