Fake reporter called 5 female Verona athletes
Numerous school districts affected
MILWAUKEE — Police said a man posing as a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter and photographer has been calling high school female athletes at home and asking to take their pictures and interview them.
Verona police said five members of the golf team were contacted by the man, but meetings with the athletes were never scheduled.
Verona police said the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was contacted and it was confirmed they did not have a reporter working on such a story.
The incidents have high schools and local journalists on alert.
Rob Hernandez, the Wisconsin State Journal prep sports editor, was busy covering the state football championships Thursday. Hernandez said he’s concerned about reports of a man posing as a journalist making contact with student athletes.
“We do try to do a good job, promote local athletes, and when someone tries to ride in and pretend to be us, that’s not a real good thing,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said his concern goes beyond his profession. He said it hits much closer to home after the imposter focused on Verona Area High School’s girls golf team.
“My daughter took a phone call at home,” Hernandez said. “I was sitting on the couch next to her. I heard it was the Journal Sentinel. I asked her to ask who it was, and nine times out of 10, I recognize the name. I didn’t recognize the name this time.”
Hernandez’s daughter, a member of the golf team, put the call on speakerphone, and that’s when the 30-year sports journalist realized something seemed off.
“Once the gentleman started asking about personal information, I kind of stepped in, took the phone and asked who it was again,” Hernandez said. “He told me it was none of my business and he hung up.”
Hernandez contacted the Journal Sentinel and learned the man had made similar pitches to female athletes at high schools around the Milwaukee area.
Journal Sentinel security chief Robert Maldonado said reports about the impostor have been filed with law enforcement officials in Milwaukee and several suburbs, including Franklin, Cedarburg and Germantown, as well as Verona.
Verona police said it’s unclear if a crime has actually occurred, but police want to identify the man and determine his motive for the phone calls.
Hernandez said it’s a lesson for all students in the athletic spotlight to stay alert.
“I think the good news is a lot of people reacted quickly, and we’ve really never felt threatened by this individual,” Hernandez said.
Journal Sentinel prep editor Mark Stewart said staff reporters and photographers work with athletic directors and coaches and wouldn’t contact athletes directly. He said a call from a stranger to an athlete at home is a red flag.
Students who’ve been targeted seem to be female athletic standouts who have already had their pictures in newspapers or other publications, according to Stewart.