WTF? Facing backlash, Tellspec CEO now flatly denies she emailed, messaged or called Pando to threaten a lawsuit

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Yesterday, the story of Tellspec and its as-yet undelivered, crowdfunded miracle health device was weird. Today it’s been upgraded to nuts.

As we reported previously, Tellspec’s CEO, Isabel Hoffmann, contacted Pando, and our lawyers, and our chairman Andrew Anker, threatening a defamation suit unless we delete all of our reporting on the company.

Here was Hoffmann’s original message:

Dear Andrew

Last year, Tellspec was victim of a persistent and consistent defamation attacks, with three articles written by James Robinson and published by Pando Daily. We have sent requests to the editor as well as the past writer to retract the defamation done both on Tellsepc [sic] and my person. Social media and in particular RedIt [sic] has several explanations that are not very ethical for this sudden attack on Tellspec, I encourage you to read them. After several failed attempts to contact the editor I have engaged a lawyer to start an action against Pando Daily. I understand that you are now the chairman for Pando Daily and I wonder if you are aware of this. I would appreciate a call or an email so this can be resolved amicable [sic] and without further delay. Tellspec has suffered financial losses due to these articles that claim we are a scam. Please advice if we can talk before my lawyer contacts you and the editor.

Isabel

The story was picked up by Boing Boing and others. Tellspec backers were, unsurprisingly, alarmed.

Yesterday afternoon, to continue reporting the story, I emailed Tellspec’s financial advisor, Louis Florence, to try to figure out if the company was using crowd-funded money to finance its proposed lawsuit. Did he even know about the threat?

Apparently he didn’t. Florence forwarded my email to Hoffmann, with the additional note: “??????” I know this because a short time later, Hoffmann forwarded the exchange to me, with a message of her own…

Mr Carr

What is this regarding? Why  is it that Tellspec is suing Pando Daily and I am not aware of it?

Isabel Hoffmann

That’s right. Despite the fact that someone with access to Hoffmann’s accounts, claiming to be Hoffmann, had previously emailed, messaged, and even telephoned us to threaten a lawsuit, she was now pleading ignorance over the whole thing.

In a follow up email, she reiterated:

Mr Carr

Those threats are not from me. Myself and my team are not aware of what you are referring to

As a reminder: The original legal threat came from a LinkedIn account that we’ve since confirmed belongs to Hoffmann. In an attempt to verify the message’s legitimacy, I separately emailed Hoffmann’s personal Gmail address, as listed on her own website. A person purporting to be Hoffmann responded to that message, confirming the veracity of the threat. After which that same person called our attorney, identifying herself again as Isabel Hoffmann, and reiterated the intention to sue.

But now, with mounting media scrutiny and after Tellspec’s advisors have started to express alarm, Hoffmann says none of it – the LinkedIn message, the Gmail response, the female voice who called our lawyer – ever happened. Or at least if it did, then none of it was really her.

I responded to ask if I understood her correctly: Was she claiming her accounts had been hacked?

No response.

I asked if our lawyer could call her to confirm that she wasn’t the voice on the telephone.

No response.

I asked if she could at least confirm the Gmail address and LinkedIn accounts which sent the threat (and replied to our follow ups) really belonged to her.

She declined. 

I was later able to confirm that the same Gmail address (and Hoffmann’s full surname: Hoffmann Miles) was used to register the domain tellspec.com and other Tellspec-related domains…

Also, the domain isabelhoffmann.com, which lists the Gmail address as a contact method, is registered to Isabel Hoffmann at a mailing address linked to Hoffmann.

Finally, after I made clear I intended to publish the above, Hoffmann replied…

Mr Carr

I really fail to see what you are referring to and what exactly you want. You must have the wrong person.

Thank you

Isabel Hoffmann

By this point, my head was starting to hurt. If Hoffmann is the “wrong person” then the “right person” has access to all of Hoffmann’s social media and email accounts. She also shares Hoffmann’s email syntax, the idiosyncratic phrasing of a non-native English speaker (using phrases like “a lot of time in your hands”) and even the way Hoffmann signs her emails…

One of emails threatening a lawsuit…

Paul,

We simply cannot deliver any letter via email. Can you send me an address please? If you choose to continue to insist on not giving me your address I will have not [sic] choice but to escalate the process and request that our lawyer to send the letter to your lawyer.

Thank you

Isabel

Hoffmann now…

Mr Carr

I really fail to see what you are referring to and what exactly you want. You must have the wrong person.

Thank you

Isabel Hoffmann 

The imposter was also able and willing to pose as Hoffmann on the telephone while speaking to our attorney at Bryan Cave, who has a record of the call in his office phone log and will confirm the caller identified herself as Hoffmann.

In other words, if Hoffmann’s denial is true – and journalistic protocol demands I acknowledge that possibility no matter how unbelievable – then she and Tellspec are the victim of the most complex smear-campaign/hoax I’ve seen in a long time. And I’ve seen a few.

If that’s the case, I can’t understand why Hoffmann wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to help us expose the imposter. Why wouldn’t she ask to see the emails apparently sent in her name, or want to speak to our lawyer, who would no doubt quickly confirm her voice in no way resembles the original caller? Why didn’t she seem at all concerned that we published a story about the legal threat, or ask us to correct or retract it? In fact, when I suggested that we’d be glad to do exactly that if she could confirm that the email account wasn’t hers, or had been hacked, she didn’t respond.

I honestly don’t know how to process this, except to share the above with Pando readers and let you make your own mind what’s going on.

This I know for sure: Of the two possibilities I can come up with, neither is good news for Tellspec backers.

Either Hoffmann is telling the truth, in which case the CEO of a $ 386k healthcare crowdfunding campaign has likely had all of her private social and email accounts compromised, and is being impersonated in phone calls. That means any information submitted by Tellspec’s thousands of customers could also have been compromised – a possibility which Hoffmann seems curiously untroubled by. If that’s what’s really going on, and if I were a Tellspec customer, I’d be calling my bank.

OR… Hoffman isn’t telling the truth and it really was her who made the threat but now, facing even more heat from already frustrated supporters, she has decided to brazen it out with breathtaking chutzpah and deny, deny, deny. If that’s the real story here then it means the CEO of Tellspec responded to critical reporting by threatening a lawsuit, and then responded to coverage of that suit by inventing a fictional imposter in order to get her out of the jam. She then flat denied any involvement with her fictional imposter and tried, instead, to suggest that Pando (and our outside legal counsel) made up the whole thing. If that’s what’s really going on then, if I were a Tellspec customer, I’d… well, probably call my bank, actually.

I made one last attempt late last night to ask Hoffmann to confirm at least whether the accounts used to send the legal threats are hers and if she believes she is being impersonated. She responded with a one line reply:

What exactly do you not understand?

I reiterated my questions and finally received this response, in which Hoffmann claims (despite, incidentally, us being the first Google result for her company after their own websites) that she has never so much as heard of Pando, let alone ever threatened to sue us.

Mr. Carr

Before today I did not even knew who you were. However, out of the blue, today you sent me 13 emails! It is late here and after a full day of meetings,  I just finished reading your dramatic series of emails asking desperately for a comment from me or from anyone related to Tellspec so you can write to a story. You clearly have a lot of time in [sic] your hands.

Today, I replied twice to you by letting you know that your unlikely story has nothing to do with me. Never the less you decided to published a totally unsubstantiated article. Your article makes good reading, it  amuses me and likely will amuse many others. However I have no confidence that you will get your facts straight. I have not paid any attention to your company in 3 years why would I start now?

May I encourage you to take yourself less seriously.

Isabel Hoffmann

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I responded to Hoffman once again, asking – again – if she’s claiming to have been hacked. She responded…

Dear Mr. Carr

I have no reasons to believe that any of of [sic] my gmail account has been hacked. I did have a problem with my linkded [sic] profile a few weeks ago but I believe this has been resolved.

Tellspec’s customer data is not linked to my personal profile. But thank you for your note.

Isabel Hoffmann

Ok, last try. I replied: “So how do you explain the fact that the legal threats came from your Gmail account?”

Mr Carr

You probably have a good explanation for what you claim you received, but since it has nothing to do with me I do not have one. Your sensational accusations are not based on facts. Unfortunately, most of what Pando Daily published is unsubstantiated and rubbish. I think we can safely say I have nothing more to say to you on this matter.

Isabel Hoffmann

I also received a separate note from Louis Florence, without Hoffmann copied. He wrote:

Paul – I was not aware of any of this.

Sincerely

Louis

I asked him to confirm his role as financial advisor to the company. He responded:

Yes, but this has only involved occasionally verifying the validity of a financial model, the assumptions, etc. 

We’ll keep digging, but something is very, very screwed up at Tellspec. And it’s not getting any less so: We’ve heard from several frustrated backers who have requested refunds from the company due to non-delivery but have received no response.

If you work at Tellspec, or are a backer who has requested a refund, I’d love to hear from you. [email protected]  

Meantime, this is probably a good time to reiterate the importance of not taking strategic advice from this guy…

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