The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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April 17, 2014

Fake Peoria mayor Twitter account prompts raid

PEORIA, Ill. — Police officers trying to find out who was behind a fake Twitter account set up in the name of Peoria's mayor have raided a home, seizing computers and phones and hauling several people in to be questioned.

Tuesday's raid was carried out by seven plainclothes officers even though Twitter had suspended the account several weeks ago, the (Peoria) Journal Star reported. Three people at the home were brought to a police station to be interviewed, as were two other people who were met by police at their workplaces.

No arrests were made in connection with the Twitter account, but one of the residents was charged with possession of marijuana. Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard says officers were investigating it as a possible case of impersonating a public official, an offense punishable with a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail.

"They brought me in like I was a criminal," said Michelle Pratt, a 27-year-old resident who was in the shower when officers arrived at the front door.

The Twitter account was set up in late February or early March under the handle @Peoriamayor. It included a photo of Mayor Jim Ardis, his city email address and a bio saying he enjoyed serving the city.

Some tweets referenced sex and drugs.

By March 10, the bio information was updated to indicate it was a parody account. It had about 50 tweets and as many followers.

"A parody means it's fake. It was even listed as fake," Pratt said. "It was a joke Twitter account, and they searched the whole house."

But Settingsgaard took a different view.

"I don't agree it was obvious, and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor," Settingsgaard said in an email response to questions.

Ardis could not be reached for comment, the newspaper said.

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