The office of Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón is charging the son of a Beverly Hills councilman with wire fraud over the creation of a fake Instagram account that mocked his father’s political opponent as a worshipper of, believe it or not, George Gascón.
Adam Friedman, 37, the son of Beverly Hills City Councilman Lester Friedman, was charged on July 13 with one felony count of identity theft and one misdemeanor count of internet/electronic impersonation, the D.A.’s office announced Thursday.
Prosecutors from the D.A.’s Public Integrity Division office believe that Friedman the younger set up the fake Instagram account “sharona4gascon” in April to unlawfully attribute strong pro-Gascón feelings to Sharona Nazarian, one of 11 candidates including Friedman’s father vying for three seats on the council.
One of the posts on “sharona4gascon” showed a photo of Gascón above the caption “This man is a hero and doing wonderful things for the City of Beverly Hills and humanity!”
Screenshots of the Instagram account reviewed by Los Angeles show that it had two posts and four followers.
Under California law, identity theft occurs when someone “obtains personal identifying information… of another person of another person, and uses that information for any unlawful purpose, including to obtain, or attempt to obtain, credit, goods, services, real property, or medical information without the consent of that person.”
The announcement of the felony charge by the Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which handles criminal misconduct by a public official or employee, sent shockwaves through the political elites of Beverly Hills, where Gascón is unpopular, and the fake Instagram is viewed by many as parody or satire, which is protected speech.
Gascón, the crusading progressive elected on a pledge to shake up the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office, has met with some of his most vocal (and deep-pocketed) resistance in Beverly Hills, where the City Council voted unanimously in January to back the effort to recall the D.A.
“Our leadership as a City Council requires that we take action, and I am fully supportive of this resolution,” Friedman the elder declared at the time, saying Gascón policies such as zero bail and a ban on sentence enhancements in gun and gang-related offenses welcomed criminals to spread mayhem with impunity.
Galvanized by the shocking murder of beloved Beverly Hills philanthropist Jacqueline Avant, followed by that of UCLA grad student Brianna Kupfer, of Brentwood High School, residents of the city known for its celebrity residents, palatial homes and luxury stores have been bankrolling the effort to get Gascón thrown out of office.
Identity theft is a “wobbler” offense in California, meaning the famously lenient D.A., who has staked his legacy on a pledge to roll back “mass incarceration,” had the option to downgrade Friedman’s felony to a misdemeanor for “sharona4gascon,” but curiously he didn’t.
Ironically, Nazarian is no friend to Gascón but rather a supporter of the recall. “In case there was any confusion, I support the recall,” she wrote on Facebook post in May, after “sharona4gascon” had appeared. “Please don’t believe the petty smear tactics.”
Lester Friedman and Nazarian finished first and second in the June election in which the top three finishers joined (or rejoined, in their case) the council.
The “sharona4gascon” case remains under investigation by the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation, according to the press release.
Arraignment in Department 30 of the Foltz Criminal Justice Center will be scheduled at a later date. If convicted of the felony identity theft, Adam Friedman could face up to three years in prison.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.