Capitol Alert

Prank robo calls plague California lawmakers, top Democratic campaigns

The California Highway Patrol is investigating bizarre crank calls directed at some state lawmakers and Democratic campaign staff members.

In an email to Assembly members and staff on Monday night, Mark Hoover, deputy chief sergeant-at-arms, said "several legislators in the Assembly and Senate have received phone calls and/or messages from an individual who appeared to be in distress, pleading for help saying, 'I can't breathe!'"

Assembly sergeants estimate five to 10 legislators and their family members have received hoax phone calls. According to Hoover's email, "Assembly and Senate sergeants are looking into the matter in coordination with CHP." The California Highway Patrol declined to comment on the case, explaining it does not discuss ongoing investigations.

In at least some cases, the recorded distress calls appear on phones as though they're coming from someone the recipient knows, ramping up the fear.

"These calls have been investigated and determined to be prank phone calls from a hacked list," Hoover's email said.

While sergeants aren't releasing names at this time, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, and Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, have received the phone call.

At least one high-level staff member from each of the following campaigns has been targeted as well: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. None of the campaigns immediately responded to requests for comment.

Brian Brokaw, a Democratic consultant, said his phone was among those targeted. He provided a copy of the voicemail and said the person who hacked his phone is also using his number to target other people.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Brokaw apologized to anyone who may have gotten a call. "Someone seems to have found a way to call and leave this scary/ crazy voice message on elected officials’ and staffers’ phones while somehow showing other people’s phone numbers as the incoming call – and I’m one of the lucky chosen few, apparently."

In an interview, Brokaw said he disagrees with the assessment that this was a "prank call." Instead, he said, "It seems like it's coming from a person with some serious issues.

"I don't know if there's any way of stopping it to be honest," Brokaw said. " I'd like this issue to go away."