Last week, readers tipped us off to a glut of Facebook pages for nonexistent Houston restaurants that popped up out of nowhere.
The fake pages, which ripped content from existing restaurants' profiles, led some hopeful Houston diners on wild goose chases to places that simply don't exist. Observant Houston Press readers sent us information that led us to investigate further.
So we whipped out our magnifying glasses and Sherlock Holmes hats to see if we could find who these Fakebookers were and why they were doing this.
We have uncovered evidence that points to some possible suspects.
Following up on our previous report, we traced two phone numbers that appear on many of the pages to two University of Houston fraternity brothers. Both bros claim online to work for a company that purports to excel at advertising on social media. Several of the pages have been removed during the course of our investigation.
One of the phone numbers was traced to Le Huu “Bop” Huynh, a member of the Houston chapter of Lambda Phi Epsilon, whose LinkedIn profile states:
I created over 60 facebook pages for WG Health Resources in less than one month. Each page has acquired over 5000 outreaches and over 400 engagements. Working with WG Health Resources has made me familiar with marketing platform Qwaya as well as better understanding social media marketing.
Another number was traced to Huynh's fellow Lambda Phi Epsilon brother Pichoudam “Oh” Peou, who wrote on a site called Angel's List that he works “remotely from home at WG Health Resources as content creator.” (A cached version of his profile also states that he also became familiar “with marketing platform Qwaya as well as better understanding social media marketing.”)
Peou denied any involvement with the fake Facebook pages, which sprung up in late June and July, and which rip content from real restaurants' Facebook pages, as well as Yelp reviews. When asked about his phone number being associated with some of the fake pages, he asserted he was getting "random calls" for the restaurants. "I just tell them they have the wrong number," he said.
He also denied knowing Huynh particularly well, asserting, "We have the same friends but we're not close." (Both men's LinkedIn profiles indicate they worked at Crawfish Cafe at the same time; certain portions of their LinkedIn and Angel's List profiles contain identical language.)
Peou did not respond to requests for follow-up questions; Huynh has not responded to multiple requests for comment. Peou and Huynh both "liked" some of the fake restaurant pages on Facebook, thus leaving a public trail. That also makes no sense for people getting unwanted calls from curious diners seeking restaurant information.
The website for WG Health Resources was taken down shortly after we spoke with co-founder Liam Walter of Austin, who said he was not aware of anyone named Pichoudam Peou working for his company. He then said he would not care to comment for this story and hung up.
The company was incorporated in April as WGB Utopian Productions, LLC, by Walter and Stanislav “Stan” Gershengoren, according to Texas Secretary of State filings. The address corresponds to a home owned by the Gershengoren family. (We left several voicemails with the Gershengoren family, but haven't heard back).
The company claimed to “provide precision targeting mixed with industry leading creatives. Every creative is made in-house, and we have a list of over 1 million high converting customers. You provide the product, we will sell it – no matter what.”
Walter's profile on Angel List states, “I'm in this game to make money. Nothing else matters.” He also wrote that he achieved “7 million revenue in 2015 with no investors [and] 2 million Revenue in first couple weeks of 2016.” (He also briefly launched a lifestyle website, now defunct, called “Dear Liam,” which contained his reflections on picking up hotties, losing weight and making money.)
A third person on the WG site, Nathan Keolasy, “a lead in the WG media acquisition branch,” was also traced back to the fake Facebook pages. He posted comments to one of the pages, for Comfort Cafe, on his own Facebook page, and his phone number was traced to a page for the bogus restaurant Okrumon.
The San Antonio resident also solicited help for a marketing project on a Facebook page on which UT-San Antonio students buy and sell books. In May, Keolasy posted:
Reached by phone last week, Keolasy said he was on the way to the emergency room and asked us to call back in a few hours. We did and we've never heard back.
We also reached out to others listed on the WG Health Resources site, such as Victoria Dietz, who allegedly “manages 10 accounts with networks and private advertisers”; and Emily Stewart, who “assists the team in keeping everything together” and who “knows the company's ins and out [sic] and does a variety of tasks,” like managing “over 10 employees in the philippines [sic].”
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“Over ten”? Wow. That could be, like, 11 employees. No wonder WG is generating the big bucks. Neither would tell us anything, and we have yet to hear back from the company's CFO, Erich Bao.
So far, no one from the Lambda Phi organization has been able to shed any light on this. During our first phone call with Houston chapter president Christopher "Christoph" Torres, he denied any knowledge of the fake Facebook pages but confirmed he did know Huynh. "Is he in some sort of trouble?" asked Torres. "I'm confused. I know for sure he is out of the country."
Although Peou's Angel's List profile states that he's the Houston chapter's “public image,” on a follow-up call, Torres would not confirm that Peou was a current member. (Peou's Facebook is littered with Lambda Phi Epsilon activity and he is listed, along with Huynh, on the UH Lamba Phi fraternity roster online.) Torres wouldn't answer any other questions, and then hung up on us.
We left a voicemail with the fraternity's California headquarters, and we also emailed the national communications officer and will update if we hear back.