The local news site behind fake Biden ‘mafia plot’

By Alistair Coleman
Disinformation specialist, BBC Monitoring

Publishedduration10 minutes agoRelated Topics

  • US election 2020

image copyrightBuffalo Chronicleimage captionHow the Buffalo Chronicle reported its 'exclusive' story

A local news website spread false claims that a mafia boss was paid to forge 300,000 votes for Joe Biden – but it's not the first time that the site has published supposed scoops that weren't true.

The most recent story appeared this week in the Buffalo Chronicle, based in the city in western New York State.

Despite the site's local focus, it claimed to have inside information into election wrongdoing in Philadelphia – a much larger city, nearly 400 miles away and in an entirely different state.

The story claimed that reputed Philadelphia mob boss Joe Merlino – aka "Skinny Joey" – was paid $3m (£2.25m) to "steal the election" in Pennsylvania by dumping boxes of counterfeit ballots marked for Joe Biden at a counting centre. It cites "associates" of Mr Merlino and anonymous sources.

Election officials in Philadelphia have dismissed the story as "fiction", fact-checking website Lead Stories reports.

The story goes on to say that Mr Merlino might now be ready to "flip on Biden", exposing the alleged scam to hand Donald Trump victory in the battleground state in exchange for a presidential pardon.

Provisional election results show Mr Biden ahead by 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania.

Skinny Joey is real, even if the story is not. Mr Merlino is currently on supervised release in Florida after he accepted a plea deal on a racketeering charge in 2018.

"My client categorically denies all the allegations and Joey would rather die than ever be a snitch," said his lawyer John Meringolo, in a statement reported by US media.

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Despite the denials and lack of evidence, the Buffalo Chronicle's publisher tells the BBC that he stands by the story.

By some estimates, the story reached millions of potential readers. So how has a local news website with a history of unsubstantiated claims managed to get such a huge audience?