Molly Blakeley looked in shock on Friday morning, she said, as the local news host she had just met for an interview called Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and launched into an obscenity-filled tirade.
In 58 seconds, Maureen “Maria” Athens accused the mayor of pedophilia, promised to win an Emmy for “unmasking” him and threatened to kill him and his wife.
“You met your match, son of a bitch,”
He ended the call. A few moments later the phone rang. He was calling back.
Athens put him on speakerphone.
“He kept saying to her, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,'” Blakeley said. “Finally he hung up.”
Blakeley, who started the day thinking he was going to make a nice TV appearance on his book on entrepreneurship, light began to dawn that things were spinning out of control.
In interviews with the Daily News this week, Blakeley filled in the blanks of the bizarre story of how and why an Anchorage host launched an online attack that started a dizzying chain of events that ultimately brought down the mayor of Anchorage. largest city in Alaska, only as Athens promised, but not for the reasons it said.
Blakeley said she was flattered when KTBY host Maria Athens sent her a message on Facebook asking her to do a studio interview on Blakeley’s self-published book. Blakeley describes herself as a “serial entrepreneur” who has run various small businesses in Alaska.
The news anchor and interview subject are scheduled to meet on Friday at 11am at KYUR / KTBY’s East Tudor Road studio, affiliate news broadcaster FOX and ABC. The two had never met before and were unprecedented, according to Blakeley.
Things looked like from the start, he said: Athens arrived 10-15 minutes late and hit Blakeley as intoxicated when she showed up. Through her attorney, Michelle Nesbett, Athens said she had been in the building the whole time but was in the bathroom when Blakeley arrived. Denies that she was intoxicated.
Blakeley says that when Athens learned that Blakeley’s half-brother was the owner of Kriner’s Diner, Athens began to denigrate the mayor. Kriner’s was embroiled in a dispute with the municipality earlier this summer over COVID-19 restrictions.
The interview was quiet, Blakeley said, except when Athens stopped to talk to the camera about how the mayor of Anchorage had ruined the business. When the conversation ended, they found they had to take a second take because the camera wasn’t working, Blakeley said.
After the cameras stopped, the two were chatting in the studio, with Athens talking again about her dislike of the mayor.
Blakeley intervened with his anecdote.
“I said something like,” I’m not his biggest fan either, I think my daughter was trafficked a few years ago and he was one of her clients. “
At the time, Blakeley believed what he was saying was true, he said.
Two years ago, she learned that her daughter, then 18, had posted on websites like “SeekingArrangement”, which connects mainly younger men and women for “sugar daddy” relationships. Worried, she asked about her daughter’s clients.
As Blakeley says she remembers, her daughter told her that her favorite client was a “short man” in Anchorage who worked in the government.
Blakeley says he thought – but has not confirmed – it was Ethan Berkowitz, due to his high profile as mayor and short stature.
Wrong, says the daughter, who is now 20 and named Rae in her job as an adult content producer. The Daily News doesn’t use Rae’s full name because she’s worried customers might find her.
Rae says she was simply trying to get her mother off her back and invented a fictional government employee.
“To shut her up, I told her he was a man who worked for the state,” she said in a telephone interview from Oregon, where she now lives. “She kept asking him what he looked like. I told her he was short. “
Rae says she has never met Berkowitz. She also says she has never been trafficked and voluntarily entered the line of work after she turned 18.
Blakeley says he made what he thought was a “casual comment” in Athens. The idea that her daughter had been involved with Berkowitz had been “in my head for the past two years,” he said.
As soon as the comment came out, the mood in the TV studio changed, Blakeley said.
Athens started screaming about pedophilia and a website with photos, according to Blakeley.
The Athens version of the exchange is different: she claims that Blakeley told her that Berkowitz had “chased” Blakeley’s young daughter when her daughter was under 18.
Blakeley says he corrected Athens, saying he never said anything about his daughter being a minor or about the photos posted on any website. Athens denies that Blakeley corrected it.
(Blakeley insisted on Wednesday that he is telling the truth. “And I remember everything perfectly, because it was intense,” he said.
Either way, it seemed like it was too late: according to Blakeley, Athens was talking about how she had a three-year relationship and “thousands” of nude photos of Berkowitz and could “create her own website” if she wanted.
“Maria completely made it up,” Blakeley said. “The website, the photos. He took my story and decided to make his own, you know? “
The next thing Blakeley knew, Athens was calling Berkowitz to leave a death threat voice message.
“I am so f-re that I’m exposing you,” he told the answering machine, a recording of which was later released by the Berkowitz office.
After calling back, saying she didn’t know what she was talking about, Athens called and left a second voicemail.
“Ummmm, I don’t know why you called me back to register, because it’s you who will end up in jail. Hi,” he said, according to an answering machine tape, provided by the city. (It is unclear if anyone recorded the call Berkowitz made to Athens.)
[[[[Above: A tweet from Maria Athens from August 10, 2017 includes photos of her on the set of Your Alaska Link with Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.]
To Blakeley’s astonishment, he said, Athens began talking about going for lunch at Kriner’s Diner.
“I was like, is this still happening?” Blakeley said.
They took separate cars. Blakeley says she prayed in the car, feeling like something bad and out of control was happening, but she wasn’t sure what to do. Athens showed up at Kriner’s Diner with the station manager, Scott Centers, and another station employee, whom Athens identified as Kyle Kosinski. At a stand, in front of a bacon-free BLT with mushrooms, Athens commented aloud about Berkowitz, Blakeley said.
He said he posted a video and people were already commenting on it, Blakeley said.
Blakeley said her sense of unease has grown. He reminded the group that he had never talked about an underage girl or photos. Athens denies that this happened. Kosinski was not immediately reachable for comment and Centers repeatedly refused to comment on the incident.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to be a part of it,'” Blakeley said.
When they separated, Athens had asked Blakeley to attend her wedding.
On the drive home, Blakeley called her shaken daughter and told her what had happened. Rae told her the mystery client wasn’t Berkowitz and told her mom she needed the damage fixed – fast.
“I was extremely shocked,” Rae said. “Like, why would you just put these two things together?”
Blakeley says he tried to get in touch with Athens on Facebook to tell her that Berkowitz was not the customer.
By that time, the video Athens had posted accusing the mayor was already starting to spread on social media, with many commentators appearing to believe and then amplify the allegations.
Later in the afternoon, the Berkowitz office released a statement: “The slanderous allegations of Your Alaska Link reporter Maria Athens are categorically false and appear to be the product of someone who is hostile and sick.” Athens then posted a photo on Facebook showing a naked man’s butt. He said he was the mayor. “TRY”, he wrote.
At 4:30 pm Athens had been arrested after a physical dispute with Centers, the manager of the television station whom she later described in court as her boyfriend.
Blakely watched the pinball allegations on the Internet, based in part on assumptions and misunderstandings.
Late Friday night, Anchorage police showed up at Blakeley’s Eagle River home to ask if her children were okay. They didn’t say why.
“I just told them the story I told you,” Blakeley told a Daily News reporter.
Rae was disturbed to see that the short story published by Athens had gone viral.
“I went on Twitter and looked for the mayor of Anchorage and saw all these people calling him a pedophile,” she said. “I was like, oh my God.”
Feeling that he had unwittingly played a key role in the disinformation, he decided to set the record straight. She went to Twitter, posting a thread describing what she described as a “non-sexual” escort was and how her mother made an inaccurate guess about one of her clients.
“I didn’t think it would be right for me to keep quiet just for the sake of my privacy and for the mayor to have his reputation completely ruined,” he said.
Meanwhile, bloggers have established the connection between Blakeley and Andy Kriner, the owner of Kriner’s Diner, implying that he may have been involved. He was in no way involved, Blakeley said. People harassed her online, targeting her business and calling her “the worst mom in the world”.
On Monday, Berkowitz admitted he had an “inappropriate messaging relationship” with Athens. On Tuesday, as questions increased, he resigned. His staff said they concluded it was “untenable” to remain mayor.
Just before the mayor announced his resignation, Blakeley decided it was time to say what really happened. She spoke in a telephone interview with the Daily News, with her friend, Palmer’s attorney Sarah Heath (no relationship with Sarah Palin, née Heath), online.
Blakeley says she didn’t come forward earlier because Berkowitz hadn’t confirmed that she actually had a relationship of any kind with Athens.
“I didn’t feel like it was my position to say something,” he said.
Blakeley also said he wants to apologize to his children, especially Rae.
“I want to publicly apologize to my daughter for anything that may have affected her negatively,” she said. “And tell her I love her very much.”
Rae says she has doubts about her mother’s claim that she was horrified by the situation and tried to prevent the spread of misinformation.
“None of this would have happened if my mom hadn’t said this,” she said. “Maria wouldn’t have released that video.”
On Wednesday, the Anchorage Assembly was scrambling over who would take over as mayor on October 23, the date of Berkowitz’s resignation. The Anchorage Police Department and the FBI said they found no evidence that the Berkowitz allegations were true. Athens was out on bail for her criminal charges and had been shut up on social media. Athens spoke to a Daily News reporter on Monday evening and answered follow-up questions via text. It was not possible to contact her directly on Wednesday but, through her lawyer, she answered questions about her interaction with Blakeley.
The Berkowitz video and photo were still active, immortalized on the Internet.