When Jim Hellmold decided to run for sheriff of Los Angeles County last month, he knew that one of the first things his campaign needed was a website. He figured JimHellmoldForSheriff.com would make the most sense.
Except when he typed the address into his browser it took him to an already established site promoting one of his competitors: former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
So he tried another: JimHellmold2014.com.
Again, he was directed to a site boosting Tanaka.
"I was left with 'Hellmold-the-number-four-sheriff-dot-com," the assistant sheriff said. "I look rinky-dink."
Across town, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who decided to run for sheriff around the same time, was having a similar experience. Basic domain names with his name were already taken and leading him to a site for Tanaka.
McDonnell and Hellmold said they suspected Tanaka was behind the caper, an accusation Tanaka's campaign denied.
"Apparently he bought everything he thought I wanted," McDonnell said. "I was disappointed. I thought, you know what, we're all cops trying to run for a job and hopefully we respect each other. I don't think he should have done that."
Reached by The Times on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Tanaka's campaign said it did not know who was behind the websites.
"We will reach out to our supporters to make sure that if one of them has done this, they stop immediately," spokeswoman Kelsey Eiben said. "It's not above board and it's not the kind of campaign we're going to run."
Within an hour of the Times' conversation with Eiben, the sites were down. Eiben said the campaign contacted the Web hosting company and asked that the sites be taken down because they were not authorized by the campaign.
A check of who registered the domains did not turn up who was responsible, but listed the date the sites were created as Jan. 7 — the same day Baca announced he was retiring. At that time a number of higher-profile candidates, including McDonnell and Hellmold, began seriously considering entering the race.
"It struck me as juvenile," Hellmold said of the prank.
Last year Tanaka was pushed by Baca to step down as the agency's second-in-command amid allegations that he encouraged overly aggressive policing, prized loyalty over merit and mismanaged sheriff's resources.
Soon after being pushed out, Tanaka announced he was running to replace his old boss. He has since secured a string of endorsements from local elected officials and has raised more than $380,000, according to his campaign.