The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office has taken over the prosecution of a Delaware County man accused of forging an email from county officials to create a race-fueled scandal for his news website.
Nikolaos Hatziefstathiou, 26, of Broomall, was arrested in July and charged with tampering with public records, forgery, identity theft, and related offenses. Hatziefstathiou, who goes by the nickname “Nik the Hat,” has denied the charges, asserting that the email he touted on his website, YC News, was a legitimate document.
The referral of his case, formally announced at a hearing Monday, was made “out of an abundance of caution,” according to District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer.
Stollsteimer, a Democrat, was chided by Republicans during his campaign in the fall for attending a news conference in May 2019 calling for the email to be investigated before it was debunked.
“It’s one of these things where because the case came up during the course of the campaign, we just thought it best to have the attorney general step in and prosecute,” Stollsteimer said. “It’s nothing bigger than that.”
Hatziefstathiou’s attorney, Norm Pattis, said news of the referral was a relief.
“We’re happy that a more detached and neutral entity will handle this case, which shouldn’t have been brought in the first place,” said Pattis, a criminal defense attorney based in New Haven, Conn. “And if it isn’t dropped, we will try it.”
On May 25, YC News reported about an email it said it had obtained from an unidentified source. The email, allegedly sent by a supervisor with the county’s Adult Probation and Parole department, included racist language about African Americans, according to the story.
But after investigating the email, prosecutors led by then-District Attorney Katayoun Copeland alleged that it was a “fake news” hoax created by Hatziefstathiou by doctoring another email he had received from his own probation officer in an unrelated case.
Copeland also detailed instances in which Hatziefstathiou posed as a producer from Good Morning America and as a New York Times reporter in attempts to glean information from her office.
“He will use any means to create a false narrative,” Copeland said of Hatziefstathiou after his arrest. “He will go to any length to do so.”
Copeland, a Republican who lost her seat to Stollsteimer, went on to rebuke him and other elected officials who “jumped on Hatziefstathiou’s bandwagon knowing these claims may be false, and were willing to believe the very worst about people without a shred of evidence."
But Stollsteimer said Monday that that was a mischaracterization of the intention of the news conference, which was organized by State Rep. Margo Davidson (D., Delaware) and attended by State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, a Philadelphia Democrat whose district includes parts of the county, among other politicians.