A fake profile of Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner posted on a dating website has been traced to Preston Oates, the tow-truck driver accused of fatally shooting a Bluffton resident on Christmas Eve 2010, according to authorities.
Investigators also believe Oates posed online as Tanner's wife.
Although Oates can't be charged criminally for the postings, he will be back in court soon because authorities believe he violated the terms of his bond, according to 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone.
The investigation found that the computer used to create a bogus Match.com profile for Tanner and to post online comments that appeared to be from Tanner's wife, Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner of the Bluffton Police Department, is in Oates' father's home, where Preston Oates is supposed to be confined under house arrest.
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However, Oates' cellphone records -- also examined during the investigation -- show calls were made from places other than his father's home.
Except for certain trips allowed under the terms of Oates' $200,000 bond, leaving the house would violate the bond arrangement Oates agreed to after being charged with the Christmas Eve shooting.
When lead Sheriff's Office investigator Brian Baird interviewed Oates, Oates denied posting phony information and said he didn't have a cellphone, even though he'd given his cellphone number to the Sheriff's Office, his bail bond company and others as his primary contact number, the Sheriff's Office report said.
Solicitor Stone said there is no criminal statute for libel and slander that could lead to charges against Oates for the online postings about the sheriff and his wife. But Stone said he will present the cellphone records as evidence later this month when he asks a judge to revoke Oates' bond and send him back to jail until his manslaughter case is heard.
Meanwhile, the manslaughter case is pending before the S.C. Court of Appeals. The court must decide whether Oates can be tried for shooting 34-year-old Carlos Olivera during a parking dispute or is protected from prosecution by the state's Castle Doctrine.
Oates' attorney Don Colongeli declined to discuss the latest allegations against Oates.
"There's a great deal I'd like to speak to regarding this matter, however under the rules of ethics, I believe it more appropriate to save it for the courtroom," Colongeli said.
TANNER'S DATING PROFILE
Tanner said a friend asked him over the summer if he was still married.
" 'Yeah, why do you ask?' " Tanner said he replied.
The friend told him he had seen Tanner's profile on Match.com, a dating website.
Tanner said he hadn't heard of the site and thought it was a joke -- until he saw the profile with his photo, apparently lifted from the Sheriff's Office website. He launched an investigation in July.
Tanner's wife soon requested a similar investigation by her department. More than 100 comments that included her picture had appeared in March on The Island Packet website attributed to username "A.M.T." The comments were on articles about Oates. Bluffton police asked for the comments to be removed from the site and the newspaper complied.
According to a Sheriff's Office report, investigators subpoenaed records from Match.com, the Packet and Microsoft. The records showed that the same IP address -- a unique set of numbers identifying computers logged on to the Internet -- had been used to create the profile and the username.
The IP address led to a computer in Oates' father's home, the report said.
Most of the activity on Match.com and on islandpacket.com came from within the home, the report says, but some postings came from wireless sites elsewhere.
Oates is only allowed to leave his father's home for court appearances, appointments with lawyers or medical emergencies, and must be accompanied a family member on such trips. A Solicitor's Office designee -- in this case, Oates' bail bond company, Larry's Bail Bonding -- also must call once a week to verify Oates is at his father's house. Investigators decided to check records of Oates' weekly check-in calls with his bail bondsman against his cellphone records, which are supposed to prove he is at home.
Some of those calls indicated Oates was at locations in South Carolina such as Chapin, Saluda, Waterloo, Hardeeville and Hilton Head Island, the police report states.
INTERVIEW WITH OATES
Oates told detectives Sept. 13 that his home is "on a wireless router that is unsecured" and anyone could have created the fake Match.com profile and username.
When detectives told him his cellphone records showed he had broken his bond agreement, Oates responded, "Ironically, I did not have a cellphone," according to the report.
The cellphone number Oates previously gave to the Sheriff's Office and to his bail bonding company is registered to his mother, according to the report.
While speaking with Oates' father, Paul Oates -- who also denied the online activity -- detectives noticed Preston Oates pushed a blanket over a cellphone on the sofa. Baird asked Oates if he remembered where he was on Jan. 12, 2012, at about 11:25 p.m.
Oates answered, "I was probably in the shower m--------ing."
But the investigative file indicates that at that time, Oates was driving a truck equipped with fog lights and was pulled over by a sheriff's deputy in another county. The heavily redacted report does not indicate where the traffic stop occurred, but Oates apparently was released with a warning.
Confronted with that information, Oates told the detectives he had been at a meeting with attorneys, and Paul Oates said he was in a car following his son. Tanner said he and his wife are still trying to decide whether to take further action; he is concerned that Oates is out on bond.
Stone said civil action is probably their only recourse. Criminal penalties for libel and slander were ruled unconstitutional in South Carolina in the early 1990s.
- Fatal tow truck shooting case still pending, Sept. 13, 2012
- Delay of months, possibly years, expected in fatal Bluffton tow truck shooting case, May 12, 2012
- Oates not immune from prosecution, judge rules, March 7, 2012
- Messages tagged on area vehicles protect Bluffton tow-truck driver's release on bond, Oct. 4, 2011
- Suspect in Bluffton Christmas Eve fatal shooting freed on bond, Aug. 31, 2011