Blind Date

Tasha Joseph's Website shows fiction is stranger than truth

Tasha C. Joseph is the eldest of four children. She was born in Canada in 1972 to an Indian father and a Trinidadian mother, and then moved to South Florida as a youngster. At age nineteen, she married eighteen-year-old Lemorris Prier in Broward County. She and Prier say they separated one year later.

In the years that followed, public records indicate Joseph as well as Prier had a run-in or two with the law, though details are scarce.

Brian Sendelbach
Brian Sendelbach

First, in 1994 Prier pleaded no contest to two felony charges: battery on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence. He was sentenced to three years of probation. Joseph failed to mention both the marriage and the crime when she was first interviewed. Later she said she "had no idea" her ex-husband had "ever been arrested." But Prier says her statement is simply not true, and public records indicate they were married until 2001.

Then there's a mysterious February 1995 Miami-Dade County case of grand theft. According to Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger, Tasha Joseph was charged with the crime, pleaded not guilty, and was sent to pretrial intervention. Joseph claims it was not her and says she has "never been arrested." Plessinger responds that the woman accused of the felony is of the same race, height, and date of birth as the DDHG creator. How could this be? One explanation is that this sort of record — if the accused commits no further crimes — is easily expunged from public records.

(After publication, Joseph submitted a letter from the Florida Department of Corrections stating "We have completed a thorough search of all FDC records and do not find any reference to this person as having been in state prison, on state supervised probation or on any other court-sanctioned program in this agency.")

Two years after the alleged felony charge, in September 1997, records show Joseph founded a consulting firm called the Cavelle Company, based in Miami Beach. The vice president was a man named John L. Jackson III. In June 1999 someone with Jackson's name filed domestic violence charges against someone with Joseph's name. Again, Joseph categorically denied it was her when New Times initially approached her for comment. "I don't even know who John Jackson is," she scoffed. Then New Times showed the public records to Joseph's lawyer, Lida Rodriguez-Taseff. "[Jackson] was a guy she dated in the late Nineties," the attorney explains. "She thought [he] was her love partner and her business partner." But Jackson was unfaithful to Joseph, so she dumped him. He then tried — and failed — to get a restraining order against Joseph, alleging she was physically abusive. "It was his way of retaliating," says Rodriguez-Taseff. (Jackson could not be reached for comment.)

But all of that information probably never would have come into the public eye if it weren't for the Website. The idea for the site began eighteen months ago, when the five-foot-six-inch, slender, attractive Joseph was known simply as a media consultant for the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority and a freelance columnist for the Miami Herald. (She also freelanced for Miami New Times.) She was single and lived alone in the Design District.

But then came an impromptu girls' night out. "One of my girlfriends was relating a story, her last dating disaster," Joseph recalls, "and I suddenly said to myself, There has got to be a way for women to warn each other about these guys like we were doing ... but on a larger scale."

That conversation spawned DDHG, which she claims was also inspired by the FBI's Most Wanted list. DDHG officially launched this past September with 600 registered members. The site — which mandates that users check a box indicating the information they post is truthful and renders them solely responsible for content — at first attracted 2500 hits daily. "I feel a kindred spirit of sisterhood among the brave women who post," one avid supporter commented on the site.

Shortly after the launch, Joseph attracted the eye of a prominent local character — and the two began dating. Courtney Cunningham is an attorney, consultant, lobbyist, and government relations consultant whose influence extends from Miami to the halls of power in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. He first called her after reading a Herald story about the Website, she recalls.

"He saw my picture ... and called my lawyer, and [he] set us up," recalls Joseph. "We've been together ever since."

Like Joseph, he has been involved in a controversy or two. When he left a county job in 1997 to become a lobbyist, critics said he was using public connections for private gain. Then, in 2001, state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla alleged in a complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics that Cunningham — then a member of a state board — was involved in an ongoing "feud" with his family. Later he was accused of improperly siding against an ad promoting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride in a state proceeding. (No official complaints against him have been confirmed.)

Now Cunningham is exceedingly wealthy. Gov. Jeb Bush recently appointed him a University of Florida trustee. "I'm very proud of Tasha and the work she has done helping women," Cunningham writes of his fiancée, via e-mail. "I admire her integrity, courage, and strength in defending a woman's right to free speech on the Internet."

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