November 30, 2022

Colleyville, TX political candidates vie for web domains

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Colleyville, a northeast suburb of Fort Worth, has been the scene of many political battles in recent years.

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Amyn Gilani needed a website. In February, he declared his candidacy for Colleyville city council. He preferred GilaniForColleyville.com – he got GilaniForColleyville for an Instagram ID and Gmail address. But getting a web domain with the same phrase turned out to be difficult: someone had already registered it. Ditto with AmynForCollyeville.com.

As far as Gilani knows, he was the only Amyn in town. Besides his family members, he believed to be the only Gilani. What was happening?

As Gilani found out – and as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram confirmed via online records – a company with ties to Colleyville City Council member Callie Rigney has been listed as the holder of the domains that he wanted to buy. The director of this company, Rigney Financial Services, is Wayne Rigney, husband of Callie Rigney. An attorney for Gilani sent a cease and desist order to Wayne Rigney and the company, ordering them to cede control of the estates.

The alleged estate squatting, potentially a violation of federal law, marks a new political row for Colleyville, where discord has been brewing for years between Tea Party-affiliated Republicans, mainstream Republicans and Democrats.

“It’s unfortunate that we see this level of disinformation in local politics,” Gilani said.

Wayne Rigney and Callie Rigney did not respond to Star-Telegram interview requests. A representative for Rigney Financial Services said the company could not comment on the pending litigation.

Gilani submitted his candidacy on February 4. (He initially declared himself for the Callie Rigney board seat at 6, but has since changed to run at 5 against incumbent Chuck Kelley.) The public demand featured his email address as [email protected].

As of February 5, according to the public records of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the WHOIS database Managed by domain registrar GoDaddy, Rigney Financial Services has registered domains that Gilani is looking for. Rigney Financial Services is also listed as registering domains on February 5 containing the name of another adversary, Kurt Meyer (KurtForColleyville.com and MeyerForColleyville.com), according to WHOIS and ICANN data.

Meyer’s and Gilani’s domains have not been turned into active websites. CallieForColleyville.com, registered by Rigney Financial Services on the same day as the Gilani and Meyer websites according to ICANN screenshots provided to the Star-Telegram, is active and in use as Callie Rigney’s campaign website.

On March 16, Gilani’s attorney said in his cease and desist letter that Rigney Financial Services was to transfer ownership of the Gilani-related domains to Gilani. Rigney Financial Services and Gilani were in negotiations on Monday, according to Gilani.

After the letter was sent, publicly visible ownership details for Gilani’s websites and Meyer’s websites changed from Rigney Financial Services to Domains By Proxy. Domains By Proxy is a paid service that masks the identity of clients on public lists. Domains By Proxy customers, according to the company’s website, retain full control of their domains. The change was made after the Star-Telegram – along with Gilani and his legal team – captured screenshots of records showing domain registration by Rigney Financial Services.

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Screenshots of the WHOIS domain registration data for AmynForColleyville.com and GilaniForColleyville.com taken on March 19. Website domain names and registrant names have been highlighted.

Oren Bracha, a University of Texas Law School professor and expert in intellectual property law, said people can potentially violate federal cybersquatting consumer protection law by registering a domain with a wrong intention and with the intention to profit. Bracha said blocking someone else’s domain may be enough to establish bad intent. The profit part, especially concerning a matter involving politics, is more blurry. “The case law is uneven and open to maneuver on the issue of commercial profit,” he said. Parties involved in cybersquatting-related disputes may also file complaints with ICANN under its dispute resolution policy.

As for the transfer of public ownership details to Domains By Proxy? “It’s not a good thing for the judge or the referee to know about it,” said Bracha.

For Colleyville, online political disputes are nothing new. On Facebook groups with thousands of members, discussions often degenerate into heated attacks. Last September, the Star-Telegram revealed the story of a fake account trolling a Facebook group dedicated to Colleyville schools. The account was registered under a phone number belonging to school board candidate Tommy Snyder, who lost his election.

Callie Rigney has served on Colleyville City Council since 2018. She and her husband have been involved in the True Texas Project, the rebranded Northeast Tarrant Tea Party.

Gilani moved to Colleyville almost five years ago from the Washington, DC area. He decided to run for office after seeing Colleyville’s politicians’ response to the coronavirus, which included resistance to stay-at-home and mask-like orders from Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

Gilani, who didn’t align with Republicans or Democrats for his campaign, ended up buying the VoteGilani.com domain. He is fed up with Colleyville experiencing political drama over and over again.

“It is important to argue that this can no longer happen,” said Gilani. “We must pave the way for honest and legitimate elections. “

This story was originally published 30 March 2021 9.40 a.m.

Mark Dent is an investigative reporter for the Star-Telegram, covering everything from politics to sports education and beyond. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Texas Monthly, Vox, and many other publications. Send taco tips and recommendations to [email protected]