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Firm at centre of robo-call storm unmasks mystery employee

Matt Meier, president and chief executive of RackNine Inc., is shown in an undated image from his company website.

RackNine.com

An Alberta company swept up in the controversy over fake election robo-calls engineered by someone calling themselves "Pierre Poutine" is acknowledging one of its employees operates under a pseudonym.

But RackNine says the contractor – who volunteered briefly on a local Conservative campaign in Edmonton last federal election – has nothing to do with its automated call operations.

RackNine Inc. chief executive Matt Meier says a web designer and marketer who operates under the name of "Rick McKnight" is a Spaniard named Rafael Martinez Minuesa.

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RackNine was first contacted by journalists Monday about "Rick McKnight" because the staffer seemed to have no footprint in the real world.

The firm says it initially balked at revealing his true identity because they didn't want to breach their staffer's right to privacy. But journalists quickly drew media attention to the mystery staffer.

Mr. Minuesa has since consented to the release of his real name "to clear the air."

"There is absolutely nothing to hide with RackNine," Mr. Meier said. "... Five minutes searching on Google easily demonstrates that there is no hidden story beyond a hard working, honest person."

He said Mr. Minuesa works out of Edmonton at times but also travels frequently and works from abroad.

As a recent newcomer to Canada, Mr. Minuesa had chosen to use that name in dealing with clients and marketing the company to potential customers. RackNine says the company did not prompt or require him to do this.

"We're happy with people choosing whatever name they like," Mr. Meier said. "As a matter of fact, one of my tech support staff right now is named Timo."

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RackNine was inadvertently caught up in the scandal over fraudulent and misdirecting calls to Guelph voters in the 2011 election because its robo-call operation was used to dial voters by a political operative hiding behind the alias "Pierre Poutine." Elections Canada has said the firm itself is not under investigation.

It's believed about 6,700 call attempts were made to voters in Guelph as part of a scheme where electors were falsely informed their polling station had moved.

Mr. Minuesa issued a statement as well as a picture and identification Tuesday in an effort to corroborate his identity.

"I've been working for RackNine for over two years as a lead developer creating web sites, and working with social media," the staffer said. "I do exist. Attached are a recent photo and a copy of my European Union driver's license."

Mr. Minuesa said none of his work is connected to robo-calls. "I have followed the 'robo-calls' issue, and can state that I have never had any involvement with the auto-dialing services provided by RackNine. It has nothing to do with my department."

Mr. Minuesa said he chose the pseudonym out of convenience. Rick McKnight's Facebook persona listed more than 550 "friends" that he'd made connections with on the social networking site.

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"Rick McKnight is a name I came up with to work with RackNine's clients online and offline," the staffer said. "I use this to discuss projects with clients, and online because it's just convenient to have a persona for all the different social media sites. I am proud of my work and look forward to continuing my relationship with RackNine."

During the 2011 election campaign, RackNine said, Mr. Minuesa volunteered about an hour's worth of his time for Edmonton-Strathcona Conservative candidate Ryan Hastman. They said he helped with Twitter outreach by forwarding emails.

"I love living in a tropical paradise and working for a company in a snow-covered country," Mr. Minuesa said. "I could be working now in London or Singapore, but I prefer to freelance for RackNine and travel. I honestly don't know of many other companies that would allow me to maintain such a life-style.

Mr. Minuesa said he is an itinerant worker.

"I travel mostly around South East Asia, places like Malaysia (Kota Kinabalu preferred destination), the Philippines (Cebu, Palawan), some Pacific Islands (Fiji, Tonga, Hawaii)."

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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