Craigslist personals trigger an unintended spotlight

Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger
Friday, February 11, 2011

The woman at the center of the Rep. Chris Lee resignation story said she's shocked at how a casual online flirtation exploded into a national scandal.

"I didn't do this for the attention or, you know, notoriety or money or whatever," a stunned Yesha Callahan told our colleague Lonnae O'Neal Parker. "Now I just want to go about my daily business."

Callahan, 34, said she wrestled for weeks about what to do with the e-mails she swapped on Craigslist with Lee last month. He'd told her he was a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist with a son; she traced his e-mail address to his Facebook page, then discovered he was, in fact, a married, 46-year-old politician. Who does that? she wondered.

A faculty specialist for the University of Maryland and single mother of a preteen son, Callahan hashed over the e-mails with her social circle of young professionals. Lee's deception was out of bounds, her friends agreed, and Callahan began to see this as a cautionary tale.

"I assumed that other people have probably come across him as well, and he had lied to them," she said. "I felt annoyance at just the audacity of people thinking that they're not going to get found out when they are lying."

Callahan said she stopped corresponding with Lee after about 10 e-mails - when he asked her to send a racy photo. (He'd already sent her the now-infamous shirtless photo of himself.) "I was kind of like, okay, no, he's just looking for things I'm not interested in."

Her friends encouraged Callahan to go public.

"I've known about it for several weeks because she's been trying to decide what to do for a while," said blogger Danielle Belton. Belton, who knows Callahan socially, was in on the deliberations. "We were all like, 'Come on!' She probably would not have done anything with it. She is not someone who wants that kind of media attention."

At a friend's suggestion, Callahan reached out to Maureen O'Connor at the gossip Web site Gawker, which guaranteed her anonymity. After the story appeared and the New York representative resigned, Belton interviewed Callahan anonymously about what happened, for the Web site

When contacted by The Post, Callahan said she's reeling from the intense interest in the story, noting with dismay that people were already trying find information about her. She expected - maybe unrealistically - to remain unidentified, and is now worried about the impact on her family, career and personal life.

"I have no problems finding dates elsewhere," she said. "At that moment, I was online looking and it was just something to do." And no - she won't be found on Craigslist anytime soon. "I guess it soured me a bit," she said.

The fallout on Capitol Hill was about what you'd expect: House Speaker John Boehner said Lee made "the right decision" but declined to say if he advised him to resign. Boehner also dodged questions about a Roll Call report last summer saying that he had warned Lee and other GOP members to stop socializing with female lobbyists. (On Thursday, spokesmen for three of the other congressmen denied having such a conversation with Boehner.)

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company