UCSB chemistry professor Kalju Kahn has had quite the year.
At least three separate incidents since February 2008 have caused a stir in Kahn’s life - usually a peaceful one researching the development and application of chemistry tools to solve biochemical problems. The latest is a fabricated UCSB Police Department press release sent to area media agencies Monday morning alleging that Kahn was wanted for first degree rape and inappropriate sexual behavior with a student.
The phony e-mail comes just over a year after Kahn’s trouble began, when he received an e-mail from a former student threatening to kill him.
It was in February 2008 when Kahn received that letter from former student Arash Shamsian. Kahn had given Shamsian a poor letter of recommendation for medical school, reportedly writing that he’d be afraid to ever be Shamisan’s patient. In Shamsian’s threatening e-mail to Kahn, he wrote, “I have decided to kill you: I will make sure your family will also suffer.”
UCSB’s campus was put on high alert for a few days, though it was presumed that Shamsian would not show, as he was studying medicine in Guadalajara, Mexico, at the time. The next month, Shamsian surrendered to authorities at Los Angeles International Airport.
During Shamsian’s preliminary hearing, Judge Joseph Lodge was disturbed enough by the letter to increase bail on the spot, from $20,000 to $250,000. The case never got to trial, with Shamsian eventually pleading guilty to criminal threats and sentenced to probation.
But Kahn’s problems weren’t over with the sentencing. In November 2008, an e-mail was sent to this reporter via the Independent website’s message system purporting and appearing to be from Kahn. The note asked that the newspaper’s prior coverage of Shamsian’s case be removed from the site because he had inappropriately accused Shamsian for actions he didn’t do and wanted to make things right. “I had written a harsh letter of recommendation for a student a long time ago,” the email read. “My office was broken into and documentation of this letter was obtained. Naturally, I assumed the subject of the letter was responsible. Now that the student has been cleared, I am entitled to help make things better for the student’s future.” Only the student wasn’t cleared. More importantly, the e-mail wasn’t written by Kahn. Authorities have so far been unable to track down who sent the message.
Most recently, early Monday morning, an e-mail was sent to various news agencies -including the Daily Nexus, KEYT and the Independent -purporting to be a news release from UCPD. The document - which has the “general appearance of a press release we would send out,” according to UCPD Sgt. Matt Bowman, including Kahn’s photo, name and age and even a UCPD phone number - stated that Kahn is wanted for inappropriate sexual behavior and first degree rape and should be considered armed and extremely dangerous. The allegations, coming from the Yahoo e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org, couldn’t be further from the truth.
Kahn first heard about them when he tuned into KEYT Monday morning and heard his name on the television station’s morning news show. He called the station, which retracted the report. The UCPD also released a statement explaining that Kahn wasn’t under investigation. Bowman, the public information officer for the department, explained he would never do business over commercial e-mail. “I was shocked,” Kahn said when he encountered the “news.” “I couldn’t believe what was going on.”
Around the same time, a page was created for Kahn on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia which features user-submitted information, calling him “the most untrustworthy person of all.” The page was taken down just hours later, was labeled an “attack page” with no sourced information.
Bowman said UCPD is investigating “all leads at this point” but declined to speculate about whether all the incidents could be connected. While there is no evidence either of the e-mails can be connected back to Shamsian at this point, if they are down the road he could be in violation of probation. Kahn, meanwhile, is attempting to let the investigators investigate and move on with his life. “I’m trying to do my work, trying not to get distracted,” he said.