A sensational story of nude pictures, a secret relationship, racism and death threats has emerged between a TV news reporter and the top elected Democrat in Alaska.
It all began when YourAlaskaLink anchor Maria Athens, 41, took to her Facebook page on October 9 and posted a bombastic video, claiming she had confirmation the Mayor of Anchorage, Ethan Berkowitz, had posted nude photos to an “underage girls website”.
She posted a naked picture of Mr Berkowitz, 58, from behind, saying her information had come from “reliable sources” and said the story would be airing later that night.
Athens said in the video that she expected the story to become a national news story.
It did, but not for the reasons she expected it to.
Mr Berkowitz, who has been married for 19 years, denied the claims as “slanderous” and “categorically false” in a statement released on Friday, but a few days later, on Tuesday he resigned.
He said he was resigning because he had been involved in a secret relationship with Athens that started in 2016. He declined to say whether it ever became sexual in nature, instead saying he had been inappropriately “messaging” the anchor.
“My resignation results from unacceptable personal conduct that has compromised my ability to perform my duties with the focus and trust that is required,” Mr Berkowitz wrote in a statement.
“I apologise to the people of Anchorage for a major lapse in judgment I made several years ago when I had a consensual, inappropriate messaging relationship with reporter Maria Athens. I’m embarrassed and ashamed for the hurt I’ve caused my family and our community. I take responsibility for my actions.”
The story, understandably, sent shockwaves through Alaska, but the sensational story hit a new low when local media published a disturbing 60-second phone call, reportedly made to Mr Berkowitz.
The caller – who claims to be Athens – says she is a TV news reporter who has learned from sources that Mr Berkowitz had been posting nude photos on an underage website.
The caller then threatened to kill Mr Berkowitz, who is Jewish, and his wife, in a disturbing rant laden with racist insults.
Here’s what the caller said: “I just learned through my Emmy-award winning journalism, you’re also a paedophile and like little girls and children, and there’s a website.
“I’m so f***ing exposing you. I’m gonna get an Emmy. So you either turn yourself in, kill yourself, or do what you need to do. I will personally kill you, you Jewish piece of living f***ing sh*t.
“You have met your match, motherf**ker. You have met your motherf***ing match. I can’t believe – I am such a good person, and thought I loved you. I f***ing hate – I don’t even hate you. I will pray for your Zionist f***ing ass, you piece of sh*t loser. And, I’m putting this on the news tonight. Bye! Have a great Friday, you motherf***er.”
The call was made on the same day Ms Athens posted her Facebook preview and a nude picture of Mr Berkowitz.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that Athens was arrested at work later that day for allegedly punching a station manager with whom she was romantically involved.
According to the district attorney’s charging documents, the manager made her get out of the car and told her she was barred from returning to the station.
It is alleged, Athens went back to the television studio and attacked him. When police arrived, it is alleged she hit an officer trying to arrest her and was placed in full restraints after she tried to kick out the back window of the police cruiser with her high heels.
Athens was charged with assault, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct, and released after posting bail.
Anchorage police and the FBI investigated the allegations and the death threat, but an FBI statement released on Tuesday said it found “no immediate evidence to support a violation of federal law; however, the FBI Anchorage Field Office continues to monitor the situation”.