A supposed Beverly resident who has written dozens of letters to the editor supporting being a vegan and opposing eating meat doesn’t exist. And the Beverly address he was using as his home address is also phony. The letters have been traced back to Farm Animal Rights Movement, a Maryland animal rights group that has tried — and in many cases been successful — to do the same thing at newspapers all across the country.

A supposed Lothrop Street resident who has written dozens of letters to the editor supporting being a vegan and opposing eating meat doesn’t exist.


And the Beverly address he was using as his home address is also phony.


A man named Matthew Warden has written at least 24 letters to the Citizen since 2004, according to a search of the paper’s archives. In the letters, Warden often wrote opposing eating meat.


The letters have been traced back to Farm Animal Rights Movement, a Maryland animal rights group that has tried — and in many cases been successful — to do the same thing at newspapers all across the country.


In Beverly, letters from Matthew Warden had been coming in for at least five years, often in spurts. For example, he wrote monthly for a five-month stretch in 2006 and again in 2007.


“That gentleman doesn’t live at my house and I don’t recognize the name,” said John McLaughlin, who lives in the home that Warden said was his.


“Only my wife and I live there, and we don’t rent to anybody,” McLaughlin said from his office this week, noting he has a single-family home.


McLaughlin said he wasn’t aware that letters to the editor were being submitted to local newspapers using a false name and his address. He said he isn’t involved in any vegan or meat-free causes.


Dan MacAlpine, the former Citizen editor who handled many of Warden’s letters, said Warden gave a Beverly phone number to confirm the letters, which were then verified.


But his most recent letter included an 888 phone number. That number goes to a woman who said her name is Rose in Johnstown, N.Y. She said she was Warden’s part-time assistant who does office work for him and types letters. She said he wasn’t available and was traveling to his sister’s house. Warden doesn’t have a cell phone and checks e-mail infrequently, she said.


“He stays with friends on Lothrop Street,” she said, adding that’s his office address where he rents space. “He lives there, but he travels a lot.”


When told that McLaughlin, who lives at the address Warden supplied, said he doesn’t know Warden and doesn’t rent to him, the woman, who was later identified as Shemirah Brachah, said she doesn’t know why McLaughlin said that.


“Oh, I don’t know what that’s all about,” she said.


She also said she didn’t know why Warden’s letter has the same wording as letters published in newspapers across the country.


“I’ll bring it to Matt’s attention,” Brachah said. “I don’t know what to say.”


The ruse was discovered when an Internet search of the phone number provided on Warden’s letter came back to a Web site for World Farm Animals Day, an event hosted by Farm Animal Rights Movement.


When asked why Warden’s number was on that Web site, Brachah said the site was seven years old and it must have belonged to that group before it was given to Warden.


Nowhere on the site is there a date and the page’s identifying information says the Web page was last modified last year. When asked why she believed the page was seven years old, Brachah didn’t have a response.


In an initial attempt to verify Warden’s letter, Brachah provided her e-mail address. That address belongs to Brachah at a Johnstown, N.Y. address, according to an Internet petition where she signed her name. And Brachah is listed as the contact on Farm Animal Rights Movement’s “letters” page.


But Brachah, who also uses the pseudonym Rosemary Benedict, said she’s not part of FARM.


“I just do part-time work for Mr. Warden and several other people,” she said before hanging up.


On the social networking site LinkedIn, Brachah says she is program assistant at Farm Animal Rights Movement. Among the duties she lists is assisting with letters to the editor. The profile has since been blocked from public view.


At FARM’s headquarters in Maryland, a man named Michael, who wouldn’t give his last name, said the woman who handles the group’s letters works out of another office and gave Brachah’s e-mail address as a way to contact the person who handles its letters.


Another woman, who said her name was Jan but wouldn’t provide her last name or title, said Brachah works for FARM but said she didn’t know why Brachah said she didn’t work for FARM.


“Honestly, I don’t know,’ Jan said. “I don’t have the answer for you.”


She also said the group’s president, Alex Hershaft, wasn’t available for comment. Hershaft also didn’t answer a message sent to his personal e-mail address.


“I can honestly tell you he’s not going to get in touch with you because he’s working on bigger things and he doesn’t owe you an explanation,” Jan said.


David Martosko is the director of research at the Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington, D.C. a group that advocates “consumer freedom.” It receives funding from “a coalition of restaurant and food companies,” its executive director, Richard Berman, told the Washington Post in 2005.


Martosko has been monitoring FARM’s letter writing campaigns since 2001.


McLaughlin’s story jives with audits the group has done of letters written to other newspapers, Martosko said.


“We’ve had the same results you’ve had,” he said. “This has happened over and over again.”


He said nothing would stop somebody from submitting a fake name and false address to FARM, unbeknownst to the group, and then having it send out letters in the name of the fake person.


Martosko said if a paper wants to print a letter that’s run in other newspapers he’s OK with that, as long as a real person signs it. But, he said, it’s not right to use fake names and false addresses.


“If you want to promote something you should do it on the merits and not be sneaky about it,” Martosko said.


Each of Warden’s letters that have run in the Citizen have appeared an average of 22 times in other newspapers nationwide, according to a news archives search conducted by Martosko after he was provided with a copy of the letters. It ranged from four times for a letter in 2007 to 49 times for a letter than ran in 2006.


The Beverly Citizen’s letters policy says that it doesn’t print form letters “such as those used in letter writing campaigns.”


In the case of Warden’s most recent letter, which wasn’t published in the Citizen, it appeared in at least 10 other newspapers in the past week — including in New England the Brattleboro Reformer in Vermont, Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire and the Weymouth News, which is owned by Gatehouse Media, which also owns the Beverly Citizen.


His letters have run in all sorts of papers, big and small. On its Web site, FARM lists about 200 newspapers nationwide where its letters have appeared.


“I’ve got examples of top 20 papers [running the letters],” Martosko said.


Beverly Citizen