Nov 10, 2021 - Politics & Policy

3 men charged over alleged scam PACs

Combination pictures of presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate  in St. Louis, Missouri on October 9, 2016.

Combination of images of then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate in St. Louis, Missouri in 2016. Photo:Paul J. Richards /AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that a jury has indicted three men for allegedly running a political action committee scam to defraud people of $3.5 million in 2016 and 2017.

Of note: While the indictment doesn't mention the presidential candidates' names, the PACs are listed as "Liberty Action Group" and "Progressive Priorities." These were identified as being pro-Donald Trump and pro-Hillary Clinton PACs, respectively, in a 2016 BuzzFeed News article reporting on the committees' links.

  • One of the trio charged, Matthew Nelson Tunstall, 34, of Los Angeles, has been accused previously of running other pro-Trump scam PACs in 2019 and earlier this year, per CNN and Politico, though these allegations do not relate to the current indictment.

Details: Prosecutors allege that Tunstall; Robert Reyes, 38, of Hollister, California; and Kyle George Davies, 29, of Austin, Texas, "solicited contributions" to the committees "under the guise that the PACs were affiliated with or meaningfully supporting specified candidates for public office," per a DOJ statement.

  • The DOJ has accused the defendants of obtaining money "from unwitting donors based on false and misleading representations and used those funds to enrich themselves" and to allegedly pay for additional fraudulent donation schemes.
  • "Tunstall and Reyes are also alleged to have laundered more than $350,000 in illegal proceeds from the scheme through a third-party vendor to conceal the use of those funds for their own benefit," the DOJ notes.
  • The indictment alleges that out of the total money raised by the PACs, "only approximately $19 [was] distributed to any candidate's authorized campaign committee or to any political cause, while a total of more than $1.5 million was used to benefit" of the committee operators.

For the record: Tunstall and Reyes are both charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to make a false statement to the FEC, multiple counts of wire fraud, and multiple counts of money laundering.

  • Davies is charged with conspiracy commit wire and to make a false statement to the FEC, and multiple counts of wire fraud.
  • If convicted of all counts, Tunstall and Reyes both face a total penalty of 125 years in prison. Davies faces up to 65 years in prison.

The big picture: The FBI warned in April that "scam PACs are on the rise."

  • In May, a man behind pro-Trump and pro-Joe Biden scam PACs, James Kyle Bell, pleaded guilty to wire fraud.
  • The FEC is looking into how it can thwart scam PACs and a working group submitted recommendations to the commission in the spring, per Politico.

What they're saying: The defendants in the latest case could not be immediately reached for comment, but Reyes' attorney, told CNN he would "plead not guilty and had cooperated with the investigation."

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