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Then-President Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters during a rally at the International Air Response facility on Oct. 19, 2018, in Mesa, Arizona. Photo: Ralph Freso/Getty Images

A man behind a pro-Trump scam PAC has been hit with federal wire fraud charges alleging he bilked hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors with false promises that the money would help support the former president's re-election efforts.

Why it matters: The charge handed down this week against James Kyle Bell shows how brazen some efforts to monetize grassroots political enthusiasm can be.

  • The charges came despite former President Trump being more proactive than many politicians in disavowing groups that falsely implied campaign affiliations to lure unwitting donors.
  • The charges were first reported by HuffPost.

What's new: The Justice Department accuses Bell, the man behind the Keep America Great Committee, of enlisting a digital fundraising firm to fraudulently appeal to Trump supporters to chip in on behalf of the Trump re-election effort.

  • The Keep America Great Committee's ads, website, and online donation page were largely copied from those belonging to Trump and other legitimate political groups, The Daily Beast reported last year.
  • None of the nearly $250,000 the KAGC raised actually went to supporting political candidates, prosecutors say. Instead, they say, Bell pocketed the money.
  • While duping unwitting donors, prosecutors say, Bell was also filing fraudulent applications for coronavirus relief loans. Four of his companies received more than $1 million from the scheme, according to prosecutors.

The big picture: The Justice Department has cracked down in recent years on so-called scam PACs, or groups that do little but raise money and pay their own principals.

  • Trump's presidency was a boon for such groups, but they're not confined to a particular candidate or political party.
  • Prosecutors say Bell also set up an allegedly fraudulent pro-Biden group called the Best Days Lie Ahead Committee, which raised another $100,000.

Go deeper

CDC says fully vaccinated people don't have to wear masks indoors

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Erin Clark-Pool/Getty Images

The CDC announced in new guidance Thursday that anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, regardless of crowd size.

What they're saying: "If you are fully vaccinated, you are protected, and you can start doing the things that you stopped doing because of the pandemic," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will say at a White House press briefing.

Colonial Pipeline reportedly paid hackers nearly $5 million in ransom

Photo: Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images

Colonial Pipeline paid hackers linked to the DarkSide cybercrime group nearly $5 million in cryptocurrency after last week's ransomware attack, Bloomberg first reported and the New York Times confirmed.

Why it matters: The breach of the largest refined fuels pipeline in the U.S. triggered new concerns about the vulnerability of the country's increasingly digitized energy systems.

Biden warns gas stations not to price gouge: "That's not who we are"

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday warned gas companies to not price gouge amid major shortages following the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack.

The big picture: Biden added that the FBI does not believe the Russian government is behind the attack, but they do know that those responsible "are living in Russia."