An 80-year-old California man is accused of defrauding thousands of donors who believed they were donating to political action committees and political campaigns, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
John Pierre Dupont, also known as John Gary Rinaldo, was arrested and charged with one count of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft on March 19.
Dupont operated multiple fake political action committees (PACs)—a type of political organization that can raise money for activities or groups such as political parties, campaigns, or issue-related expenditures—from about 2015 to March 2019, and falsely claimed to be raising money to support more than a dozen campaigns, according to U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman.
California man charged in Manhattan federal court with defrauding thousands of donors to scam political action committees https://t.co/HUUvCR5Xp4
— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) March 19, 2019
“Thousands of donors believed their hard-earned money was being used to support the causes described in solicitations, but in reality, the scam PACs had no operations beyond the fundraising itself, and no funds were used to support candidates. My Office will continue to ensure that fraudulent fundraising does not pay—indeed, will result in criminal prosecution—by rooting out scam PACs wherever we find them,” Berman said in a statement.
The PACs Dupont established included Businessmen for a Businessman President PAC, Democrats for Congress PAC, and the Foundation for Sanity in Politics PAC.
Donations collected in Dupont’s nationwide scheme totaled more than $250,000, which were donated through websites he controlled and operated, according to the complaint (pdf) that was unsealed in the Southern District of New York Federal Court.
The websites claimed to raise money for Democratic congressional and Senate campaigns generally, as well as about 10 particular Senate candidates, a candidate for governor, and a candidate for president. Moreover, one of the websites claimed to raise money to “unite immigrant families” and provide services in connection with certain immigration policies.
In one particular example, the Foundation for Sanity in Politics PAC website claimed that donations would “go to help pay our volunteer attorneys’, doctors’, nurses’, and social workers’ costs, and pay for transportation to unite immigrant families,” the court document said. However, the PAC has no volunteers and the funds didn’t go to pay for doctors, social workers, or any other professionals, advocacy, or political operations.
According to the complaint, the scheme targeted victims from across the country. Instead of supporting relevant causes, candidates, and campaigns, all the money raised was paid to Dupont or used to perpetuate the fraud through additional fundraising and overhead expenditures. In addition, Dupont failed to report the donations, as required, to the Federal Election Commission.
According to the DOJ, a wire fraud conviction carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while an aggravated identity theft conviction carries a mandatory two years in prison consecutive to any other sentence imposed.
Similar Arrests Last Year
In a similar case in 2018, two men were charged with wire fraud conspiracy, mail fraud conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy for their role in a nationwide scheme to defraud donors through at least nine political action committees, which totaled more than $23 million, according to the DOJ.
Arizona men charged in Manhattan federal court with $23 million fraud & money laundering scheme in connection with purported fundraising for numerous scam political action committees https://t.co/SpqOl8NyrX
— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) May 17, 2018
William Tierney, 47, and Robert Tierney, 41, were accused of establishing and operating six PACs and managed, operated, or influenced three additional PACs, where they raised millions of dollars between 2014 and 2017. They were also accused of raising more than $50 million in the past 10 years using fraudulent entities that were operated solely to enrich the defendants and their co-conspirators, according to the DOJ.
Berman said at the time, “[T]hese PACs were [allegedly] political action committees in name only—they engaged in no advocacy campaigns, education efforts, or political operations, and donated less than one percent of the money they raised to candidates for office, all while personally enriching the defendants.”
If you think you are a victim of the scheme alleged by the DOJ, please contact Wendy Olsen, Victim & Witness Services for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, at 866-874-8900.