Two Arizona brothers were charged Thursday in Manhattan with ripping off more than $23 million from small donors to a chain of “scam PACs” that claimed to be using their political contributions for anti-abortion, autism awareness and law enforcement causes.
William Tierney, 46, and Robert Tierney, 40, were due to be arraigned in Arizona on charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy for raising money through their shady political action committees from 2014 to 2018 and diverting at least $3.5 million to themselves, prosecutors said.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a news conference that it was believed to be the first-ever prosecution of con men for fraudulent PACs, essentially using the public’s political passions to line their own pockets, but Berman called it a “growing problem.”
“They were PACs in name only,” Berman said. “In reality they were scams . . . consumer fraud schemes hiding in the tall grass of our political system.”
A criminal complaint filed Thursday said “tens of thousands” of donors to nine PACs were defrauded with promises that their money would be used for “coast to coast” voter education and political campaigns that would “invest every penny . . . in the big races to come.”
In fact, prosecutors said, virtually all the money went to the promoters of the scheme, or to telemarketing, fundraising and overhead, through a series of shell entities that had no employees and served only to funnel the money into improper purposes.
The PACs included Grassroots Awareness PAC, Americans for Law Enforcement PAC, National Campaign PAC, Voter Education PAC, Action Coalition PAC, Protect Our Future PAC, Life and Liberty PAC, Republican Majority PAC, and RightMarch.com PAC.
The scheme targeted small donors of less than $200 each who did not have to be individually identified in Federal Election Commission reports, and only $109,000 — less than 1 percent of the money raised — went to political contributions, the government said.
In the 2016 election cycle, Berman said, about 8,000 PACs were responsible for $4 billion in spending.
“The media reporting suggests this is not an isolated incident,” he said. “The potential for abuse and fraud is significant and potentially widespread. . . . It’s an important area and our investigation continues.”
Lawyers for the Tierneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.