Consumer tips to avoid falling victim to robocall scams
An 80-year-old California man was arrested Tuesday after prosecutors accused him of swindling more than $250,000 from thousands of donors who thought they were giving money to support Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke and other progressive candidates and causes.
None of the money John Pierre Dupont raised from as far back as 2015 through scam political action committees (PACs) and websites went to the causes the fundraisers appeared to support — but the money did help Dupont buy a $25,300 Mercedes-Benz sedan, federal prosecutors said.
Dupont is accused of continuing the countrywide scam as recently as this month. He’s set to appear in an Arizona federal court on Tuesday, federal prosecutors said in a news release. He faces charges of aggravated identity theft and wire fraud, with the complaint filed Tuesday accusing Dupont of committing the crimes in the Southern District of New York and beyond.
Geoffrey S. Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement announcing the arrest that “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.”
Prosecutors said he used the hundreds of thousands he brought in “both to enrich himself personally and to perpetuate the alleged crime.”
Dupont filed Federal Election Commission paperwork to set up three PACs: Businessmen for a Businessman President PAC, Democrats for Congress PAC and Foundation for Sanity in Politics PAC, according to the criminal complaint. He’s listed as their treasurer and custodian, prosecutors said.
He also set up about 15 website to execute the scheme, including DemocratsForCongress.com, DemocratsForSenate.org, Sanders2016Campaign.com and Beto4Senate.org, the complaint said.
Other fundraising sites were created to look — incorrectly — like they were associated with the Democratic Senate candidates who ran in 2018 in Tennessee, Indiana, West Virginia, Michigan, North Dakota, Florida, Nevada and Arizona. Dupont is accused of creating another site, GillumForFloridaGovernor.org, that suggested a false association with Andrew Gillum, the Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the Florida governorship.
Many of the sites appear to still be online, all with the same template and a large button to “DONATE” to the candidate or cause.
One fundraising site, supporting Foundation for Sanity in Politics PAC, said donations would “go to help pay our volunteer attorneys’, doctors’, nurses’ and social workers’ costs and pay for transportation to unite immigrant families.” But the PAC didn’t have volunteer attorneys and wasn’t sending money to health care providers or anyone else, according to prosecutors.
The scam falsely tied to Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was especially lucrative, prosecutors said: Dupont made more than $140,000 in 2015 and 2016 through donations to his illegitimate “Sanders Organization,” cashing more than 800 checks, some of which were written out to “The Sanders Campaign” or “Bernie Sanders for President,” according to the complaint.
In addition to the car, bank records show money withdrawn from an account associated with the scam was used on parking and traffic tickets, car insurance and rent, according to the complaint.
Dupont didn’t report the donations he collected to the Federal Election Commission as required, according to prosecutors. He changed his name from “John Gary Rinaldo” to “John Pierre Dupont” in California around 2012, according to a criminal complaint.
Federal prosecutors said Dupont’s wire fraud charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison if he’s convicted, while an aggravated identity theft conviction would require that Dupont receive a mandatory two-year sentence in prison.
Investigators encouraged donors who think they may have fallen victim to Dupont’s scam to call Wendy Olsen of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York at 866-874-8900.
Prosecutors said the website hosting account linked to the fake websites already in operation has also registered websites that allude to a Joe Biden presidential run, as well as to the presidential campaign of Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.