Scam PAC operator sentenced to nearly 4 years behind bars


SCAM PAC, PPP FRAUDSTER SENTENCED: The operator of a pair of scam PACs that bilked more than 2,000 unwitting donors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars was sentenced to 46 months in prison on Monday for a series of fraudulent schemes that included running the PACs and pocketing over $1 million in fake Paycheck Protection Program loans.

James Kyle Bell of Las Vegas pleaded guilty to wire fraud in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia earlier this year, and in a sentencing hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Borchert said Bell’s case was the first scam PAC case to make it to the sentencing phase in the district — though he added that it almost certainly won’t be the last.

— Bell admitted to operating the super PAC called the Keep America Great Committee, which purported to support then-President Donald Trump, as well as the Best Days Lie Ahead Committee, which appeared to support Joe Biden, and brought in at least $346,000 in total, according to prosecutors, which Bell then pocketed.

— He also received money through the PPP program created to help small businesses weather the Covid-19 pandemic, submitting false applications for shell companies called Echo Three, Myson Rules, Red Five and Bella Thread. Bell submitted a false application for a fifth shell company but withdrew it before receiving money, prosecutors said.

— The 46-month sentence imposed by U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates, a George W. Bush appointee, fell between federal prosecutors’ request for around 78 months, or 6.5 years, and the defense’s request for 16 months of home confinement.

— Bell will also be required to pay a restitution of $1.4 million, split between his victims and the Small Business Administration. Borchert said that the government had received only a “handful” of claims to recoup money lost in the scheme thus far, likely because many donors gave in only small amounts. But he said he expected a surge once the final restitution amount was announced.

— Bell and his attorney pleaded for leniency from Bates, arguing that while Bell accepted responsibility for his crimes and was prepared to make amends, the money he fraudulently obtained was not spent on “luxury” items, but to support his family of five, which was in dire financial straits. Borchert countered that that line of thinking “misses the point,” pointing out that Bell spent money on softball lessons for his family and an RV, and invested some of the money in cryptocurrency.

— Bell told the court that “I’m here today to ask for more grace than I deserve.” He apologized that his PAC scheme had tarnished his victims’ “experience in donating to what they believe is an important part of an election process for our country,” and expressed remorse for the shame he’d brought to his family.

Good afternoon and welcome to PI. Send tips: [email protected]. And be sure to follow me on Twitter: @caitlinoprysko.

HOW CORPORATE PACs ARE RECALIBRATING AFTER JAN. 6: Nearly half of corporate PACs have changed their criteria for political donations since the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to a new report out today. The survey from the Public Affairs Council, which represents public affairs professionals, found that following the riot by Trump supporters aimed at blocking certification of the 2020 presidential election, 47 percent of respondents initiated a review of their giving criteria that resulted in changes to the criteria.

— The survey found that more than 80 percent of corporate PACs suspended political contributions in the aftermath of the insurrection, and though Republicans are not hurting for cash from corporate America, 23 percent of the 127 corporate respondents said donations are still paused. “It’s been a challenging year just in terms of still dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic [and] remote work,” Kristin Brackemyre, director of PAC and government relations for the council, told PI. “That obviously changes a lot when it comes to soliciting for support for your PAC.”

— But when it comes to quantifying the fallout from Jan. 6, when corporations pledged to stop giving to Republican lawmakers who supported blocking the election certification or to lawmakers altogether, “seeing that it was over 80 percent, that was something that was surprising,” Brackemyre said. “I wasn’t sure it was quite that high.”

— As of this summer, the vast majority of corporate and trade association PACs have formalized their donation criteria, with close to two-thirds factoring in recipients’ character, ethics and reputation and nearly a fifth considering a candidate’s position on social issues, the survey found. The council conducts the survey every other year to offer the PAC community benchmarks and spot trends.

MORRELL DECAMPS FOR DISNEY: The Walt Disney Company has tapped Geoff Morrell, currently the executive vice president of communications and advocacy at BP, to head up its government relations operation and to replace longtime communications chief Zenia Mucha at the company, Variety’s Matt Donnelly and Brent Lang report.

— “After nearly 20 years in the role at Disney, Mucha announced this summer she would be stepping down at the end of the year (in line with executive chairman Bob Iger’s exit from the media giant).” Variety reports that “in addition to Mucha’s duties, sources said Morrell will also take on government relations. Under the current regime, that was a function of the Walt Disney Company chief counsel’s office.”

— “Morrell, who will report to Disney CEO Bob Chapek, ticks several boxes for such an important role at a post-Iger Disney. On the crisis front, he is credited as ‘instrumental in rebuilding BP’s reputation following the Deepwater Horizon accident’ — an oil spill considered one of the biggest environmental disasters in modern history. Prior to BP, Morrell spent four years at the Pentagon as chief spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Defense under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He’s also worked as a journalist, covering the White House for ABC News.”

MUNICIPALITIES PUSH FOR COVID RELIEF FLEXIBILITY: Cities, states and tribes are mounting an 11th-hour bid to include language in the House’s defense authorization bill that would allow Covid relief funds already available to them to be used for infrastructure projects, POLITICO’s Tanya Snyder reports.

— “The U.S. Conference of Mayors and others are lobbying to include a measure, H.R. 5735 (117), that would allow state and local governments to use some funds from the March 2021 Covid relief legislation, H.R. 1319 (117), for infrastructure projects. The bill would also give them an extra 21 months to spend those funds. The bill, introduced in the House by Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) and Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.), would also establish a process for government entities to decline Covid relief funds and would require declined funds to be used for deficit reduction.”

— “On Monday, the USCM urged their members to press their members of Congress — ‘especially those in leadership or on key committees like Rules’ and ask them to ensure that the provision is included. USCM noted that progressive House members especially needed to hear messages of support, since some have opposed the measure. ‘It makes sense to look at NDAA since it may be the last train out of town this year,’ a lobbyist working on the issue told POLITICO.”

Michael Pauls Jr. is joining USTelecom | The Broadband Association as senior director for government affairs. He was most recently a legislative affairs and communications confidential assistant at OMB and is a Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) alum.

Jill Rickard has joined the American Council of Life Insurers as regional vice president for state relations. She was most recently director of policy for the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.

Bud DeFlaviis has joined Lot Sixteen as a vice president on the government relations team. Most recently he led government affairs for the Alliance for Market Solutions. Lot Sixteen has also added Natalie Cucchiara as vice president on the communications team, Ellie Clancy as a senior associate on the government affairs team, and Isaac Yoo as an associate on the government affairs team.

Cameron Kilberg has joined Swimply as head of government relations. She previously was a government affairs principal at GoPuff and is a Bob McDonnell alum.

Julie Carlson has joined the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation as associate director of antitrust and innovation policy for ITIF’s Schumpeter Project on Competition Policy. She was previously a senior economist at the FTC.

— The American Petroleum Institute has promoted Anchal Liddar to senior vice president of global industry services. She was previously vice president of GIS’ business services department and is a Boeing alum.

Katelyn Schultz is now a senior associate for corporate comms for the growth and strategy division at KPMG US. She previously was press secretary for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).


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