For the last five years or more, Matt Tunstall has used the name and likeness of Donald Trump and other politicians to ostensibly raise money for a network of political action committees. But he’s been accused of pocketing most of the money himself and on Wednesday, his so-called scam PAC operation finally caught up to him.
In an indictment unsealed on Wednesday, federal prosecutors charged Tunstall and Robert Reyes with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to lie to the Federal Election Committee. They allege that of the roughly $3.5 million raised by the PACs they ran during the 2016 election, “only approximately $19 were distributed to any candidate’s authorized campaign committee or to any political cause, while a total of more than $1.5 million was used to benefit” the PAC operators themselves.
Prosecutors also charged Tunstall with multiple counts of wire fraud and money laundering. The indictment charges a third associate and cousin of Tunstall, Kyle Davies, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to lie to the FEC and multiple counts of wire fraud.
Tunstall, 34, has been linked to a number of political action committees — including as recently as this spring — using Trump’s name in order to raise money. Campaign finance disclosures showed that those PACs contributed little or none of that money to Trump’s campaign or causes. And Tunstall has reportedly used the returns to fund a lavish lifestyle for himself, or one portrayed as such online.
So-called scam PACs have proliferated on the political fundraising scene over the last decade. A POLITICO investigation in 2019 identified more than a dozen pro-Trump PACs with no actual ties to the president, including one committee operated by Tunstall. The phenomenon has grown serious enough to trigger a warning from the FBI earlier this year urging would-be donors to be on the lookout for such schemes.
The operator of another pro-Trump scam PAC admitted in May that he’d swindled Trump supporters and pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with the operation. The FEC, meanwhile, has weighed options aimed at fighting scam PACs and received recommendations from a working group on the issue this spring.
The scheme prosecutors zeroed in on in Wednesday’s indictment took place in the lead up to the 2016 election, when Tunstall, Reyes and Davies formed two PACs claiming to support candidates on the right and the left, respectively.
The indictment does not name either candidate but makes clear that the defendants’ Liberty Action Group PAC claimed to support then-candidate Trump and their Progressive Priorities PAC claimed to support his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Both PACs made “false and misleading representations” in robocalls and written and radio ads soliciting donations, which sought to portray the committees as being affiliated with or working to financially support — both directly and indirectly — their respective candidates, prosecutors said. They offered campaign swag like stickers and signed photos as rewards for larger donations.
Tunstall, Reyes and Davies “instead used the funds they acquired through the scheme to pay for additional fraudulent solicitations for money, to enrich themselves directly, and to support their independent, unrelated business ventures,” according to the indictment, which charges that the PACs reported little or no operating expenditures while money was transferred to the defendants or falsely reported as advertising expenses.
The defendants also allegedly used the names of others — including a friend of Davies, his then-girlfriend, an associate of Davies, and an accountant who did compliance work for the PACs — to conceal their involvement with the scam PACs in campaign finance records, sometimes without the others’ knowledge and occasionally forging others’ names on FEC filings or other related documents.
Finally, prosecutors allege that a common third-party vendor for the two committees was used to launder more than $350,000 in illegal proceeds to bank accounts belonging to Tunstall and Reyes or controlled by them.
Attempts to reach Tunstall and Reyes were unsuccessful. There was no readily available contact information for Davies.
Prosecutors say Tunstall and Reyes overpaid the vendor, an unnamed company that disseminated robocalls, and then arranged for the company to wire the excess funds in a series of nearly two dozen transactions between June 2016 and April 2017 to bank accounts belonging to three companies: Matte Media Creations and Supreme Dream Media, which Tunstall controlled, and Modern Media Group, which Reyes controlled. In other instances, the defendants or the companies linked to them received payments from at least one of the committees themselves.
Tunstall made his initial appearance in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Tuesday, according to a press release from the Justice Department. Reyes and Davies will make their initial appearances on Wednesday in the U.S. District Courts for the Northern District of California and the Western District of Texas, respectively.
If convicted on all counts, Tunstall and Reyes face up to 125 years in prison, while Davies faces up to 65 years in prison if convicted on all counts.