Steve Bannon’s Dodgy Nonprofit Teamed Up With Company Linked to Accused Gold Scammers
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When former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon's nonprofit sought to restore a golden age to the United States, it turned to a company with ties to a consortium that has allegedly been running down the retirement accounts of older conservatives, The Daily Beast found Has.
Bannon's "business nationalist" group Citizens of the American Republic hired Wyoming-based Platinum Advertising Corporation to edit their "websites / social media," according to Internal Revenue Service records. A tangle of corporate and legal documents links Platinum Advertising to TMTE Inc. - a precious metals trader who was accused on Friday of fraudulently withdrawn $ 185 million from seniors by selling them overpriced gold bars.
The massive joint action announced by the Federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission and 30 states against TMTE claimed the Los Angeles-based company had 1,600 mostly silver-haired victims put their savings in precious metals, up to 300 percent of theirs Were sold at market value. The indictment is familiar to anyone who has followed the long trail of news reports and government actions describing how TMTE - which used the monikers Access Unlimited, TEM, Chase Metals and Metals.com in various ways - from right wing paranoia the Trump era benefited from.
Even before the CFTC-led case on Friday, a dozen states, including Alabama and Kentucky, had accused TMTE of posing as investment advisers and encumbering seniors on their assets. Articles in Quartz last year detailed how the company used a combination of politically-themed Facebook ads, talk radio spots, misleading websites, and high pressure phone sales tactics to target right-wing retirees with Fox News ad and make them buy Gold and gold to persuade silver at enormously inflated rates. These efforts often included blatant biblical appeals or echoed the rhetoric of President Donald Trump and Republican experts, invoking the threat that "liberals" and the "deep state" allegedly pose to the victims' economies and personal finances.
"Metals [.com] reached out to potential investors through Facebook advertising, conservative talk radio broadcasts, and conservative financial newsletters," Tung Chan, Colorado Securities Commissioner, told The Daily Beast. "They targeted these ads to potential investors in or near retirement age with conservative political leanings."
These echoed findings in Missouri, Arkansas and Nevada that TMTE relied on threatening advertisements, "fear tactics" and "false statements and omitted information" to sell marked coins to vulnerable people 60 and older. Despite signing multiple cease and desist agreements and draining millions of dollars, TMTE has publicly denied it ever committed fraud.
Citizens of the American Republic's Bank Shot Association with TMTE, which has never been revealed before, are just the most recent troubled partnership for Bannon, who was embroiled in a two-count charge of fraud against a separate nonprofit, We Build the Wall, alleged, Inc. However, the relationship between the former Breitbart chairman and TMTE is less direct and more complex than its relationship with the alleged operation to lift private border walls.
The most recent tax forms submitted by Republicans to the Internal Revenue Service show that in 2018 they paid Platinum Advertising Corporation $ 143,655 for the design of their web presence. Platinum Advertising's filings in Wyoming show little beyond that the company registered in that jurisdiction in 2018. Gerald Pitts was listed as secretary and director. Pitts operates Wyoming Corporate Services, which has filed filings in the notoriously opaque state for dozens of customers, including TMTE.
But Platinum Advertising - named after one of the most expensive precious metals in the world - also registered a subsidiary in California in March of this year, where TMTE operates. The registration statement bears the name and signature of Conor O'Reilly, whose LinkedIn profile shows that he worked full-time as an internal consultant and compliance officer at Metals.com during this time. His listed duties included "reviewing, revising and approving legal work carried out on behalf of the company" and "establishing various companies".
O'Reilly's signature also marks the cease and desist agreements TMTE and its affiliates made in Colorado and Texas in 2019. In May 2020, two months after Platinum Advertising was registered in the Golden State, he filed a declaration of consent with the Secretary of State of Missouri, who again identifies himself as TMTE's attorney and compliance officer.
TMTE attorney Charles Harder, who also recently represented Trump and his family, initially denied any connection between TMTE and Platinum Advertising, going so far that the latter company may not be real.
"Today marks the first day TMTE has ever heard of the existence of" Platinum Advertising Corp. "Heard (assuming it exists)," he wrote in an email. "TMTE knows nothing about it and is in no way affiliated with it."
Given the evidence of O'Reilly's involvement with Platinum, Harder claimed that the attorney was "not exclusively reserved for TMTE - he also did legal work that was separate and completely separate from TMTE."
This claim contradicts any publicly available evidence regarding O'Reilly who did not respond to calls or emails from The Daily Beast. His LinkedIn profile labels his employment agreement with Metals.com as "full-time" and "in-house" and does not list any other work as a lawyer. O'Reilly was admitted to the bar in December 2018, just one month prior to joining Metals.com. He is the only person with that name registered to practice in California.
During negotiations with the Texas State Securities Board in 2019, O'Reilly presented himself as a key official at TMTE.
"He stated that he had the authority to contract the company," said Joseph Rotunda, director of the enforcement department. "We're not talking about a low employee."
Rotunda told The Daily Beast that he was familiar with platinum advertising but was unable to say whether it was a criminal system due to ongoing legal action.
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In addition, all other legal documents bearing the name or signature of O'Reilly can be traced back to TMTE or one or more of its clients. The only unit of business besides Platinum Advertising that he has state-registered is USA Marketing Inc., another California subsidiary of a Wyoming company originally founded by Pitts. USA Marketing uses the same Golden State address as Platinum Advertising in the Century Plaza Towers complex in Los Angeles.
The late 2019 Wyoming filing lists Utah-based attorney Graham Norris as a "Director" of USA Marketing. Norris, who works with Pitts frequently, was listed as CEO, CFO and Secretary of TMTE in 2018 in California. In a 2019 lawsuit filed by the former Executive Vice President of Sales at Chase Metals, Norris was identified as one of the company's three clients.
In May of that year, O'Reilly filed a trademark on behalf of another Wyoming-based precious metal slingshot company called Capital Today, Inc.
Capital Today's country-level corporate filings are very similar to Platinum Advertising's. In Wyoming, both initially used Gerald Pitts as a registration agent and then moved to the Cloud Peak Law Group. In California, both companies used the exact same Wyoming address, the exact same California address, and the exact same litigation agent - an Ethan D. Kirschner of Culver City who didn't respond to requests for comment.
Finally, the O'Reilly trademark application filed for Capital Today, which operates USAMint.com, used the address 8383 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 700, in Beverly Hills. Metals.com identified this location as one of its two locations in correspondence with the Secretary of the US Securities Division in Missouri. In the former sales director's above complaint, the Wilshire Boulevard suite was identified as the "main business location" of Chase Metals.
This is also the address of Tower Equity - the investment firm that was founded by Norris' colleague TMTE principals Lucas Asher and Simon Batashvili and that was named and confiscated on Friday in the joint action of the states on TMTE. All of this strongly suggests a link between Platinum Inc. and TMTE affiliates - strong enough that a TMTE representative, when confronted with this evidence, partially retracted part of Harder's testimony.
The agent admitted that O'Reilly had actually registered platinum advertising on behalf of the metal trader. However, they insisted that TMTE did not acquire the company until 2020 as a "shelf unit" for future use and that it was previously unaware of Platinum Advertising's work for Bannon and that the company has not worked with it since. They alleged Platinum Advertising currently had no assets, no employees and had no business relationships during the time TMTE owned it. In fact, they claimed that TMTE's directors had never heard of platinum advertising before The Daily Beast inquired about them.
The TMTE representative declined to provide any material or statement to support these claims, and even suggested that Bannon may have engaged another platinum advertisement based in Wyoming. However, only one entity by that name appears in the state's business records - the same one that O'Reilly signed for in California.
In the TMTE agent's version of events - at least the version that matches the available documentary evidence - Bannon hired Platinum Advertising to handle the web and social media reach for its conservative nonprofit organization. Then, some time later, TMTE, which sells precious metals, including platinum, by targeting conservative voters online and through social media, bought the same company that was completely unaware of its history. Although platinum was completely empty and inactive, it was somehow known to the Texas State Securities Board, even if unknown to TMTE's principals.
A representative for Bannon, who pleaded not guilty of the charges brought against him, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Bannon has picked up a number of unsavory employees since his brief exit from the White House in 2017. The Daily Beast announced in June that the distributor of its War Room podcast is a longtime business criminal. The former Goldman Sachs banker and Hollywood producer also launched several ventures with Guo Wengui, a Chinese billionaire charged with a number of crimes in his homeland, all of which he denies. Two of these companies recently funded and sponsored a dubious study claiming that COVID-19 originated from a government laboratory in Wuhan.
On Wenguis Yacht, federal authorities arrested Bannon for fraud related to We Build the Wall Inc., a joint venture with war veteran, conservative activist and serial entrepreneur Brian Kolfage, who was also accused of misappropriating funds.
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