Published October 19, 2010
Even before his release from prison 10 years ago, Brett Kimberlin had learned a lesson that has served him well: If you publicly accuse a well-known political figure of crimes or misdeeds -- even without proof -- publicity and money will follow.
Kimberlin, a convicted bomber and drug dealer, learned that lesson in 1988, when he claimed from his prison cell that he had been Dan Quayle’s marijuana dealer in college. The claim got a lot of attention because Quayle was running for vice president of the United States at the time.
Now, 22 years later, Kimberlin has taken that lesson and made unfounded accusations a profession of sorts. Using two popular leftist blogs, the 56-year-old from Bethesda, Md., has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from the public and left-leaning foundations by promising to put conservatives he disagrees with in jail, often with offers of large rewards. So far -- without success -- he has called for the arrest of Karl Rove, Andrew Breitbart, Chamber of Commerce head Tom Donohue, Massey Energy Chairman Don Blankenship and other high-profile public figures.
A review of tax filings for Kimberlin's blogs, "Velvet Revolution" and "Justice Through Music," raises troubling questions about whether his "nonprofit" operations are dedicated to public activism -- or are just a new facade for a longtime con artist.
Though neither website publicly reveals Kimberlin’s role, tax and corporate documents show that he is one of four directors who incorporated the Velvet Revolution, and that he is the registered agent for the tax-exempt, non-stock company, which is registered at his mother’s house in Bethesda. In 2008, the last year for which tax records are available, Velvet Revolution took in $83,000 in gifts and contributions.
Kimberlin is also one of two incorporators of Justice Through Music, as well as a $19,500-a-year employee of the non-profit, whose purpose is to “shed light on some of the injustices of the world through music” and which took in more than $550,000 in contributions in 2008.
What those who view the blogs -- and those who donate to them -- aren’t told is who Kimberlin is and where he's been. And that is a twisted story, indeed.
Kimberlin grew up in a suburb of Indianapolis where, just out of high school, he ran a large-scale marijuana operation as well as a health food store and a vegetarian restaurant. According to accounts at the time and public records, he became involved with an underage girl whose grandmother objected to the relationship and tried to take her away. When the grandmother was found shot to death in her garage, police began focusing on Kimberlin, who -- possibly to divert attention -- began an eight-day bombing campaign in Speedway, Ind.
That bombing spree did more than cause widespread terror in Speedway; it severely injured a man who had to have his leg amputated and who, unable to cope with the pain, later committed suicide. His widow sued Kimberlin and was awarded a $1.6 million civil judgment.
In the same period as the bombing spree, in 1978, Kimberlin was arrested in Texas while preparing to receive a plane carrying 5 tons of marijuana at a makeshift air strip he and his compatriots had scratched out of the desert. The operation was so big, it supplied marijuana to at least four states, according to authorities and local news reports at the time. To help with the operation, Kimberlin would often assume the false identity of an official from the Department of Defense.
That operation fell apart when a local printer, whom Kimberlin had asked to create a false federal ID card, reported him to authorities, and he was charged with impersonating a federal official.
After separate trials for the bombings, the drug offenses and the impersonation charges -- he was suspected but never charged with the grandmother's murder -- Kimberlin was sentenced to more than 50 years in federal prison.
And it was there that he learned the power of unsubstantiated accusation. Just before the 1988 election Kimberlin caused a sensation when he told reporters he had been Quayle’s marijuana supplier in college. As word of the accusation spread, a prison press conference was called and then canceled as reporters waited outside.
But that action by prison officials gave Kimberlin's story credence, and he declared himself a political prisoner -- a claim that attracted Mark Singer, a writer from The New Yorker magazine, who thought it would make for a great story. After Singer ran a long sympathetic piece in 1992, he got a book contract to write about the fate of an American political prisoner. The two split a large cash advance from the publisher and began to work together.
In the process, Singer discovered that Kimberlin was far from a hero. In fact, he realized, the man who had gotten the attention of the nation was a liar and a con man, and he ended up writing a story of how he had been taken in by a “narcissist.” Kimberlin, for his part, who had been released on parole after 14 years in prison, was sent back to jail for a parole violation. The charge was hiding the money from his advance to prevent the widow of the woman whose husband he maimed from collecting on the bombing victim widow's civil judgment.
And it is that civil judgment that may explain Kimberlin's blog sites and much of his existence since prison. Because of the judgment, which with interest is now more than $3 million, anything Kimberlin has in his own name is subject to seizure. He lives in his mother’s home in Bethesda and operates the websites out of there. It's hardly a happy place, though; Kimberlin's mother has sued him and won a $150,000 judgment against him, and he and his wife have traded domestic abuse charges, according to local records. It even may explain the causes of the moment on which the websites focus their energy, likely to generate cash.
In the past three years, Velvet Revolution and Justice Through Music have raised more than $1.5 million. Yet Velvet Revolution hardly seems like a dynamic organization; it has had only 10 new posts in the past six months. And Justice Through Music, despite a voter registration effort that simply includes an online registration form, seems to be little more than a music website that plows through money each year.
Perhaps the most perplexing question on the sites' tax returns concerns the growing rent payments from the non-profit, which jumped from just below $10,000 in 2006 to more than $80,000 two years later. Given Kimberlin’s history, what really happened to the money is a fair question. And given his silence -- calls and messages to Kimberlin, both through the blog and to his home address, were not returned -- it is a pressing one.