California man who raised cash for Dem candidates, 'unite immigrant families' kept money for himself, feds allege

A California man set up bogus fundraising websites for prominent Democratic candidates and causes, scamming donors out of more than $250,000, federal prosecutors in New York alleged Tuesday.

John Pierre Dupont, 80, is accused by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York of creating at least three fake political action committees, or "scam PACs," and at least 15 websites purporting to raise money for various Democratic candidates. Prosecutors say 10 of those websites were presented as supporting Democratic Senate candidates in last year's midterm elections; the candidates included Beto O'Rourke, Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill, Bill Nelson, Heidi Heitkamp and Kyrsten Sinema  Another claimed to be raising money for Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, while still another was created in 2015 and supported Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign, officials said.

According to an affidavit filed Tuesday, Dupont -- he also went by the name John Gary Rinaldo before changing it in 2012 -- registered four separate domain names for fundraising websites alleged to be supporting Joe Biden's potential 2020 presidential candidacy, while a fifth backed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and a sixth supported a potential candidacy by former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen. The affidavit noted that those websites "do not yet appear to have received and processed donations."

Another website set up by Dupont purportedly solicited donations for 10 Democratic U.S. Senate candidates.

Another website set up by Dupont purportedly solicited donations for 10 Democratic U.S. Senate candidates. (Screenshot)

One more website, ImmigrantChildrenReunited.org, claimed to be collecting money to reunite undocumented immigrant children with their parents, from whom they'd been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Our volunteer attorneys, doctors, nurses and social workers are working day and night to liberate these children," read a message on the now-defunct website, which claimed that donations would be used to pay the volunteers' costs as well as "transportation to unite immigrant families."

In fact, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement, the PAC associated with the Immigrant Children Reunited website "had no volunteers, and dedicated no funds to paying for doctors, social workers or any other professionals, advocacy or political operations."

"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," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said. "My office will continue to ensure that fraudulent fundraising does not pay – indeed, will result in criminal prosecution – by rooting out scam PACs wherever we find them.”

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Prosecutors say Dupont collected more than 1,000 donations to the various faked PACs and campaign websites, using the money to pay for his rent, parking tickets and car insurance while failing to report the donations to the Federal Election Commission. In February 2016, Dupont allegedly used $25,300 he collected from the fake Bernie Sanders fundraising website to buy a Mercedes-Benz sedan.

Dupont was arrested Tuesday and charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. He faces up to 22 years in prison.

He was due to appear in federal court in Arizona Tuesday afternoon.