A notorious California con man has been charged with defrauding donors out of more than $250,000 sent to sham political groups and websites for Beto O'Rourke, Bernie Sanders and other prominent Democrats, prosecutors said Tuesday.
John Pierre Dupont, 80, is accused of setting up at least three bogus political action committees, or PACs, and several websites that purported to be raising money for roughly 10 individual Senate candidates, a candidate for governor and for progressive causes, according to a criminal complaint.
Instead of passing along the cash to the candidates or campaigns, Dupont used it to pay his rent, a parking ticket, and to cover the costs of a $25,300 Mercedes-Benz sedan, according to prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York.
"As alleged, John Pierre Dupont operated multiple fake political action committees and falsely claimed to be raising money to support more than a dozen campaigns," said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.
"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."
Attempts to reach Dupont — a once wealthy financier who was twice convicted of white collar crimes in the 1980s and 1990s, and who once escaped from prison — were not successful.
The websites Dupont created included Beto4Senate.org, Sanders2016Campaign.org, GillumForFloridaGovernor.org and ImmigrantChildrenUnited.org, according to the complaint.
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Dupont posted messages on the sites designed to pull at the heartstrings of progressive donors.
"Our volunteer attorneys, doctors, nurses and social workers are working day and night to liberate these children," read the immigrant children united website. "Donations will go to help pay our volunteer attorneys', doctors', nurses' and social workers' costs and pay for transportation to unite immigrant families."
The Sanders site read: "EVERY TIME WE PROCESS YOUR CREDIT CARD DONATION, THE BIG BANKS TAKE UP TO 40% OF THE DONATIONS JUST FOR PROCESSING YOUR CREDIT CARD DONATION...THAT IS WHY WE ARE GIVING YOU THE OPTION...TO MAKE YOUR DONATIONS IN CASH OR CHECK."
The court papers say that nearly all of the more than 1,000 donations to the scam PACs and websites were in fact pocketed by Dupont.
Dupont, who was charged with wire fraud and identity theft, failed to report the donations to the Federal Election Commission as required by law, or direct them to the campaigns or causes that the websites and organizations purported to champion, according to the complaint.
Dupont faces up to 22 years in prison if convicted on both charges, prosecutors said. There's no indication that the campaigns or candidates had any knowledge of the scheme, prosecutors said.
The new charges mark a new low in the rollercoaster life of Dupont, a California native who went from multimillionaire financier to money-losing felon in the 1980s.
Then known as John Gary Rinaldo, Dupont pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 1985 in a scheme that fueled investment losses in the tens of millions of dollars, according to the Los Angeles Times.
After serving a three-year prison sentence, Dupont was convicted again in 1991 after he attempted to obtain a $360,000 mortgage on a home that he did not own, according to the Times. He was sentenced to 46 months behind bars on charges of bank fraud and money laundering.
In June 1992, Dupont escaped from a minimum-security federal prison in northern Oregon, according to the Times. Dupont had been transferred to the facility after it was reported that he had testified for the prosecution in a Mafia-related, double-murder trial in Indiana the previous year, the Times reported.
Dupont remained on the lam for five years. He was captured in 1997 and hit with additional charges, court records show.
Dupont was released from federal custody in 1999, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Several years earlier, in 1985, Dupont had expressed dismay over the trajectory of his life while appealing for a shorter jail sentence.
"Instead of being brilliant, I'm a felon," he told a judge, according to the Times. "I should have never gone into the business. I didn't have the heart or personality to be a lender."
Tom Winter is a New York-based correspondent covering crime, courts, terrorism and financial fraud on the East Coast for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Rich Schapiro is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit.