In the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a barrage of robocalls, totaling in the tens of millions, was unleashed on the public.
Many of these calls began with a soundbite from Donald Trump, then transitioned to a pre-recorded plea requesting the listeners to make an “emergency investment” in his campaign. It promised those who donated $1,000 or more a photograph of Trump fit for framing.
Simultaneously, other calls featured a recording of Hillary Clinton inviting listeners to press 1 to support the campaign of the potential first female U.S. president.
Callers who responded were redirected to a call center, where staff reassured donors they would “work hard” to ensure Clinton’s victory.
These calls resembled typical political communications that saturated the U.S. during the tense presidential race 2016.
However, according to federal authorities, these calls were fraudulent.
Two individuals from California established false political action committees (PACs), the Liberty Action Group and the Progressive Priorities PAC, to exploit the widening divide between Republicans and Democrats, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
During 16 months, these organizations initiated over 275 million robocalls and gathered nearly $4 million in small-scale donations.
This scheme was built on false and misleading promises that the collected funds would go towards supporting presidential candidates during and after the 2016 election cycle.
Matthew Nelson Tunstall, a 36-year-old resident of Los Angeles, was given a 10-year prison sentence on April 24.
Tunstall pleaded guilty to wire fraud, making false statements, and money laundering.
Robert Reyes Jr., a 40-year-old from San Juan Bautista, California, was given a seven-year sentence.
Reyes had also previously admitted to money laundering, deceptive statements to government officials, and wire fraud.
Kyle George Davies, a 31-year-old from Austin, Texas, received a sentence of five years probation.
Davies had also previously pleaded guilty to making false statements and wire fraud.
Prosecutors alleged that instead of using the funds for purchasing television ads or spearheading voter mobilization efforts, the men responsible for the PACs misappropriated the funds for personal use.
They reportedly distributed a mere $19 to political campaigns and causes while pocketing more than $1.5 million.