Steve Bannon’s Dodgy Nonprofit Teamed Up With Company Linked to Gold Scammers

Christel Deskins

When former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s nonprofit sought to restore an American golden age, it turned to a company with connections to a consortium that allegedly strip-mined the retirement accounts of elderly conservatives, The Daily Beast has discovered. Bannon’s “economic nationalist” group Citizens of the American Republic hired […]

When former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s nonprofit sought to restore an American golden age, it turned to a company with connections to a consortium that allegedly strip-mined the retirement accounts of elderly conservatives, The Daily Beast has discovered.

Bannon’s “economic nationalist” group Citizens of the American Republic hired the Wyoming-based firm Platinum Advertising Corporation in 2018 to handle its “websites/social media,” Internal Revenue Service records show. A tangle of corporate and legal documents ties Platinum Advertising to TMTE Inc.—a precious metal dealer accused on Friday of fraudulently extracting $185 million from senior citizens by selling them overpriced bullion.

The massive joint action the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission and 30 states announced against TMTE alleged that the Los Angeles-based company had suckered 1,600 mostly silver-haired victims into sinking their life savings into precious metals sold at up to 300 percent of their market value. The charges are familiar to anybody who has followed the long trail of news reports and regulatory actions describing how TMTE—which has variously used the monikers Access Unlimited, TEM, Chase Metals, and Metals.com—cashed in on the right-wing paranoia of the Trump era.

Even prior to the CFTC-led case on Friday, a dozen states, including Alabama and Kentucky, had accused TMTE of posing as an investment adviser and bilking senior citizens of 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 telephone sales tactics to target right-leaning, Fox News-viewing retirees and convince them to purchase gold and silver at hugely inflated rates. These efforts often involved overt biblical appeals, or echoed the rhetoric of President Donald Trump and Republican pundits by invoking the threat “liberals” and the “Deep State” supposedly posed to the economy and to the victims’ personal finances.

“Metals[.com] reached potential investors through advertisements on Facebook, conservative talk radio show, and conservative-leaning financial newsletters,” Colorado Securities Commissioner Tung Chan told The Daily Beast. “They targeted these ads at potential investors at or near retirement age with conservative political leanings.”

These echo findings in Missouri, Arkansas, and Nevada that TMTE relied on ominous advertising, “scare tactics,” and “misstatements and omitted information” to sell marked-up coins to vulnerable people aged 60 and up. Despite signing multiple cease-and-desist deals and disgorging millions of dollars, TMTE has publicly denied ever committing fraud.

Citizens of the American Republic’s bank-shot association with TMTE, which has never before been revealed, is just the latest problematic partnership for Bannon, who was caught up in a two-count federal indictment alleging fraud at a separate nonprofit, We Build the Wall, Inc. But the ties between the former Breitbart chairman and TMTE are less direct and more complex than his relationship to the alleged private border wall grifting operation.

The most recent tax forms Citizens of the American Republic filed with the Internal Revenue Service show it paid Platinum Advertising Corporation $143,655 in 2018 to shape its web presence. Platinum Advertising’s filings in Wyoming reveal little, beyond that the company registered in that jurisdiction in 2018. Gerald Pitts was listed as its secretary and director. Pitts runs Wyoming Corporate Services, which has filed paperwork in the notoriously opaque state for dozens of clients, including TMTE.

But Platinum Advertising—named for one of the priciest precious metals on Earth—also registered an affiliate in March of this year in California, where TMTE operates. And the registration statement bears the name and distinctive signature of Conor O’Reilly, whose LinkedIn profile shows he was employed full-time during that period as in-house counsel and compliance officer to Metals.com. Among his listed responsibilities were “reviewing, revising, and approving any legal work done on behalf of the company” and “the formation of various entities.”

O’Reilly’s signature also marks the cease-and-desist and rescission agreements that TMTE and its affiliates agreed to in Colorado and Texas in 2019. In May 2020, two months after registering Platinum Advertising in the Golden State, he Docusigned a consent order with the Missouri secretary of state, again identifying himself as TMTE’s counsel and compliance officer.

TMTE’s attorney, Charles Harder—who has also recently represented Trump and his family—initially denied any link between TMTE and Platinum Advertising, even going so far as to suggest the latter company may not be real.

“Today is the first day that TMTE has ever heard of the existence of ‘Platinum Advertising Corp.’ (assuming that it exists),” he wrote in an email. “TMTE knows nothing about it and, again, is not in any way affiliated with it.”

Confronted with the evidence of O’Reilly’s involvement in Platinum, Harder asserted that the lawyer “was not exclusive to TMTE—he also did legal work separate from, and completely unaffiliated with, TMTE.”

This claim contradicts all publicly available evidence regarding O’Reilly, who did not reply to calls or emails from The Daily Beast. His LinkedIn profile characterizes his employment arrangement with Metals.com as “full-time” and “in-house,” and does not list any other work as an attorney. O’Reilly was admitted to the bar in December 2018, just one month before he began his job at Metals.com, and he is the only person by that name licensed to practice law in California.

During negotiations with the Texas State Securities Board in 2019, O’Reilly presented himself as an important official at TMTE.

“He represented that he had the authority to contractually bind the company,” said Enforcement Division Director Joseph Rotunda. “We are not talking about a low-level employee.”

Rotunda told The Daily Beast he was familiar with Platinum Advertising, but could not say whether it was involved in any criminal scheme, due to the ongoing legal actions.

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