More than two years after the FBI raided his firm's Annapolis office, Maryland GOP consultant Kelley Rogers pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in relation to a scam PAC operation.
He’s set to be sentenced Jan. 17, 2020 before U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady of the Eastern District of Virginia, the same judge who sentenced disgraced GOP consultant Tyler Harber to 24 months in prison for illegal coordination in 2015.
At the time of the FBI raid, Rogers, 55, made public comments that indicated the federal investigation was business-as-usual for his firm, Strategic Campaign Group (SCG).
“Our suspicion is that this is just a carry-over from [SCG’s work for Conservative StrikeForce],” Rogers told the Washington Post in May 2017. “I think the facts speak for themselves, and we tried to give the agents all the information they could possibly need.”
On Tuesday, the feds said that Rogers, a fundraising consultant, had “swindled millions of dollars from individuals attempting to participate in our democratic process.”
In fact, the case related, in part, to Rogers' work with Conservative StrikeForce, which dates back to 2012, and other scam PACs.
Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), who now serves as the acting head of USCIS, sued SCG after Conservative StrikeForce raised $500,000 from donors with the promise of it going to his 2013 gubernatorial campaign, but only $10,000 was forwarded. The PAC, which raised $3.38 million between 2013-2014, and Strategic Campaign Group settled with Cuccinelli for $85,000 and a copy of its donor file.
After the Virginia gubernatorial race, Rogers changed his messaging to a solicitation saying that donations would be used to support military veterans.
“In truth and in fact, the defendant never intended to spend, and never actually spent, any of the money raised by Rogers’ PACs on get-out-the-vote efforts or lawyers to protect the integrity of the 2013 Virginia and Attorney General elections, or on assistance and support for military veterans,” the Justice Department said Tuesday. “Instead, the defendant spent nearly all of the money raised from donors to benefit himself, his associates, and his PACs, including by pouring the majority of donor money into the solicitation of more donations.”
Despite the FBI raid of his offices in 2017, Rogers continued to operate CSF along with other scam PACs including Conservative Majority Fund, and Tea Party Majority Fund through 2018.
“In that role, [Rogers] engaged vendors to send email solicitations and make telemarketing phone calls to prospective donors seeking political contributions to his PACs,” DOJ said. “Rogers approved the text and other content of all solicitations, and determined how CSF spent the contributions individual donors gave in response to the solicitations.”
Rogers also “fraudulently billed his PACs for services that were not performed, thereby misappropriating donor money that had been contributed to the PACs by individuals across the country.
“Rogers and his associates also made false statements to the Federal Election Commission about how they were spending PAC money.”
Rogers’ firm was also linked to a scam PAC called Patriots for Trump that was raising money off Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign until the president’s lawyer sent the PAC a cease-and-desist letter. That scam PAC and CSF share the same treasurer: Scott B. Mackenzie.
Rogers also admitted to participating in a scheme with unnamed associates to use straw donors to make contributions to a House candidate beyond the legal limit.
As part of his guilty plea to the one count, Rogers agreed to pay $491,299 in restitution to victims of his fraud scheme, as well as a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of $208,954, according to the release.
Adav Noti, senior director, trial litigation, at the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, applauded the prosecutors for getting a guilty plea.
"Ordinary citizens already have enough challenges making their voices heard among the mega donors and super PACs, so these scams that siphon off small-donor money are particularly corrosive," said Noti. "Ultimately, Congress needs to pass a law addressing scam PACs, and there’s bipartisan interest in Congress in doing so, but until then sending a few major scammers to federal prison for breaking general fraud laws will hopefully deter others."
Rogers' case is the latest sign that the feds are cracking down on lawbreakers in the campaign industry. Last week, Democratic consultant Dale Emmons, a former head of the AAPC, was found guilty in a federal case in Kentucky of six felony counts of making illegal campaign contributions.
On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia stated: “Individuals like Rogers, who engage in sophisticated fraud schemes will be held accountable for their actions. We have a long history of investigating and prosecuting fraud cases here in the Eastern District, and we remain committed to working closely with our law enforcement partners to ensure that those who choose to engage in fraud activity are held accountable and brought to justice.”
Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski added: “Today’s guilty plea shows that the Department of Justice is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who undermine the integrity of our democratic institutions, including those who commit fraud to line their own pockets along the way.”
Rogers didn’t immediately respond to C&E's request for comment.