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‘Police’ group accused of illegally raising money

A political action committee that backed President Donald Trump in the 2020 election is again raising money in Iowa and claiming donations will benefit the families of police killed in the line of duty.

The scripted, prerecorded solicitations emanate from the Law Enforcement for a Safer America Political Action Committee, although the calls are stated as coming from “the Police Officers’ Support Association.”

PAC

A screen shot shows the homepage of the Law Enforcement for a Safer American Political Action Committee's home page.

Although the name of the organization, and the pitch for donations, are focused on supporting law enforcement, federal records indicate the organization has raised more than $14 million, with none of that money directed to any governmental police agencies.

Even the organization’s political spending has been limited. Of the $14 million raised prior to 2021, just over a half-million – or less than 4% of the money donated – was spent on the support of candidates for federal office. The rest was consumed by fundraising, consulting and office expenses.

So far this year, the organization has raised $4.3 million, according to federal records.

The calls now being made to Iowans and residents of other states appear to be generated through the use of soundcard technology, also known as avatar technology, in which the “caller” speaks only on tape, responding to questions and comments with other recorded messages. The use of such technology for financial solicitations is allegedly prohibited by federal law, according to recent court filings.

The calls – including several made in recent weeks to an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter who recorded them — typically begin with the same three words, with a male voice asking, “Is Bridget there?” That’s followed by a few seconds of silence, giving the consumer time to respond.

It’s at that point that the solicitation begins, with the recorded voice saying, “This is Tim with the Police Officers’ Support Association.” The recording goes on to state that the officers’ association is trying to give the police “the tools and resources needed to effectively protect us.”

The recorded solicitation then says, “We seek to elect the leaders who advocate for a death-and-disability fund so the families they leave behind aren’t left to face the financial stress alone should they die in the line of duty. We back representatives Lee Zeldin and Ami Bera” – a reference to congressmen from New York and California, respectively – “because they support law enforcement. If we were to send you an envelope, would you show your support with a one-time, non-tax-deductible donation? … We have three levels of support. There’s a $35, a $50 and a $75 level of support. Which is best for you?”

Once the consumer agrees to a pledge amount, the taped voice states, “Thank you so much. They really appreciate your support. Now, are you 100% comfortable with your donation? Great. Thank you so much. Now, in finishing, the billing department is going to come on the line to make sure we have your information correct.”

A tape-recorded female’s voice then asks for the prospective donor’s credit card number, name, address and occupation. The call ends with the taped voice stating that the call is “paid for by the Law Enforcement for a Safer America PAC.”

Fundraisers accused of illegal solicitations

According to Federal Elections Commission data compiled by OpenSecrets.org, the PAC raised almost $14 million in 2019 and 2020, and spent $543,000 on independent political expenditures. The rest of the money was spent largely on fundraising, office expenses and consulting.

All of the political spending in the 2020 election cycle was either in support of Republicans or in opposition to Democrats, although the PAC reports that it has spent $247,682 this year in support of Bera, a Democrat.

The vast majority of the money spent in 2020 was dedicated to the support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and most of the donors whose occupations are disclosed in federal filings gave their occupation as “retired,” according to the FEC data.

The PAC’s website includes a series of YouTube videos endorsing “our leader, President Trump,” and warning that “big-city liberals like Nancy Pelosi and AOC are working to make our country less safe.”

Political action committees are able to raise unlimited amounts of money that can then be spent advocating for political causes or specific candidates.

The founding treasurer of the PAC is identified in federal records as Jeremy Kevitt of Florida. A Florida police officer with that same name was arrested on felony charges last fall and accused of stealing nearly $50,000 from the Clermont Police Officers Union in Florida.

One of the fundraising companies used by Law Enforcement for a Safer America is identified in federal filings as The Gehl Group of Florida, which has done business in Iowa.

Fundraiser accused of consumer fraud

In 1997, the Gehl Group signed a consent judgment prohibiting the company and its successors from misrepresenting how proceeds from telemarketing campaigns in Iowa would be used. A company named Xentel later acquired the Gehl Group, with Joseph Gehl served as Xentel’s president.

In 2003, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against Xentel, alleging it was illegally raising money for firefighters by tricking Iowans into believing the callers were firefighters rather than paid fundraisers.

“We allege they trick Iowans into believing that most or all of the money donated goes to help firefighters, when that is not the case,” Miller said at the time. “Little or no support typically goes to a donor’s local fire department, and about 75% of the money donated is kept by Xentel and never supports any firefighters.”

At that time, Xentel was soliciting donations from Iowans under a contract with the Iowa Professional Firefighters Association. The lawsuit was settled in 2004, with Xentel agreeing to pay $30,000 and comply with Iowa law.

Lawsuit alleges ‘bogus and inflated’ expenses

Another of the hired fundraisers used by Law Enforcement for a Safer America is now the focus of a potential class-action lawsuit filed in federal court last month on behalf of consumers.

The lawsuit accuses professional fundraiser Richard Zeitlin of partnering with “complicit” political action committees – including Law Enforcement for a Safer America and its treasurer, Kevitt – and using an “array of bogus and inflated overhead expenditures” to funnel millions of dollars in political donations into companies Zeitlin controls.

According to the lawsuit, the phone calls Zeitlin uses to solicit PAC donations utilize soundboard technology so that consumers’ questions and comments are responded to only through a set of prerecorded messages deployed either by a computer or by a person who is monitoring the “conversation.” The federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 prohibits the use of artificial or prerecorded voices in financial solicitations, the lawsuit alleges, and Zeitlin is openly and routinely violating that law.

Consumers who receive the calls often receive “inappropriate or nonsensical responses to their questions or comments,” the lawsuit alleges, and the calls are often abruptly terminated when a consumer poses questions the system isn’t designed to handle.

Zeitlin has yet to respond to the lawsuit. Kevitt and Law Enforcement for a Safer America could not be reached for comment.

This story is reprinted with permission from Iowa Capital Dispatch.

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