James O’Keefe Is Now Under Investigation for Looting Project Veritas. Another orange jumpsuit is now waiting to be filled.
Prosecutors in Westchester County, N.Y., are pursuing charges against the right’s premiere “gotcha video” scammer, for scamming his own donors.
James O’Keefe, the founder and until this past February CEO of the right-wing nonprofit Project Veritas, is currently under investigation by the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.
While the exact nature of the investigation is not yet public, the timing would suggest that it relates to O’Keefe’s alleged financial improprieties during his tenure as the group’s chairman and CEO. Back in February, O’Keefe was accused of spending “an excessive amount of donor funds in the last three years on personal luxuries” by the conservative nonprofit’s own board of directors, amid their very public feud over the management and future of Veritas. Westchester DA Miriam Rocah’s probe follows a raft of civil lawsuits, criminal investigations, and six-figure court losses that have trailed the group under O’Keefe’s leadership—including a still-active federal investigation into the theft of property belonging to President Biden’s daughter Ashley Biden.
“We don’t talk about how we start our investigations,” the Westchester County DA’s director of public affairs, Jin Whang, said when reached by phone. “But if you want confirmation that we were and are, then yes. We can confirm that.”
Attorneys for Project Veritas also filed a civil complaint against O’Keefe in federal court this past May, accusing the ostensible investigative reporting outfit’s original hidden-camera sting artist of breaching his contract and fiduciary duties to the group, among other counts. Despite that pending litigation, made public alongside a detailed new timeline reiterating the board’s own version of its disputes and grievances with O’Keefe, Veritas says that the organization did not prompt the Westchester DA’s investigation into its former leader via a formal criminal referral.
“Project Veritas did not initiate any potential investigation the Westchester DA’s office may be conducting with respect to James O’Keefe,” Hannah Giles, the newly appointed CEO of Project Veritas, responded via e-mail. “However, PV cooperates with the authorities as required by law.”
Giles’s assumption of leadership at Veritas reflects an attempt at continuity for the group, which was launched over a decade ago following the tactical successes of the infamous hidden camera stings against the liberal community-organizing group ACORN by her and O’Keefe. By April 2010, O’Keefe and Giles’s early one-off collaboration would result in the complete dissolution of ACORN’s network of local advocacy groups, whose “get out the vote” efforts had helped to enfranchise millions of low-income and minority voters in underserved communities.
The undercover videos, in which O’Keefe and Giles claimed to be a pimp and a prostitute seeking illicit financial advice from ACORN, ultimately crumbled under scrutiny from California’s attorney general and led to a six-figure settlement paid out to a former ACORN employee. But the viral heat generated by their stings within conservative media nevertheless skyrocketed both of them to a kind of partisan stardom, creating the conditions that allowed O’Keefe to incorporate Project Veritas as a tax-deductible 501(c)3 charity.
In the years since, O’Keefe has made a name for himself by attempting to unearth further supposed malfeasance by liberal activists, politicians, and institutions—as well as by his perceived foes in the establishment media and Big Tech. Multiple people caught up in O’Keefe’s investigations have lost their livelihoods in the frequently incoherent and often inaccurate publicity maelstroms that have followed the typical Project Veritas exposé: nonprofit workers, Obamacare navigators, NPR executives, public school teachers, and news media employees among them.
In October 2021, a federal judge finally stated the obvious about O’Keefe’s latter day Nixonian dirty tricksters, declaring that it was acceptable for litigants to refer to Project Veritas in open court as a “political spying operation.”
Though O’Keefe himself once betrayed his ambitions to make Veritas “the next great intelligence agency,” Veritas’s supposed charitable mission, as detailed annually in its nonprofit filings to the IRS, has consistently been to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions.” Better late than never: The group has finally uncovered all the above at the top of its own organization.
Following O’Keefe’s attempt to unilaterally fire Veritas Chief Financial Officer Tom O’Hara, in contravention of the 501(c)3’s bylaws, and O’Keefe’s own surprise resignation this past February, the Veritas board published a preliminary tally of its former leader’s financial misdeeds.
Pending a “third party investigative audit,” the board accused O’Keefe of spending “$14,000 on a charter flight to meet someone to fix his boat under the guise of meeting with a donor,” blowing over $150,000 on high-end limo services, and taking thousands of dollars more for personal DJ equipment. O’Keefe, they said, also requisitioned $60,000 for “dance events,” including the production of a semi-autobiographical pop music celebration of his life in muckraking: the Project Veritas Experience. Such self-indulgent expenditures would be what’s known within the Internal Revenue Code for tax-exempt 501(c)3s as “inurement.”
It’s worth noting that, by the end of the Trump years, Veritas’s cash flow offered ample opportunity for this kind of personal dipping: The group brought in over $22 million in 2020, an exponential swelling in revenue compared to the $396,450 in donations reported in its first year as a nonprofit. And O’Keefe was very much along for the ride, with his reported salary, $56,000 in 2012, growing ultimately to $430,920 by the time of his September 2022 at-will employment agreement.
In private, however, past and present Veritas executives have groused to us for much longer about O’Keefe’s dubiously charitable expenditures outside that reported compensation, including the construction of a recording studio for his high school music buddy Anthony Dini and tens of thousands of dollars in “investigating reporting” and “consulting” fees paid to O’Keefe’s pass-thru NJ S-corp, Veritas Inc.
This March, the board outsourced the remainder of its internal audit to Dorsey & Whitney LLP, the law firm that investigated NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre on behalf of the Second Amendment group’s former ad agency.
It’s unclear how this parallel audit, or the group’s new civil complaint against O’Keefe, will aid or hinder the Westchester DA’s criminal investigation already underway. One former PV executive says that the DA sent a request to Veritas for “all financial docs” relevant to the case back in the second week of April—and another long-serving senior-level member of the group confirmed, saying, “We have complied and given them information.” In all cases, these sources close to Veritas would speak only on the condition of anonymity, citing either legal exposure from the group’s onerous use of nondisclosure agreements or physical threats made by O’Keefe’s incensed fanbase—or both.
Compounding all this scrutiny on O’Keefe’s past financial behavior, Veritas board member Matthew Tyrmand—the far-right Polish nationalist, Steve Bannon protégé, and alleged architect of O’Keefe’s ouster, according to O’Keefe’s diehard defenders—resigned last month.
“I know all what you did, you fkn scumbag,” Tyrmand posted to (what was then called) Twitter in apparent reference to O’Keefe, as their dispute spilled out into the open once again this July. “Only thing keeping me from not airing your bullshit heretofore the last 5 months was being connected to an institution that had other people in it that I was concerned about.”
“(Gonna be a super fun next 6-12 months;)),” Tyrmand concluded.
Tyrmand declined to comment for this article on his apparent threat to unload fresh accusations or further evidence about O’Keefe’s misdeeds, but his potential for new rogue disclosures adds yet another variable to the complex investigation undertaken by the Westchester DA.
What has become clear, however, is that Veritas Chief Financial Officer Tom O’Hara and the remainder of the group’s board hope to lay as much blame as possible at the feet of O’Keefe and Project Veritas’s long-standing tax-preparer, Fairfield, N.J.–area CPA Ed Hulse.
According to sources close to Veritas, the Westchester DA began fanning out investigators and issuing subpoenas last April, in response to the Veritas board’s public claims of O’Keefe’s inurement. Ed Hulse, a close friend of the O’Keefe family described by some Veritas insiders as a “strip mall accountant,” was among those caught in the dragnet.
“Hulse was handed a subpoena because he’s the stupid bastard that signs all the tax returns,” as one former Veritas employee privy to the group’s compliance issues says. “Of course, it’s Tom O’Hara who’s feeding the DA and the current Project Veritas staff all the information to go after James.”
Another senior-level Veritas defector, who often dealt directly with O’Hara, maintains that O’Hara’s role enabling O’Keefe’s self-enrichment was no less direct than Hulse’s.
“O’Hara always had it over James, it was just a matter of when,” this source says. “He knew about James’s inurement since the day he came in.”
The result, evidently, was a Potemkin village of financial propriety. One former staffer recalls O’Hara saying, “Everything looks okay, but if you really look at it, you realize it’s not.” Veritas’s CFO, this source says, took comfort in the fact that it was Ed Hulse’s signature and not his own on the group’s Form 990s to the IRS.
“I have deniability,” the source recalls O’Hara saying.
When reached for comment on this story, O’Hara identified himself via phone, but hung up after hearing initial questions about the Westchester DA’s inquiry. He has not replied to numerous texts regarding further details from this story. Ed Hulse also declined to speak for this article.
Given the scope and sources of these accusations, it is perhaps unsurprising that a third investigation into financial malfeasance at Project Veritas is also underway—this one spearheaded by Hulse himself, and funded by none other than O’Keefe. As early as mid-March, O’Keefe reportedly hired “a new out-of-state legal team” to work with Hulse on investigating irregularities committed by Veritas’s internal financial team and “specifically Tom O’Hara.”
Constrained by limited access to the full records maintained at PV HQ in Mamaroneck, N.Y., the Hulse audit is likely to be handicapped in its efforts to craft a sound counternarrative. Nevertheless, a source close to O’Keefe’s new for-profit venture, O’Keefe Media Group (OMG), reports that Hulse has already “discovered many discrepancies and anomaly’s in Tom’s accounting.” One issue sure to be raised in the high-stakes buck-passing to come will be just what duties precisely O’Hara performed as CFO to merit a salary boost from $185,000 to over $227,000 in less than his first full year on the job.
Hulse’s investigation may benefit from breaking news this week that nearly all of Project Veritas’s staff has just been laid off, leaving a whole bunch of newly unemployed dirty tricksters out on the street seeking new venues to vent their frustrations. “SOS Hannah Giles just fired us all,” one posted from Project Veritas’s official X, (formerly Twitter,) account on the way out the door. According to at least one report in conservative media, Veritas CFO Tom O’Hara may be among those now departing the group.
Whatever Hulse’s team unearths, this source close to O’Keefe’s OMG says the onetime chief of America’s “next great intelligence agency” has not fully reckoned with the potential for blowback.
“James is too stupid and arrogant to understand,” this source says, “that whatever is uncovered the Feds can later use as evidence against him.”