UNITED STATES NEWS

3 former GOP operatives to pay $50K for roles in a fake charity tied to E. Palestine derailment

Aug 11, 2023, 3:30 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Three men who have worked as Republican political operatives agreed to pay more than $50,000 in restitution and penalties in Ohio for their roles in operating a phony charity that collected cash purportedly to help victims of the East Palestine train derailment.

The settlement, announced Thursday by Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, requires Isaiah Wartman and Luke Mahoney of WAMA Strategies to pay more than $22,000 to a local food bank, plus $3,000 in investigative costs and fees.

Under the deal, Michael Peppel, co-founder of the fraudulent charity, Ohio Clean Water Fund, must pay a $25,000 civil penalty and agree to a lifetime ban on starting, running or soliciting for any charity in the state, Yost announced.

Cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer reports that Wartman worked as campaign manager and senior adviser to Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia. Mahoney worked as a campaign staffer for Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, of New York.

The pair formed WAMA Strategies together earlier this year. The settlement prohibits the strategy group from soliciting charitable donations in Ohio for the next four years, and Mahoney from starting, operating or soliciting contributions for any charity in Ohio until 2027.

Peppel previously worked as a senior legislative aide to GOP state Sen. Michael Rulli, of Mahoning County, the news organization reported, and as political director for the campaign of Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson.

According to Yost’s investigation, Wartman and Mahoney were fundraisers for the fake charity, which collected nearly $149,000 from donors in the aftermath of the fiery Feb. 3 derailment that caused ongoing harm to the tiny community of East Palestine, along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Toxic chemicals released by the crash led to resident evacuations and lingering health worries.

The fake charity claimed the money would be given to the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, but the group gave only $10,000 to the food bank and kept the rest for themselves, the investigation found.

Bryan Kostura, an attorney representing Wartman and Mahoney, told the news outlet that the two men were both victims of a fraud perpetrated by Peppel and cooperated with Yost’s investigation. He said that, once they realized they’d been “bamboozled,” they “did what was right and gave back all of their profits for this entire engagement to the people of East Palestine.”

Peppel’s attorney, Dave Thomas, declined comment.

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3 former GOP operatives to pay $50K for roles in a fake charity tied to E. Palestine derailment