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.
Further, all other legal documents bearing O’Reilly’s name or signature are traceable to TMTE or one or more of its principals. The only corporate entity besides Platinum Advertising he has registered at the state level is USA Marketing Inc., another California affiliate of a Wyoming company originally incorporated by Pitts. USA Marketing uses the same Golden State address, inside Los Angeles’s Century Plaza Towers complex, as Platinum Advertising.
Wyoming filings from late 2019 list Graham Norris, a Utah-based lawyer, as USA Marketing’s “director.” Norris, who frequently works with Pitts, was listed as TMTE’s CEO, CFO, and secretary in a 2018 filing in California. A 2019 lawsuit brought by former executive vice president of sales at Chase Metals identified Norris as one of that company’s three principals.
In May this year O’Reilly applied for a trademark on behalf of another Wyoming-based precious metals-slinging company called Capital Today, Inc.
Capital Today’s state-level corporate filings are highly similar to Platinum Advertising’s. In Wyoming, both initially used Gerald Pitts as their registration agent, then switched to the Cloud Peak Law Group. In California, both firms used the exact same Wyoming address, the exact same California address, and the exact same agent for service of process—an Ethan D. Kirschner of Culver City, who did not respond to requests for comment.
Finally, the trademark application O’Reilly filed for Capital Today, which operates USAMint.com, used the address 8383 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 700, in Beverly Hills. Metals.com identified this location as one of its two in its correspondence with the Missouri secretary of state’s Securities Division, and the aforementioned lawsuit brought by the ex-sales executive described the Wilshire Boulevard suite as Chase Metals’ “principal business location.”
This also happens to be the address of Tower Equity—the investment firm founded by Norris’s fellow TMTE principals Lucas Asher and Simon Batashvili, which was also named and seized in the joint federal-state action on TMTE on Friday. All of this strongly indicates a nexus between Platinum Inc. and firms tied to TMTE—strongly enough that, when confronted with this evidence, a representative for TMTE walked back part of Harder’s statement in part.
The representative admitted that O’Reilly in fact had registered Platinum Advertising on the metal dealer’s behalf. However, they insisted that TMTE had only acquired the company as a “shelf entity” for future use in 2020, and that it was unaware of Platinum Advertising’s work for Bannon before and that the firm has not done any work with him since. Platinum Advertising, they maintained, currently has no assets, no employees, and has never had any business dealings during the time TMTE owned it. In fact, they asserted that the principals of TMTE had never even heard of Platinum Advertising before The Daily Beast inquired about it.
The TMTE representative declined to provide any documentation or on-the-record statements to substantiate these claims, and even suggested that Bannon might have hired another Platinum Advertising based in Wyoming. However, the state’s business records show only one entity of that name—the same one O’Reilly signed for in California.
In the TMTE representative’s version of events—at least, the version that lines up with the available documentary evidence—Bannon contracted Platinum Advertising to handle web and social media outreach for his conservative nonprofit. Then, sometime afterward, TMTE—which sells precious metals, including platinum, by targeting conservative voters on the web and through social media—happened to purchase the same company completely unaware of its history. Despite being completely empty and inactive, Platinum was somehow known to the Texas State Securities Board even when it was unknown to TMTE’s principals.
A representative for Bannon, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, did not answer repeated requests for comment.
Bannon has picked up a number of unsavory associates since his unceremonious exit from the White House in 2017. The Daily Beast revealed in June that the distributor of his podcast War Room is a longtime white-collar criminal. The former Goldman Sachs banker and Hollywood producer also launched several ventures with Guo Wengui, a billionaire Chinese national accused of an array of crimes in his home country, all of which he denies. Two of these entities have recently funded and promoted a dubious study asserting COVID-19 originated in a government lab in Wuhan.
It was on Wengui’s yacht that federal authorities arrested Bannon on fraud charges related to We Build the Wall Inc., itself a joint project with disabled war veteran, conservative activist, and serial entrepreneur Brian Kolfage—who has also been accused of misappropriating funds.