Fired founder of right-wing org Project Veritas is under investigation in New York
Aug 18, 2023, 11:57 AM
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
NEW YORK (AP) — The founder of Project Veritas, a conservative nonprofit known for its hidden camera stings, is under investigation by a suburban New York prosecutor’s office in the latest fallout after his ouster from the group over allegations that he mistreated workers and misspent organization funds.
The Westchester County district attorney’s office confirmed Friday it is “looking into” matters concerning James O’Keefe, who was suspended in February and later fired as chairman and CEO. The Project Veritas board said he spent “an excessive amount of donor funds” on personal luxuries.
Jin Whang, a spokesperson for District Attorney Mimi Rocah, declined to discuss the subject or details of the investigation, or what potential charges, if any, O’Keefe could face. Whang cautioned that investigations can have a variety of outcomes, not necessarily resulting in criminal charges.
News of the probe was first reported by The Nation.
O’Keefe’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, blamed the investigation on “disgruntled former employees of Project Veritas who had a problem with their CEO using too many car services to pay for fundraising efforts which paid their salaries.”
“We were told by the new Project Veritas CEO that the investigation had ended,” Lichtman said. “If it’s not, we will crush it in court.”
Messages seeking comment were left with Project Veritas.
In 2010, O’Keefe founded Project Veritas, which identifies itself as a news organization. Its most recent IRS filings show it brought in more than $20 million in revenue in 2021. Over the years its hidden-cameras have embarrassed news outlets, labor organizations and Democratic politicians.
The organization sued O’Keefe in May, accusing him of breaching his contract with “incredibly troubling workplace and financial misconduct,” including screaming at colleagues, exposing employees to obscene messages and having staffers run errands for him, such as picking up laundry and cleaning his boat.
Among O’Keefe’s lavish spending, the organization alleges, were: $10,000 for a helicopter flight from New York to Maine; more than $150,000 on private car services over an 18-month span; and expensive stays in luxury hotel suites while other employees were forced to stay in budget accommodations.
According to the lawsuit, Project Veritas’ board had intended to reinstate O’Keefe from his suspension “with appropriate safeguards,” but ultimately terminated his employment in May after he claimed in media interviews that the organization had fired him to appease a pharmaceutical company over its reporting on COVID-19.
Last year, two Florida residents pleaded guilty to selling a diary and other items from President Joe Biden’s daughter to Project Veritas for $40,000. As part of its investigation, the FBI searched the group’s Mamaroneck, New York, offices, and the homes of some employees in 2021.
Neither Project Veritas nor any staffers have been charged with a crime, and the group has said its activities were protected by the First Amendment.