While federal prosecutors have been targeting such cases nationwide, Bell is also apparently one of the first defendants to face sentencing for both types of schemes in one case, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said, citing his review of cases.
“Each of these frauds has a very negative impact on important parts of our democracy, the voting system and the government’s programs and benefits system” created to stabilize the economy and help small businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic, Bates said at a sentencing hearing. “The individuals defrauded here are U.S. taxpayers.”
Bell’s sentence fell between U.S. prosecutors’ recommendation of a 6½-year prison term and a defense request for 16 months of home incarceration. Bates said Bell’s multiple schemes and actions and their duration deserved stiffer punishment than the two or three years of incarceration defendants convicted of a single PAC scam typically receive.
Bell’s attorney argued that he spent the money not on luxury items but on family expenses, refunded more than $100,000 to donors, and quickly pleaded guilty and cooperated.
“I take full responsibility for my decisions,” Bell told the judge. “I accept all the punishment that you deem necessary. I’ve made mistakes and no doubt should be punished for that. I’m here to just ask for more grace than I deserve, and as much leniency as you can [grant]."
Bell created two scam political action committees — the pro-Trump Keep America Great Committee, or KAGC, and the pro-Biden Best Days Lie Ahead Committee, or BDLAC — as well as five shell companies, he admitted in plea papers. Bell copied his ads, website and online donation page from legitimate digital fundraising groups, the Daily Beast reported last year, raising nearly $250,000 from Trump backers and $100,000 from Biden supporters, mostly in small amounts.
Bell also admitted to receiving more than $1 million after filing fraudulent applications for coronavirus relief loans for limited-liability companies named Echo Three, Myson Rules, Red Five and Bella Thread, and withdrawing a fraudulent application for 5K Media LLC.
Bell agreed to forfeit $524,028 immediately in identifiable accounts, and the government will enter a judgment claiming an additional $862,560 if it can be tracked down, prosecutors John W. Borchert and Elizabeth A. Aloi said in court filings. Borchert told the court that because most of the PAC donors gave small amounts, only $10,000 or $20,000 in restitution has been claimed so far, although the amount could increase over the next 60 days.
Borchert said the government is still pursuing a full accounting of Bell’s investment of $72,000 in cryptocurrency, saying the bitcoin that Bell said he bought has increased in value by more than 300 percent since then, although the actual disputed total is some amount over $50,000.