“The FBI is investigating allegations of criminal acts surrounding the incident at Scottsdale Fashion Square in May 2020,” Jill McCabe, a spokeswoman for the FBI Phoenix field office, told The Washington Post in an email. “This morning the FBI executed federal search warrants in California and Las Vegas, Nevada, in connection with this investigation.”
The search warrants and affidavit filed in the case have been sealed and the FBI declined to provide further details about the nature of the investigation.
Paul, 23, is a former Disney star who has made a career on YouTube by pulling outlandish stunts and often mining tragedy for clicks. His vlogs, also known as video blogs, and online persona have made Paul a divisive figure, and his recent escapades have repeatedly landed him in hot water.
Both brothers launched their social media careers on a now-defunct platform called Vine, a precursor to today’s popular short-form video app TikTok. When Vine folded, the Paul brothers decamped to YouTube, where they’ve been working ever since.
The younger Paul has also had several brushes with controversy over the past four years.
He was ousted from his Disney show, “Bizaardvark,” in 2017 after local television news station KTLA reported that Paul and the other 20-something social media creators he lived with had been tormenting their Los Angeles neighbors with increasingly intrusive stunts, the last straw coming when the men torched furniture in an empty pool.
Last month, the Calabasas mayor slammed Paul after he threw a large party in his mansion amid a spike in coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County. Paul defended himself, heaping criticism on public officials for mishandling the pandemic instead.
“No one has answers, our leadership is failing us, and everyone kind of just doesn’t know what to do,” Paul told Insider last month. “But I personally am not the type of person who’s gonna sit around and not live my life.”
Paul has often been drawn to tragedy, which he has sometimes used as a backdrop for his vlogs. He ventured to Houston after Hurricane Harvey: “We are gonna get them supplies, we are gonna save their lives, and we’re gonna flippin’ vlog it all at the same time,” he declared at the time.
He also took a brief pause from daily vlogging to film a documentary after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. In the film, Paul advocated for some measures to reduce gun violence, but some criticized the YouTube star for flaunting firearms in previous videos. While he was in Parkland, Paul kept an elaborate tattoo of a large rifle firing a bullet on his thigh covered.
His latest attempt to capitalize on a moment of national upheaval led to misdemeanor charges in Arizona and now the FBI raid on his homes near Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Paul ventured to Scottsdale, Ariz., in late May, after nationwide protests against police brutality broke out following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. He ended up filming amid a crowd of alleged looters at the Scottsdale Fashion Square during a riot on May 30. As people trashed the shopping center, Paul’s videographer filmed Paul holding what appeared to be a stolen bottle of vodka. Scottsdale police charged Paul with criminal trespass and unlawful assembly a few days later.
But Paul defended his presence at the mall, even as activists blasted him for exploiting the protests for Internet traffic.
“To be absolutely clear, neither I nor anyone in our group was engaged in any looting or vandalism,” Paul said in a statement the morning after the riot. “I do not condone violence, looting or breaking the law.”
Wednesday’s FBI raids on Paul’s homes are connected to a federal investigation of alleged crimes that took place at the Scottsdale shopping mall on May 30, a spokeswoman said.
But the misdemeanor charges against Paul and members of his filming team were dropped by local police even as the federal agents confiscated multiple firearms from the home of the YouTuber.
“The Scottsdale Police Department and Scottsdale City Attorney’s Office are coordinating with the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona and the FBI to ensure that justice is served regarding criminal acts at Scottsdale Fashion Square on May 30, 2020,” the police department said in a statement.
The police said it was “in the best interest of the community” to dismiss the charges for now, although they have the option to file a new complaint in the future.
Paul’s attorney, Richard Schonfeld, told Reuters that the YouTuber would cooperate with the federal investigation.
Travis M. Andrews contributed to this story.