That tweet helped drive new followers to Hall, the Times reported — some of whom later donated to a pro-Trump group Hall said he ran.
In fact, federal prosecutors now say, Hall’s pro-Trump group was fake. And so was the Robert Trump account.
Hall, now 22, allegedly posed as the former president’s brother, along with numerous other relatives, including his minor son Barron, as part of a scheme to steal thousands from Trump supporters who thought they were donating to help his campaign.
Hall is now charged with fraud and identity theft in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. “Hall led hundreds of people to believe they were donating to an organization that didn’t exist by pretending to be someone he wasn’t,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. in a statement.
Court records do not yet list a lawyer representing Hall in the case. Speaking to the Times last year, he admitted to running multiple accounts under the names of Trump family members but claimed there was “no nefarious intention behind it.”
“I was just trying to rally up MAGA supporters and have fun,” Hall said.
The case is the latest allegation of fraud targeting zealous followers of former president Donald Trump. Most notably, Trump’s former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and several partners were charged last year in a federal conspiracy case for allegedly bilking donors seeking to help build a border wall — charges that Bannon later evaded thanks to Trump’s pardon.
Hall’s efforts to attract followers by posing as various Trump relatives was detailed in depth by the Times in December. Describing himself as a bisexual Trump supporter, he told the Times that he started the fake accounts after struggling to achieve his dream of becoming a conservative radio host, toiling instead as a sandwich maker and doing food delivery in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
He said he hit on a winning formula: posing as Trump’s relatives who didn’t have Twitter accounts, and then amassing followings by spreading false claims. The account he set up in Barron Trump’s name, for instance, tweeted that “COVID is a scam” and “Q is real,” the Times reported, a reference to QAnon, the extremist ideology.
Many of the accounts drew wide followings — including a fake account for Trump’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, that was eventually retweeted by the former president himself. In all, Hall amassed more than 100,000 followers on various accounts, the FBI said in court documents.
He eventually used that social media clout to drive followers to donate to a group he supposedly ran called Gay Voices for Trump, with the fake Robert Trump profile and others urging supporters to give money to the group.
“Josh is doing great work so please give him a follow and support him!” read one such message, federal prosecutors said.
Sometimes he made personal pleas for money, federal prosecutors said. In August, he allegedly sent someone a private message assuring them that donations would be spent on “field organization and merchandise” for Trump’s campaign and noting that he “hadn’t seen a dime of that money personally.”
But Hall admitted to the Times that the group didn’t actually exist. Asked about a GoFundMe fundraiser that had raised more than $7,000 for Gay Voices for Trump, Hall told the Times that he’d never withdrawn that money and denied trying to fraudulently take donations.
“I should have used better judgment and stuff. But I didn’t deliberately try and dupe people out of money,” he told the Times.
In fact, prosecutors now say, Hall used thousands of dollars sent his way by hundreds of donors “on his own personal living expenses,” rather than helping the Trump campaign.
“As we continue to investigate fraud in all its many forms, we urge the public to remain aware of the prevalence of online scams and exercise due diligence when making donations online,” Sweeney said.