Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. (Alex Brandon/AP)

When unsuspecting Bernie Sanders supporters donated via a website called during the last presidential election, they thought they were giving money to a candidate who inveighed against the 1 percent and vowed to take on Wall Street. But as it turns out, they were contributing to a scam aimed at lining the pockets of a former millionaire turned legacy criminal, who prosecutors say used the money to purchase a Mercedes-Benz, pay his rent and further his schemes.

Prosecutors have accused John Pierre Dupont, 80, of scamming $250,000 from unwitting political donors who believed they were sending money to various candidates or causes, when in fact the money was going to him.

The Californian has been arrested and charged with wire fraud and identity theft, prosecutors with the Southern District of New York announced on Tuesday. Dupont is alleged to have set up multiple websites and bogus political action committees to carry out the fraud.

“Thousands of donors believed their hard-earned money was being used to support the causes described in solicitations,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement, “But in reality, the scam PACs had no operations beyond the fundraising itself, and no funds were used to support candidates.”

According to court documents, Dupont ran the scheme from 2015 until this month and used various methods to defraud donors. He filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to create what prosecutors referred to as “Scam PACs” that had no active operations, employees or programs. He solicited funds through bogus websites that purported to support Sanders’s presidential campaign, Andrew Gillum’s gubernatorial race in Florida, the 2018 campaigns of Beto O’Rourke, Heidi Heitkamp and others, and causes such as immigration.

Prosecutors say that Dupont received hundreds of thousands of dollars through his scam PACs and websites. A significant amount came through credit card payments, but the fake website for Sanders declared, in a voice mimicking the socialist politician’s denunciation of corporate wealth, that “EVERY TIME WE PROCESS YOUR CREDIT CARD DONATION, THE BIG BANKS TAKE UP TO 40% OF THE DONATIONS JUST FOR PROCESSING YOUR CREDIT CARD INFORMATION . . . THAT IS WHY WE ARE GIVING YOU THE OPTION . . . TO MAKE YOUR DONATIONS IN CASH OR CHECK BY SENDING YOUR DONATION” to an address.

The complaint revealed that Dupont deposited about 800 checks into a “Sanders Organization Bank Account,” which he controlled; it was unaffiliated with Sanders. He then paid $23,500 for a Mercedes sedan, using funds from the account, and also is said to have used that money to pay his rent or to pay for the websites at the heart of the scheme.

Dupont, also known as John Gary Rinaldo, has a long history of fraudulent behavior. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he was a well-known millionaire business executive in Orange County, Calif., whose “life was all champagne and caviar,” according to a lengthy 1992 profile in the Los Angeles Times. But he later turned to less-reputable ventures. He was convicted of mail fraud in 1985 and served time, only to be convicted again in 1991 in a home-loan fraud case. He escaped prison in 1992 while serving his sentence in the latter case, was recaptured in 1997, and was released in 1999, NBC News reported.

If convicted in this latest political donation scheme, Dupont could face 22 years in prison.

Dupont appeared in Arizona federal court on Tuesday afternoon. The Post could not immediately reach Nora Nunez, the public defender said to be assigned to his case. He was released with conditions and a $100,000 unsecured appearance bond, and is set to appear in the Southern District of New York on March 26.

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