Enter your email address below and subscribe to our newsletter

Michael Flynn Has Turned His Trump-World Celebrity Into a Family Business

Michael Flynn Has Turned His Trump-World Celebrity Into a Family Business

Share your love


In 2021, retired Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Donald J. Trump’s first national security adviser, became chairman of a 75-year-old nonprofit organization — the kind of small charity where chairmen typically work for free.

But Mr. Flynn received a salary of $40,000, for working two hours per week.

The next year, he got a raise: $60,000, for two hours.

Mr. Flynn’s charity also paid one of his brothers, two of his sisters, his niece and his sister-in-law. By the end of its second year, his nonprofit group, America’s Future Inc., was running in the red, burning through reserves — and still paying $518,000, or 29 percent of its budget, to Flynns.

Since leaving the Trump administration under an ethical cloud, Michael Flynn has converted his Trump-world celebrity into a lucrative and sprawling family business. He and his relatives have marketed the retired general as a martyr, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a legal-defense fund and then pocketing leftover money. Through a network of nonprofit and for-profit ventures, they have sold far-right conspiracy theories, ranging from lies about the 2020 election to warnings, embraced by followers of QAnon, about cabals of pedophiles and child traffickers.

“This is one that goes up to the highest levels of corporations, up to the highest levels of the government,” Mr. Flynn said recently at a meeting hosted by America’s Future in Kent, Ohio. “People that you know and that you think you respect.”

A New York Times investigation found Flynn family members had made at least $2.2 million monetizing Michael Flynn’s right-wing stardom in recent years, with more than half of that going to Mr. Flynn directly. That total includes several payments not previously reported, but it is still a low estimate, since not all financial records are public. The Times’s reporting also raised questions about whether America’s Future had properly disclosed its payments to Mr. Flynn’s relatives.

Many of Mr. Trump’s closest allies have tried to turn political fame into private income, hawking everything from T-shirts to coffee beans to podcasts. Other than Mr. Trump himself, few have done it on the scale of Mr. Flynn.

Mr. Flynn’s reinvention could lead to resurrection: In the last year, Mr. Trump has alluded several times to his intention to bring the retired general back into his administration should Mr. Trump win the White House in November.

Mr. Flynn and his relatives did not respond directly to questions. A lawyer for Mr. Flynn, Jesse Binnall, said in an interview that the Flynns had earned their payments from America’s Future and other groups and that any errors in their filings were unintentional.

“General Flynn’s dedication to the cause of American freedom is steadfast and resolute, especially as it relates to the freedom of children,” Mr. Binnall said in a statement, adding that the Flynn family’s “strength, unity and dedication to America should be celebrated, not attacked.”

This spring, Mr. Flynn traveled around the country on a bus with one of his sons, Michael Flynn Jr, and a collection of right-wing influencers, stopping in churches and other venues where V.I.P. ticket buyers paid as much as $200 to meet the retired general.

The occasion was the showing of a hagiographical movie about Mr. Flynn’s rise out of a large Irish American clan in Rhode Island to the pinnacle of power — and, in its telling, his unjust fall at the hands of enemies in the government.

One of the movie’s themes is Mr. Flynn’s financial strain after leaving the White House. He served less than a month on the job before resigning amid reports that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about phone calls with a Russian diplomat. He later twice pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about the communication but retracted the plea. The Justice Department ultimately dropped the case, and Mr. Flynn was pardoned by Mr. Trump in the final weeks of his term.

Paying for his legal morass took a financial toll. Mr. Flynn and his wife sold their Northern Virginia home. Mr. Flynn’s sister, Barbara Redgate, organized a fund to help pay for lawyers.

While the fund had few legal limits on its use, the money would be used “solely to defray attorneys’ fees and other costs related to legal representation,” the fund said on its website.

After Mr. Flynn’s legal troubles largely ended in 2020, there were hundreds of thousands of dollars left in the fund, unused. Ms. Redgate said in a deposition last year that she had received about $265,000 of that money for “all the time I put into running the account.” Another sister, Clare Eckert, got an undisclosed amount for “writing and analyzing.”

Michael Flynn got the remainder — between $250,000 and $1 million, she said.

Mr. Binnall, the lawyer, said Ms. Redgate had worked more than full-time on the project, raising money by speaking at events and making media appearances. He declined to say how much money Mr. Flynn had received but said Mr. Flynn considered the payment reimbursement for earlier legal bills.

The legal fund was just part of a stable of interconnected committees, nonprofit groups and companies — all trading on Michael Flynn’s popularity in far-right circles and several of them earning income for his relatives.

Mr. Flynn kept a schedule of appearances, charging Republican groups and candidates up to $9,000 per speech and more for consulting, according to state and federal campaign records. He headlined the ReAwaken tour, a roadshow of Christian nationalist figures. He and his son Michael, with whom the elder Mr. Flynn had once started a consulting firm, began promoting T-shirts and other branded gear online. Mr. Flynn and his brother Joseph teamed up with Patrick Byrne, the founder of Overstock.com and a major backer of efforts to contest the 2020 election, to create a nonprofit group called the America Project.

In 2021, that group paid a business controlled by Michael Flynn $200,000 for consulting and another controlled by Joseph Flynn around $150,000. (In 2022, Joseph Flynn’s earnings from the group rose to about $260,000. He is no longer associated with it.)

More recently, Michael Flynn has also gotten into the media business, joining the board of a penny stock company behind an online video and podcast venture that frequently features him in its content. He received compensation of $375,000 in restricted stock for consulting work, records show.

But no venture has become a family affair quite like America’s Future.

The group was started as an anti-Communist effort in the 1940s and has cycled through conservative causes since. In the 1980s, its leading figure was Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-feminist crusader.

But the group was largely dormant when, in 2021, its entire board resigned and its $3 million in leftover assets passed to the control of Mr. Flynn.

The group’s previous leaders did not respond to requests for comment.

Before Mr. Flynn took over, tax filings show, the group’s chairmen and board members had been unpaid volunteers. That was typical. The nonprofit industry group BoardSource found that fewer than 1 percent of charities like this one paid their board members.

Under Flynn, that changed.

Besides the salary the group paid Mr. Flynn as chairman, it also paid his brother Joseph — a health care executive — $50,000 to be the group’s treasurer in 2021. Like his brother, Joseph Flynn worked two hours per week, according to tax filings.

The group has also paid another Flynn sibling, Mary Flynn O’Neill, a former administrator at Catholic churches, $148,000 to be its executive director. A fourth Flynn — Valerie, Joseph’s wife — received $1,050 to work in a booth at a convention and to help with “decorating and office set-up,” according to court filings in a recent lawsuit.

The next year, the nonprofit group paid more Flynns. A company run by Michael Flynn’s sister, Ms. Eckert, was paid $128,000 for public relations work. And it paid $146,000 to a law firm run by Alicia Kutzer, Michael Flynn’s niece, according to tax filings.

(One Flynn not listed as a partner or vendor in any of the political ventures is Michael Flynn’s brother Charles, a general who commands U.S. Army Pacific.)

It is not illegal for nonprofit groups to pay their leaders’ relatives, as long as they disclose those transactions.

But in 2022, when an I.R.S. form asked if America’s Future had done business with companies controlled by Mr. Flynn’s relatives, America’s Future answered “no.” In fact, it had paid companies that appear to be controlled by Ms. Eckert and Ms. Kutzer. The group also omitted the payments to Valerie Flynn in its 2021 filing with the I.R.S. and left out its payments to Ms. Flynn O’Neill in state filings in Hawaii and California, records show. The America Project, the nonprofit group led by Joseph Flynn, also did not disclose its payments to family members to the I.R.S.

Mr. Binnall, the lawyer, said those appeared to be unintentional errors.

Under the law, the I.R.S. can fine nonprofit groups up to $50,000 for filing tax returns with false information. But tax-law experts said that provision was not often used, because the short-handed I.R.S. audits only a tiny fraction of nonprofit groups every year.

Tax law experts said they were struck by a disconnect in America’s Future’s finances: As its financial fortunes went down, payments to Flynns went up.

In 2022, donations to America’s Future dropped by 40 percent. Even its biggest fund-raiser was a bust: America’s Future spent so much to hold an event at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club that it lost $63,000 for the night.

The group ate into its savings, sold off assets and lost $637,000 for the year. But at the same time, it tripled the amount it paid to the Flynn family. And despite the financial problems, Mr. Flynn himself got his raise.

“For two hours a week, someone’s getting $60,000?” said Kelly Mathews, who advises charities as chief operating officer of the New York Council of Nonprofits. “At a time when you’re about to hit the wall financially, what is the rationale? They look to me like they’re not very sustainable over time, without a significant influx of cash.”

America’s Future declined to release details about its 2023 finances.

The group’s first mission after the Flynn takeover was raising money for an election audit in Arizona — an extension of efforts by Mr. Flynn and other Trump allies to try to overturn the results of the election.

After that, Mr. Flynn tried to raise money by selling $99 memberships, complete with a signed copy of his book, a pocket Constitution and a T-shirt printed with “I’m a Champion for America’s Future.” But tax filings show that effort raised only $17,500 in 2022 (as a tax-exempt group, America’s Future is not required to identify its donors).

America’s Future then embraced a new cause: protecting children from sexual abuse and human trafficking.

In doing so, the group began to amplify a false conspiracy theory, similar to the one at the heart of the QAnon movement: that a global cabal of pedophiles controls the media and politics.

In a video on its website, members of the group’s board and advisory board echoed the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, a QAnon precursor alleging that prominent Democrats were trafficking children at a Washington pizza parlor. Ms. Flynn O’Neill warned of an organized effort to use children’s body parts.

“They have organ harvesting,” she says in a video. “They have also found a way to take the blood, and use the blood, to make themselves youthful.”

It was not the first time the Flynns had shown signs of support for the QAnon movement. Michael Flynn had once filmed himself and family members reciting its motto “Where we go one, we go all.” His slogan — “Digital Soldiers” — became a QAnon rallying cry.

Privately, Mr. Flynn has expressed disdain for the conspiracy theory. In a recorded conversation leaked in 2021, he said he believed QAnon to be “total nonsense” and a disinformation campaign created by the left and the C.I.A.

Yet, the nonprofit group’s new messaging opened up a new stream of revenue: a series of traveling seminars called “Get in the Fight,” where attendees pay $40 to hear Mr. Flynn offer tips about spotting victims and traffickers.

On a recent Friday evening, Mr. Flynn spoke to a few dozen people sitting in pews at the Portage Community Chapel near Kent, Ohio. He described what he said was a sudden outbreak of child exploitation and spoke of a “moral decay” eroding the nation.

Approached by a Times reporter, Mr. Flynn declined to comment and ordered the reporter to leave.

Mr. Flynn’s niece followed his remarks with a slide presentation. His sister, Ms. Flynn O’Neill, watched from the front row.

Karen Yourish, Seamus Hughes, Kirsten Noyes contributed reporting.



Source link

Share your love
redenginepress.com
redenginepress.com
Articles: 2076

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay informed and not overwhelmed, subscribe now!