PW special report: Trump-linked effort to infiltrate progressive NC groups prompts investigation

PW special report: Trump-linked effort to infiltrate progressive NC groups prompts investigation

The man who identified himself as James Fortune, photographed on a fishing boat off Cape Hatteras. He asked to accompany an employee of a nonpartisan voter education organization on the day-long trip, claiming he was an experienced fisherman. It turns out Fortune appears not to be who he claims to be. (Photo courtesy of the employee)

Man who went by “James Fortune” was a gateway to network of far-right operatives

Shortly after dawn on a recent steamy July morning, a man who said his name was James Fortune showed up off NC Highway 12 in Cape Hatteras. He had flown in from New York City and rented a car for a rendezvous with an employee of a North Carolina nonpartisan election education organization for a long day of deep-sea fishing.

“I told him this was not a pleasure boat,” the employee told Policy Watch. “We were going to be out in the Gulf current, rough seas.”

Policy Watch is not naming the employee or the organization because of concerns over security and safety.

No worries, Fortune said, he was an experienced deep sea fisherman, having been to Hatteras many times as a youth.

But Fortune caught nothing except a bad case of seasickness. He spent the next 12 hours 30 miles at sea, alternating between heaving over the side of the boat and sleeping next to his sea sickness bag.

This was one of many indications that the mysterious man from New York City might not be who he claimed to be — and that he was on a different type of fishing trip. A Policy Watch investigation has found links between Fortune, who progressive organizations in the state say has tried to infiltrate their groups, and many far-right political operatives, some as high-level as a one-time member of the Trump White House.

The tactic is similar to that used by Project Veritas, which for years has tried to infiltrate progressive organizations and Democratic campaigns in hopes of catching them in violating election law. 

Earlier this week, the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal reported that Project Veritas had deployed people who misrepresented themselves as documentary filmmakers to gain access to several progressive and nonpartisan voter education organizations. 

Fortune could not be reached via Direct Message on Twitter or email. His phone number is no longer valid.

There is no evidence the organizations took the bait; instead they reported the activity to law enforcement. Now the State Bureau of Investigation has reportedly launched inquiries into Fortune and his tangle of connections. As part of its standard protocol, the SBI does not confirm the existence of investigations.

Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause, told Policy Watch that his group contacted Wake District Attorney Lorrin Freeman and that her office has started a preliminary review into whether a criminal inquiry is warranted. 

Fortune has since disappeared. But he left behind a crucial thread that could unravel what appears to be a sprawling scheme by far-right groups with ties to the Trump administration to entrap several North Carolina nonpartisan voter education nonprofits into violating election laws.

These connections begin with a $3,000 wire transfer to the employee’s North Carolina nonprofit from Fortune’s “business partner,” Blue Sky Med Labs, based in Georgia. Policy Watch received a copy of the transfer receipt and verified the name.

Blue Sky Med Labs, which is located in a dull office park in the suburban Atlanta town of Roswell and has no website, is run by Jason Boles, according to Georgia Secretary of State records. Those same state records show Boles is entwined with more than 50 organizations and political campaigns, including that of Marjorie Greene, the controversial QAnon candidate for a Georgia congressional seat; and a political action committee headed by Stefan Passantino, the former deputy White House Counsel under President Donald Trump. (Scroll down for a spreadsheet and networking maps of the players.)

Most important, Boles runs several organizations with Rick Thompson, a member of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (an agency formerly known as the Georgia Ethics Commission). He is also employed by Thompson at Thompson’s political management firm, RTA Strategy. Neither Boles nor Thompson responded to an email submitted by Policy Watch through the website.

Among the catchphrases on the RTA Strategy’s website: “You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.”

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About two weeks before the fishing trip, Fortune had called the NC nonprofit organization’s election protection hotline. The staff person fielding calls  forwarded Fortune to the employee, who would laker take him on the fishing trip. Fortune said he had about $20,000 to donate to various groups, and wanted to know about partner organizations, the employee told Policy Watch.

Even though Fortune lived 600 miles away, he said he was fond of North Carolina, and allegedly owned a business, Equality Gym,  and that he planned to return to the state and open a location here — even though all such facilities were closed by executive order because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Equality Gym set up its Twitter account in June, around the same time that Blue Sky Med Labs incorporated. 

Equality Gym has 35 Twitter followers and follows 1,062 accounts, including several North Carolina journalists, politicians and progressive groups. There are no original posts, and the account generally retweets sports and political news. Similarly, Equality Gym’s Instagram account has just one post. The website offers no contact information other than an email address, and is vague about its services.

Blue Sky Med Labs does not have a website, nor a social media presence.

The employee told Policy Watch that meetings and calls with donors and potential donors are common. “I say ‘yes’ to all kinds of things,” the employee said. “This was one call.”

The employee connected Fortune with other nonpartisan voter-education groups. Those included the North Carolina Black Alliance, which spoke to Fortune on a Zoom call. The employee told Policy Watch he was on that call, and that when Black Alliance members asked Fortune questions about the purpose of his donation, “he fumbled with his answers.”

NC Black Alliance declined Fortune’s offer, the employee said, and told him to get back to them when he had a firmer idea of his donation goals. 

 

In July, Fortune flew from New York City to Raleigh and met the employee at My Way Tavern in Raleigh’s Glenwood South neighborhood because Fortune said he was staying in a nearby Airbnb. Throughout the conversation Fortune asked the employee about “strategies for targeting voters, as if he were naive.” The employee said he told Fortune the nonprofit used publicly available data. 

Fortune also asked the employee about contacts at the campaign of Cal Cunningham, who is running for the US Senate against Republican incumbent Thom Tillis. The employee said he told Fortune he did not have contacts at the Cunningham campaign.

At the end of the meeting, the employee took a call from a family member about a planned fishing trip to the coast. After the call, Fortune told the employee that he enjoyed deep-sea fishing. So they agreed to meet on an upcoming Sunday.

The employee said that at the time, he was unconcerned about his safety on the boat trip. Now, he said, he is worried about his security. He wonders what Fortune’s plan was had he not become seasick. 

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From the RTA Strategy website

In early August, Fortune contacted Common Cause of North Carolina. Bob Phillips told Policy Watch that he had five conversations with Fortune, four of them on Zoom. Fortune told Phillips a similar story to the one he told other election education organizations: that he was moving back to North Carolina to open a gym. 

Fortune donated $1,000 to Common Cause, and again the wire transfer came from Blue Sky Med Labs.

Phillips said Fortune also asked him, “If we gave you $10,000 what would you do with it?”

“I was getting a little suspicious,” Phillips said. “It didn’t feel quite right not me.”

The last time Phillips communicated with Fortune was about a month ago, Phillips said. In an email, Fortune introduced Phillips to a woman who said she was living in Cumberland County, Selena Rodriguez. She said she had moved to North Carolina from New York and wanted to volunteer with Common Cause. She knew Fortune, she said, because he had been her personal trainer.

Phillips declined her offer.

Meanwhile, Fortaleza, a Raleigh-based nonprofit that specializes in leadership development work with Wake County’s Latinx population that had also interacted with Fortune, became suspicious. It connected Blue Sky Med Labs, which allegedly was in business with Fortune, to Jason Boles.

A Policy Watch analysis of Georgia Secretary of State records show Boles is involved with a vast and sometimes confusing network of political campaigns, conservative advocacy organizations, far-right front groups:

  • Boles is the registered agent for Marjorie Greene, a QAnon supporter who is running for Georgia’s 14th District Congressional seat. In addition to her support of QAnon’s unfounded and outlandish conspiracy theories, Greene has a history of racist comments. According to Politico, she said Black people “are held slaves to the Democratic Party,” called the elections of Representatives Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota an “Islamic invasion” and called billionaire George Soros a “Nazi.” Boles is also the registered agent for the political action committee, Save America Stop Socialism, which is run by Perry Greene, the husband of Marjorie.
  • The other registered agent for Greene’s campaign, according to state records, is Stefan Passantino, former Deputy White House Counsel for ethics policy in the Trump administration. He is now part of a new pro-Trump coalition preparing for the possibility of a contested election, according to the Washington Post. Passantino also provided legal advice to the U.S. Postal Service this spring. A bio on his law firm’s website says that in the 2015-2016 election cycle, Passantino “helped form, and served as counsel to, some of the largest and most influential and innovative “SuperPACs” and 501(c)(4) advocacy groups in the presidential campaign, including the Trump Presidential Transition Team.
  • Boles is a co-officer and/or registered agent of at least 16 organizations with Rick Thompson, Georgia’s state ethics officer. Among those are the Access to Credit Coalition, which appears to advocate for payday lending and other predatory lending practices; several Republican political campaigns for state office; and two for-profit companies that specialize in election software.
  • Boles also is the registered agent for what appear to be environmental groups, including Citizens for Clean Water. However none of these organizations has a website, so it’s difficult to ascertain their true motives.
  • He is also a co-founder of a ministry, Audacious Faith. Its purpose, according to Boles’s LinkedIn Page “is to create and facilitate environments, events and activities that align with Biblical directives and meet the specific needs of our community.”

Phillips told Policy Watch that it’s a vulnerable time for voter education groups, especially because of existing concerns about election security, absentee ballots and the possibility of a protracted vote count. 

“It’s a shameful attempt by extremists to cast doubt on election integrity,” Phillips said. “We want to expose them and let the world know it’s happening.”

 

 

[Editor’s notes: 1) The North Carolina Justice Center — parent organization to NC Policy Watch — is a partner organization with the NC Black Alliance. The Justice Center has not been approached by James Fortune or any of the other individuals described in this story. 2) The story has been updated to clarify that Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman is conducting a preliminary review into whether a full criminal inquiry is warranted.]

 

The Jason Boles Connection.xlsx

Business NameMailing/ Street AddressCityStateZipRegistered AgentRegistered Agent AddressCityStateZipMember 1Member 2Member 3Date of IncorporationDate of DissolutionNonprofit or LLC
1859 Fund191 Peachtree Street NE, Suite 3400/ PO Box 818AtlantaGA30303Jason Boles10719 Alpharetta Highway, #1483RoswellGA30077Ben HarrisDave CollinsJack Murphy43052NP
A Georgia for GeorgiansPO Box 500884AtlantaGA31150Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesRick ThompsonJason Boles5/16/2018NP
Access to Credit CoalitionPO Box 1483AtlantaGA30077Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesRick Thompson3/8/201311/20/2019NP
Americans for America290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesRick Thompson1/7/2020NP
ATL One 2017PO Box 500091AtlantaGA31150Jason BolesUS Hwy 19, #1483AlpharettaGA30077Jason BolesRick Thompson10/19/20173/26/2019NP
Audacious Faith290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesCarrisa Boles6/16/2011NP
Blue Sky Med Labs5055 Old Ellis Pointe, A7RoswellGA30076Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason Boles6/17/2020LLC
Bob Barr Company900 Circle 75 Pkwy, Ste 1280AtlantaGA30339Stefan C Passintino303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308David Brown of McKenna Aldridge9/28/200410/30/2009LLC
Boles Land Co. LLC290 Jayne Ellen WayRoswellGA30009Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayRoswellGA30009Jason Boles42823LLC
Brian Stover for Post 4 CommissionerPO Box 380DallasGA30132Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Brian StoverNP
Chris Erwin for GeorgiaPO Box 501029AtlantaGA31150Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Ann HopkinsWes Whitfield2/1/2018NP
Citizens for Clean WaterPO Box 500824AtlantaGA31150Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesRashad Taylor2/11/2020NP
Committee to Elect Justice Charlie BethelPO Box 501029,AtlantaGA31150Bryan Tyson1600 Parkwood Circle, Ste 200Atlanta GA30339Jason BolesRick Thompson43629NP
Committee to Protect Paulding CountyPO Box 501029AtlantaGA31150Rick Thompson10719 Alpharetta Highway, #1483RoswellGA30077Rick ThompsonHarry Lake IIIChip Lake12/10/2013NP
Community Development and Health PAC of Georgia, IncPO Box 501029AtlantaGA31150Rick Thompson10719 Alpharetta Highway, #1483,RoswellGA30077Rick ThompsonJason Boles7/19/2017NP
Doubletake Designs1076 Canton Street, Lower LevelRoswellGA30075Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason Boles8/28/20134/22/2015LLC
Economic Growth Through Transportation1076 Canton Street, Lower LevelRoswellGA30075Jason Boles1076 Canton Street, Lower Level,RoswellGA30075Jason BolesVance Smith7/23/20148/24/2017NP
Fly Sentry290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesRick Thompson7/8/2013LLC
Friends for Donna SheldonPO Box 841DaculaGA30019Jason Boles10719 Alpharetta Highway, #1483RoswellGA30077Donna Shelton3/16/20188/26/2019NP
Friends of Marty Harbin130 Ellison RoadTyroneGA30290Jason Boles170 Jade Cove Drive,RoswellGA30075Maurice Harbin8/13/2020NP
Friends of Pruitt1062 Dublin HighwayEastmanGA31023Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Kelly PruittRobert PruittNeil Spradley3/9/2020NP
Friends of Will Wade23 Nugget LaneDawsonvilleGA30534Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Will Wade2/5/2020NP
Front Runner LLCPO Box 1RoswellGA30077Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesRick ThompsonTodd Hickerson12/4/2014LLC
Georgia First, Inc.PO Box 1575RoswellGA30077Cheryl Fournier303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308Rick Thompson2/8/201512/31/2018NP
Georgia GrowsPO Box 501029AtlantaGA31150Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Chris MaddoxRick ThompsonLee Greene9/25/20154/30/2020NP
Georgia Hemp Advisory Council1185 Hightower Trail, #50884AtlantaGA30350Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason Boles8/28/20198/7/2020NP
Georgia Leads on EducationPO Box 501029AtlantaGA31150Cheryl Fournier303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308Rick Thompson5/21/201512/31/2018NP
Georgia Outdoor Stewardship100 Peachtree St NW, Ste 2250AtlantaGA30303Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Andrew SchockDeron DavisGeorge Dusenbury6/26/201711/20/2019NP
Georgians for Affordable Health Care OptionsPO Box 1RoswellGA30077Stefan Passantino303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308Rick ThompsonredactedChip Lake8/20/201412/7/2016NP
GingrichTV, LLC4501 North Fairfax Drive, Ste 900,ArlingtonÂVA22203Stefan Passantino303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308Stefan Passantino6/4/201312/7/2016LLC
Green Tea CoalitionPO. BOX 2356RoswellGA30077Stefan Passantino303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308Rick Thompsonredacted7/12/201312/31/2015NP
Greene for Congress413 Shorter Avenue, Ste 103RomeGA30165Jason Boles/Stefan Passantino of McKenna, et.al290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Marjorie GreenePerry Greene6/24/2019NP
John McCallum for CongressPO Box 20097St Simons IslandGA31522Stefan Passantino303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308John McCallumRegina Mabry11/21/2013NP
Kurt (Wilson) for Congress5655 Atlanta Highway, Ste 102B-480AlpharettaGA30004Jason Boles170 Jade Cove Drive,RoswellGA30075Jason BolesStan BeechamBart Chandler3/25/20162/16/2018NP
Leading Georgia FundPO Box 501029AtlantaGA31150Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesRick Thompson10/12/2016NP
Leading the Way GA PACPO Box 1483Roswell,GA30077Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesRick Thompson3/14/2019NP
Matt Laughridge for State SenatePO BOX 2433CARTERSVILLEGA30120Jason Boles/initially Benjamin Keane w. McKenna, Long & Aldridge1076 Canton Street, Lower Level,RoswellGA30075Jason Bolesredacted9/3/201312/7/2016NP
Let Us Decide1600 Parkwood Circle, Ste 200AtlantaGABryan Tyson1600 Parkwood Circle, Ste 200Atlanta GA30339Jason BolesRick LackeyNP
Michael Dugan for State Senate106 Champion DrivCarrolltonGA30116Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesMichael Dugan9/20/2019NP
Mobilization Labs3384 Peachtree Rd, Ste 605AtlantaGA30326Stefan Passantino303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308STEFAN C. PASSANTINO1/7/200512/31/2015LLC
New Voters Alliance825 Fairways Ct, Ste 303StockbridgeGA30281Stefan Passantino303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308Hermain CainGloria CainKarleen Smith12/13/20049/7/2010NP
Opportunity for All Georgia Students5655 Alpharetta Hwy Ste 102B-215AlpharettaGA30004Cheryl Fournier303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308Rick Thompson7/18/20169/7/2018NP
PoliticaLabsPO Box 1RoswellGA30077Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesRick Thompson4/24/2015LLC
Preserving America's Judiciary290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesRick Thompson10/8/2019NP
Promoting Republican Ideals and Conservative Ethics PAC, Inc.2700 Cumberland Pkwy, Ste 150AtlantaGA30339Stefan Passantino303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308Diana KincaidredactedElizabeth Barton9/2/201608/24/2017NP
Property Rights Advocacy290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason Boles7/6/2020NP
R Thompson & AssociatesPO Box 1483RoswellGA30077Rick Thompson10719 Alpharetta Highway, #1483,RoswellGA30077Rick ThompsonJason Boles8/18/2009LLC
Responsible Gaming1185 Hightower Trail, #501029,AtlantaGA30350Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesRick Thompson8/17/2020NP
Responsible Majority FundPO Box 389AtlantaGA30301Stefan Passantino303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308Rick Thompson1/7/201312/7/2016NP
Save America Stop Socialism PAC413 Shorter Avenue, Ste 103,RomeGA30165Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Perry Greene8/14/2020NP
Stand for Principle PAC4780 Ashford Dunwoody Rd, Ste 540-340AtlantaGA30338Rick Thompson1076 Canton Street, Lower Level,RoswellGA30075Maria Strollo ZackredactedRobert Bender10/10/20149/7/2018NP
Stop Socialism Now1185 Hightower Trail, #501029,AtlantaGA30350Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason Boles8/14/2020NP
Taxpayers for Health Care Choice303 Peachtree St NE, Ste 5300AtlantaGA30338Stefan Passantino303 Peachtree St NE, Suite 5300AtlantaGA30308Rick Thompson7/10/201312/31/2015NP
The Georgia CAN5055 Old Ellis Pointe, A7,RoswellGA30076Jason Boles/Paul Booth290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA300095055 Old Ellis Pointe, A7, Roswell GA 300763/16/2018LLC
Tobacco Row290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason Boles5/22/2020LLC
Transparency Pro of GaPO Box 1RoswellGA30077Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesRick Thompson6/19/2014LLC
Vance Smith for State SenatePO Box 171Pine MountainGA31822Jason Boles290 Jayne Ellen WayAlpharettaGA30009Jason BolesMorris MullinMike Jolley10/19/2017NP
The Boles CompaniesPO Box 767322RoswellGA30076Jason Boles118 Teal CtRoswellGA30076Jason Boles4042040997LLC