(CN) – An environmental advocacy group has made a criminal complaint in California against a group of conservative activists, accusing them using fake identities, unauthorized recordings and other misrepresentations to infiltrate the environmental group.
The League of Conservation Voters filed a criminal complaint with the California Attorney General’s Office this week, saying three individuals with past connections to Project Veritas had misrepresented their identities to infiltrate the organization with the purpose of hurting their operations.
“We have been the target of a months-long campaign of fraud and deception designed to undermine our mission and disrupt our nationwide efforts, including in California, to advance our conservation objectives,” league president Gene Karpinski in a letter to California Attorney General Xavier Beccera. “These deceptions were used to gain access to our confidential strategic plans, learn the identities of our donors, participate in meetings with state and federal elected leaders, and possibly to record conversations without permission.”
Project Veritas neither confirmed nor denied that it was conducting a sting operation designed to infiltrate the league.
“We do not provide comments regarding ongoing investigations – either real or imagined,” said Stephen Gordon, spokesman for Project Veritas.
Conservative political activist James O’Keefe founded Project Veritas, which uses controversial tactics such as fake identities to target various political advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations and media entities.
O’Keefe’s detractors say he uses fraudulent methods to obtain footage and then deceptively edits the footage to advance his political agenda. His supporters say the corruption he uncovers justifies the means.
The league says the criminal activity dates back to December 2016, when a man claiming to be Trent Maynard entered its offices in Oakland. Maynard said he represented a wealthy but politically naive individual named Lester Rosen, who wanted to donate money to progressive causes designed to resist the nascent presidency of Donald Trump, according to the league’s complaint.
But the league says Maynard was actually a man named Christian Hartsock, whom the organization says has past attachments to Project Veritas.
Hartsock said he worked with GeoStrategies and the Breakthrough Development Group and wanted to be introduced to various donors and league staff members and attend events where prominent politicians would be also in attendance, the league says.
Hartsock also introduced league staff members to Daniel Saldini, who represented himself as “Dan Logan” – Rosen’s investment adviser regarding which organizations were worthy of sizeable donations.
“In the following months, Sandini aggressively sought out LCV staff and donors in California and Washington, D.C.,” the complaint says.
The league says the pair wined and dined staffers, promised a donation of nearly $4 million, attended a private reception attached to the People’s Climate March and attempted to make connections with other environmental organizations.
A third individual implicated by the league is Ann Vandersteel, who made her appearance in June posing as Ann Steel – the widow of a wealthy oil baron – who was also interested in donating to environmental and progressive causes.
The league says Vandersteel is a conservative commentator for YourVoice America Radio.
“As part of their fraud, Sandini, Vandersteel and Hartsock went to extensive lengths to conceal their true identity from LCV,” the league says in the complaint. “Steps that they took included creating accounts on LinkedIn and Facebook using their false identities.”
The league says it has reason to believe the three individuals may have made unauthorized audio and video recordings which will be used to harm the organization through deceptive editing.
“Our staff report that during meetings, Sandini would leave his phone or other possible recording devices, such as cufflinks, on the table, which raises the possibility that we have been recorded without our consent,” the league says in its complaint. “We are deeply concerned that if surreptitious, unauthorized videos or recordings were made, these individuals could make deceptive edits to create unfair, malicious, and false impressions.”
Project Veritas has generated controversy in the past, both for how it obtains the footage it uses and how it edits footage to create an impression that might not fairly represent reality.
The group gained notoriety in 2009 when O’Keefe dressed in retro-pimp garb and purported to have gotten advice from the liberal community-organizing group Acorn on how to run a tax-free brothel for underage sex workers.
Though several outside investigators ultimately cleared Acorn of any wrongdoing – finding that O’Keefe’s sting footage had been heavily and misleadingly edited – the nonprofit had already been bankrupted by a loss of its funding.
O’Keefe paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit connected to the video and its aftermath. He was also convicted of entering federal property under false pretenses, after he gained access to the offices of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu.
Project Veritas was also in the news recently after conducting a “sting” on CNN. In that case, the group videotaped a CNN producer who claimed there was little to the Trump-Russia investigation and that the channel pursued the story because it was good for ratings.
The League of Conservation Voters asks California’s attorney general to investigate its claims, “take action to stop this ongoing fraud, and hold those responsible to account.”
California’s wiretapping law makes it a crime to record or eavesdrop on any confidential communication, including a private conversation or a telephone call, without the consent of all parties to the conversation.