'Students for Trump' founder charged with fraud, bilking would-be clients, and faking his identity

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GettyImages621809248

Following in the well-worn footsteps of their leader, an entire new generation of grifters and fraudsters has arrived to bilk Americans out of their hard-earned savings. Fortunately, though, sometimes the law catches up to them.

A Tennessee man charged by New York prosecutors with pretending to be a Manhattan lawyer and taking thousands from would-be clients was the co-founder of Students for Trump, a national group that mobilized college campuses in the run-up to the 2016 election and plans to do so again in 2020.

John Lambert, 23, was arrested last week and charged by Southern District of New York prosecutors with wire fraud for having invented a lawyer persona named “Eric Pope” that he used to solicit legal work online. ALM reported last week that the fake firm website he created appeared to have attorney biographies cribbed from senior partners at Cravath, Swaine & Moore.

‘Students for Trump’ was organized in 2015 by two Campbell University students, Ryan Fournier and the above-described John Lambert, as a vehicle for students apparently enthralled by the possibility of a serial con man occupying the White House. Campbell, a school affiliated with North Carolina’s Baptist state convention, is a “conservative” campus (meaning the parents of the kids who attend are more than likely hard-core Republicans who have passed those belief systems down to their children). While most of their contemporaries at Campbell during the 2015-2016 campaign had already fallen in line behind Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, Fournier and Lambert doggedly persisted on social media, developing an online platform that ultimately grew to realize 300 campus chapters and boasting tens of thousands of social media followers (some even outside the Russian federation). Eventually they were contacted by the Trump campaign which assisted them in expanding their online footprint. Lambert eventually wound up giving interviews on Fox News and co-hosting speaking engagements speaking with right-wing misogynst Milo Yiannopoulos.

The organization founded by these two was notably responsible for a campaign called “The Chalkening,” which urged students across the country to scrawl messages of support for Trump, such as “Build the Wall,” in chalk at various locations on college campuses. Since the primary message of the Trump campaign was one of exclusion, hate and racism, the effect of this effort, which was coordinated with the Trump campaign itself, was to create an atmosphere of intimidation among those whose racial background aligned with those whom Trump wished to “wall off” from America.

Minority students at several colleges, including Emory University and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, spoke out against the campaign. They said the pervasive scrawling of “Trump 2016″ and “Build the Wall” messages, invoking a candidate whose name had become synonymous with racially tinged attacks, represented a threat to their safety.

Fournier and Lambert described this reaction at the time as “funny.”

The fact that people were getting angry about it was funny, Mr. Fournier said. “If they’re afraid of chalk, something that can be washed away with water — I really don’t know what they’re doing on a university campus in the first place.”

The pair also complained that they were threatened and that this made them feel “horrible.” Despite this persecution, however, the two found ample time to give interviews, characterizing themselves as “some of the most informed Trump supporters on policy.”

“If we can create a healthy job market,” Mr. Lambert said, “a lot of these issues that face us” — such as skyrocketing student debt — “are going to solve themselves.” Mr. Fournier said he’s tired of seeing the United States lose jobs to countries like China, Mexico, and Vietnam, and he’s excited that Mr. Trump “is committed to bringing jobs back to America.”

Mr. Lambert also praised Trump for his supposed “honesty.”

If Mr. Trump is elected, “we can actually know the politician who is running the country,” Mr. Lambert said. “It’s no more smoke and mirrors.”

The fraud alleged to have been perpetrated by Lambert involved bilking over $16000 in fees from would-be clients to whom Lambert had represented himself as a practicing attorney.

…In some cases, Lambert, under the fictional identity of lawyer “Eric Pope,” simply abandoned his clients, authorities said.

As of Wednesday morning, a profile for “Pope and Dunn,” Lambert’s purported law firm, was still available on the freelancing website Upwork. The profile linked to a defunct website whose archived version from 2017 includes a snazzy logo and claims the firm “protected” more than $380 million for more than 2,000 clients. It also lists five “attorney” profiles that appear to have been partly copied from Cravath’s website.

One of the supposed lawyers, Howard Whittington, is described as helping banks “in a wide variety of domestic and international financial transactions, including financing of mergers, acquisitions, recapitalizations and spin‑offs, working capital financings and various special‑purpose financings.” That phrase appears word-for-word on the Cravath profile of retired partner James Cooper.

According to the New York Law Journal, Lambert was living in North Carolina while perpetrating the scam but “spoofed” New York telephone numbers to make himself appear legitimate. In one circumstance a consumer took out 10,000 from his 401k to pay the fictitious law firm.

Lambert is currently out on bail. He is scheduled to appear for hearing in New York on April 29th.

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