Senior executives at Donald Trump’s social media firm grew concerned last spring about the $8 million they had accepted from opaque entities in two emergency loans when his listeners asked for more details about payments, according to documents, emails and sources familiar with the matter.
The payments had come at a critical time for Trump Media – which runs the Truth Social platform – as it ran out of cash after its planned merger with a blank check company known as DWAC that would have released $1.3 billion. dollars of capital locked up pending an SEC. investigation.
But the funding, which took the form of a $2 million loan from an entity called Paxum Bank registered in Dominica in December 2021 and a $6 million loan from an entity called ES Family Trust in February 2022, had been hastily arranged and Trump The media knew next to nothing about the emergency lenders.
The executives had good reason to be concerned: a subsequent examination revealed that the trustee of ES Family Trust was simultaneously a director of Paxum Bank, and one of the bank’s co-owners would turn out to be the relation of an ally of the Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And, months after Trump Media was the subject of a criminal investigation for the merger by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, federal prosecutors began examining whether the company violated laws on money laundering for payments, the Guardian revealed on Wednesday.
At that time, Trump Media CFO Phillip Juhan was considering returning the money due to the opaque nature of its background, former Trump Media co-founder turned whistleblower Will Wilkerson recounted in an interview.
But the money was ultimately not returned, Wilkerson said, in part because the $8 million was such a large proportion of the roughly $12 million in cash Trump Media had in its accounts that the loss of those funds could put the company in a precarious financial situation.
The question of who was aware of the origins of the $8 million that was likely to have illegitimate origins due to the Russian connection, and what Trump Media did to ensure that this type of money did not not entering the United States became a key issue arising from the episode.
The implications and broader societal optics of Trump borrowing money from potentially disreputable sources through opaque conduits are significant given that they could cast a veil over the former president as he seeks to retake the White House in 2024.
According to documents and emails reviewed by the Guardian and interviews with several people familiar with the payments, knowledge that the $8 million is potentially problematic extends to a number of senior Trump Media executives.
A lawyer for Trump Media declined to comment on the criminal investigation or the $8 million funding. A spokesperson for the former president’s son, Don Jr, and the Justice Department declined to comment.
The first $2 million loan was secured by DWAC chief executive Patrick Orlando days before Christmas 2021 as Trump Media’s financial situation grew increasingly dire. Orlando then charged Trump Media a $240,000 finder’s fee for the loan, according to an invoice billed through his brokerage firm Entoro Securities LLC.
Even at this point, there was some concern about where the payment came from given it was being routed through an offshore bank and Orlando declined to provide any further information about the lender, telling Trump Media associates that the lender was extremely private.
The funding itself was also approved at the Trump family level, when Don Jr, who had become increasingly involved in the deal with Trump Media since the summer when he pushed to renegotiate the deal license that Trump had with the company for Truth Social, signed the loan.
“Just want to update you – no guarantees that these will be signed and funded, but we remain hopeful,” John Haley, outside counsel for Trump Media, said in a Dec. 24, 2021 email seen by the Guardian. , to which Don Jr replied, “Thank you John much appreciated. d.”
The issue then lay dormant for months until it resurfaced on March 8, 2022, when Trump Media CFO Juhan reported that the company had virtually no information on ES Family. Trust and that the entity had never signed the promissory note confirming the terms of the loan.
“Our auditors require signed confirmation statements from all noteholders. We do not have a contact for ES Family Trust other than the name of Angel Pacheco (Trustee). Can you provide contact information (e- mail) so that our auditor (BF Borgers) can send this confirmation by e-mail? Thank you!” Juhan wrote in the email also reviewed by the Guardian.
It remains unclear what additional information, or whether a signed version of the loan agreement, was actually passed on to Juhan or the auditor.
But in the following weeks, Juhan considered returning the money due to his potentially questionable background, Wilkerson said. It’s unclear if Juhan has consulted with the board of directors – which includes Don Jr, Trump ally Kash Patel and former Republican congressman turned chief executive Devin Nunes -.
It was also unclear whether Orlando, an SEC-approved broker, or auditor BF Borgers had performed due diligence under anti-money laundering and “know your customer” requirements that require to control investors to combat the proliferation of illicit money.
A person who picked up the phone at BF Borgers this week put a reporter on hold for comment until the line was disconnected. On a subsequent call, the person said they would forward the request to managing partner Ben Borgers. Juhan and Orlando did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
But, says Wilkerson, the money was not returned. And by the time his attorneys Patrick Mincey, Stephen Bell and Phil Brewster alerted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York to the payments on Oct. 23, 2022, the ties to a Putin ally were apparent.