Richard Zeitlin is a Las Vegas resident who for years has been a telemarketing force behind what I call faux charities. These are political action committees soliciting nationally that sound like worthy causes but aren’t and spend almost nothing collected from clueless donors on the stated mission.
Zeitlin, 53, finally has been indicted criminally on fraud charges carrying a maximum 20-year prison sentence. But not by any prosecutor in Nevada, a state where consumer protection long has been an alien concept, regulators don’t enforcement fundraising disclosure laws and Zeitlin has operated questionable cold-call operations for decades.
Instead, Zeitlin was just charged by federal prosecutors in the far-away Southern District of New York, where these things are taken a little more seriously. The four counts include wire fraud and obstruction of justice charges, the latter for allegedly ordering cronies to delete electronic messages on the very day in May that federal authorities issued subpenas for them.
A separate federal indictment also in New York accuses one Richard Piaro, 73, of Fredonia, Wisc., with wire and mail fraud for serving as treasurer to four faux charity PACs that a different pending civil lawsuit suggests used Zeitlin’s operation for fundraising. They bear the names Americans for the Cure of Breast Cancer, Association for Emergency Responders & Firefighters, U.S. Veterans Assistance Foundation and Standing by Veterans. Piaro’s indictment says the four raised $28 million from donors over five years.
Because of his out-of-state legal difficulties, Zeitlin becomes the latest candidate for my long-running list, It Didn’t Stay Here. This is a roster of people who has been in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas. The list is my barbed refutation of “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famous marketing slogan the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority used for many years to help draw mischief-makers to Sin City. Nearby is the list, which also includes Donald J. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr..
The New York indictment is pretty blunt:
Zeitlin used [his call centers] to defraud numerous donors and potential donors by providing misleading and false information about how the donors’ money would be spent and the nature of the organizations to which they were giving … For example, Zeitlin directed his employees to make calls on behalf of certain PACs that falsely portrayed the PAC as a charity and/or a direct-services organization rather than as a PAC … [Zeitlin’s operation] profited from Zeitlin’s fraud, typically keeping a large portion of each dollar donated–approximately 90%–the rest of which was disbursed to the respective PAC.
The headline on the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office was even more pointed: “Richard Zeitlin Allegedly Used His Muiltmillion-Dollar Telemarketing Call Center Business to Defraud Donors Through False and Misleading Fundraising Calls That Represented Political Action Committees as Charities–And Instructed Employees To Destroy Records To Cover Up His Crimes.”
Neither Zeitlin’s indictment nor the press release named any specific PAC. The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who presided over columnist E. Jean Carroll’s successful $5 million defamation lawsuit against Trump.
I’ve been writing about faux charities for years. Twice during 2022, I wrote about Zeitlin. The first time was after I was cold-called at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters twice on the same day by a computer-generated voice controlled by soundboard technology. “Andrew Redlow,” as the voice called itself each time, was seeking funds for something called United Police Officers Coalition PAC. A little research by me quickly established these points: (1) that PAC wasn’t really a thing, but simply a sympathetic trade name used by Constitutional Leadership PAC, (2) Constitutional Leadership PAC spent no more than 4 cents of every dollar raised in direct support of the stated mission of helping law enforcement, and (2) Zeitlin’s outfit did the cold-calling.
The second time was after a call a few months later from one “Andy Bautista” (in the same computer-generated voice as the aforementioned “Andrew Redlow”) seeking money for Police Officers Support Association PAC. Again, some quick research established that PAC also wasn’t really a thing, either, but rather a trade name used by Law Enforcement for a Safer America PAC; had dreadful financial efficiencies, and was linked to Zeitlin’s organization for the cold-calling.
I also learned something else. None of these PACs was registered to solicit for money in Nevada. This was the case despite a new Nevada law, known as Senate Bill 62, that took effect in 2021 (codified as Nevada Revised Statues 82A.025 et seq.) requiring prior filings with Nevada regulators for any fundraising in the state for, among other causes, “the benefit of law enforcement.”
Civil enforcement of this disclosure rule is given to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office, perhaps with some help from the Nevada Attorney General’s Office. You might as well give it to one of the many homeless persons near the Las Vegas Strip. The Secretary of State’s office recently acknowledged to me it has not issued even one cease-and-desist order or penalty against unregistered-but-soliciting PACs since the new law took effect. This isn’t the first time the NSOSO has ignored Nevada law on fundraising disclosures. It still hasn’t complied with a 2013 Nevada requiring the agency to post on its web site IRS Form 990s or full financial statements of most soliciting traditional charities
The Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service have regulatory authority over PACs but nowhere near the workforce to fight the faux charities. Moreover, unlike the public IRS Form 990 tax returns required of regular 501(c)(3) donor-tax-deductible charities, filings by PACs contain much less information and are extremely difficult for the average would-be donor to analyze to figure out the bad actors. Indeed, this may be what the Zeitlin indictment meant when it wrote that the defendant, who long had fund-raised for 501(c)(3)’s, in 2017 “transitioned to servicing primarily PACs in part to avoid certain regulations for charities and requirements associated with telemarketing from charities that do not apply to PACs.” (Donations to PACs are not tax-deductible by the donor.)
Zeitlin has frequently tangled with non-Nevada regulators, defending his activities as protected by the First Amendment. Still, it’s been a good living for Zeitlin, who the feds say has raised hundreds of million of dollars over the years for clients, with the implication he held on to most of it. The indictment also includes a claim for forfeiture of ill-gotten gains if Zeitlin is convicted. Zeitlin continues to maintain a website, richardzeitlintruth.com, defending himself. It declares, “Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Rick never attended college or received any formal higher education, but has nonetheless managed to create a successful livelihood for himself in the field of call centers through industriousness, innovation and hard work.”
This apparently is Zeitlin’s first criminal charge. I didn’t bother to seek comment from him this time. Why? He was arrested in Las Vegas yesterday during a raid on his multi-million dollar house as the indictment was made public in New York. U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach later in the day denied him bail as a flight risk after hearing he has his own plane and recently obtained Israeli citizenship. Zeitlin’s lawyer was quoted as saying his client had known about the investigation for a year, implying he easily could have fled. After another hearing this afternoon, Ferenbach ordered Zeitlin remain in custody for, as the online docket entry says, “transport to New York.”
I’m guessing Zeitlin finds the regulatory environment in Nevada more to his liking.