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Fraud Investigators Target Brothers Famous for Anti-Trump Tweets

Caricature of Donald Trump. (DonkeyHotey / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Brothers Brian and Ed Krassenstein gained massive popularity on Twitter with their anti-Trump rhetoric following the 2016 election. They have nearly a million followers between them, and run two websites, Independent Reporter and Hill Reporter, which speculate on the progress of the Mueller investigation and promote anti-Trump causes. As The Daily Beast reports, they are also under fire from the Department of Homeland Security for allegedly running fraudulent get-rich-quick schemes, scamming consumers out of thousands of dollars.

An investigation is ongoing, and the brothers are yet to be charged with any crimes. However, in 2016 their Florida homes were raided by federal agents, who seized almost $500,000 that allegedly came from wire fraud. According to The Daily Beast’s report, “the Krassensteins began hawking dubious investment advice—way back in 2003—on a pair of internet forums.”

The services the brothers promoted on these forums and later on their own websites allegedly led investors to pay into Ponzi scams and, The Daily Beast continues, “even resulted in some downloading a virus that emptied their accounts on an anonymous online-payment platform used by the Krassensteins themselves, before it was shut down as part of a major federal money-laundering investigation.”

The Krassensteins maintain their innocence, writing about their run-in with the feds on Independent Reporter in an article titled “Our Civil Asset Forfeiture Nightmare.” They say they had no idea that the companies for which they were selling ads were engaged in criminal activity, and that their right to sell such ads is protected by the First Amendment.

“The myth out there that ‘we promoted financial scams’ is false. We did not ‘promote’ anything,” Ed Krassenstein wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “Our website was filled with warnings and notices about sending money to any website which anyone saw advertised on [their websites]. … The entire purpose … was to help people find out which online business opportunities were legitimate and which were not.”

The case against the Krassensteins focuses on two sites, TalkGold.com and MoneyMakerGroup.com, both of which promote high-yield investment programs (HYIPs), which are considered by many experts and even the Securities and Exchange Commission to be Ponzi schemes, meaning that they seem to provide high returns on investment at first, in order to gain investors’ trust, but then simply take their money.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the brothers reaped huge sums of money for selling scams. Homeland Security special agent Michael Adams wrote in a civil asset forfeiture complaint that “[t]here is reasonable cause to believe that the Krassensteins would have known that these funds were criminally derived. There is also reasonable cause to believe that … Brian and Edward Krassenstein have conspired to commit wire fraud.”

Plenty of writers, former government officials, academics and even self-styled experts have built online fame by denouncing President Trump and his administration, but the Krassensteins stand out in a crowded Twitter field. As Casey Michel wrote in a profile of the brothers on ThinkProgress:

[The] Krassensteins are a sort of sui generis actor on the platform, shamelessly blasting the president while marketing themselves and tweeting with abandon—and, given that there’s two of them, doing it at double-speed, gaining over a million followers combined along the way.

The Krassensteins say they’re surprised by their fame, telling Michel, “We never really expected our Twitter accounts to take off like they did.”

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