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The Grift that Keeps on Grifting

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How was it possible for Donald Trump, lifelong fraudster and confidence artist to take over the Republican Party? I suppose that’s one of those mysteries that’s wrapped in an enigma and then stored in a puzzle box hidden beneath the floorboards in the world’s most difficult escape room.

In 2018, White invested $174,000 in the coins, according to a lawsuit by the New York attorney general — only to later learn that Lear charged a 33 percent commission.

Over several transactions, White, 70, lost nearly $80,000, putting an “enormous strain” on his finances, said his wife, Jeanne, who blames Fox for their predicament: “They’re negligent,” she said. A regretful White said he thought Fox “wouldn’t take a commercial like that unless it was legitimate.”

While the legitimacy of the gold retirement investment industry is the subject of numerous lawsuits — including allegations of fraud by federal and state regulators against Lear and other companies — its advertising has become a mainstay of right-wing media. The industry spends millions of dollars a year to reach viewers of Fox, Newsmax and other conservative outlets, according to a Washington Post analysis of ad data and financial records, as well as interviews with industry insiders. Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani have promoted the coins, while ads for Lear’s competitors have appeared on a podcast hosted by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Newsmax broadcasts of former president Donald Trump’s political rallies.

I’ve consumed enough conservative media to see these advertisements, and they’ve always struck me as pretty obviously scammy. But I’ll admit to being shocked by the level of outright theft involved. A thirty-three percent commission is essentially a huge upfront loss on an investment.

 Lear Capital spokesperson Tracy Williams defended the company’s operations, saying most of Lear’s customers would have made a profit if they had sold at a recent market high

It might be technically true that someone with perfect market timing might have turned a nominal profit. So what? The opportunity-cost here is huge. Any reputable investment vehicle would provide higher returns, and there are plenty of other mechanism for buying gold.

“They are priced like collectibles, but collectible coins aren’t typically sold in bulk,” said Everett Millman, a precious metals specialist at coin dealer Gainesville Coins. “If a customer spent the same amount of money on products that are more standard, like [Canadian] Silver Maple Leafs, they would end up with a lot more ounces per dollar.”

With the exclusive coins, Millman said, “They’re simply torching money.

“No one in their right mind would pay the premiums that these guys are charging,” added Ken Lewis, CEO of online coin dealer Apmex, who reviewed several customer invoices at The Post’s request.

The ads explain none of that. Instead, they focus on news events, such as a spate of recent bank failures and “everything that’s happening in the economy right now … with all the talk of inflation,” Rotunda said.

These outfits claim that they’re being totally “transparent.” The word appears at least twice in direct quotations from company statements. But there’s no way this is meaningfully true. The business model simply cannot work unless these companies aren’t engaged in misleading and obfuscatory sales practices.

Sound familiar?

Anyway, if you haven’t read Rick Pearlstein’s classic article about the conservative movement and the rise of direct mail, then you should change that. I’d forgotten that it opened with a long discussion of Mitt Romney’s rank dishonesty during the 2012 campaign, which itself is worth reflecting upon.

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