One former long-time Oath Keepers employee confessed to embezzling more than $200K from the group while serving as their IT administrator. Oath Keepers founder, Stewart Rhodes, threatened litigation if the secret was made public. Rhodes also took cash advances from his former domestic non-profit organization to pay for family vehicles and a down payment on a house.
By CHERI ROBERTS for Challenging the Rhetoric
Much has been said over the years about Stewart Rhodes and the Oath Keepers. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has described the group as “a large but loosely organized collection of anti-government extremists who are part of the broader anti-government ‘Patriot’ movement, which includes militia and ‘three percenter’ groups, sovereign citizens, and tax protesters, among others.” Likewise, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists Rhodes, the group’s founder, as a known extremist, calling his plans to create localized militia units, “frightening”.
This “Patriot” movement, as described by the ADL, has made many headlines over recent years. Notably, because of its scope, was last year’s 41-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR) near Burns, Oregon, that resulted in 26+ related arrests, and the dual Portland trials. Oregonians are still recovering from the more than the year-long affair and unfortunately have since been subjected to other occasions of violence wrought by subscribers of some extremist and militia type ideologies. Other states have too.
Political Hot Potatoes
Now, some politicians, like Oregon’s James Buchal, the Multnomah County GOP Chair, want to actively use Oath Keepers and other militia groups as security teams at events. Rhodes, of course, is honored by the idea and seemingly actively pursuing that opportunity.
IMAGE SOURCE: HateWatch
And, in keeping with the theme, just this week, Georgia State Senator Michael Williams posed for the above picture taken with the heavily armed III% Security Force at the Atlanta March Against Sharia. A march against a non-existent law. Williams – a Republican who is also a Gubernatorial candidate, later claimed he had no idea the group was a militia group, saying he was, “shocked”, calling out the “Left” for making a big deal of it.
Several Three Percenters, just like some self-professed “card carrying” Oath Keepers, were also involved in the Malheur refuge incident. Many involved there, were also involved in, or are supporters of, the 2014 standoff in Bunkerville, Nevada; the previous standoff that was also incited by the now notorious Bundy family and supported by Rhodes. Most of the defendants from that long ago event are still awaiting trial.
The Bundys and their followers, including Rhodes, also have close ties to politicians like former NV Assemblywoman, Michele Fiore and Washington State GOP Rep. Matt Shea among others. Political photo-ops like Williams’s, and those that have come before it, only further normalizes this blossoming affair between citizen militia groups and politicians.
Nothing to See Here
Rhodes, an Army veteran and self-styled “Patriot”, founded the Oath Keepers in late 2009. Since then, he has undeniably, become a prominent leading force and Patron of a movement that is more than peppered with, as President Donald Trump would say, “bad hombres”. During the coverage of the 2016 #OregonStandoff, although Rhodes himself kept to the sidelines (unlike his broader participation in 2014 #BundyNV) the unsavory and criminal element being drawn to this movement, as a whole, became more visible as journalists, like myself, began shedding some of Ammon Bundy’s re-branded “sunlight” onto the crowd (example: HERE, HERE, and HERE).
Although it took a while to illuminate the intentionally shadowed Oath Keepers’ inner circle, documents show, Rhodes and some of his board members are not as transparent, nor as truthful, as he and they would like you to believe. Politicians and respectable people that currently align themselves with Rhodes and his organization, otherwise court it, or financially support it, may want to demand a full accounting after taking a step back and asking better questions.
While the more conspiracy minded “Liberty” lovers hem and haw over long-time rumors alleging that Rhodes is some sort of “Fed”, the supporters have continued to pad his pockets and his profile while battling the naysayers, mostly on social media. There is no direct and credible evidence that the rumors about Rhodes being a “Fed” are true.
What is true, is that Rhodes has been hiding a big secret with the help of current and former board members, and a couple of scared ex-employees. Rhodes, a man known for putting out aggressive calls to action to look for wrongdoing — including at the polls during the 2016 election and on the front lines of today’s protest rallies, wants you to look for it everywhere, but at his own front door.
Under his Upturned Nose
In January 2015, following a couple of years of regurgitated, but rather expansive media coverage revolving around his organization’s high-profile involvement in places like Bunkerville, NV and Ferguson, MO, Rhodes was firmly settled in as the hero de jour to the growing anti-government and 2nd Amendment crowd. At the time, Rhodes was still an attorney, formidable, yet approachable. Rhodes seemed to many, a good alternative to the likes of the self-proclaimed federal informant, former police chief, Mark Kessler, whose spittle-ridden, often verbally violent YouTube rants were effectively reeling in the crème de la fringe of both the alt-right and alt-left.
Rhodes was nearing the release date for Midnight Ride, a “Patriot” documentary he had contributed to and would be receiving a portion of the proceeds from. It was an exciting and lucrative time. With the increased exposure and attention, Rhodes decided to upgrade his own security, hiring a cybersecurity guy to perform upgrades to the Oath Keepers’ server. Although Rhodes already employed an IT person named Drew “Brown”, Edward Wilson was brought in for the job. Wilson said “Brown’s” skill set was too limited to perform the needed upgrades himself.
According to Wilson, the group’s server was a “huge mess” when he came on board, however, what concerned him more was the discovery of a PayPal email bouncing between accounts documenting the purchase of gold coins. Initially this made little sense to Wilson, however, it triggered an all-nighter with Wilson poking around to get to the bottom of the mystery. It soon became obvious, and irrefutable, that what Wilson uncovered, was a trail evidencing unauthorized purchases by “Brown”, as well as cash transfers to his personal accounts using Oath Keepers’ funds. In a word, “Brown” was embezzling.
During Wilson’s look-see, “Brown’s” real identity was printed on a state Medicaid form related to his daughter. “Brown” is an alias used by transient Tea Party activist, Andrew “Drew” T. Piper. Piper has also used the names “Dre Brown” (as one of his Facebook accounts shows), and “Michael”, as he once told me in 2008-09*.
Confrontations and Calls
After organizing his discoveries, Wilson appropriately took his evidence and concerns to Rhodes. According to Wilson, Rhodes did not want to believe that “Brown” would do such a thing, but by the next day, January 29, in an early morning conference call, Rhodes, with Oath Keepers board member, former Houston, Texas police officer John Shirley taking the lead, confronted first Piper, then his girlfriend Sharon Manery, who was Rhodes’s treasurer at the time.
In the Piper call, Rhodes introduces Shirley as a “Certified Fraud Investigator” and later notes that Piper had been with Oath Keepers from the start and that he would have to do a full accounting. In a separately dialed call about 30-minutes after speaking with Piper, Rhodes, Shirley and the Board then confronted Manery, who was ultimately responsible for funds and accounts of the organization, including their PayPal. There were other Board members listening in and/or participating on the call, including, Jim Ayala the current treasurer, Michele Imburgia, Steve Homan, David Helms, and possibly, Elias Alias. Edward Wilson was also on the call. Shirley, the former cop, is said to be the one who recorded both calls. Allegedly, everyone, but Piper and Manery, knew the calls were being recorded (full audio of both the Piper and Manery calls is available at the end of this article).
Early in the recorded call, Piper claims the purchases and transactions he made with the embezzled funds were to help with medical expenses and products for his and Manery’s daughter who was born prematurely with special needs. However, as the near 30-minute interrogation continues, Piper obviously realizes his interrogators know more than he thought and becomes a bit more forthcoming, admitting to purchases of gold and silver coins, electronics, and gift cards he said he would later use or sell for cash on gift card exchange sites like Gyft. By his own disclosures it is clear Piper, if not also Manery, is guilty of, not only embezzlement but also money laundering. His deceptive actions with the gift cards and buy/sell tactics paint a pretty clear picture he was trying to blur the lines of where the money had originated from.
According to Piper’s confession, these unauthorized transactions took place from “early 2013 after (child’s name redacted) was born” and had continued until approximately a week prior to being confronted by Rhodes that morning. PayPal records show that some weekly transactions made by Piper totaled more than $10K. It is shocking that no one had noticed a thing until Wilson came along.
Of the more than $200K that was shown to have ultimately been funneled out of the group’s accounts, Piper spent over $75K of it on gold and silver coins alone. Most were purchased from John Maben Coins, while some others were garnered from Apmex. He was also dealing in the cryptocurrency, BitCoin. It is unknown with whose money he purchased the BitCoins, to begin with. It is unknown whether Rhodes collected any BitCoins as part of his asset recovery.
There are far too many purchases to itemize here, but a few of the many other items ranged from T.V. series boxed DVD sets to tools and electronics and more. Piper and Manery also bought a Henderson, NV house in Manery’s name a couple of months prior to the confrontation. It is unknown how much of their downpayment and/or closing costs, if any, may have come from the embezzled funds. A few short months after they were fired from the Oath Keepers, Manery sold the house for a $20K profit according to public records.
The truth of the matter is, when you look at the statements, the majority of the things being purchased and the transactions being made by Piper and/or Manery, had nothing to do with their daughter’s health and were instead things Piper could and would auction for cash, and things for he and Manery’s home or pleasure. At one point, Piper even purchased a male sexual performance device.
Fueling a Feverish Mind
Of note, Piper’s PayPal documents list both Alex Jones’s Infowars and Prison Planet as recurring paid subscriptions. Jones, whom today’s POTUS thinks is a “great guy”, has been a main proponent of the conspiracy “hoax” theories claiming the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School murders were faked by the United States government; a theory that has fueled many threats and still ongoing harassment and distress to the grieving families and the community that was impacted. Rhodes too is a visible supporter of Jones.
Piper also had an active account with “Health Ranger” Mike Adam’s Natural News, where he frequently bought prepper type products and supplements. The site sells products to address the fears fabricated by #fakenewsmedia. It is unknown whether Piper and Manery used these supplements for themselves and/or their daughter, or if those too were resold online.
When Rhodes asked Piper how he’d been able to keep his financial trickery a secret from Manery, Piper said: “anything she (Manery) needed to be done (for the Oath Keepers’ account), she asked me to do, (for her) on PayPal.” As to how he hid the influx of money and items, Piper said he simply led Manery to believe it had all come from being a successful eBay and QuiBid auctioneer.
Accessory or Accomplice?
After their call with Piper, Manery was likewise questioned by Rhodes and Shirley. She was initially hysterical, crying and apologizing, saying she had no knowledge of Piper’s crimes. She said, “never in my wildest dreams did I think Drew would do anything like this.” She was adamant that the two’s relationship was going to be “over” because of the situation, however, years later, a happy loving picture of she and Piper remains to be her profile picture on Facebook. It is a photo that was taken just days before Rhodes had confronted them years ago. Her account is still active; she recently changed her cover photo to reflect their second child, who was born last summer.
It is difficult to believe Manery didn’t have some idea of what was going on or at least a suspicion. As the Oath Keepers treasurer, she also knew how much money Piper was and wasn’t legitimately making working for Rhodes. The massive influx in their finances would’ve been a red flag to most. Was it complete ignorance as the two claim? Or, willful blindness? Or, was Manery really a knowing accessory to Piper’s crimes? If she didn’t know of Piper’s misappropriations, she did know that Piper had been lying to Rhodes for years about his real name.
Manery begged Rhodes many times not to press charges against herself and/or Piper. She said she hardly ever looked at the organization’s PayPal account, adding that she also rarely checked her own personal account, which is the account Piper was using, which is tied to her bank account. The account Piper used to launder some of the embezzled money. Manery said she was too busy working multiple jobs to have noticed anything awry. She said, “I just assumed he [Piper] was telling me the truth” when it came to any transactions being made and that the increased finances to their household were coming from Piper’s online auctions. However, she does acknowledge, that as treasurer, what happened was her responsibility.
Wilson, Homan, Helms, and Alias eventually parted ways with Rhodes, some quicker than others. Wilson and Homan hung on for months after the confrontation, believing a real investigation was ongoing. When they realized Rhodes was going to keep it covered up, including from the Oath Keepers’ membership, they’d had enough. Alias hung on until late last year. All of them, in part or in whole, allegedly left because of how Rhodes handled the Piper situation and the months-long bogus “investigation” that followed. No charges or repercussions against Piper and/or Manery in relation to the embezzlement and money laundering, other than their firing by Rhodes, ever occurred.
Hush Your Mouth
Wilson, who suffers from severe chronic pancreatitis and is often hospitalized, parted ways with a well-paying job he loved with the Oath Keepers because his conscience, and his pancreas, were killing him from the stress. His morals weren’t liking him much either. Rhodes, while still an attorney, threatened to sue Wilson if he ever disclosed Piper and Manery’s theft and the Oath Keepers’ subsequent cover-up.
Email threat from Rhodes to Wilson (sic):
Date: Mon, Nov 9, 2015 at 7:49 PM
Subject: If You Disclose Confidential Information on the Drew Brown Theft Investigation, We Will Take Legal Action Against You
To: Edward Wilson < REDACTED >, Edward Wilson < REDACTED>
Cc: John Shirley <REDACTED>, Michele Imburgia < REDACTED >, Jim Ayala < REDACTED >
As an employee of Oath Keepers, and then also as a trusted member of the investigation into Drew’s theft, and a member of the audit team, you were, and still are (as a former employee), under an obligation of confidentiality regarding any and all knowledge and information regarding Drew Piper’s theft from Oath Keepers, and regarding our conversations, emails, documentation, records, evidence, and actions in response to that theft, and during the investigation, which is still ongoing. You were given access to that information on a confidential basis, as our trusted IT Administrator, and as a member of the investigation/audit team, and that information is for internal use only, within the national leadership and current staff of Oath Keepers, and in fact, for use and dissemination only within that small team of investigation/audit which you were allowed to serve on as part of your job. Besides you (as the IT Administrator), the only other members of that team were team lead John Shirley (fraud examiner), Treasurer James Ayala, Assistant Treasurer and Secretary Michele Imburgia, and me, as the national President of Oath Keepers.
As you well know, information on the investigation was only shared within that small team, and was to then be submitted to the Board of Directors as a whole by John Shirley when the investigation was completed. And was to go nowhere else. And nobody outside of a small number of current or former BOD members and employees has even minimal knowledge of that information (and only because of their status as BOD members or employees which required that limited knowledge).
In your text to <REDACTED> yesterday, you already breached that confidentiality by disclosing your estimates of the amount stolen by Drew Piper. That was confidential information that <REDACTED> did not have and is not privy to, as our membership coordinator. And there are indications in your text exchange with < REDACTED> that you are considering disclosing confidential information regarding that theft to others. If you do so, we will seek not just civil, but also criminal remedies for that disclosure, since it interferes with an ongoing criminal investigation.
We will do so to the full extent of the law.
If you have any questions about your obligation of confidentiality, refer those questions to me and to John Shirley, who is still serving as our investigator and fraud examiner in this case. John is cc’d on this email.
President and Founder of
Wilson says he was never asked to sign any kind of confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement while employed by Rhodes. He replied to Rhodes’s threat saying so. Wilson and others struggled with the information, understanding the depth and breadth of the deceit, especially to the membership. The Oath Keepers boast membership numbers in the tens of thousands. Members pay membership dues. According to several years of PayPal and banking statements, the Oath Keepers typically and routinely rake in about a million dollars annually in membership dues, donations, and merchandise sales, through their PayPal account alone. They were also taking online payments via Stripe. Documents also show the Oath Keepers may have had as many as or more than 11 different bank accounts
Since losing his non-profit status in NV in December of 2015, just days after also being disbarred and banned from practicing law, it is unclear whether Rhodes has since been operating Oath Keepers under any kind of license at all.
Getting the Goods
In the recorded call, Manery said Piper had already paid back $5K by that time and insisted she herself would pay the rest back. However, that was when they were still only claiming a theft of $16K.
Rhodes and Shirley told Manery they wanted nothing reimbursed until a full investigation and accounting had taken place. Later, Rhodes, accompanied by Ayala, went to Piper and Manery’s home, purportedly without incident, and recovered some of the items Piper had purchased that were still in his possession, including some of the gold and silver coins. I was unable to establish whether Piper and/or Manery have ever paid back any of the money, or whether there was ever any written acknowledgment or agreement between them to do so.
They Knew. And, a Few Other Things we Know
Manery and Homan, whom both I sought comment from, never denied the information I was asking about. Neither one responded with, “I have no idea what you are talking about”. Neither did they seem confused. Manery became angry, telling me she “did not wish to comment”, warning me to never to call her at that number again and hung up on me. She later blocked me on Facebook after receiving my inquiry there.
Homan, although polite, also declined, saying, “sorry, but I have no comment on that.” Homan had been on the recorded calls during Rhodes confrontations with Piper and Manery. He was not just a board member but was also the national Vice President of Oath Keepers at the time. It is my understanding that Homan was one of the “good guys” in this situation so his silence is marked. I do not know if he too was threatened as Wilson had been.
During Rhodes’s investigation, it was uncovered that Piper was a Wisconsin felon who had done time for burglary, among other charges like check fraud, property damage, and “habitual criminality”, according to his criminal record. Adding further fodder, it also came to light that Piper has a third child, an older child from a previous relationship, one which he may have long abandoned all responsibility for. And, unrelated to the Oath Keepers embezzlement case, it appears Piper may currently have an outstanding warrant in another state. Piper, Manery, and their two children now live in Arizona where Manery has friends and family.
Rhodes wanted everything kept quiet. He didn’t want the bad P.R. or the increased scrutiny that knowledge of Piper’s embezzlement would bring to him and his organization. Was he also concerned that it had been preserved in the recordings, that he had taken several advances from his organization, some of which were used to purchase or rent a vehicle for his son and to rent a vehicle for his sister. He also took an advance to make a down payment on a house. Up to the point of that January 29, 2015, recorded call with Manery, Rhodes had acknowledged he had not paid back what some people refer to as Rhodes’ personal “ piggy bank”.
LISTEN: Stewart Rhodes confronting Drew Piper
LISTEN: Stewart Rhodes confronting Sharon Manery
Stewart Rhodes did not respond for comment by the time of publication.
* DISCLOSURE: Drew Piper and I dated in 2008/09.
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