Lachlan Markay digs into power, money and corruption in DC.
Daily Beast Logo

with Lachlan Markay

Trump Pal Falwell Got Pentagon Contract Right After Election

Just months after President Donald Trump took office, the federal government signed a contract to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jet fuel from a university run by one of the president’s top political supporters.

The Pentagon’s energy procurement arm inked the contract, worth nearly $900,000, with a company called Freedom Aviation on May 9, 2017, and has purchased more than $400,000 in turbine fuel from the company since then. Freedom Aviation is wholly owned by Liberty University, a conservative school in Lynchburg, Virginia, led by high-profile Trump supporter Jerry Falwell Jr.

Freedom Aviation owns six planes, according to Federal Aviation Administration records, and maintains them at a Lynchburg hanger for Liberty’s popular flight school. It also provides charter flights to the general public, and Falwell has used the aircraft for travel involving his personal, business, and political affairs. But neither Freedom nor C&C Aviation, another company owned by the university, had ever won a federal fuel contract prior to Trump’s election.


The Defense Logistics Agency, the agency that actually buys the fuel, said that Freedom Aviation was hired to refuel DOD aircraft at the Lynchburg airport, where it’s the sole “fixed-base operator,” and that it “submitted the only offer” for those services. Its per-gallon rate, $2.69, “was determined fair and reasonable in accordance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation and was in line with prices at other airports in the region,” according to DLA spokesman Patrick Mackin.


Liberty did not respond to questions about the contract.

Government ethicists, however, say the agreement raises red flags given Liberty’s apparent lack of experience in providing such services to the federal government, and Falwell’s outspoken backing for the Trump administration.

“It’s possible there’s a legitimate reason why the Defense Department is sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to one of President Trump’s biggest political supporters, but everything about this contract raises red flags,” said Austin Evers, the executive director of transparency group American Oversight, said when presented with PAY DIRT’s findings. “The Pentagon needs to explain exactly how and why this contract was awarded because the Trump administration has lost the benefit of the doubt on anything that even resembles a conflict of interest.”

Falwell, whose father was a prominent evangelical leader, remains one of the president’s most committed backers in the conservative Christian community. And Trump has reciprocated that support. Just four days after the Pentagon inked its contract with Freedom Aviation, the president gave the commencement address at Liberty University.

Falwell also appears to have used Freedom Aviation in service of the Trump campaign. He officially endorsed Trump in late January 2016, and joined him at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, a day before the state’s crucial Republican presidential caucus. About a week later, the Trump campaign paid Freedom Aviation more than $19,000 for air travel expenses.

RIght to Rise, a super PAC supporting 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, also paid Freedom Aviation the year before, writing the company a $2,000 check on May 11, 2015. That was two days after Bush, who had not yet declared his candidacy, gave that year’s commencement speech at Liberty.

Falwell has acknowledged using university-owned planes for personal and business travel in Liberty’s annual tax filings.

Get the data:

Accused Venezuelan Money Launderer Flipped Trump Condo

A Venezuelan national previously accused of complicity in a massive fraud and corruption scheme bought an expensive condo in a New York City building owned by President Donald Trump and then flipped the property to a company accused of laundering proceeds from the scheme.

Moris Beracha, a former adviser to Venezuela’s finance minister, was one of the wealthiest people in the country when he was sued in 2011 by a court-appointed receiver in the U.S. over his alleged role in a nine-figure Ponzi scheme involving his nation’s state-owned oil company. The architect of that scheme, Venezuelan-American hedge-fund manager Francisco Illarramendi, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2013 after pleading guilty to fraud and obstruction charges.

The court in that case appointed a receiver to recover money stolen as part of that Ponzi scheme. The receiver subsequently sued Beracha, accusing him of using a maze of offshore companies and bank accounts in the Virgin Islands, Panama, and Switzerland to provide liquidity for Illarramendi’s scheme, launder its proceeds, and bribe Venezuelan government officials. The case was dismissed in 2014, and Beracha did not admit any wrongdoing.

Illarramendi’s underlying conduct was nevertheless the precise type of activity to which President Trump has pointed in railing against the endemic corruption that has contributed to Venezuela’s dire economic woes. So it’s remarkable that Beracha’s financial transactions around the time that Illarramendi was bilking Venezuelan taxpayers and investors included the sale of a condo in New York’s Trump World Tower.

Beracha purchased Unit 36A in that building in 2002 after taking out a $1.4 million mortgage. Trump himself affixed his signature to the deed alongside Beracha’s, New York property records show.


Five years later, Beracha sold the unit for $3 million. The buyer was a company called Bradleyville Ltd., which the court receiver later listed as one of four entities accused of shuffling around investor money as part of Illarramendi’s Ponzi scheme. Bradleyville was incorporated in the Virgin Islands, listed a New York address in property records, and a Caracas address on its mortgage paperwork.

That mortgage came from the bank HSBC. Nine months after he sold the Trump World Tower condo, Beracha emailed Illarramendi asking him to deposit $10 million into another HSBC account, according to documents revealed as part of the receiver’s lawsuit.

Get the data:

Dems Find Political Silver Lining in Russia Collusion Dud

Democrats hoping for a silver bullet against President Trump in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian-election meddling were sorely disappointed when Attorney General Bill Barr reported no conclusive and prosecutable evidence that the Trump campaign had conspired with Kremlin agents during the 2016 campaign.

But prominent Democrats have nevertheless found a way to make lemonade out of this lemon. As they publicly call for the release of Mueller’s full investigative report, they’re using that rallying cry to beef up their email and social-media lists through sham “polls” and “petitions” pegged to the special counsel’s findings and the need to release them publicly.

“Should the public get to read Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report? Tell us what you think,” beckoned one recent Facebook ad run by Trump impeachment champion Tom Steyer, and funded by his political group, Need to Impeach. The ad, and dozens like it, linked to an online “poll” that serves no real purpose but to harvest the information of potential supporters and add them to Steyer’s juggernaut of an email distribution list.

Virtually every big name in Democratic politics is doing something similar, either through a poll or a petition to which supporters can “add your name!” and supposedly increase public pressure to release Mueller’s findings. Presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Delaney are all running Facebook ads begging viewers to affix their names—and their contact information—to such petitions. Sens. Mark Warner, Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, and Debbie Stabenow are doing the same. The Democratic National Committee has gone the petition route, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has opted for Steyer-esque “polls.”

The Trump campaign, of course, has gone full tilt on the Mueller report to boost its own fundraising numbers, and its recent Facebook ads have largely asked for financial contributions. But Democrats’ campaigning on the issue shows how even the “losing” side can squeeze some utility out of a political fight.


Get the data:

© Copyright 2018 The Daily Beast Company LLC
555 W. 18th Street, New York NY 10011
Privacy Policy

If you are on a mobile device or cannot view the images in this message, click here to view this email in your browser. To ensure delivery of these emails, please add to your address book. If you no longer wish to receive these emails, or think you have received this message in error, you can safely unsubscribe.