Investigative prankster James O'Keefe III has made himself famous by bringing out the apparent seamy side of liberals' most trusted institutions. Through Project Veritas, a nonprofit organization he founded in 2010 to capitalize on and continue his hidden-camera attacks on ACORN and Planned Parenthood, O'Keefe has produced sting videos suggesting criminal or antisocial tendencies among staffers at NPR and in Medicaid offices, and most recently among Obamacare navigators.
Unsavory elements are lurking everywhere. O'Keefe would know. Since mid-December, he has been working at Project Veritas with John Landino—a family friend with a felony narcotics record, thousands of dollars in unpaid child support, and tens of thousands of dollars in IRS tax liens. Before joining the conservative investigative outfit, Landino was the CEO of the troubled gaming company Phantom Entertainment, best known for its long-running failure to produce a promised gaming console.
Landino was also briefly in jail last year, thanks to an outstanding traffic violation and his child support arrears. His bail was supplied by his girlfriend, Amy Junger, but delivered by O'Keefe's father, James O'Keefe Jr., who told us that he got the money from the bank and picked Landino up from jail.
A source familiar with Project Veritas said that Landino has been active in making fundraising queries and pitching sting ideas, introducing himself as the group's chief operating officer. In emails from his projectveritas.com address, Landino identifies himself in the signature line as COO. Franscisco Gonzalez, the chairman of Project Veritas, declined to confirm that Landino was the group's COO, as did Jennifer Ridgley, the communications director. James O'Keefe III did not reply to texts asking him to confirm Landino's title.
In a tribute to O'Keefe's methods, we emailed Landino last week posing as novice citizen journalists affiliated with the watchdog.org websites run by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a 501(c)3 nonprofit funded by the Koch brothers. He invited us to call him, and after some small talk about our shared love of cycling (Landino also runs his own boutique cycling-wear company, DeathRow Velo), we asked him how he came to Project Veritas.
"The company was looking for a manager to run the company," Landino told us (or rather our made-up guy, David). "I applied, kinda went through a bunch of channels, a bunch of interviews, a bunch of references, and somehow I wound up here."
Landino has no experience in the nonprofit sector, but he has been an executive before. In 2008, he was hired by Phantom Entertainment as its CEO. Gamers will recognize Phantom, née Infinium Labs, as the firm behind the heavily promoted, never produced, Phantom PC gaming console, a four-time winner of Wired's prestigious Vaporware Award.
Before Landino's arrival, Phantom's unmet promises led to an SEC investigation charging that the console hype was really part of a "pump and dump" stock fraud. The founder, Timothy Roberts, settled with the SEC in 2008, agreeing to pay a $30,000 fine and refrain from participating as an officer or director in any publicly traded company for five years. Landino took over the company, and under his leadership Phantom finally produced, if not a revolutionary gaming console, at least a wireless keyboard-and-mouse combination.
"There are about 40 judgements against the company that are still live," Landino said yesterday, reached this time on a straightforward reporting call. "The company probably has about $18 million dollars in debt."
"I didn't know that that was all there," he said. "I thought that this might be a company I could turn around."
Landino's other history, though, is less inspiring. In November 1991, according to a background check, he was arrested in New Haven, Connecticut, for felony narcotics possession. He was found guilty two years later. Asked about the incident yesterday, Landino confirmed the arrest and said, when asked, that it was not for heroin. He declined to say whether it was for cocaine.
Landino's personal finances also don't inspire much confidence in his management or his ethical watchdogging. In 2007, the IRS filed a $14,086 lien against Landino's assets for unpaid back taxes. By 2010, they had filed another lien for $18,339, putting his total unpaid taxes at $32,425. Landino also owed money to his ex-wife for child support: $6,977.40, according to a March 2010 ruling in Bergen County court in New Jersey.
"Since 2004 or 2005, I've had a long post-divorce fight with my ex-wife," Landino said. "It hasn't been easy; it's been horrible. We've been in court every year."
"In 2008, I lost a job and I was paying a tremendous amount of child support per week, and the judge refused to reduce it," he said. "And I got behind, and it's been trailing me ever since."
He was still in arrears last March, when he was arrested on a warrant for outstanding child support. With some long-overdue traffic fines attached—"dummy things...not wearing a seatbelt, speeding ticket, expired license," Landino said—he ended up with a substantial bail: $14,542.07, paid in cash, after spending the night in jail.
The elder James O'Keefe brought the bail money. "His new girlfriend was going to bail him out, but there was a previous commitment, and they asked if I could ferry the money to him," he told us. Landino's girlfriend, Amy Junger, owns several expensive real estate properties, some of which have been residences for Landino and mailing addresses for his companies Phantom Entertainment and DeathRow Velo.
O'Keefe's father said that he had known Landino "for some time." From 2002 to 2007, Landino resided at a property in Westwood, New Jersey, owned by the elder O'Keefe and his wife. Before that, he occupied another property owned by the O'Keefe family in Park Ridge, New Jersey.
"This person is a friend of mine," the elder O'Keefe said. "At some point I referred him to my son, saying he was someone he could trust and maybe could provide some expertise to your firm technically, in terms of management. That's it; that's how that worked."
"I need the job," Landino said.
What job, exactly? When asked why no one at Project Veritas would confirm that he was the group's COO, he said, "What does it matter what position I hold there or not?"
Under Project Veritas' bylaws, officers must be elected or appointed by the board of directors. "I'm not an officer of the company," Landino said. Even though he's identifying himself as chief operating officer? "You can give anybody any title they want," Landino said. "It doesn't make you an officer."
He is, by his own account and his social-media trail, a believer in and cheerleader for the younger James O'Keefe's activities and persecution theories. "I bet the DOJ (and others) are hacked into all your accts/devices in real-time," Landino wrote in response to a Facebook post wherein O'Keefe repeated his unproven claim that the Department of Justice had leaked his emails to Mother Jones. "The legal term 'Privileged' does not apply to us common citizens."
Beneath an O'Keefe status update on his 2012 Voter ID sting videos in Vermont, Landino wrote:
The fact is there is no way the Federal Reserve Crime Network will allow a free election in the country.
Inquiries about his own past, Landino suggested, were more of the same. "Jim does a lot of good work, and it makes people pissed off," he said. "People are gonna come look at me."
Matthew Phelan, @CBMDP on Twitter, has written for Wonkette, Salon and Chemical Engineering magazine. He was previously a headline contributor at The Onion.
Liz Farkas is research analyst who independently works for Beau Dietl & Associates in New York. She has contributed to Wonkette, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, and The Rutgers Centurion, a monthly journal of conservative thought at Rutgers University co-founded by James O'Keefe III.
[James O'Keefe photo via AP; John Landino photo via LinkedIn]