PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Rhode Island Republican fundraiser and former congressional candidate was arraigned Friday on accusations he conducted a fundraising “scheme,” converting more than $1 million in donations for personal use.
H. Russell Taub has already signed an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty next month, though he entered an initial plea of not guilty at his arraignment Friday.
Prosecutors allege Taub, who ran unsuccessfully against Congressman David Cicilline in 2016, created two political action committees (PACs) designed to raise money to get Republicans elected.
He collected $1.6 million in donations between December 2016 and November 2018, but then allegedly put more than $1 million in his own bank accounts, spending the cash on “international and domestic air travel, hotels, restaurants, clothing, cigars, adult entertainment and escort services.”
He was released on bail after being charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of violating the Federal Election Act.
“Mr. Taub has no statement at this time,” attorney Eric Levine said outside court, with Taub standing behind him. “If and when that changes we’ll let you know.”
Taub’s other attorney, Jeff Pine, confirmed Taub’s plans to change his plea next month but said Taub has no message for the donors that were allegedly duped.
“That will be addressed at a future time,” Pine said when asked if the donors would be paid back.
According to court documents, one married couple from Ohio donated $1.2 million to Taub’s PACs after being told: “100% of donations were used to support candidates.”
Watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civil Trust (FACT) initially filed a complaint about Taub last July, alleging to the FEC he was running a “scam” PAC. Even after that complaint, Taub was invited to the White House for a state leadership day with other Rhode Island leaders, listed as “The Honorable Harold Taub” on a press release about the event at the time.
Asked about the invitation on Thursday, a White House spokesperson who declined to be identified said: “The guest lists for each meeting came from the recommendation of various state organizations and outside groups.”
Lee Ann Sennick, the Republican national committeewoman for the Rhode Island GOP, said the official state Republican Party was not consulted before that visit.
“We didn’t know about that ahead of time,” Sennick said Friday during a taping of Newsmakers. “I did express concerns, but it was after the fact because we didn’t know. … We were not asked about that and we were not aware that that was happening.”
She said she believed prominent Republicans and donors who attended Taub’s fundraisers, including a lobster dinner last summer featuring Congressman Pete Sessions, thought they were genuinely donating to Republican causes.
“He talked a big game,” Sennick said. “He was the kind of person who would drop names a lot, he would talk about places he’d been, events he’d gone to. … That was impressive to some people.”
Ted Nesi and Tim White contributed to this report.