Epoch Times Executive Accused of Laundering $67 Million

Epoch Times Executive Accused of Laundering $67 Million

A top executive at The Epoch Times, a conservative media company, has been arrested and charged with laundering at least $67 million in stolen money through company accounts in a multiyear scheme to lift financial returns.

A federal grand jury indicted Weidong Guan, also known as Bill Guan, on one count of money laundering, as well as two counts of bank fraud. The accusations say he lied to a financial institution about the source of the cash, some of which was allegedly pilfered through fraudulently obtained unemployment benefits. The money increased The Epoch Times’s revenue by nearly 400 percent in just one year, according to the Justice Department.

Mr. Guan, its chief financial officer, was arrested on Monday and the indictment, handed up on May 23, was unsealed. He entered a plea of not guilty. His lawyer, a federal public defender, declined to comment. If convicted, Mr. Guan faces a maximum sentence of 20 years for the money-laundering charge and 30 years for each bank fraud charge.

The Epoch Times is affiliated with Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned in China, and was for years an obscure, free print newspaper dedicated largely to criticizing the Chinese Communist Party. In recent years the outlet transformed itself into a prominent supporter of Donald J. Trump and his allies on the right.

According to prosecutors, Mr. Guan ran a “sprawling, transnational scheme” over four years to buy prepaid debit cards on the internet at a discount using cryptocurrency and then deposit the cards’ money into both personal and company accounts. The debit cards were loaded with illegally obtained funds, prosecutors said, some of which was fraudulently obtained unemployment insurance benefits.

Damian Williams, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the charges represented the government’s “commitment to vigorously enforcing the laws against those who facilitate fraud through money laundering and to protecting the integrity of the U.S. financial system.”

Mr. Guan, 61, of Secaucus, N.J., was in custody Monday evening facing a $3 million bail package, including a $250,000 cash deposit, according to a spokesman for the Manhattan federal court. Once released, Mr. Guan must remain in home detention, per terms of his bond.

In a statement, The Epoch Times said it “has a guiding principle that elevates integrity in its dealings above everything else,” but added that it “intends to and will fully cooperate with any investigation dealing with the allegations against Mr. Guan.” The company said it had suspended Mr. Guan while the matter was still pending.

The Justice Department said “the charges do not relate to the media company’s newsgathering activities.” No other employees were named in the indictment.

The organization publishes The Epoch Times newspaper, runs a digital news site by the same name, produces numerous podcasts and operates the broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television, also known as NTD.

It was founded in 2000 in Georgia by its current chief executive, John Tang, then a Georgia Tech graduate student and a practitioner of Falun Gong, a movement that is banned in China, where its members face persecution.

During the 2016 election, the publication embraced Mr. Trump’s candidacy, in the hope that as president he would bring down the Communist Party, former Epoch Times staff members told The New York Times in 2020. After Mr. Trump’s victory, the news organization served as an enthusiastic supporter, amplifying the administration’s messaging and establishing itself as a prominent outlet on the right.

It also became a prominent spreader of right-wing conspiracy theories, particularly on social media, and especially on Facebook, where the company built an extensive and complex network of pages that drew sometimes-enormous audiences with viral content and extensive advertising.

In 2019, Facebook banned the company from advertising on the platform after it was found to be obscuring its ad purchases in violation of transparency requirements, but it continued to thrive on other platforms. Last year, the company said it was the fourth-largest newspaper in the United States by number of subscriptions, a number that could not be verified because The Epoch Times does not participate in industry audits.

The Justice Department said the money-laundering scheme, starting in 2020 and running through last month, corresponded with a period of huge financial growth for the organization. In 2020, total revenue increased to $71 million from just $15 million the year before, according to federal tax filings, a 373 percent increase. The following year, revenue jumped again, by more than 70 percent, to $121 million. Those tax filings were signed by Mr. Guan in his capacity as the organization’s top financial executive.

Mr. Guan and other representatives frequently attributed the financial results to growth in paid circulation or donations from supporters, at one point sending a letter to a member of Congress stating that “subscriptions constitute the major portion” of the increase.”

But federal prosecutors said that much of the money instead came from a complex criminal scheme, in which Mr. Guan employed an overseas-based team called “Make Money Online” or MMO.

When banks and cryptocurrency trading platforms contacted Mr. Guan about the large number of suspicious transactions involving the company’s accounts, he repeatedly denied any irregularity, prosecutors said. In one instance, he told one bank that the deposits represented “more and more donations from our supporters because more and more people like our media,” according to the indictment.

Mr. Guan also deposited $16.7 million of the proceeds into his personal accounts, income that he did not report on his tax filings.

The Epoch Times has been expanding its footprint in American politics, investing in 2024 campaign coverage and extensive billboard-advertising campaigns in cities across the country. As it has become a widely read media outlet on the right, it has also found supporters in Republican politics beyond Mr. Trump.

In January, Ron Johnson, the Republican senator from Wisconsin, hosted a screening of “The Real Story of January 6,” a film produced by The Epoch Times’s streaming platform that promotes a variety of right-wing conspiracy theories about the 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Last year, Representative Ralph Norman, a Republican of South Carolina, read a statement into the Congressional Record recognizing The Epoch Times for its “best practices and highest principles of journalism.”

“This is all about one word,” Mr. Norman said in his statement: “Freedom.”

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