The right-wing activist group Project Veritas sued its creator, James O’Keefe, on Wednesday, alleging he breached his employment agreement by starting a competing organization and courting funders while still on Project Veritas’ payroll.
“Being known as the founder of an organization does not entitle that person to run amok and put his own interests ahead of that organization,” the lawsuit said. “Defendant James O’Keefe failed in his duties to Plaintiff, Project Veritas, causing it serious and significant damage.”
According to the lawsuit, O’Keefe was placed on paid leave by the Project Veritas board of directors on February 6 after employees complained that he mismanaged finances, targeted female employees, and “behaved unprofessionally during team meetings, including by screaming at coworkers and belittling them and their contributions to Project Veritas.”
Employees also claimed O’Keefe had “strained relationships with several donors because he was routinely late for meetings and rude at VIP events designed to give donors extra access to O’Keefe,” according to the lawsuit.
The complaint also accused O’Keefe of diverting business monies to cover his personal expenses. The suit claims, among other things, that O’Keefe used a company credit card to book opulent hotel rooms and private car services; flew first class on Project Veritas’ dime in cases where the flight was not covered by the company’s policy for approving first-class flights; and directed Project Veritas to pay more than $10,000 for a helicopter ride from New York to Maine.
According to the lawsuit, he racked up almost $19,000 in personal spending on the company card after his authority to use it was withdrawn when he was placed on paid leave on February 6.
Later that month, O’Keefe established the O’Keefe Media Organization, which is also named as a defendant in the case, along with two other Veritas staffers who worked on the initiative.
The O’Keefe Media Organization competes directly with Project Veritas, which Project Veritas claims is a violation of O’Keefe’s employment contract. According to the lawsuit, O’Keefe also solicited contributions using a secret list kept by Project Veritas.
“O’Keefe has and continues to solicit Project Veritas’s donors, employees and contractors, in direct violation of his Employment Agreement, for and on behalf of OMG,” the lawsuit alleged.
O’Keefe was still on Project Veritas’ payroll during this time. According to the lawsuit, he remained on the board until April 24 and then was fired on May 15.
The conservative personality however has been saying otherwise since he was placed on leave in February. He informed Trump adviser turned podcaster Stephen Bannon that he had been “removed,” and announced on radio host Mark Levin’s show that he had been “ousted.” On comedian Russell Brand’s podcast, O’Keefe said he had been “thrown out.”
At times, he would claim he was removed after his sting operation with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
O’Keefe gained to popularity on the right in 2009, when he used a pimp costume to target the left-wing organizing group ACORN. In the aftermath of the incident, ACORN declared bankruptcy, and O’Keefe and his videos aimed at perceived opponents of the right became regulars on conservative media outlets like Fox News.
However, O’Keefe’s burgeoning celebrity disguised discontent among some Project Veritas employees, which he had created as a charity in 2010 to support his stings. Unhappy employees petitioned the board with a list of charges against O’Keefe in February, claiming he exposed staffers to “public crucifixion” when he was displeased.
Earlier this month, Project Veritas agreed to resolve two federal complaints accusing it of underpaying employees and having a “highly sexualized” work environment. According to court documents, Project Veritas agreed to pay $270,000 to settle the claim, with a human resources and payroll company that cooperated with the organization contributing $15,000. A little more than $213,000 will be shared among six former employees, with the remainder going to legal bills.
A sexual harassment complaint filed concurrently with the labor suit on behalf of Antonietta Zappier, a former Project Veritas employee, was “voluntarily dismissed,” according to a court filing dated Tuesday. Her attorney stated that the parties had reached a “amicable settlement,” but that the details were private.
After O’Keefe started Project Veritas in 2010, it immediately became an essential part of the right-wing political and media ecosystem. It has carried out sting operations against perceived enemies such as Planned Parenthood, Pfizer, and major media outlets.
A number of its efforts have also backfired on the organization, including a botched attempt in 2017 to plant a bogus sexual misconduct claim in the Washington Post against then-US Senate candidate Roy Moore.
In addition, Project Veritas is suing two former Project Veritas communications employees, R.C. Anthony Iatropoulos and Maxwell. According to the lawsuit, the two men, like O’Keefe, utilized Project Veritas’ resources to form the competing group and refused to return Project Veritas laptops used to set up O’Keefe’s new organization.
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