The publisher of BUSTED IN AUSTIN, who was busted in Austin for running scam Political Action Committees (PACs), has been sentenced to three years in federal prison.
Kyle Gerald Prall, 39, was charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, making false statements, and falsification of federal records. He pleaded guilty in May, and was sentenced on October 29, the Austin American Statesman reports.
The indictment stems from three PACs that Prall set up during the 2016 presidential campaign.
It so happens that Prall’s PACs backed all three of the major candidates in the race. Perhaps he was genuinely a fan of Hillary, Bernie, and The Donald, and just wanted to help all of them win. But it looks like they were merely bogus —like the Conservative Strikeforce previously profiled here in Washington Babylon.
“Ultimately, what these scam PACs are doing is diverting money from candidates and legitimate causes in order to line the pockets of their dirtbag directors,” explains Brendan Fischer of the ethics watchdog group Campaign Legal Center.
The indictment alleges that Prall raised more than $500,000 from his three PACs, then fraudulently diverted more than half of it for personal use.
Most of that money ($300,000) was courtesy of donations to Prall’s “Feel the Bern Committee To Elect Bernie Sanders.”
According to the indictment, only $4,000 of the Feel the Bern donations went towards the Sandernista cause, while Prall pocketed more than $100,000 for himself.
Prall’s Hillary PAC—known as “HC4President”—hauled in about $73,000, with more than $42,000 going to Prall — for a trip to Florida with his girlfriend and plane tickets to Belize — the indictment says and less than $1,100 spent on helping HC lose.
His “Trump Victory” PAC — later renamed “Make America Great” — raised $165,000. It appears Prall transferred all of that to accounts he controlled.
All this alleged Scam PAC dirtbaggery isn’t Prall’s first run-in with the law. He has previous convictions for underage drinking (you can get arrested for that?), selling weed, breaking into a car, and drunk driving, as Reuters reported in 2012.
Reuters also published a handout produced by the Sheriff’s Office in McLean County, Texas, featuring a collage of Prall’s various mugshots over the years.
It was therefore a logical move when Prall entered the emerging field of mugshot publishing in 2009, partnering with fellow Austinite Martin J. Ward to produce Busted in Austin, a tabloid consisting of mugshots harvested from the public domain records of local law enforcement agencies. Brandishing the slogan “Getting arrested isn’t funny… but the mug shots are,” it sold for $1 at local convenience stores.
Most of the busted persons who appeared in the rag didn’t think it was all that funny, of course. And neither did Jim Rigby, a local Presbyterian minister who described it as the “hideous practice of making money off the misery of others.”
But quickie mart denizens ate it up, so in 2010 the duo expanded their operations to the Dallas-Fort Worth market with the launch of their second mugshot tabloid, MUGLY. As with BUSTED IN AUSTIN, MUGLY had a sense of humor, with headings such as “Handsome Hooligans,” “Mugly Maidens,” Heavenly Hair,” and “Eyes Wide Shut.” They insulted their unwitting models as “crack-addled CapMetro riding miscreants, stoned hipsters, dude bros with three-plus DWIs,” and other colorful epithets.
To his credit, Prall even published his own mugshot after being busted yet again for driving while intoxicated in July 2015. (According to the website Class Action Against Mugshot Websites.)
As co-publisher Ward explained to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “We’re not traditional. We don’t have degrees in English literature over here. We didn’t go to fancy schools of journalism, and we don’t wear tweed. I think that’s abundantly obvious. A lot of people will look down their noses because of that. That’s fine, because there’s already papers for those guys.”
By the time MUGLY hit the stands, both tabloids were already online, making each edition’s mugshots visible to anyone with access to the internet—such as employers vetting prospective employees. Capitalism being what it is, this naturally led to what the American Bar Association called an “online extortion scheme,” with BustedinAustin.com and other online mugshot publishers generating revenue by charging people to have their job-preventing mugshot removed.
Judging from a casual survey of online comments, the personal damage done by online mugshot publishing is substantial. FORT WORTH WEEKLY online commenter “Darryl,” for example, implored God to “Destroy Kyle Prall and his entire family.”
As controversy gradually mounted over the ethics of mugshot publishing, Prall began to defend his tabloids as a being a public service, claiming them to be “a valuable asset to local law enforcement,” Reuters reported.
BustedinAustin.com declared: “Our dedication to providing criminal justice has led to breakthroughs in cold cases, and numerous tips on robberies, sex crimes and even murders.”
Eventually, the BUSTED IN AUSTIN and MUGLY websites ceased publishing, but their extensive archive of mugshot files continued to be mined for profit. The tabloid format was replaced by a network of online databases under the Busted! brand, which claims to “synergize multiple sources of law enforcement data in one convenient location.” Again, it’s all framed as a lofty public service: “It’s our mission at Busted! to help make crime awareness part of your everyday life in keeping yourself and family safe.”
By the time the 2016 Presidential election circus rolled around, Prall discovered scam PACs as another business model. Unfortunately for him, the legality of this particular business model is finally being tested in the courts.
Prall is one of only five people who have ever been indicted for running scam PACs, and all of the indictments have been within the past year.
However, a federal court ruling earlier this year could encourage more scam PACs, and just in time for next year’s elections. “U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan struck down the Federal Election Commission’s rules that prohibited unauthorized political committees from using a candidate’s name,” NPR reports. On Twitter, FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub summarized the decision: “Unauthorized committees still can’t have candidate names anywhere in their formal names. But now they can use them everywhere else.”