A local cell phone company/PAC receiving emergency federal funds brags about donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to right-wing causes — so is Patriot Mobile using monies from the PPP (Payroll Protection Program) to support political endeavors?
You may know Patriot Mobile as the Grapevine-based PAC/call phone company whose massive donations have helped Christian Nationalists take over 11 North Texas school boards the last two years. Patriot Mobile’s mobilization started not long after Steve Bannon, the notoriously disgraced former chief strategist for twice-impeached, soon-to-be-indicted former president Donald Trump, urged conservatives across the country to infiltrate the education system.
“School board elections are the key that picks the lock” to taking over Texas, Bannon said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas last year.
Bannon is particularly close with the cellular operation. Potential Patriot Mobile customers are encouraged to use the code word “BANNON” for free activation on the network.
Why or how a clearly political operation received any emergency federal funds is unclear. In 2021, a $376,000 PPP loan to Patriot Mobile was forgiven by the First Financial Bank of Irving. That same year, the cell phone company/PAC says it “gave more than $550,000 to Christian conservative causes, and in 2022, Patriot Mobile is on track to give more than $1,500,000.”
Why would any bank forgive a massive loan to a company publicizing the size of its political donations, especially when they are restricted by PPP guidelines? And why does the First Financial Bank of Irving not exist online?
In 2020, when Patriot Mobile applied for the loan, the company brought in over $25 million even though it had fewer than 100,000 cellular subscribers and only 30 employees. Also, the company was considered worthy of investment, according to Kona Equity, a Hawaii-based firm that delivers data on thriving businesses. Patriot Mobile would not seem like the kind of operation in danger of collapsing if not for an infusion of federal cash, but to Trump’s government, it was.
Based on PPP guidelines, there’s another reason Patriot Mobile — with 53 “branches” in 20 states, many of which show addresses for residential homes or vacant office spaces — should have been ineligible for a payroll protection loan. Over the last three years, the cell phone company/PAC has experienced a “franchise forfeiture” twice — in California and South Dakota — due to tax evasion.
Not paying taxes appears to be something of a trend at Patriot Mobile. Former CEO Glenn Story has been charged with tax evasion three times since 2018.
Several Patriot Mobile leaders — Story, Director of Marketing Stephen Zaide, and CTO Everett Trost — did not return my requests for comment. Patriot Mobile’s listed CEO now is Ron Montgomery, a man with no cyber-footprint. He is as invisible as the treasurer, “Steve Martin,” who is not identified on the company’s public list of employees or its active LinkedIn page.
Ever since media outlets began exposing massive PPP fraud recently on a national scale, Patriot Mobile has gone mostly dark. Until it was changed to “unknown” last month, the company’s physical location was at an office space in Grapevine. When I visited last Saturday, I arrived at a door in a hall. When I knocked, a woman inside talking loudly silenced herself. The door never opened for me.
The only thing that appears to stay the same at Patriot Mobile is how often their identifying information changes. The company’s only public face, its website, once included an address and links to founders. Now, that info has been erased and replaced with a testimonial from an unidentified author about “wokeness.”
And there’s yet another disqualifying factor: The company outsources services to India and the Philippines.
Buddy Luce, former board president of the Carroll school district which encompasses Southlake, has said, “It’s not too complex. [Patriot Mobile] simply found a slick way to gather all the right-wingers’ phone numbers up, something not done at voting registrars, and make some money in the process.”
Glen Whitley agrees. The disgraced former county judge has referred to Patriot Mobile as power players in local politics. “They’re coming after Fort Worth.”
In an October interview with Story and wife Jenny Story in the New York Times, Jenny said that Patriot Mobile’s goal is complete local domination.
“If we lose Tarrant County,” she said, “we lose Texas.”
Like Glenn Story, who stepped down as Patriot Mobile CEO several months ago, Jenny relinquished her position as COO at the company less than a month after the Times’ puff piece.
Across the nation, PPP fraud is rampant. In a study, the University of Texas says that of all 11.4 million loans, about 1.4 million are possibly fraudulent, and three years after the program began, most loans, including fraudulent ones, have been forgiven.
Nonprofit newsroom ProPublica offers a form at ProPublica.org that allows concerned taxpayers to turn in companies they suspect of PPP fraud.