By JENNIFER PELTZ
NEW YORK (AP) — Two Florida residents have pleaded guilty in a scheme to peddle a diary and other items belonging to President Joe Biden’s daughter to the conservative group Project Veritas for $40,000, prosecutors said Thursday.
Aimee Harris and Robert Kurlander pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport stolen property across state lines, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams’ office said.
“Harris and Kurlander sought to profit from their theft of another person’s personal property, and they now stand convicted of a federal felony as a result,” Williams said in a statement.
Harris’ lawyer, Sam Talkin, said she “has accepted responsibility for her conduct and looks forward to moving on with her life.” Kurlander’s lawyer, Florian Miedel, declined to comment.
Harris, 40, of Palm Beach, and Kurlander, 58, face the possibility of up to five years in prison when sentenced.
While authorities didn’t identify Ashley Biden or the organization that paid, the details of the investigation have been laid out in court filings and public statements from Project Veritas.
Ashley Biden was moving out of a friend’s Delray Beach, Florida, home in spring 2020 when she stored the diary, tax records, a digital device with family photos, a cellphone and other items there, prosecutors said in a court filing.
They said Harris then moved into the same room, found the items and got in touch with Kurlander, who enthused in a text message that he would help her make a “ton of money” from selling it, adding an expletive before “ton.”
That September, he contacted Project Veritas, which asked for pictures of the material and then paid for the two to bring the diary and photos to a New York luxury hotel, prosecutors said.
Project Veritas staffers met with Kurlander and Harris in New York and agreed to pay an initial $10,000, saying more money could come if they retrieved more of Ashley Biden’s items from the home, partly in order to authenticate the diary, according to the court filing.
Back in Florida, Kurlander texted Harris a blunt assessment of what Project Veritas would make of the acquisition, prosecutors said.
“They are in a sketchy business and here they are taking what’s literally a stolen diary and info … and trying to make a story that will ruin” Ashley Biden’s life and possibly affect the impending presidential election, he wrote, according to the court papers. He added that the two needed “to tread even more carefully” and get “anything worthwhile” out of the house where it was stored, according to the court papers.
Prosecutors said Kurlander and Harris took Ashley Biden’s stored tax documents, clothes and luggage as Kurlander pressed Project Veritas in a message to commit to a bigger payout: “We are taking huge risks. This isn’t fair.”
A Project Veritas staffer soon flew to Florida, the employee shipped the items to New York and the group paid Harris and Kurlander $20,000 apiece, prosecutors said.
Project Veritas identifies itself as a news organization. It is best known for conducting hidden camera stings that have embarrassed news outlets, labor organizations and Democratic politicians.
“Project Veritas’s news gathering was ethical and legal” in the diary affair, the group said in a statement Thursday. The organization said earlier that it turned the journal over to law enforcement after receiving it from “tipsters” who maintained that it had been abandoned in a room.
“A journalist’s lawful receipt of material later alleged to be stolen is routine, commonplace and protected by the First Amendment,” Project Veritas added Thursday.
Neither Project Veritas nor any staffers have been charged with a crime.
The FBI searched the group’s New York offices and the homes of some of its employees as part of the investigation. A court in New York appointed a former federal judge to review material that was seized in those searches, so as to ensure that investigators couldn’t look at material protected by journalistic or attorney-client privileges.
Generally, media organizations aren’t culpable for receiving material that might have been stolen, if they weren’t involved in the theft. But there can be criminal liability for orchestrating theft and then knowingly paying for stolen material.
“There is no First Amendment protection for the theft and interstate transport of stolen property,” the U.S. attorney’s office wrote in a court filing last year.
O’Keefe has said that Project Veritas ultimately could not confirm that the diary belonged to Ashley Biden and did not publish information from it.
He added that there was “no doubt Project Veritas acted appropriately at each and every step.”
Ashley Biden, a social worker, is the daughter of the president and of first lady Jill Biden. His eldest daughter and his first wife were killed in a 1972 car accident.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed from Philadelphia.
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