Alex Jones’s attempts to shield his fortune from legal threats drew a warning this week from a Texas judge and new revelations about the finances of his misinformation operation.
On Thursday, a jury in Austin decided that Mr. Jones must pay more than $4 million in compensatory damages in the first of several defamation cases brought by parents of Sandy Hook victims. Days earlier, the conspiracy theorist initiated Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in Houston for Free Speech Systems, the parent company of his Infowars media network.
Lawyers for the victims’ families, who said they faced years of harassment after Mr. Jones falsely portrayed them as actors participating in a hoax, described the bankruptcy filing last week as a diversion tactic to delay other damages trials.
A lawyer for Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis died in the 2012 attack, presented records on Wednesday showing that Infowars made more than $800,000 a day at one point in 2018 (Mr. Jones said the amount stemmed from a particularly lucrative period during the Conservative Political Action Conference).
Bernard Pettingill, Jr., a forensic economist and former economics professor at the Florida Institute of Technology, testified on Friday that Mr. Jones “is a very successful man” and that his and Free Speech Systems’ combined net worth likely fell between $135 million and $270 million.
Mr. Jones’s lawyer, J. Federico Andino Reynal, said in his closing statement on Friday that “we didn’t get any evidence as to what Alex Jones actually has today, we didn’t get any of what F.S.S. has today, what money they have, what assets they have to pay.”
But Mr. Pettingill’s testimony on Friday, as well as the Free Speech Systems bankruptcy filing, yielded several key observations about Mr. Jones’s finances, including:
Since then, there has been a “nice healthy increase” in the company’s revenue, including from sales of survivalist merchandise and supplements, and it brought in more than $64 million last year, he said.
At one point, Mr. Jones was paying himself an average of $6 million a year, Mr. Pettingill said.
In its bankruptcy filing, Free Speech Systems reported $14.3 million in assets as of May 31, with $1.9 million in net income and nearly $11 million in product sales.
Free Speech Systems also had nearly $79.2 million in debts, 68 percent of it in the form of a note due to PQPR Holdings, an entity that names Mr. Jones as a manager.
Last year, after Mr. Jones was ruled liable by default in the Sandy Hook cases, he began funneling $11,000 per day into PQPR, Mr. Pettingill said.
The “gigantic” loan from PQPR, a shell company without any employees, is actually Mr. Jones “using that note as a clawback to pay himself back,” Mr. Pettingill said, although Mr. Jones’s lawyer insisted that PQPR is a real company. Another note is set to mature when Mr. Jones is 74 years old (he is now 48).
Mr. Pettingill said he had managed to track nine private Jones-associated companies, but had to cobble together information in part because Mr. Jones’s team resisted discovery orders.
“We can’t really put a finger on what he does for a living, how he actually makes his money,” he said.
“His organization chart is an inverted T, which means everything flows to Alex Jones. Alex Jones made all the major decisions, and I think Alex Jones knows where the money is,” Mr. Pettingill said. “He can say he’s broke, he has no money, but we know that’s not correct.”
The judge in the Austin case, Maya Guerra Gamble, chastised Mr. Jones in court on Wednesday for claiming under oath that he was bankrupt when the issue had yet to be adjudicated.
“You may not tell this jury that you are bankrupt — that is also not true,” Ms. Gamble told Mr. Jones after admonishing him for lying that he had complied with discovery requirements.
Mr. Jones and associates such as the Genesis Communications Network, which helped syndicate his show for decades, have claimed to be down to the financial wire, using the defamation cases as an opportunity to beg fans for donations.
Mr. Jones has complained that his revenue plunged after he was barred from major social media platforms in 2018. Mark Bankston, a lawyer for the families, pushed back in court on Wednesday: “Well, after your deplatforming, your numbers keep getting better,” he said.
Mr. Pettingill concurred on Friday, saying that Mr. Jones’s “rabid” fans had helped keep his revenue constant even after he was removed from the platforms, in part through donation drives and merchandise sales during the Covid-19 pandemic. Wesley Ball, a lawyer for the family, noted later in his closing statement that his legal team had come across a text message showing that Mr. Jones had “made almost $4 million in one week, years after he was kicked off his platforms.”
Source: The New York Times