Do the Hustle

Gregg Phillips, Donald Trump’s Voter Fraud Guru, Blasted as a ‘Revolving Door Hustler’

Making outlandish claims about illegal votes is only the latest in a long line of controversies Gregg Phillips has found himself in.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Friday to laud Gregg Phillips, the creator of an “anti-vote fraud” app who has repeatedly claimed that 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election, but has refused to make public any data or evidence to prove it.

Perhaps Trump shouldn’t be so quick to believe Phillips, who has twice served in state government—once in Mississippi, once in Texas—and twice been accused of rewarding his associates, including a government document denouncing him for “facilitating an erosion of the public trust.”

Phillips is currently unable to do business with the state of Texas, according to Kevin Lyons, a spokesman for the Texas Comptroller. He told The Daily Beast on Friday that Phillips had failed to file the required paperwork this year and his right to transact business was forfeited on Sept. 23, 2016. The Guardian also reported on Friday that he owes more than $100,000 in unpaid taxes. Phillips has never been charged with any crimes.

“He’s one of our revolving door kind of hustlers,” Andrew Wheat, the research director of Texans for Public Justice, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview.

Phillips’s November tweet claiming widespread voter fraud has been used as an evidence-free talking point by right-wing sites like InfoWars and The Drudge Report to bolster the false contention that Trump would have won the popular vote if not for “illegal” voting.

Trump has repeated Phillips’s estimate several times this week, and tweeted “Gregg Phillips and crew say at least 3,000,000 votes were illegal,” despite Phillips’s repeated and strident refusal or inability to release any proof, including when asked by The Daily Beast.

It’s not a new strategy for Phillips. Over the past three decades, Phillips has frequently decried widespread waste, fraud, and abuse in government programs—then alleged to have created a program or software that purported to fix it all. After working to award millions in government contracts to his businesses or associates involved in those programs, they were quietly shuttered years later.

Phillips worked in Mississippi in the mid-1990s, when he led the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. At the time, he teamed with a man named Larry Temple, his deputy administrator. The two remained associates for years to come.

It didn’t take long for Phillips to land in trouble. In 1993, according to the Houston Chronicle, Phillips signed a $875,000 contract modification to a company named Synesis Corporation. It was for adding two mobile learning labs to an adult literacy program in the state called the LEAP program.

Then Phillips went on Synesis’ payroll. On April 26, 1995, Phillips resigned from his position and, immediately began working for Synesis, earning an $84,000 annual salary to market Synesis’ wares.

A subsequent report by the Mississippi Legislature concluded, “Mr. Phillips’s actions create the appearance of impropriety, facilitating an erosion of the public trust… [that] could constitute a violation of state ethics laws.”

Phillips insisted to The Guardian that he “was fully cleared by the MS [Mississippi] ethics commission of any wrongdoing.”

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The LEAP program was eventually killed. In 1996, the inspector general of the federal Department of Health and Human Services found GEDs earned by the program cost the state about $117,000 per student (PDF).

According to The Guardian, in 1995 Phillips was being sought for a job as the head of human services in Alabama after his resignation in Mississippi. The Birmingham News implored then-Governor Fob James not to hire him, citing Phillips’s “shaky qualifications and a suspect track record.”

When he didn’t get the job, Phillips went into the private sector. Temple, his former deputy, went to work for the Texas Workforce Commission, where he is now the executive director of the taxpayer-funded agency.

Temple’s presence at the Commission became relevant for the next project upon which Phillips would embark: setting up a company called Enterject in 2000.

Enterject was created as a “management consulting services” company where Phillips worked alongside Paige Harkins, the daughter of real-estate developer Gary Harkins and a friend of Larry Temple.

As detailed in an investigative story from The Houston Chronicle, during Temple’s tenure at the Texas Workforce Commission, he helped his former colleague Phillips at Enterject earn $2.7 million in job-training grants from the commission. Enterject also got a separate $670,000 contract managing labor certificates for immigrants. These respective incidents occurred in 2001 and 2002.

These deals became such a concern that his secretary Sharon Reininger resorted to being a de-facto whistleblower about years of accrued handouts to his friends.

The Chronicle quotes from an internal TWC audit. In it, Reininger raised questions about whether Temple was “providing personal friends with proprietary information to give them an advantage in the contract procurement process.”

When The Daily Beast attempted to reach Temple on Friday, a representative took a message and said that he was traveling. The Daily Beast could also not reach Phillips for comment for this story.

The cloud over Phillips’s work for the TWC did not prevent him from getting more government jobs in Texas.

“This is a state that led the free world for a long time in killing felons,” Wheat said in his interview with The Daily Beast. “There seems to be no death sentence for bad contractors and they just keep coming back for more.”

According to his LinkedIn page, Phillips was then hired in 2003 as executive deputy commissioner at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission after maintaining a close relationship with Temple at TWC. During his brief tenure in this position—Phillips was out of the job by August 2004—he reportedly awarded a $1.2 million consulting contract to Accenture.

Accenture used a lobbyist named Strategic Partnerships Inc. of Austin to seek out the contract. Strategic Partnerships had recently hired Paige Harkins, previously at Enterject, for the role of advising companies how to get the very contracts that Phillips was awarding.

Strategic Partnerships’ founding partner Mary Scott Nabers claimed to the Chronicle that Harkins never directly lobbied Phillips and said she was unaware of what Phillips had done in Mississippi.

“We really sought her out because we did not know what they had done in Mississippi, did not know anything about Gregg, did not know how to advise all of our clients, all of whom were interested in the consolidation,” Nabers said at the time.

The Daily Beast has requested comment from Nabers through a representative of Strategic Partnerships, but the call was not returned at press time.

Nabers told the Chronicle that Harkins told her she and Phillips had cut all previous business ties with their previous endeavor, Enterject. All the while, on paper, Phillips was still involved with the company. He has listed himself as the chief executive of GHT Development Inc. on his own LinkedIn page, which owned the registration for Enterject’s website, according to the Chronicle.

According to his LinkedIn page, Phillips became chairman of his own company, AutoGov, by September of 2004.

By August 2007, according to The Dallas Morning News, Phillips had pitched a plan to automate the state’s juvenile inmate classification system. Just over a week later, the Texas Youth Commission had approved a no-bid $275,000 contract to AutoGov, bypassing the state’s legislative funding rules.

A number of inappropriate placements at the time were creating unsafe conditions for child inmates in state custody, and a fast fix was needed, Phillips contended.

When a reporter for The Dallas Morning News inquired with the organization why Phillips—only months into the automation game—had been awarded a contract without so much as a background check, the agency’s leader, Jay Kimbrough said, “It doesn’t matter to me if Gregg Phillips was on the grassy knoll in Dallas, Texas, if he has a solution that is good for the youth of TYC.”

In the same article, Phillips says that he was never asked by TYC staff to submit paperwork. Jim Hurley, a spokesman for TYC, is quoted in the Morning News piece saying it is “inconceivable” the staff would not look into the company before signing the contract.

Shortly thereafter, in a July 2009 report from the Sunset Advisory Commision (PDF), an agency within the Texas legislature that makes recommendations for cutting or continuing state agency funding, Texas state representatives determined that AutoGov’s system was not a sufficient replacement for the old one.

“In addition, in September 2008, TYC piloted its new automated placement system, Autogov, but because of significant problems with the new system, TYC must operate both its old and new placement systems,” the report read. “Without a comprehensive placement policy and process in place, TYC cannot ensure youth are placed based on risk, need, and location of family resources.”

Despite Autogov’s failure at the TYC, it received another government contract in 2009. This time, Phillips’s company was awarded at least $207,000 in more no-bid funds for software that was supposed to guarantee the integrity of the application process for food stamp and other welfare program participants.

Strangely, officials who award the contract cited Phillips’s “experience” with the Texas Youth Commission as a reason for their decision.

Phillips’s new national prominence is built in part on his voter fraud app, the origins of which date back to 2012 when Politico reported he was unveiling a new project called VoteStand. At the time, Phillips was involved with the Winning Our Future PAC, which supported Newt Gingrich’s campaign and received funding from the family of noted Republican booster Sheldon Adelson.

“People will have somewhere to turn if they see voter fraud or something that is not quite right in their eyes,” Phillips said at the time. “We think this will help us leave a positive legacy this election cycle, rather than just putting up a bunch of ads.”

Rick Tyler, who also worked on the PAC and went on to do communications for Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign, told The Daily Beast he thought Phillips “was engaged in voter list analytics at that point” when asked if Phillips had started working on the app during their time at the PAC.

He said he thought the project was part of Phillips’s “business.”

Now, as Phillips’s new business has become a national talking point, Wheat wasn’t really surprised to see him up to his old tricks—including tweeting recent assertions that “Israelis impersonated Russians” involved in election hacking and that President Obama ordered the hacking of a number of state election databases.

“We’ve got a number of these kind of people here and I guess nationally—the Twitter stuff they pull out of their butt and whatnot,” Wheat told The Daily Beast.

“Spewing utter gibberish into the Twittersphere and then being surprised when people try to fact check him.”

Phillips insisted in a conversation with The Daily Beast earlier this week that he’s “not a politician” and “not a celebrity” and that he’s “just an ordinary citizen” who wants to “clean [elections] up and fix it.” He said he’d love for the government to check his database with a government list of dangerous actors, like the one used by the Department of Homeland Security.

“If there can be legislation to do a check, we have the technology to do it,” he said. “We can do it in a nanosecond.”

Phillips didn’t provide access to his data or algorithm when repeatedly asked by The Daily Beast.