Jacob Wohl scored headlines with claims of managing millions of dollars as a teenage hedge fund owner. Even President Donald Trump has retweeted his financial commentary. Now the 20-year-old is trying to parlay his reputation as a hedge fund wunderkind into a career in conservative media.
But what Wohl doesn’t mention is that the hedge funds he says he founded as a teenager have faced national and state investigations, due in part to customers who claimed Wohl scammed them. A series of Craigslist ads solicited models to flatter his potential clients and a set of salacious websites registered to his name promoted models called “Wohl Girls,” one of whom alleged that Wohl posted her pictures without her permission.
Since then he’s founded a conspiracy-heavy conservative blog which, last week was revealed as having plagiarized its code of ethics from ProPublica.
Wohl’s public posturing began years earlier. In 2016, at 18, he was calling himself “Wohl of Wall Street” when, like his namesake, he ran into some regulatory trouble.
Wohl was investigated by the National Futures Association, a government-authorized financial regulator that looks for fraud and responds to investor complaints. NFA started looking into Wohl after they reviewed promotional material for his fledgling hedge fund, NeX Capital Management. A series of NeX videos were “unbalanced in their presentation of profit potential and risk of loss” for investors, the NFA claimed in a 2016 filing before its internal Business Conduct Committee, which rules on disciplinary issues (PDF). The NFA added that Wohl claimed to have acted as a fund manager before he or NeX were registered to do so.
The NFA also cited a complaint from an investor, who claimed he wired Wohl $75,000, which Wohl claimed had grown to $89,500 in just months. But when the investor tried to withdraw his money, Wohl allegedly sent back a meager $44,000, blaming the difference on losses. “Wohl Capital’s trading account appeared to have made, not lost, money overall,” the NFA wrote.
Other NeX claims might have tipped off the regulators.
An archived version of NeX’s website from several months before the investigation suggests Wohl inflated his credentials. “>10 Years Trading Experience (Across Many Asset Classes)” his bio on the website read. The claim implied Wohl started investing at age 8.
NFA agents showed up at NeX’s supposed offices, which turned out to be a Los Angeles home, where no one answered. Wohl did not return their emails or phone calls. When the NFA returned to the home the following day, “the exam team noticed someone at the second floor window who appeared to be taking photos or a video of the exam team,” according to the filing. They soon received a stern phone call from Wohl’s father, a lawyer, who allegedly threatened to call the police on the regulators, warning them to “stay away or else.”
Wohl’s father allegedly followed up with an email accusing the NFA of “stalking and harassing Jacob and our family repeatedly, at our homes” and “demanding a meeting that is not going to take place under any circumstances.” Wohl’s father also told the agency he had “initiated a formal complaint with LAPD, and they are now investigating this matter,” and that he would “also seek a permanent restraining order in court, the violation of which will result in criminal penalties.”
Wohl’s father accused the NFA of “regulatory thuggery,” in an interview with Yahoo News, adding that he didn’t want Wohl “to be bullied and harassed.” In early 2017, the NFA gave Wohl a lifetime ban from registering with them.
The Arizona Corporation Commission also slapped Wohl and his businesses with a cease and desist order in late 2016, accusing them of violating the Securities Act, by selling unregistered securities. Wohl’s former clients in the state claimed they had invested with him after he represented his company as managing 178 accounts with up to $10 million in assets. The ACC said Wohl had no more than 13 accounts with a combined $500,000 in assets. When those clients became suspicious and asked for a refund, they only received about half their money back, according to the ACC complaint.
The ACC also pointed to another Wohl-run firm called Montgomery Assets. Montgomery’s Craigslist ads described it as a real estate investing firm whose proprietors had 35 years of flipping homes, when the company’s two principal employees (18-year-old Wohl and his 27-year-old colleague) had only been alive a combined 45 years. A Montgomery client told the ACC that once she started doing business with the company, Wohl sent her a letter warning of an upcoming “volatility event” in the market, and urging her to sell all her other investments and pour her money into Montgomery’s special promissory notes.
Wohl agreed to a consent decree in the case, which included more than $32,000 in fines and restitution.
Wohl also drew media attention for claiming to travel with “Instagram models” and for hiring a “Director of Fun” (a beautiful woman who featured in a now-deleted NeX video) to interact with clients, ValueWalk previously reported.
Wohl told The Daily Beast his companies had hired models for events, but said the models served no other purpose.
“Yes, we hired promotional models for conferences because that’s a very common and accepted practice in business across many industries,” he said. “That’s it. Every other kooky claim is spurious garbage.”
Montgomery Assets also appeared to advertise for bikini models on Craigslist, according to ads flagged by Twitter users.
“We need models for promo modeling events including conferences, trade shows, seminars, etc.,” read one ad on an Orange County, California, Craigslist page. “We also have other modeling opportunities including bikini modeling and fashion modeling if you fit the type for that sort of modeling.”
The website registry database DomainTools shows a number of websites registered to Wohl’s name. Some are definitely Wohl’s, including the domain for his short-lived media outlet Offended America, and domains that are described in the ACC filing as belonging to his businesses. Others, with names like “WohlGirls.com” and “MelanieRiosManagement.com” (the name of a porn actress), appeared to solicit more salacious business.
Wohl distanced himself from an unspecified set of websites and posts.
“Fake websites and craigslist ads were posted by trolls of mine in 2016 and and I immediately reported them to the FBI,” Wohl told The Daily Beast.
He declined to specify which websites and ads were the alleged frauds, and declined to answer further questions.
But one of the more salacious websites registered under his name appears to have been operational, and hosted intimate pictures of at least one woman. In summer 2016, WohlGirls.com uploaded pictures of its “Wohl Girl of the Month.” The post, which showed the young woman in a bra, included her social media handle and described her as “one of the newest additions to the agency.”
The woman’s mother, who spoke to The Daily Beast under the condition of anonymity, said the woman had not consented to have her pictures featured that way.
“She’s an attractive young woman,” the woman’s mother said. “He reached out to her and said, ‘I can make you Insta-famous and get you into modeling, and thereby gain you companies that would want you to rep their products on Instagram.’”
Wohl allegedly offered to set up a professional modeling page, and the young woman, who was interested in modeling, agreed.
But instead “he took some of her photos, either from Snapchat or Instagram that she had posted and created a page for her called the ‘Wohl Girl’ of the month,” she said. “From there, he put up photos and made the page seem inappropriate and dangerous.”
The young woman’s mother said she called Wohl. “I had no info on him,” she said. “I thought he was probably an older man trying to exploit a young woman. When I contacted him on the phone, I could tell he was young and idiotic. I told him, you take that site down, you take any reference to her out of your world or else. He got very scared and was like, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,’ and apologized profusely and took it down.”
Once again, Wohl allegedly presented himself as a more experienced businessman.
“He represented himself to my daughter to be somebody who was in investment management, was a very successful businessman, ran a modeling agency, had many contacts that could help her gain product endorsement gigs, and completely and utterly misrepresented himself.”
After Trump’s election, Wohl became something of an unpaid hype-man for the president, replying to his tweets en masse. Trump has retweeted at least two of Wohl’s tweets praising him for stock market gains.
Last fall, Wohl launched himself into another new venture, this time with Offended America, a conservative news site, which later rebranded The Washington Reporter, where he currently lists himself as editor in chief. Its coverage, mostly authored by Wohl, skews conspiratorial (“Obama Ordered FBI Coverup of Spy Gate” reads one headline on the current homepage) and conservative (“Jacob Wohl: The Iraq War Was Moral, Just and Successful,” reads another).
Last week, Twitter users realized the site’s “code of ethics” had been plagiarized in full from the journalism nonprofit ProPublica.
“I didn’t create that part of the website, but if our policy is similar to that of another reputable site, I think that’s fantastic,” Wohl told Gizmodo.
Wohl said he would not respond to further questions “about this non-news.”
“Gossip about whether or not I date Instagram models is none of your concern,” he said.
No one had accused him of dating Instagram models.