REAL HOUSEWIVES OF PALM BEACH
The Strange Saga of Karyn Turk, Palm Beach MAGA Socialite Charged With Scamming the Elderly
Hours after hosting a fundraiser for Roger Stone, pro-Trump pundit Karyn Turk pleaded guilty in federal court to Social Security fraud. But that is just the beginning.
Last week, a crowd of several dozen filed into Bull Bar, a divey pub in Delray Beach, Florida, for a fundraising event called “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong!” The fundraiser, which had the vibe of an American flag wholesale outlet, had been organized to raise money for Stone’s legal fees and condemn his “censorship” at the hands of the federal government (the censorship being seven counts of witness tampering, lying to Congress, and obstructing an investigation, alongside a gag order imposed by a federal judge). Audience members milled about over drinks and giant cigars, buying MAGA merchandise, and posing for photos with the indicted Republican consultant. At the end, Stone autographed a black-and-white painting, which read: “It’s Only Rock N’ Roll Baby!”
On stage that night was a blonde woman who resembles a mash-up of Tomi Lahren and Katie Couric: small-time beauty queen turned right-wing pundit Karyn Turk. In the past two years Turk, who helped organize and host the fundraiser, has become a recurring character on the fringes of the MAGA extended universe. She made a cameo appearance in Burt Reynolds’ short-lived series, In Sanity, Florida, and scored the part of “Trump Supporter” in the TV movie, Fake News: A Trump Story. More recently, she's moonlit as a guest on Bold TV, Russia Today International, and Bill Mitchell’s YourVoice America. On the latter, she's appeared alongside conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer, for whom Turk has a "girl crush," calling Ilhan Omar a “sleeper cell" and making claims like Democrats “want little girls to get raped.”
Like Stone, Turk has had her own gripes with censorship (some of her posts on social media, her husband Evan Turk said, don’t get as many views as others, a fact he attributes to the hardship of being “a conservative blonde woman”). Also like Stone, Turk has a long and complicated legal record. Just hours after her fundraiser, for example, Turk appeared in a West Palm Beach federal courthouse and pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $46,376 from her late mother’s Social Security benefits. In court documents, first reported by the Palm Beach Post, the mother’s guardian accused Turk of appropriating the funds to realize her dream of starring in “The Real Housewives of Palm Beach.” At her sentencing in December, Turk faces up to a year in jail, a year of probation, a fine of $100,000, and restitution. Her attorney, Guy Fronstin, who led Jeffrey Epstein’s defense in Florida and remained on his legal team until the billionaire’s suicide in August, said he hopes the judge will choose probation.
A review of court records shows Turk has recently been involved in a series of legal proceedings, many of them unreported. The filings include: a restraining order from her husband’s ex-wife, alleging Turk had abused her children; a defamation suit from the same woman, claiming Turk had threatened her with a Christian Louboutin stiletto and launched a harassment campaign painting her as a drug addict, “skank,” and pedophile; a wrongful-death countersuit against her mother’s retirement home; and a tenuous case against her late ex-husband’s girlfriend, claiming damages of $65,000 in a complaint a judge dismissed last week. (Turk denied wrongdoing in the restraining order and slander suit, which were later dismissed; the wrongful death papers were served last week; she plans to refile the damages complaint by Friday).
Born and raised in Miami, Turk came up working in marketing at CBS Radio and InnoMed Technologies Inc., a distributor of sleep apnea equipment. But she first broke into the public eye in 2016, when she became a broadcaster for Eye on South Florida, a news channel with a delirious mission statement, which aims to “rais[e] the bar on feel good programming that is conducive and positive to society at large, unlike other channels that flood the screens at home with content that involves violence, sex, drugs and evil.”
Later that year, Turk won a local beauty pageant, Mrs. Florida 2016, which boosted her profile, securing some sponsorship deals, TV hits, and cover stories in publications like Country Club Living and the very real periodical, StepMom Magazine. As reigning queen, Turk fundraised for various charitable causes, though wouldn't say how much she had raised or for whom (last week, Turk stepped down as "Champion of Inclusion" for Best Buddies International). The pageant declined to comment: “We no longer have any association with her,” a spokesperson said.
But between local gigs, social media, and TV hits, the conservative commentator built a large following in South Florida, with nearly 60,000 followers on Instagram (where her handle remains MrsFlorida2016). It was enough to earn her a spot on Richtopia’s ranking of the 250 Most Influential Business Journalists in the World in 2018. Turk came in at No. 241.
Not long after Turk’s beauty pageant win, her husband’s ex-wife, a preschool teacher named Meredith Turk, filed a petition for protection against the pundit, accusing her of abusing Meredith’s two children. In court documents, the ex-wife described how, after her daughter cut her hair short, Turk told the 4-year-old she “looked like a man,” “held her head underwater” during a bath, forcefully gave the girl extensions, and implemented “bizarre punishments... including making her stand in the corner for five minutes while balancing on one foot.” She claimed Turk regularly called the child “fat” and severely restricted her diet. Turk denied the charges and the petition was dismissed.
But just a few months later, the ex-wife filed a defamation suit against Turk and her husband, alleging a defamatory cyberbullying campaign and using posts from Turk’s social media as evidence. Court documents show Turk attempting to get the teacher fired by insinuating she was attracted to young boys. In one Instagram comment submitted with the complaint, Turk wrote: “‘Skank’ I used this word yesterday. It’s actually a great word and under utilized. Love using it in a sentence. Here’s one: ‘my husbands ex-wife is skank that has inappropriate relationships with teenage boys, and instead of admitting she’s a no good junkie skank, she instead chooses to spread rumors about me.’” In her response, Turk defended her right to express opinions online, citing First Amendment protections of free speech. After two years of proceedings, the ex-wife dropped her case over insurmountable legal fees.
Karyn and Evan Turk were also in spotty financial situations. Between late 2017 and 2018, court records show, IberiaBank, Discover Bank, Bank of America, American Express National Bank, and Portfolio Recovery Associates all sued Evan Turk for outstanding debts of nearly $130,000 collectively. In October of last year, court records also indicated he was in arrears on child support for $32,000.
Their legal quagmires got more complicated that same month when Turk’s ex-husband, Nicholas Barone, with whom she shared a son, died while on a business trip in North Carolina. At that point, records show, Karyn and Barone had been divorced for almost five years. In the intervening time, he had reconnected online with an old friend, Lisa Lucadamo, who moved down to Florida with her son to live with him.
By all accounts, Lucadamo and Turk got along fine until Barone died. But a few months after he passed, Lucadamo found a letter in her mailbox insisting she evacuate the premises immediately. Technically, her lawyer claimed, Lucadamo had not been served and could have stayed in the home. But she was tied to Barone only by domestic partnership and no will had been found (its existence is disputed by Barone's brother in court documents). The late businessman's estate—then valued at over $750,000—fell to his son. Turk later petitioned to oversee the assets, ensuring Lucadamo got nothing. As part of the settlement, Turk agreed to reimburse Barone's brother for his funeral expenses; he later filed a claim alleging she had not paid $9,201 in fees. (Turk's lawyer said she hadn't wanted the service and never received receipts).
In August, two days before Turk was arrested for Social Security fraud, she filed a lawsuit against Lucadamo. The suit accused the widow of staying at the house unlawfully, refusing to pay rent, destroying furniture, stealing a majority of personal property, and replacing a signed helmet for the New York Jets with a phony replica. Turk requested damages of $65,550. A week later, the house went into foreclosure. Lucadamo filed to dismiss the case, arguing that Turk had not furnished any evidence of theft, and pointing out glaring loopholes in the court documents (among them: a significant typo which inadvertently accused Turk of all the aforementioned charges). Last week, three days before the Stone fundraiser, a judge granted the dismissal, giving Turk 20 days to refile. She plans to amend the complaint next week.
Through her lawyer, Turk commented: “Sometimes you try to do the right thing by someone and it just backfires on you. You try to see the good and ignore the bad.”
In the midst of all this, the pundit’s mother was ill. A few years prior, Turk had become the guardian of her adoptive mother, Ilse Schafer, an Austrian immigrant and retired teacher. She had moved Schafer into a nursing facility called Finnish-American Rest Home. As guardian, Turk was responsible for distributing Schafer’s social security benefits to the home and applying for Medicaid to cover the remaining cost. But Turk never applied for Medicaid and for a full year, according to court documents, the nursing home received no payment from Turk. Invoices obtained by The Daily Beast show that the pundit owed the home more than $220,000.
The outstanding debt, coupled with Turk’s upscale lifestyle, caused a suspicious administrator to petition for an investigation into elder exploitation. A local judge appointed a second guardian, who finally secured the mother's Medicaid. After examination of Turk’s financial reports, the guardian accused the pundit of using Social Security to buy tables at the International Polo Club and rent mansions in West Palm Beach, launching a probe which culminated in Turk’s August arrest. “Karyn Turk’s admission of guilt to one count of Social Security fraud, in regards to Social Security money owed to her mother,” Daniel Benson, executive director of the Finnish American Rest Home, wrote in a public statement, “sends a clear message that financial exploitation of the elderly, family or not, will result in prosecution.”
Last week, Turk pleaded guilty to her federal charge, but not before responding with a countersuit which accused the home of failing to provide appropriate health care or prevent the “mental and physical abuse” of her mother before her death in June. (Notably, Turk's husband previously sued another Florida nursing home in 2013 on very similar claims; the case was dismissed by a judge). The documents for Turk's wrongful death case were served last week, two days before the fundraiser.
At the Stone event that night, Turk came dressed in full flag attire: red shoes, navy skirt, white leather jacket spangled in blue sequin stars. The event was a celebration of free speech, her husband said. Legal fees and indictments couldn’t hold Stone down. Likewise, the specter of litigation and jail time hasn’t swayed Turk, who sees herself breaking into the right-wing political landscape with minimal experience and few explicit values beyond free speech. It’s a role she’s modeled on the president, Evan explained. “She always had a conservative political opinion,” he said. “But I think it really crystallized in 2016, when she realized that we have something that was unprecedented at the time—a business man with no experience whatsoever running against the establishment with less than a one-percent chance to win–and the underdog won.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that Best Buddies rescinded its Champion of Inclusion title from Turk. She stepped down on Oct. 2. This article has also been updated to indicate that Barone's house went into foreclosure.