Presidential hopeful Kamala Harris will not be coming to Utah for an advertised luncheon and campaign fundraising dinner — and organizers at Salt Lake City’s The Wave co-working space and social club say they believe they have been defrauded by a man posing as a campaign operative who was working under a false name with a criminal history.
“It came to the campaign’s attention that an individual has been promoting an event with the Senator under false pretenses. We are investigating the situation, but unfortunately at this time there are no events scheduled in Salt Lake City,” said a statement Wednesday from the Harris campaign.
Joanna Smith, CEO of The Wave, says she was approached by a man under the name Adrian Hebdon in May about holding a fundraiser for Kamala Harris at The Wave. Hebdon’s Twitter and Facebook accounts feature photos of him standing near Harris at campaign events. Hebdon also provided the Wave with an authorization email for fundraising activities from Stefanie Sass, who works on the Harris campaign. Hebdon and The Wave planned two events, a luncheon and a fundraising dinner.
The Harris event planned for July 17 was announced in a widely circulated email invitation and reported in the news media, including an article in The Salt Lake Tribune. Hebdon was quoted in at least one report as a spokesperson from the campaign.
On Tuesday, lawyers for Kamala Harris’ campaign contacted The Wave to inform the club that the event was not on the California senator’s official schedule.
Adrian Hebdon also is not the real name of the man who contacted The Wave. Hebdon used to go by at least two other names: Adrian Swensen and Adrian Noe. The Wave discovered this after receiving a copy of a cease-and-desist order addressed to Hebdon from the Harris campaign, which used all three names to address him.
A 2008 article in the Dallas Observer states that Adrain Noe worked on several political campaigns before he was revealed to be defrauding his employers in Texas and Iowa.
Noe, which appears to be his real name, also has a criminal history in Utah. Court records show he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor fraud charges against Orem City in 2001 for which he spent a few months in jail but eventually was given early release after paying restitution. In 2004, he was charged with felony fraud in 3rd District Court. The warrant remains open, according to the case summary.
All tickets to the luncheon, which was a Wave event, will be refunded, according to Smith. Ticketholders can contact The Wave to ensure that their refund is processed correctly.
Hebdon, as she knew him, stole money, according to Smith, but she is not sure exactly how much. She said The Wave is in the process of refunding the dinner tickets it processed, but she isn’t sure how many Hebdon sold or may have processed himself.
Mark Barnes, The Wave’s lawyer, said the club kept credit card information of people registering away from Hebdon. But he acknowledged, “I think there’s a lot we still don’t know.”
Smith says she reported the scam to the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office and the Salt Lake City Police Department. Neither agency responded to requests for comment Wednesday.
Smith says that Hebdon stole her car and disappeared.
Hebdon, who spoke with The Tribune on Wednesday evening, claims his only wrongdoing was not being upfront about his background. He confirmed that he previously went by Adrian Swensen and Adrian Noe, but said he changed his name through marriage.
Hebdon says he moved back to Salt Lake City, where he has family, to get a clean start. He claims he really was working to schedule an event with the senator and thought everyone was one the same page, but believes the campaign pulled out and severed ties with him when they discovered his past misdeeds.
“I’m the first to admit that I have made some really horrible mistakes in my life that I’m not proud of,” he said. “How long do I have to start every conversation with ‘Oh by the way, I was in prison?’”
Hebdon confirmed he used Smith’s car to go to Iowa and South Carolina to volunteer for the campaign, but said he plans to be back in Utah with the car Thursday and has told detectives as much. He maintained that he still supports Harris.
The fake Harris dinner wasn’t the only political involvement Noe/Hebdon had in Utah. He also told the Salt Lake County Democratic Black Caucus that Harris had sent him to support black candidates in Utah, and he promised to connect them with wealthy donors.
Natalie Pinkney, the caucus’s Utah first state chairwoman and a candidate for South Salt Lake City Council, said Hebdon’s “empty promises” took an emotional toll on members of the caucus who have been trying to establish a serious presence in a state where black people make up just 1 percent of the population.
“It’s just disheartening,” she said. “For far too long black candidates have been exploited, have been marginalized, and this just furthers that.”
Hebdon worked with the black caucus to host one fundraiser at The Wave in June. The money raised was donated through The Wave, so Hebdon did not have access to it, said Pinkney.
The event was supposed to be the first of many. Pinkney said she’s not sure what Hebdon was trying to accomplish, but she suspects he was using the black caucus to boost his credibility. When he first came to the caucus he already knew prominent Utah Democrats, and the caucus never suspected that he was a scammer.
Sasha Luks-Morgan, president of the Young Democrats of Utah, said Hebdon reached out to her during the Utah Democratic Party Convention in June. Hebdon promised a donation of $1,200 for the Young Democrats, said Luks-Morgan. The two were in touch by phone and saw each other again at a Wave event where Hebdon repeated his promise, but the money never materialized.
Luks-Morgan said Hebdon never asked her for money and might have been trying to give the appearance that he was close to different Democratic caucuses.
“Clearly we are not going to be receiving a donation from him,” she said.
Mindy Young, development director at Equality Utah and a member of The Wave said she met Hebdon at Utah Pride. He told her he was an experienced fundraiser and offered to help raise money for Equality for Utah.
“He was such a cool guy,” she said. “He was just a really dynamic personality so I can imagine everyone liking him.”
The two became friends on Facebook and had planned to set up a meeting. They never got around to it because Young was helping plan the Love Loud festival. Young now says she is relieved the two didn’t meet.