Man suspected in elaborate hoax in Utah in advertised Kamala Harris fundraiser nabbed in Wyoming

(Gerald Herbert | AP file photo) Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., arrives to speak at the 25th Essence Festival in New Orleans, Saturday, July 6, 2019.

The man accused of falsely promoting a Salt Lake City appearance by presidential candidate Kamala Harris has been arrested in Wyoming in a stolen vehicle, according to the Utah business executive who says she and her organization were victims of a hoax, possibly a criminal one.

Adrian Hebdon, whose legal name is believed to be Adrian Noe, had worked with The Wave co-working space and social club in Utah’s capital city to plan a July 17 luncheon and a campaign fundraising dinner, that purported to feature Harris, the California Democratic senator. But the Harris campaign says it had no knowledge of or participation in the event, and The Wave now claims that it has been defrauded.

Joanna Smith, CEO of The Wave, said Wednesday that Hebdon, who had convinced her organization that he worked with the Harris campaign, left Utah in her stolen car. In a phone interview Wednesday evening, Hebdon, also known as Noe, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he borrowed the car with Smith’s permission and planned to return it Thursday.

At the same time, he told The Deseret News that he had used the car for an out-of-state trip but had left it at the local airport and had let Smith know that it was there for her to pick up.

Smith said Thursday that she had been informed around noon that Hebdon had been arrested with his husband in Rawlins, Wyo., some 290 miles from Salt Lake City.

Sgt. Jared Frakes of the Rawlins Police Department confirmed to The Tribune that two suspects were arrested in conjunction with a stolen car from Utah. The individuals also have outstanding warrants from other states.

He said the investigation is ongoing and that the suspects are being held in the Carbon County Jail until charges are filed. Since charges have yet to be filed, he declined to confirm the individuals’ names or the car’s registered owner.

Salt Lake City Police Detective Michael Ruff confirmed that the Wyoming arrest was related to the ongoing fraud investigation, but said the incidents are being handled as two separate cases. The Salt Lake Police Department sent out an alert about the vehicle and will now send their case files to Wyoming so that the case can be processed there. As for the fraud investigation, Ruff said a report was filed two days ago about the alleged Kamala Harris event hoax, but said the assigned detective is just beginning to work on the case.

The Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Department said they are not involved with the case, although Smith said she had also reported the suspected fraud to that agency. Sheriff Rosie Rivera was advertised as a panelist for the advertised Harris luncheon. Rivera has not responded to requests for comment.

It is still unclear exactly how much money Hebdon is alleged to have taken, but both The Wave and the Harris campaign are dealing with the financial fallout of the now-canceled events.

Smith said The Wave is in the process of refunding $17,000 worth of tickets that were purchased for a luncheon that advertised Harris as a speaker on a panel with several women. She also said The Wave spent about $22,000 on costs incurred for the event such as new chairs and a stage.

The Wave’s website on Thursday still listed the July 17 Harris arrival under its “events,” but it says registration is closed. Smith said the company is having trouble with its server and is working to remove the event.

Harris campaign spokesperson Kate Waters said in a statement that the organization has received contributions of $6,000 from at least 18 individuals that have been associated with the falsely advertised events. The campaign is currently working to contact each individual to refund their donations.

Those who purchased tickets for, or made donations in conjunction with the falsely advertised events should contact local authorities, said the statement.

“It came to our attention that an individual who was not an employee of the campaign was working with a third party organization to solicit money for two events that falsely advertised the Senator’s attendance in Salt Lake City on July 17," the statement read. "The campaign has been working with local law enforcement to provide information about the individual in question.”

A 2008 article in the Dallas Observer states that Adrian Noe worked on several political campaigns before he was revealed to be defrauding his employers, friends and co-workers in Texas and Iowa, spending time in prison in the latter state. He worked with Democrats in Texas and Republican politicians in Iowa.

Noe, which appears to be his original name, also has a criminal history in Utah. Court records show he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor fraud charges brought by 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.

Noe/Hebdon on Wednesday evening told The Tribune his only wrongdoing in the Harris fundraising debacle was not being upfront about his background.

“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?’”

He confirmed that he previously went by Adrian Swensen and Adrian Noe, but said he changed his name through marriage. Hebdon said after his misadventures in other states, he moved back to Salt Lake City, where he has family, to get a clean start.

He connected with a variety of Democratic groups in Utah, promising fundraising help to the state party’s Black Caucus, to the Young Democrats and to Equality Utah. All expressed dismay that the man they viewed as a friend and ally has turned out, it appears, to be a serial hoaxter.