At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the leaders of pseudoscience group America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) became stars on the right for their willingness to connect COVID patients with prescriptions for bogus treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.
The group hit a new level of prominence after Donald Trump retweeted one of their videos. Trump’s endorsement boosted their profile, a triumph that soured only somewhat after the video’s lead doctor was exposed as a believer in the idea that dreaming about sex with demons can cause real medical conditions.
Since November, though, the group has been torn apart as its founder, Dr. Simone Gold, faces off against the group’s board over what each faction says is the lavish spending of donor money. Now, in a newly reported court ruling, a judge has torn into both sides for possible violations of nonprofit ethics, singling out the group’s spending on a $3.6 million house for Gold’s personal use as “simply absurd.”
The fight over the future of AFLDS and the millions of dollars it has raised from the group’s devoted fans kicked off last fall, when board member Joey Gilbert told Gold—freshly emerged from a brief prison stint related to the Jan. 6 riot—that the nonprofit’s leaders were worried about her spending. Those expenses included an allegedly $100,000 private jet trip, Peloton home exercise bikes, multiple luxury vehicles and, most contentiously, the multi-million dollar mansion in Naples, Florida.
For her part, Gold shot back that Gilbert and his allies on the board had raised their own salaries to ludicrously high levels, with Gilbert once set to receive $25,000 a month before the plan was rescinded.
The investigation into Gold’s spending culminated in a federal lawsuit and internal battles over control of AFLDS’ bank account and software. As the fight continued, AFLDS split between Gold and Gilbert’s groups, as the fight moved to a local court in Arizona. Whatever work the nonprofit claimed to do ground to a halt, and the nonprofit missed its payroll in January.
In a Jan. 27 court filing, Maricopa County Superior Court Timothy J. Thomason wrote that both sides of the fight appear to have, at best, stretched rules around spending donor money.
“Neither side comes into this court with clean hands,” Thomason wrote. “Indeed, this company has been thrown into turmoil, as a result of the actions of all of the parties.”
Thomason singled out the board’s decision to approve spending on the mansion for Gold’s use, as well as Gold’s support for the purchase, supposedly on the grounds that the mansion would make a good real estate investment.
“The notion that a non-profit company could take donated funds and pay them to a principal of the company to invest in a for-profit business is simply absurd,” Thomas wrote. “Gold is a very intelligent physician and lawyer. She had to know that such an arrangement was completely improper and likely illegal.”
But the judge also slammed Gilbert for increasing his own pay as high as $25,000 a month.
“Gilbert’s unauthorized pay increase smacks of self-dealing,” Thomason wrote.
In his filing, Thomason called for the two sides to settle their dispute, writing that “no one is in control” of the once-powerful conservative group.
But the two factions likely won’t settle their disagreements yet.
Mario Jimenez, a lawyer for Gold, claimed she’s willing to negotiate with Gilbert and the board, but has found them unreceptive.
“Dr. Gold is ready, willing, and able to consider anything, but they won’t even talk to us,” Jimenez said.
A lawyer for Gilbert didn’t respond to a request for comment. But his faction has promised to release a new report detailing Gold’s allegedly extravagant spending later this month.
The Daily Beast