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DeSantis donor helped seedy websites collect payments for porn, off-shore betting, report says

One-time Clinton donor Ahmad Khawaja, whose California business is under new scrutiny, has given $213,000 to DeSantis.
This image from the website of Allied Wallet CEO Ahmad "Andy" Khawaja shows Khawaja posing with Hillary Clinton. Records obtained by The Associated Press show that Khawaja, a prominent political donor has helped pornographers, payday loan debt collectors and offshore gambling operations get past the gates of the banking system. Los Angeles-based Allied Wallet, its executives and Khawaja have given $6 million in campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats since late 2015. The records show the company used fake websites and foreign dummy corporations to mask some customers’ true business. (Andy Khawaja via AP) WX201
This image from the website of Allied Wallet CEO Ahmad "Andy" Khawaja shows Khawaja posing with Hillary Clinton. Records obtained by The Associated Press show that Khawaja, a prominent political donor has helped pornographers, payday loan debt collectors and offshore gambling operations get past the gates of the banking system. Los Angeles-based Allied Wallet, its executives and Khawaja have given $6 million in campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats since late 2015. The records show the company used fake websites and foreign dummy corporations to mask some customers’ true business. (Andy Khawaja via AP) WX201
Published Aug. 2, 2018
Updated Aug. 2, 2018

A top donor to U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis' campaign for governor helped seedy businesses process payments for online transactions in ways that may have flouted U.S. laws intended to prevent money laundering, according to a report published Thursday.

Ahmad "Andy" Khawaja is the CEO of California-based Allied Wallet, an e-commerce website with a client list that, according to the Associated Press, includes a debt collector that demanded payments from people who never took out loans, an offshore gambling company, porn sites and a phone-sex business that served men with diaper and rape fantasies.

The AP reported that internal documents showed Allied Wallet helped hide the tracks of businesses in ways that circumvented bank and credit card rules. It created dormant shell companies for clients and taught them how to get around compliance checks for financial institutions.

In some instances, the company was warned its actions could be illegal, the report said.

Khawaja, a Lebanese-born businessman, is among the largest donors to DeSantis' campaign. He has personally contributed $113,000, including a $10,000 check on July 20, and DeSantis received another $100,000 through E-Payment Solutions, Inc., a company Khawaja registered in 2007.

DeSantis is running in a Republican primary against Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Much of DeSantis' financial support comes from wealthy out-of-state donors.

Before 2016, Khawaja had mostly contributed to Democrats, including $4 million to Hillary Clinton's failed bid for president. DeSantis campaign manager Brad Herold previously told Politico that Khawaja's newfound appreciation for Republican candidates was indicative of a larger movement toward President Donald Trump by disaffected Democrats.

Khawaja has so far not donated to any other candidates running for office in Florida.

"He gave to Democrats in the past, but like a lot of disaffected moderates and former Democrats, he loves President Trump," Herold told Politico. "He supports Ron's campaign because he's the only person running who's proven he'll stand up for the President."

Herold also told the publication that Khawaja and DeSantis know each other.

Neither Herold nor campaign spokesman Dave Vasquez responded to a request for comment Thursday on the allegations made in the article or the nature of Khawaja's relationship with DeSantis.

Khawaja's company denied any wrongdoing in a statement to the AP and called the story "a political hit job due to the Allied Wallet's contribution to President Donald Trump's inauguration and support of his tax cut agenda."

Khawaja has been supportive of the president since being introduced and donated $1 million to Trump's 2016 inaugural committee. He was photographed with Trump in the Oval Office.

This image from the website of Allied Wallet CEO Ahmad “Andy” Khawaja shows Khawaja posing with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Khawaja gave more than $4 million to Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign and other Democrats, then began extending his largesse to Republicans after a lunch with GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy two weeks after Trump clinched the presidency. Records obtained by The Associated Press show that Khawaja has helped pornographers, payday loan debt collectors and offshore gambling operations get past the gates of the banking system.(Andy Khawaja via AP) WX202
This image from the website of Allied Wallet CEO Ahmad “Andy” Khawaja shows Khawaja posing with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Khawaja gave more than $4 million to Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign and other Democrats, then began extending his largesse to Republicans after a lunch with GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy two weeks after Trump clinched the presidency. Records obtained by The Associated Press show that Khawaja has helped pornographers, payday loan debt collectors and offshore gambling operations get past the gates of the banking system.(Andy Khawaja via AP) WX202

According to the AP this is not first time questions have been raised about Khawaja's company. In 2010, the company turned over $13 million after an FBI probe into online poker.

Here's an excerpt from the AP story:

To help the now-defunct website www.phonesexcoffeehouse.com get its payments processed by American Express — which the credit card company wouldn't otherwise accept — Allied Wallet worked with the company to disguise its true business, the records showed.

The website charged callers in the U.S. $2 a minute to talk about various fetishes or engage in elaborate rape fantasies with female accomplices, according to an archived webpage.

To coordinate their arrangement, an Allied Wallet salesman used a private email address to communicate with Donna Jones, one of the sex line's owners: "I'll help you out but I need you to help me help you, notice the email I'm sending this from."

To avoid raising the suspicions of American Express, Jones and Allied Wallet funneled the payments through another business Jones owned that had nothing to do with sex: a home-cleaning company called WKPS Group, according to the records.

"We will do whatever is asked, and keep our mouths shut," Jones wrote. "You can make a lot of money with us, I will do as you say."
Just 45 minutes after the arrangement started, Allied Wallet's chief compliance officer issued an urgent internal warning based on a tip: The cleaning company had already been identified by a rival processor as a front for phone-sex transactions.

The November 2016 warning went unanswered. Some company officials knew the cleaning business was a front because they already were using it that way.

American Express declined to address Allied Wallet or the records detailing how it processed funds for the defunct sex site. In a statement, a spokesman, Andrew Johnson, said the company could require a processor to cancel processing for merchants that break the law, violate its rules or damage its brand.

Jones could not be reached for comment. She did not return a message sent to the email addresses she used to correspond with Allied Wallet.

Read the full AP story here.