Over the span of a few months in 2016, a political action committee called “American Horizons” solicited contributions for a chance to win a dinner with then-candidate Donald Trump.

The PAC raised more than $1 million from 20,000 donors.

But no one who entered ever sat down for a meal with Trump. Instead, the Maryland man who created the PAC, Ian Richard Hawes, paid off personal credit card debt and student loans, bought an engagement ring and rented a yacht to propose to his fiancée, purchased an Audi and put a down payment on a home, federal prosecutors say.

Now, almost seven years after the scam first came to light, federal prosecutors in Maryland have charged Hawes with tax violations related to the fundraising: He failed to pay taxes in 2016 on the $375,000 in PAC funds that were converted for personal use.

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Hawes, 32, of Catonsville, was charged Tuesday through criminal information in U.S. District Court with failing to file an individual income tax return for that tax year.

Hawes told The Baltimore Banner in a brief interview that he intends to plead guilty in the coming weeks. He said he voted for Trump in the 2016 election and has paid more than $110,000 to settle his 2016 taxes, but otherwise declined to comment because the case is pending.

Court records show Hawes created a webpage for an organization called American Horizons in May 2016, and registered a PAC in the same name with the Federal Elections Commission the next month.

Advertisements for the organization did not directly request donations, but indicated that contestants could double their chances of winning by making a donation.

Politico first reported on the PAC in August of that year, noting that its website looked virtually indistinguishable from a Trump campaign site that offered a chance for dinner with Trump.

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A screenshot of Donald Trump’s campaign site for president, top, and the American Horizons PAC website, bottom, offering a chance to win dinner with the candidate in 2016.

“I would say, unfortunately, that’s simply a matter of pure chance,” Hawes told Politico at the time, defending the group and denying it was a scam.

The fine print of the site said the winner would get two tickets “at a Sponsor-selected fundraising evening event held with Donald Trump and other attendees” that the PAC would pay for.

After the article was published, the Trump campaign sent Hawes a cease-and-desist letter accusing him of defrauding his donors. Hawes terminated the American Horizons PAC in January 2017.

“No winner was ever selected for the PAC’s advertised dinner contest,” the charging document filed this week says.

When asked by Politico in 2016 how he planned to use the money, Hawes said: “We use the money that we collect in a way that we feel best creates value for the people who have donated to us.”

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Prosecutors say that no funds were sent to any political campaign. More than $440,000 of the funds was paid to Facebook for advertisements.

Another $375,300 was used by Hawes for personal expenses. In addition to paying off bills and expenses related to his engagement and wedding, court records say he also went on vacations to Orlando, Miami, the Bahamas and Paris.

Politico’s 2016 report said the PAC had paid at least $133,000 to a company that he founded and owned called CartSoftLLC, an online payment processing platform, with the payments described as “media” and “media purchasing.” The charging document says the PAC also refunded $36,700 to contributors who complained about being duped.

The FEC said at the time that it had little ability to take action against such organizations.

But seven years later, federal prosecutors found a way: They say Hawes failed to file an income tax return for tax year 2016. He had filed returns for 2012 through 2015, and 2017 through 2021, court records show.

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The dinner-with-Trump site wasn’t Hawes’ only venture that year. Politico reported that Hawes launched another website called crookedhillary2016.org and began promoting a contest to revoke her security clearance. It used the same logo as an official Trump site called LyingCrookedHillary.com.


Justin Fenton is an investigative reporter for the Baltimore Banner. He previously spent 17 years at the Baltimore Sun, covering the criminal justice system. His book, "We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption," was released by Random House in 2021 and became an HBO miniseries.

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