SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake man who out of nowhere emerged as an apparently trusted voice on conservative issues across the country has a bunch of people who don't trust him.
Frustrated with the government, Dan Baltes interjected himself into the high-profile debate on illegal immigration in Arizona, including a petition to oust the Pima County sheriff. He initiated an effort to draft a Florida congressman to run for president. Last week he appeared on Fox News as the leader of an effort to recall Wisconsin legislators. He also went on the air with Glenn Beck as part of the popular commentator's 8/28 Restoring Honor rally last summer. Dozens of publications have quoted him.
Baltes shrugs when asked about his seeming political arrival.
"I guess we're doing our job," he said from his Poplar Grove neighborhood apartment. "I guess people are catching on and listening to what we have to say."
Some of his fellow conservatives, though, say they're catching on to something else: Baltes isn't who he appears to be.
Baltes gained a following this past year through his online organizations, including Americans Against Immigration Amnesty, Restore Our Dreams, American Patriot Recall Coalition and Draft Allen West for President 2012. He routinely sends out press releases and had a talk radio blog for a while. He counts a former Idaho congressman among his board of advisers.
Observers say he has great voice and hits all the right notes.
Lori Gillespie, who lives in the Allegheny Mountains about 75 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, Pa., became acquainted with Baltes on Facebook and liked what he had to say about politics. She sent him $100.
"He speaks to conservatives very well," she said. "He makes you believe. You see him on Fox News, so you think you're contributing to an effort."
Tea party activists, right-wing bloggers and others, though, have taken to hammering him on the Internet. There's even a blog spot called Conning Conservatives, a sort of cyber wanted poster listing his criminal history and alleged schemes.
Conservative organizations and individuals around the country say the won't have anything to do with him because he makes promises he can't deliver, specifically a Glenn Beck speaking tour he promoted that fell apart.
On his websites, Baltes touts himself as a well-connected political strategist and an authority on illegal immigration. His Restore Our Dreams Productions bills itself as "one of the most recognized 'boutique' political production firms in the country." The only clients listed on the site are his three other organizations.
"The illustrious Dan Baltes," David Osborne said sarcastically when asked about his dealings with the man. "Have you lost money?"
Osborne is the Florida director of Get Out Of Our House, a nationwide group working to unseat incumbent U.S. House members. Baltes asked him to help promote the failed Beck tour.
Baltes, 51, does have some notable secrets he'd rather keep quiet.
His real name isn't Dan Baltes. It's Daniel Arthur Elliott. He took his third wife's last name after they married about 3 ½ years ago. He said he wanted to distance himself from an ex-girlfriend and an ex-wife.
"It was done to put myself off the radar and now I'm on the radar," he told the Deseret News.
And now that he's on the grid, so are the 10 years he spent in the Idaho prison system from the mid '80s to mid '90s for grand theft, forgery and writing bad checks. So is a domestic violence complaint and protective order issued against him in Colorado a decade ago.
Baltes said that was a long time ago and that he's not that way anymore. "It's not something I'm proud of," he said. "I'm not that person. That person is long gone."
Also gone, he says, are the Democratic Party ideals he held for more than half his life. A freelance paralegal, he briefly worked for the American Civil Liberties Union in Denver. He chalks those days up to the "politics of misguided youth." Working for a living, he said, more than anything changed his point of view.
"I guess I grew up is the best way to say it," Baltes said.
Utah's conservative community knows little about Baltes, who moved to the state three years ago. He hasn't weighed in much on the local illegal immigration debate.
"He's done things all over the place, but he's not done anything on his own turf," said Ron Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, which he added "seems kind of funny."
Baltes said he has nothing to hide. "I'm not going to run away from things. I'm not afraid to be up front about stuff. I'm not going to lie."
Those now open secrets alone give his fellow conservatives plenty of fodder for questioning Baltes' sincerity in their causes. But recent events have fueled even more distrust.
Alexandrea Merrell, an author who lives in Arkansas, worked for Baltes for two weeks last month setting up websites and soliciting sponsors for the two-day Beck speaking tour in Las Vegas, San Diego and Phoenix. Baltes, she said, represented himself as a producer for Beck and agreed to pay $1,000 a week. She quit after receiving only the first week's check.
"It just became really quickly apparent that all this was a scam," she said.
Merrell created a blogspot called Conning Conservatives where she lists Baltes' criminal history and alleged schemes.
Baltes successfully pulled off two small illegal immigration-related rallies in Texas and Arizona where all vendors and participants were paid. Those two events cost a total of $6,400 to put on and Baltes raised about a third of it, according to IRS financial reports.
Brett Hill, an award-winning country singer hired for those events, said Baltes delivered everything he promised and it doesn't matter to him who offers him a gig as long as he has the chance to sing his patriotic songs.
"As far as I can tell, he's a straight shooter," he said.
But Baltes had never organized anything as big as the Beck tour, which required a $375,000 honorarium and thousands more for arena rentals and incidentals.
For the Beck show, Merrell said Baltes sold $350 tickets for the speeches before he had secured the venues or raised any of Beck's fee. Nor did he set up a separate bank account for the event, she said.
Tennessee-based Premiere Speakers Bureau confirmed it had a contract with Baltes for Beck to appear in the three cities in May, but severed it due to nonperformance. Baltes failed to make a $125,000 payment by March 16.
Merrell said there was "no possible way" Baltes could have raised that kind of money given the contract was signed in January.
Merrell said she considered that Baltes may have just bit off more than he could chew, but concluded he had no intentions of staging the tour, partly because he continued to promote it and seek sponsorships until the end of March.
Shawn Hanks, an agent with Premiere, said it's rare for a contract not to work out. The company tries to vet clients to some extent, he said. Baltes, he said, had a solid game plan but "looking back, I wonder if some of those answers were accurate."
But Hanks says he doesn't think Baltes was out to rip people off. More likely he was just in over his head.
Baltes vehemently denies he tried to do something shady, and "heck no" he didn't tell Merrell he was a Beck producer.
The tour didn't come off, he said, because his investors fell through. He said he sold only 11 VIP tickets and that he has told the buyers they will receive a refund.
"Nobody has ever been cheated or scammed," he said.
But some say they have not received refunds for Baltes' ventures.
Last summer, a Weber County couple paid Baltes $850 for a bus trip he organized to Beck's 8/28 rally in Washington, D.C., last August. They were unable to go and say he promised them a refund.
"Well, after a months-LONG series of emails, phone contact attempts, and hopes, NO — we have never received a dime back from him," they wrote in an email.
In Pennsylvania, Gillespie received an email from Baltes offering "limited" tickets to any of the three Beck shows for $100 or $500, which included a catered VIP reception, a free copy of Beck's new book and a photo opportunity. She sent in $100 and planned to drive her SUV to Phoenix.
Then she found out the tour was canceled. Though she says she tried to get her money back, she has yet to receive it.
"It damages your dignity," she said. "Your dignity is worth everything."
Osborne, the Florida GOOOH director, said though his group didn't lose money, he said asking donors for money and helping Baltes promote the Beck show tarnished its reputation.
"He's burned a lot of bridges," he said.7 comments on this story
Baltes said he finds all the speculation, rumor and innuendo about him disconcerting. Shortly after being interviewed by the Deseret News, he emailed supporters an apology for the failed Glenn Beck show, that includes descriptions of an ugly childhood, troubled past marriages and mental health struggles. He also wrote that he hopes Beck sees it.
But he has no plans to try to put on another major event involving Beck or any other big-name conservative.
"I think we're just going to take a little breather for a while," he said.