Questions swirl around mysterious Utah conservative pundit Dan Baltes
Canceled Glenn Beck event fuels distrust
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.
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