SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris isn't headed to Utah after all, her campaign confirmed Wednesday amid allegations of fraud against someone purporting to be on her fundraising team.
It had been advertised Harris was scheduled to participate in a panel discussion alongside Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera and others on July 17 at The Wave, a coworking space and social club for women in downtown Salt Lake City.
The California senator, among the top Democratic contenders in the 2020 presidential race according to recent polls, was also set to hold a $200-a-plate campaign fundraiser later that evening at the same venue.
“It came to the campaign’s attention that an individual has been promoting an event with the senator under false pretenses," Kate Waters, traveling press secretary for Harris' campaign, said in a statement. "We are investigating the situation."
Waters also said that Harris has no immediate plans to come to Utah.
"Unfortunately at this time there are no events scheduled in Salt Lake City," she said.
On Wednesday, The Wave posted a news release on Facebook stating a call had been received the day before from attorneys for Harris' campaign saying a cease and desist letter had been sent to a man known as Adrian Hebdon.
A copy of the letter to Hebdon from the campaign's Washington, D.C. law firm provided by The Wave said they had been unable to confirm Hebdon's identity and reports indicate he had been previously charged with criminal offenses.
The letter was addressed to a "Mr. Adrian Hebdon/Swensen/Noe" at a Taylorsville address and referred to a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, newspaper story about an "Adrain" Swensen, an American Red Cross volunteer there accused of stealing.
Hebdon had told the Deseret News earlier this month he was a local member of the campaign's national finance committee and that when The Wave contacted Harris about the event, "she thought it was a great idea. Women have value."
A man identifying himself as Hebdon called the Deseret News Wednesday and said he's been "a liar and a thief," serving time in prison in Iowa, but has stayed out of trouble since his release in 2017.
His different last names, he said, are the result of two marriages, including to his current husband.
He said he did not disclose his past to the Harris campaign, but had signed up to raise money for her after coming to Utah in April. He said he asked the campaign to hold a fundraiser for her in Utah at the time he started working for The Wave.
Although he said the campaign never committed to a date, he raised about $20,000 and sent all of that money to the campaign. He said he will abide by the cease and desist letter.
It came after the campaign found out about his criminal history, apparently when he drove to Iowa and South Carolina to volunteer at campaign events and pressed staff for a date for the fundraiser, only to be told Harris was not coming to Utah.
"I really did not do anything wrong here," he said.
"I'm in full victim mode," Joanna Smith, founder and CEO of The Wave, said in an interview. She had no comment on whether the event would affect a planned appearance by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at The Wave later this year.
Smith said Hebdon "made an introduction to someone" connected to the New York Democratic congresswoman but she has since been in contact herself with Ocasio-Cortez's staff.
"This might financially ruin me," Smith said. "He's defrauded us at this point close to $40,000 that we know of. He also, he borrowed my car last weekend so I have a missing vehicle."
The man identifying himself as Hebdon said that was the car he used to travel to Iowa and South Carolina and he had let Smith know he left it at the airport for her to pick up.
Smith said both she and The Wave's general manager, Cristina Rosetti, started to have concerns about Hebdon at the same time the news media contacted them about the events.
"At that point, her and I had red flags, but we hadn't confirmed with everyone we had to confirm with," Smith said, citing comments Hebdon made about the event. "He just didn't have his life together."
Asked why she didn't contact the Harris campaign herself, Smith said she was called by someone claiming to be Harris' sister at a Democratic debate watch party and saw Hebdon in photographs with Harris and her husband on social media.
She said The Wave is working with law enforcement and Harris' campaign. Any payments made to The Wave, including for tickets purchased for the luncheon, will be refunded upon request, Smith said.
About 200 people paid $85 to attend the "Taking Up Space" luncheon — or $35 if they were members of The Wave, which charges up to $200 a month to use its workspace.
Although The Wave initially announced on Facebook the event was cancelled, an email sent to ticketholders by Rosetti later Wednesday announced "the show must go on," even without Harris, and said part of the proceeds would continue to benefit the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah.
"We are an organization that centers the voices of women. We will not let a man who defrauded our organization be the center of this conversation," she wrote, despite what she called "heartbreaking" recent events.
"We're still in shock," Smith said. She said she did "not know fully" if Hebdon acted without the knowledge of the Harris campaign. "We're just trying to figure out the extent of how big this deception goes to."25 comments on this story
The Utah Democratic Black Caucus issued a statement saying members were approached by Hebdon about holding a fundraiser at The Wave and helping in their campaigns.
The statement expressed "hope that well-intended people and organizations that wish to assist in the mission of Black Caucus take the steps necessary to ensure that no candidates, especially those from marginalized groups, are maliciously targeted again."
Correction: An earlier version referred to the general manager of The Wave as Christina Rosetti. Her first name should be spelled Cristina.