Group led by ‘kraken’ lawyer Sidney Powell hired the firm recounting AZ’s election to probe a PA election

By: - May 24, 2021 12:02 pm

Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors hired by the Arizona Senate in an audit at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix on May 11, 2021. Photo by Michael Meister | The Arizona Republic/pool

A nonprofit organization run by former Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell, who filed a series of lawsuits last year attempting to overturn presidential election results in Arizona and other states, contracted the company that’s now counting 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County to conduct an election audit in a rural Pennsylvania county, according to records obtained by the Arizona Mirror.

Wake Technology Services, Inc., co-founder Gene Kern and Fulton County’s elections director, IT director and one member of the three-person election board signed a document on Dec. 31 stating that Kern was requesting to check the county’s voting machines and mail-in ballots from the general election. At the bottom of the typed document are handwritten notes stating that Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano set up the audit and that Wake TSI is contracted with Defending the Republic, Powell’s 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization. County clerk Lisa Mellott-McConahy said the county’s elections director, Patti Hess, identified the handwriting as belonging to Kern. 

Defending the Republic “was established to defend and protect the integrity of elections in the United States,” according to the group’s website. The group was involved in a series of lawsuits that Powell filed in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin seeking to reverse those states’ votes for Biden.

Powell claimed her lawsuits would show that Biden won those states, and therefore the presidency, through massive electoral fraud, vowing to “release the kraken,” a reference to a line about a mythical sea monster in the 1981 movie “The Clash of the Titans.” But rather than genuine evidence of fraud or malfeasance, the lawsuits relied on outlandish conspiracy theories, claiming that an anonymous source had evidence that Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship was involved in rigging the U.S. election, and touting the expertise of an alleged military cybersecurity expert identified only as “Spyder.” (That source was later revealed to be an Army mechanic who never worked in military intelligence.)

Powell’s so-called “kraken” lawsuits all failed. In Arizona, U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa dismissed Powell’s suit in December, writing that it was “sorely wanting of relevant or reliable evidence” and that the “allegations they put forth to support their claims of fraud fail in their particularity and plausibility.”

Wake TSI is one of three subcontractors currently working under a Florida cybersecurity company called Cyber Ninjas to conduct a recount and audit of the 2020 general election in Maricopa County, and is specifically tasked with recounting votes for president and U.S. Senate on all 2.1 million ballots cast in the county.

The audit, ordered by Senate President Karen Fann, is also examining hundreds of ballot tabulation machines and other equipment used in the election. Auditors have also investigated several far-fetched conspiracy theories, examining ballots for bamboo fibers due to baseless claims that counterfeit ballots from Asia were inserted into the count; using ultraviolet lights to search for nonexistent watermarks on the ballots due to a QAnon conspiracy theory that Trump secretly watermarked some ballots as a fraud detection measure; and using technology purportedly invented by a self-styled treasure hunter that he claims can detect counterfeit ballots by examining folds in the paper.

When Fann, a Republican from Prescott, announced the members of her audit team in late March, she and Cyber Ninjas touted Wake TSI as an experienced company that had conducted “hand-count audits” in Fulton County, Penn., and in New Mexico as part of the 2020 election cycle, and that team members had worked with the FBI as part of a voter fraud investigation in 1994.

But election officials and Republican Party officials in New Mexico say they were unaware of Wake TSI having any involvement in any recounts or election-related litigation in the state. Wake, Cyber Ninjas and Fann have refused to provide any details of the company’s alleged work in New Mexico or the 1994 FBI investigation. 

Fulton County allowed Wake TSI to audit its election at the request of Mastriano, a Republican who represents the state’s 33rd Senate district in southern Pennsylvania, near Fulton County. Mastriano has been an avid supporter of the “Stop the Steal” movement that promotes baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump, helping to organize a November hearing in Gettysburg to air conspiracy theories about the election and even renting buses to ferry people to the U.S. Capitol for the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the attack on the Congress.

Wake TSI’s report detailing the findings of its Fulton County audit does not mention Defending the Republic. It states that Mastriano and state Sen. Judy Ward, who represents the county and conveyed Mastriano’s request for the audit to county officials, “were aware of our efforts,” but doesn’t reveal the critical role the two GOP lawmakers played in convincing the county commission to allow the audit.

The report alleged that the audit found errors in scanning ballots; that Dominion Voting Systems, which provides the county’s voting machines, did not meet Pennsylvania certification requirements; that non-certified database tools were installed in the county’s voting system; that changes were made the election management system three weeks before the election; and that the machines had not been subjected to required logic-and-accuracy testing. 

It is unclear why Powell and Defending the Republic specifically wanted an audit in Fulton County, which has a population of less than 15,000 and where about 85% of voters favored Trump over Joe Biden, who ultimately won Pennsylvania by about 80,000 votes. It’s also unclear why Defending the Republic contracted with Wake TSI, which is based in West Chester, just west of the Philadelphia area, to conduct the audit.

Dominion said Fulton County violated its lease agreement by allowing an unaccredited and non-certified company to examine the machines, and refused to allow the county to use the machines for a May 18 municipal election. The county had to pay $25,000 to lease new machines for the election. 

Maricopa County will have to obtain new machines as well. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said she would consider decertifying Maricopa County’s machines that Cyber Ninjas took possession of, and the county said it will not use those machines again.

Powell and Mastriano did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the three members of the Fulton County commission. 

Shadowy funding for Arizona audit makes Powell’s involvement unknown

It is also unclear whether Powell and her group have any involvement in the Maricopa County audit. The contract Fann signed with Cyber Ninjas was for $150,000, but the cost of the work is far higher, which the Senate president acknowledges knowing when she signed the contract. 

Outside groups that are part of the Stop the Steal movement have been raising money to make up the difference. Those funding sources include on-air personalities at the pro-Trump One America News Network, which Fann has provided special access to the audit at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and The America Project, a nonprofit run by former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, whose fundraising website claims to have raised more than $1.7 million of its $2.8 million goal. 

The money does not pass through the Senate’s hands, so there is no public record showing who is paying for the audit. Fann told the Mirror earlier this month, “We knew there would be a lot of grassroots people who wanted to help and some organizations who would have grant monies available to help,” but she did not require Cyber Ninjas to disclose its funding sources as part of their contract. Fann and audit spokesman Ken Bennett have said they will ask Cyber Ninjas to disclose who else is paying them.

Because of the lack of transparency about the funding for the audit, it is unknown whether Defending the Republic and Powell are among the anonymous funders. Wake TSI, Cyber Ninjas, Fann and audit officials would not tell the Mirror whether Powell or her group are involved or are helping to pay for the audit. They also didn’t respond to questions asking what Wake TSI’s ties are to Powell and whether the Senate president was aware of them.

At least one outside group that is helping to fund the audit has a decision-making role in the proceedings. The Arizona Republic reported on Saturday that an email sent to Republican officials shows that Byrne’s organization is handling background checks, non-disclosure agreements and official agreements with prospective audit observers and ballot counters. Byrne is an ardent Trump supporter who has repeatedly promoted baseless accusations that the election was rigged.

Byrne was also present at an hour-long meeting at the White House during the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency in which he, Powell and disgraced retired Gen. Michael Flynn urged the president to overturn the election.

3 of 4 auditing firms tied now to #StopTheSteal

Wake TSI’s ties to Mastriano mean that three of the four contractors listed in the Cyber Ninjas statement of work have documented ties to the Stop the Steal movement that sought to overturn the 2020 election and culminated in a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol aimed at preventing Trump’s loss from being certified.

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan not only promoted debunked and outrageous election conspiracy theories on his since-deleted Twitter account, but also drafted an “election fraud facts” memo that contained dubious and false claims for U.S. senators who were planning to challenge certification of the Electoral College on Jan. 6. Powell later posted that document on her website. Logan provided a statement saying he was unaware that Powell posted the document on her website, and speculated that it was sent to her by an acquaintance to whom Logan had given a copy of the memo. 

Logan also worked with pro-Trump lawyer and conspiracy theorist Lin Wood to investigate fraud claims after the election. 

Benjamin Cotton, the founder of CyFIR, a digital forensics company that is part of the Arizona audit team, served as an expert witness in a lawsuit challenging the election results in Antrim County, Michigan, alleging that the ballot tabulation machines from Dominion Voting Systems produced fraudulent results. Logan was also an expert witness in the case, which a judge dismissed last week.

Cyber Ninjas organized the audit team and had already selected its members when it made its pitch to Fann. The Senate president told The Associated Press that she can’t recall how she discovered the firm

Dominion Voting Systems has sued Powell, among other individuals and organizations, for defamation due to her allegations that the company rigged the election for Biden. Dominion has also accused Powell of using money donated to Defending the Republic for her legal defense. 

According to Wake TSI, Gene Kern is not related to Anthony Kern, a former Republican member of Arizona’s House of Representatives who attended the Jan. 6 rally at the Capitol and worked for a time as a ballot counter for the audit.

Correction: This story initially stated that county clerk Lisa Mellott-McConahy identified handwriting on the document provided by Fulton County as belonging to Gene Kern of Wake Technology Services. Fulton County Elections Director Patti Hess identified the handwriting as Kern’s. Mellott-McConahy conveyed that information from Hess to the Mirror.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”

MORE FROM AUTHOR