Promoters of election lies also hyped a hospital for Ukraine. That never happened either.
This story was originally published by ProPublica.
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Gregg Phillips and Catherine Engelbrecht are best known as the election deniers behind True the Vote, a Texas-based nonprofit responsible for amplifying conspiracies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
But soon after Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, they shifted some of their focus to the war effort, jumping into the fray with an inspiring idea — to bring a mobile hospital to the region to care for victims of the conflict.
They called it The Freedom Hospital.
Phillips solicited donations on conservative media platforms, linked up with American veterans working in Ukraine and traveled to the region in March to meet with local officials. The Freedom Hospital’s website announced it was halfway to its goal of raising $25 million.
“Our recent project, The Freedom Hospital, in Ukraine helps old folks, women and kids near the fight receive healthcare,” Phillips wrote on the conservative social media site Truth Social on June 5.
But that was one of a series of misrepresentations from Phillips and The Freedom Hospital about the operation’s donations and accomplishments, according to a joint investigation by ProPublica and The Dallas Morning News. The Freedom Hospital never got off the ground, and, through their lawyers, Phillips and Engelbrecht now say they never raised significant amounts of money for the project.
They never brought the mobile hospital to the region.
Both Phillips and Engelbrecht declined to answer questions. According to their lawyers, who spoke to ProPublica and the News, the pair’s Ukraine project was a good-faith effort that was unsuccessful.
They said Phillips realized during his March trip to the region that the mission wasn’t feasible because local officials weren’t interested, because potential donors felt the U.S. government was already funneling enough money into the war effort, and because he was worried about the potential for local corruption.
“They pretty much abandoned it all as of, like, April,” Cameron Powell, a partner at Gregor, Wynne, Arney who’s one of the pair’s attorneys, said during a December interview. “Pretty much during his trip, he was deciding it’s probably not going to be feasible.”
Phillips continued to seek donations for months after that and gave the impression that the project was still in the works. The lawyers now say that is because the pair kept pushing forward “with their due diligence for a while longer” and declined to clarify exactly when the project was abandoned.
Asked about Phillips’ statements that The Freedom Hospital had raised half of its $25 million goal, the lawyers said that amount was an in-kind donation from the mobile hospital manufacturer, not cash. The manufacturer's CEO disputed that account, saying it never pledged to make such a donation.
Created by Engelbrecht in 2010, True the Vote vaulted to national prominence after its work was featured in the 2022 Dinesh D’Souza movie “2000 Mules,” a film that included voter fraud claims that have been widely discredited.
The Ukraine venture is the latest in a string of failed initiatives and misleading statements from Engelbrecht and Phillips. Phillips has been a longtime True the Vote board member, and he and Engelbrecht have raised millions on the promise that they would reveal widespread voter fraud. But they have never supplied any evidence the election was stolen, leaving a trail of disappointed donors and frustrated partners, even as the false election-theft narrative has continued to be a potent force in American politics.
An “awe-inspiring” mission
The Freedom Hospital’s website, which is now defunct, described the project as “awe-inspiring.” A group of Americans had “banded together” to bring to the region “a state-of-the-art mobile emergency hospital system that can skirt battle zones to treat the wounded,” according to the site’s archive. “Every penny of your donation will be used to save lives,” the website stated, with a link to a PayPal donation site.
In March 2022, Phillips traveled to the region and discussed the project with several local governmental and religious officials.
The next month, he explained the ongoing effort to a podcaster. Phillips said his team was “ensuring that we could clear supply paths and ensure that the hospitals could remain sort of fully supplied and fully staffed” and that they had secured a warehouse.
The hospital’s Twitter account described the facility as a 100,000-square-foot warehouse donated by an unnamed family behind “Europe’s biggest transport company.”
The lawyers now say an unnamed citizens’ group offered use of an empty auditorium that was not ultimately needed.
Over the course of the spring, Phillips continued to promote the humanitarian effort, seeking donations and other support. On Twitter, he called it “history in the making.” In early June, he repeatedly discussed the project on Truth Social and said it was responsible for extracting “dozens” of elderly refugees from the region.
“My work and my calling is to create a private healthcare and extraction ecosystem for old folks, women and children,” he wrote in a post on June 5. “The Freedom Hospital is my commitment to God come to life.”
In the December interview, Powell, one of the pair’s lawyers, said Phillips finished the project’s feasibility study by the time he returned from Ukraine, at which time he told donors he couldn’t ask them to fund the project.
But this week, after being sent questions ahead of publication of this article, Powell was vaguer about the project’s timeline. When asked why Phillips continued promoting the hospital into June, he acknowledged his clients began to “harbor doubts” about the project months before without specifying when it was officially shuttered.
“The group came to the realization sometime after Gregg returned that the project was ‘probably’ not feasible, but it would be unrealistic to expect that realization occurred during a single, identifiable moment in time. There was no epiphany,” Powell said.
The project’s Twitter account still exists but has not tweeted since May 5.
True the Vote was listed as The Freedom Hospital’s fiscal sponsor on the project’s website and Engelbrecht successfully applied for nonprofit status for the hospital from the IRS in March.
Phillips and Englebrecht planned to get a medical unit from MED-1 Partners, a mobile hospital manufacturing company based in North Carolina. Phillips’ lawyers said he worked with sales representatives and was told the unit would come at “a substantial reduction in price, which MED-1 spoke of as an in-kind donation to help the effort.”
MED-1 Partners CEO Tim Masud told ProPublica and the News this account is not true.
MED-1 Partners was selling an older demo unit for a reduced price, the same price that would be offered to anyone interested in purchasing it, he said. Masud added neither he nor his authorized liaison on the deal described this reduced price as a donation or pledged to provide a donation to The Freedom Hospital.
In March, Masud said the company drafted a letter of intent for a project called “The Freedom Children’s Hospital” that required a $150,000 deposit. But it was never signed and no money changed hands.
“All we did was offer a hospital for sale to a group of people. That’s it,” Masud said.
Powell said his clients raised only $268 for the project through PayPal, which the lawyers said was returned “at Mr. Phillips’ direction.” Another of the group’s attorneys, Michael Wynne, said in a December phone call that the project had raised no other funds through other means.
On April 21, The Freedom Hospital posted a video on its YouTube account with a caption saying that its “team” was “reporting” from Ukraine. But The Freedom Hospital had no role in producing the video.
Christopher Loverro, a Los Angeles-based actor and veteran, made the video, which he said was shot in front of a recently bombed Ukrainian preschool.
In an interview, Loverro said he has never had any connection to The Freedom Hospital and had not given anyone permission to use his work. After being contacted by ProPublica and the News, Loverro said he reported the video to YouTube and commented on the post, warning: “This is a scam. Do not donate to this organization.”
After ProPublica and the News sent the lawyers questions about the video, Loverro said a woman named Catherine, who was associated with the project, contacted him for the first time to discuss The Freedom Hospital. Following that conversation, he said he had no reason to doubt the woman, who told him the project was a legitimate humanitarian effort with “no fraud involved” that simply came to naught.
Phillips’ lawyers said he did not post the video and does not have access to The Freedom Hospital’s YouTube account to remove it. It was likely posted by one of “several volunteers working on the Freedom Hospital project at that time,” they added.
The video and a donation request still remain up on the project’s YouTube channel.
The Freedom Hospital project and other efforts troubled one of True the Vote’s contractors enough that he submitted a complaint in June referencing the hospital and a number of other concerns to the Texas attorney general’s criminal investigation division.
“After a series of bizarre calls and communications over several months, Gregg told us he’d raised the money for [The Freedom Hospital]. Several times he told us it was $2.5 million. He also gave us the figures of $10 million. He also marketed that they needed $25 million,” Kyle Reyes, whose company had worked on marketing initiatives for True the Vote, wrote.
ProPublica and the News obtained the complaint through a public records request.
In the document, Reyes accused True the Vote of a wide range of questionable business practices and said the organization had not paid his marketing firm for the services it performed.
Wynne said the complaint is “demonstrably false.” It’s unclear what the status of Reyes’ complaint is; the Texas attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The questions about The Freedom Hospital come as Engelbrecht and Phillips are facing new scrutiny over continued failed efforts to prove widespread fraud in the American election system.
The pair have frequently profited handsomely from their election denial work, according to an investigation by Reveal that found loans issued to Engelbrecht and self-dealing contracts to nonprofit insiders. (Their attorney at the time said that there was nothing inherently wrong about the contracts.) The outgoing attorney general of Arizona, once an ally, now wants the group investigated for potential “financial improprieties” related to this work. In November, the pair spent a week in jail on contempt of court charges for failing to disclose a source behind their election fraud claims.
Reyes told ProPublica and the News that he terminated his firm’s contract with True the Vote in June. After Reyes filed his complaint, he said, True the Vote paid his company the outstanding invoices about $25,000.
“As conservatives, we need to hold our fellow brothers and sisters to the same standard that we hold everyone in America to — no matter what side of the political aisle you’re on,” he said.
This story was co-published with The Dallas Morning News.