A Tennessee man charged by New York prosecutors with pretending to be a Manhattan lawyer and taking thousands from would-be clients was the co-founder of Students for Trump, a national group that mobilized college campuses in the run-up to the 2016 election and plans to do so again in 2020.
John Lambert, 23, was arrested last week and charged by Southern District of New York prosecutors with wire fraud for having invented a lawyer persona named “Eric Pope” that he used to solicit legal work online. ALM reported last week that the fake firm website he created appeared to have attorney biographies cribbed from senior partners at Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
Since his arrest, more details about Lambert’s background have emerged. Before he allegedly posed as a lawyer, Lambert was in college when he co-founded Students for Trump. As the group’s vice chairman, he appeared on NBC and Fox News and shared a stage with the hard-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed that a photo of Lambert depicted the man who was charged.
ALM was alerted to Lambert’s political background by people who knew of him when he was enrolled at Campbell University in North Carolina. It was at this school where he co-founded Students for Trump in late 2015, according to a profile in The Chronicle of Higher Education. A university representative said he was last enrolled in fall 2016.
The criminal complaint against Lambert said he was in North Carolina during the scheme, but authorities described him as a resident of Bristol, Tennessee, at the time of his arrest.
The Students for Trump group he helped lead does not appear to be incorporated as a legal entity, but it registered as an independent political fundraising group with the Federal Election Committee in 2016. It hasn’t filed any spending or income reports.
The Chronicle reported that it had nearly 300 campus chapters in 2016. Its chairman, Ryan Fournier, said in a 2017 op-ed that the group plans to be active in the 2020 elections.
While Students for Trump has not been active on campuses since the 2016 election, it has remained active on social media, blasting photos of young people with Trump hats and flags to its 272,000 Instagram followers, 124,000 Twitter followers and more than 60,000 Facebook fans.
Lambert’s own social media presence is largely private, but some of his public appearances are posted online. He posted on Facebook in early 2017 that he was stepping aside from politics to focus on business, according to screenshots viewed by ALM. His alleged crimes mostly took place in the summer and fall that followed, according to the criminal complaint. Lambert is said by New York prosecutors to have engaged in a conspiracy that ran from August 2016 to April 2018.
Students for Trump has said it is not affiliated with President Donald Trump’s official re-election campaign. A spokesman for the Trump campaign didn’t respond to a comment request.
In an email to ALM, Fournier said he had not spoken to Lambert in more than a year. “I am deeply disappointed in him if what he is being accused of is true,” he said in an email. “I am very shocked to say the least.”
Attempts to reach Lambert were unsuccessful and current contact information for Lambert couldn’t be found. A federal public defender who represented him after his arrest in Tennessee declined to comment or to forward a request for comment to Lambert.
Prosecutors’ complaint against Lambert said he worked with a co-conspirator who also pretended to be a lawyer and sought legal work online. That co-conspirator, whose identity has not been revealed, has been cooperating with the FBI since April 2018, the complaint said.