A Republican Senate staffer sent the FBI a dossier about a critic of a GOP donor in 2017, after which agents paid a visit to the critic, NBC News has confirmed.
Two FBI agents visited the critic at his home in late 2017, the bureau confirmed. The critic said they told him to stop threatening the donor on social media.
The Senate staffer, Charles Spry, was then heading constituent services for Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. He now works for Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who succeeded Isakson in January and faces Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock in a runoff election next month.
The donor, the health care executive Parker “Pete” Petit, 81, has since been convicted of securities fraud. He was finance chairman for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in Georgia.
The critic visited by the FBI is Marc Cohodes, an investor who made negative comments about Petit and his company on social media, on his website and during an investors’ conference.
Asked about Spry’s actions, Nadgey Louis-Charles, a spokeswoman for Loeffler, said Loeffler declined to comment on constituent services cases handled by her predecessor or his staff. In a statement on behalf of Spry, Louis-Charles said: “Congressional offices regularly maintain contact with related federal agencies on behalf of their constituents to ensure their cases are being handled in a timely and competent manner. They do not request any specific outcome for these cases.”
Petit was the head of MiMedx Group of Marietta, Georgia, which makes wound care products.
Cohodes had gone public with his criticism of MiMedx in late 2017. Cohodes said he had heard from a host of company insiders about its questionable practices. At an investors’ conference that October, he gave a presentation about the company and recommended shorting its stock, and on a personal website he urged the company to conduct an internal investigation.
In Twitter posts, Cohodes called out Petit and his executive performance, saying Petit was destroying the company. In one, he said he would “bury the little fella in a shoe box,” and in another he said, “Guns are Loaded the Safety is Off.”
In an email dated Nov. 17, 2017, and reviewed by NBC News, Spry said he would reach out to the FBI about Cohodes.
About two weeks after Spry said he would contact the FBI, two agents visited Cohodes at his home in California. Cohodes and his attorneys said the agents warned him to stop posting “threatening tweets” about Petit and MiMedx or “there would be consequences.”
Cohodes said he asked the agents to leave because they had no warrant. They refused, he said, until the county sheriff arrived, responding to a call from Cohodes.
The FBI declined to comment on Cohodes’ assertions.
A spokesman for the San Francisco office of the FBI, which dispatched the agents, said in a statement, “All FBI investigative activity is premised upon the fundamental duty of government to protect the public and is performed with care to protect individual rights and to ensure that investigations are confined to matters of legitimate government interest.”
Cohodes said his tweets about Petit and MiMedx weren’t threatening. David Shapiro, a former federal prosecutor who represents Cohodes, said Cohodes’ social media posts didn’t qualify for action against the exercise of free speech as outlined in the FBI Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, which says action can be taken if speech was intended and likely “to incite imminent lawless action.”
Isakson, Spry’s boss, also called the FBI in Petit’s behalf in late November 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported two years ago. The senator’s spokeswoman told The Journal that he’d made the call in the normal course of helping a constituent. She declined to say how many times a year Isakson typically called the FBI for constituents.
Petit often contributed to Isakson’s coffers, records show. In media reports, Isakson called Petit a longtime friend. When he requested the FBI’s help for Petit, Isakson was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
Isakson couldn’t be reached for comment. He didn’t return a message left at a telephone number associated with him.
Petit declined to comment about his interactions with Isakson and his staff regarding the FBI’s visit to Cohodes.
After the FBI agents went to his home, Cohodes filed open records requests seeking information about who had prompted the visit. The FBI declined to turn over the information he sought. Cohodes then sued the agency and the Justice Department; the lawsuit is ongoing.
“Isakson operated at the hand of a criminal, and I plan on holding those people accountable,” Cohodes said. “What they did was wrong, and it cannot be allowed to go on in this country.”
After Cohodes targeted MiMedx, the company was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of accounting irregularities. It settled without admitting or denying the allegations in November 2019.
Petit resigned from MiMedx in July 2018 during an investigation into allegations of accounting improprieties by the company’s board. He was found guilty of securities fraud by a federal jury in New York last month and faces 20 years in prison. His attorney said he is “considering his appellate options.”