Pair of 'spies' infiltrate Wyoming political spectrum

WYOMING – A secret plot infiltrate the Wyoming Democratic Party and acquire damaging information on liberal groups, Gov. Mark Gordon and multiple state legislators – including the Speaker of the House – by two individuals, tied to some of the wealthiest people in the country, was uncovered in a New York Times story last week.

It was uncovered that a couple identified as Beau Maier and Sofia LaRocca were part of an undercover operation by numerous conservative groups to infiltrate progressive groups, political campaigns and political offices. Large campaign donations and cover stories were used in attempt to move further up the ladder in the Wyoming Democratic Party with the purpose of gathering political dirt in order to sabotage the reputations of those running opposite of then-president Donald Trump during the 2020 election cycle.

The Wyoming Democratic Party, chaired by Joe M. Barbuto, hosted a brief press call the afternoon of June 25 – the day the story was published – to address the situation.

Barbuto said the Wyoming Democratic Party received information the group was targeted by those two individuals after the relationship with both Maier and LaRocca already ended.

“But we did immediately implement a review of the information to which Sofia LaRocca had access and determined that our volunteering process had done its job and there was nothing there that could be considered sensitive or classified,” Barbuto said. “As volunteers, LaRocca and Maier performed tasks such as setting up chairs, working at check-in tables and attending events open to the public. Neither demonstrated the skills or political knowledge in order to achieve higher standing in the Wyoming Democratic Party.”

LaRocca said, as her cover story, that she had a passion and experience in fundraising. Barbuto said the Party gave her the opportunity to fundraise as an independent contractor, while also maintaining some distance because the group didn’t believe her cover story.

Barbuto said she didn’t raise a dime for the Wyoming Democratic Party.

According to the New York Times, Maier and LaRocca were both tied to former spy Richard Seddon through a mutually used address in Cody. There’s also ties between Richard Seddon and Erik Prince, the Blackwater founder who owns a home near Cody, as Prince previously hired Seddon to train conservative activists, as previously reported in the Times. Sources also told the times that Seddon secured funding for those operations through Tex-Gore heiress Susan Gore.

Seddon is also associated with groups like Project Veritas.Tex-Gore has since announced publicly it does not condone these actions.

Documents show Maier is a Cody native and his mother is a cook at Prince’s ranch near Cody. Maier and LaRocca were together at the time of the dates in question and are now married.

Among some of those targeted by LaRocca and Maier were Wyoming groups and elected officials. Better Wyoming was one of the targets. Better Wyoming confirmed the operatives attended events for the organization between October 2019 and September 2020, as well as donated thousands of dollars. Better Wyoming staff and associates were secretly recorded by the duo during that time.

Nate Martin, executive director of Better Wyoming, took exception to the ties the duo had with Wyoming Liberty Group and its founder – Susan Gore.

“The use of spies is pretty far out there, but so are many of the Wyoming Liberty Group’s ideas,” Martin said. “Wyoming’s far-right promotes tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories like ‘Medicaid expansion causes abortion’ and ‘cannabis is ruining the daycare industry.’ It makes sense that they would use spies to try to attack their opposition or uncover some imagined liberal plot.”

The question was raised during the Wyoming Democratic Party press call of why choose Wyoming, which is the most dependably conservative-voting state in the country.

“We know the organization was based in Wyoming – in Wapiti, near Cody,” Barbuto said. “It could be this is some sort of pilot, or training for these operatives that they will send to other states. Maybe we are a stepping stone to other state parties or the national party, or progressive and liberal organizations. But as (of) the present, there’s really no concrete reason we know that they were in Wyoming other than that’s where the organization was headquartered.”

The duo sought incriminating information on Rep. Eric Balow, now Speaker of the House, because of his openness to marijuana laws – an issue the heiress is staunchly against. The pair also targeted Gov. Mark Gordon, whom conservative groups tied to the pair deemed too moderate.

Another person targeted by the couple was State Rep. Karlee Provenza from Laramie. She released an open letter to her colleagues after the New York Times published the story – roughly three weeks following being interviewed for it.

In her letter, Provenza said she met the couple over dinner in November 2019. At that time Maier said he was a Cody-born veteran who was passionate about cannabis reform and LaRocca was eager to learn about Wyoming politics. Provenza said her and her husband were apprehensive but wanted to be inclusive. They met periodically after.

“I look back on these conversations through a lens of rage,” she wrote. “Rage because I now know that they came into my home under false pretenses to target me and my family. Rage because they attempted to bait me and my husband into saying or doing something shameful so they could use it to hurt us. Rage because they used the same tactics against some of our most honorable colleagues here in the Legislature.”

Provenza said the pair, as well as whoever hired them, “have disgraced the integrity of the State of Wyoming, the chambers we serve and the relationships we have built with one another.”

She finished by addressing her colleagues, as well as Wyoming citizens.

“We have a collective decision to make now about whether we will accept this kind of behavior, these deceitful and crooked tactics, or whether we will decide as a body that they have no place among the honest debates and honorable character of the Wyoming State Legislature.”

Neither the governor’s office, nor the Wyoming Legislature issued any statements by press deadline.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story listed Project Veritas as a white supremacist group. This has not been confirmed by groups that denote such listings, and is therefore untrue. In light of this, the Examiner has retracted that and issued this correction in June 2021.