Investigations Abortion

Exclusive: The Faces and Fake Names of People Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos

Sharona Coutts & Sofia Resnick

Rewire has identified at least three names that appear to have been used as pseudonyms by Center for Medical Progress operatives. One of these names appears to belong to a childhood acquaintance of the group’s apparent ringleader, David Daleiden.

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

When operatives from the Center for Medical Progress sat down for lunch with Planned Parenthood officials last February at the a/k/a Bistro in Pasadena, a city just outside of downtown Los Angeles, their hidden cameras caught over an hour of conversation between themselves and Dr. Mary Gatter, the medical director at Planned Parenthood Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley.

Parts of that conversation have since become notorious. Gatter’s comments about how Planned Parenthood clinics are reimbursed for facilitating donations of various parts of fetal tissue have been edited to give the false impression that she was bartering over body parts. Her self-deprecating joke about a Lamborghini has been twisted to make it sound like she was serious about buying a luxury car. (In context, it appears she was making the opposite point—that there was no profit to be made in any of these transactions.)

Based on a careful review of the tape, as well as documents provided by sources with direct knowledge of the sham company used by the activists—BioMax Procurement Services—Rewire has identified at least three names that appear to have been used as pseudonyms by these operatives. One of these names appears to belong to a childhood acquaintance of the group’s apparent ringleader, David Daleiden.

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We can reveal that the full names used by three operatives were: Robert Daoud Sarkis, the alias used by Daleiden, according to multiple sources who met with him at events in California and other states; as well as Susan Tennenbaum and Brianna Allen, both of which appear to be aliases of as-yet unidentified operatives.

Business Cards

Two of these names appear on business cards that were provided to attendees of private events that were infiltrated by Daleiden and his associates under false pretenses.

At some of the private events infiltrated by “Sarkis” and “Tennenbaum,” attendees were required to show photo identification, according to organizers who requested anonymity due to security concerns.

A third associate also attended these events. Calling herself Brianna Allen, this woman registered for the event on behalf of the company, according to multiple sources. She also furnished what appeared to be a bona fide photo identification. The photograph below shows the women who identified themselves as Susan Tennenbaum (left) and Brianna Allen (right).

Susan Tennenbaum and Brianna Allen

News reports that BioMax operatives presented what appeared to be California driver’s licenses when they visited a Texas Planned Parenthood affiliate lend further weight to the claims of event organizers that Daleiden and his group did indeed present forged ID cards.

To be sure, it’s possible that Robert Daoud Sarkis, Brianna Allen, and Susan Tennenbaum are real people who are in fact associated with BioMax, despite BioMax now being known to have been a front company.

However, Rewire has been unable to locate any such individuals, and neither the Center for Medical Progress nor BioMax itself produced any individuals by those names with ties to BioMax.

Rewire called all phone numbers listed on the business cards. The office number for BioMax goes directly to voicemail. The cell number listed for Susan Tennenbaum is disconnected. A voicemail left on Sarkis’ cell phone was not returned by deadline. We also left messages for other people named Susan Tennenbaum throughout the United States, and all Brianna Allens in California, listed in databases of public records. Emails to the addresses provided on the business cards did not receive a reply. We were unable to locate a single listing for “Robert Daoud Sarkis” in databases of public records.

This new evidence obviously raises the question of whether any of this conduct is illegal.

Already, California Attorney General Kamala Harris has announced an investigation into the Center for Medical Progress. Her investigation seems to be geared toward whether the group violated any laws in connection with its registration with the state’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, but she also said her office would look at whether the group had committed “any violations of California law.”

According to a California criminal defense attorney, Michael Kraut, there is some reason to believe that Daleiden and his associates may have violated California and federal law on forgery, credit card fraud, and identity theft.

If Daleiden and his accomplices did in fact provide fake government ID cards, they could have violated California laws that prohibit forgery, fraud, and perjury, said Kraut whose firm, Kraut Law Group, represents defendants in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

It is illegal to forge the state government seal, as well as to obtain state driver’s licenses using false names, said Kraut, who worked as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles and for the United States Attorney’s Office before starting his own practice. Both crimes can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on a range of circumstances. They are both easy for the prosecution to prove, added Kraut.

“A false seal is an easy prosecution because it either is or isn’t,” Kraut said. “And if they went to the DMV and got licenses under a false name, they’ve committed perjury. … That is very easy to prove, because one of the things they have to do in California is you have to fill out a document when you’re doing that, saying ‘I don’t have a license in any other name, and the name I’m using is my true and correct name.’ Each one would be a felonious statement.”

Prosecutors would have more difficulty charging Daleiden and his associates under California’s false impersonation statute if all they did was misrepresent themselves using fake names and fake business cards, Kraut said. Under California law, prosecutors must prove that a defendant deliberately used the identity of another and either directly benefited as a result or directly harmed that person in order to successfully convict on false impersonation charges.

In other words, if both Sarkis and Tennenbaum are fictional personas, then Daleiden and his operatives are unlikely to face charges of false impersonation.

However, another detail from the a/k/a Bistro video suggests Daleiden’s group may have gone beyond simply concocting identities, and might have co-opted the identity of a real person—one who shares the name of a California woman who went to the same elementary and high schools as the leader of this attack campaign.

Toward the end of the film, the woman who identifies herself as Susan can be seen removing a Bank of America card from her wallet, and using it to pay the bill.

Yet the name on the credit card is not Susan Tennenbaum, but rather, appears to be Brianna Allen.

Brianna Allen

BioMax’s alleged employees refer to “Brianna” in the three videos that have been released so far. Rewire emailed the address provided by the BioMax operative who called herself Brianna Allen but received no response. BioMax has not connected Rewire with any real person who will publicly identify herself as Brianna Allen.

However, Rewire has obtained evidence that suggests the group’s leader, Daleiden, does know a woman named Brianna Allen.

After seeing her name referenced in our earlier reporting, Brianna M. Allen of Davis, California, contacted Rewire to let us know that she had no ties to Daleiden’s organization and has not been in contact with him for 15 years.

Allen was the president of the student feminist club at Davis Senior High School at the same time that Daleiden was a student there, she said.

“Even in high school I knew he was adamantly against it [abortion]. He was very outspoken about being Catholic and more conservative. And we were very open about being liberal and pro-choice,” she told Rewire. “Last night I just thought, ‘Oh God, what if that’s why he chose my name?’ But I kind of wrote it off as, ‘No, that’s ridiculous.’”

If Daleiden’s group used Brianna M. Allen’s information to open a credit card account, they could have violated state or federal laws that prohibit credit card fraud, which carries a potential three-year prison sentence and would be easy to prove, Kraut said.

Allen stressed that she does not feel any ill will toward Daleiden personally, nor does she have definitive proof that Daleiden created a credit card in her name. Indeed, Brianna Allen is a fairly common name in the United States. Yet, Allen has been unable to access her credit reports online in the past few days, despite having been able to do so in the past.

“If it is just a weird coincidence, it would be a really, really weird coincidence,” Allen said.

Allen said her objection to Daleiden’s current campaign is not about her personal views on abortion rights.

“I definitely believe in a woman’s right to choose, but I understand it’s a very sensitive subject,” she said. “But I certainly don’t agree with him trying to expose lies by lying, and spying on people. It’s just wrong to me. The fact that he was basically just using media to heavily edit these videos for his own agenda, it’s just shady. I just don’t agree with it, personally.”

Planned Parenthood is also under investigation, with a congressional committee and at least eight states announcing inquiries to explore whether the nonprofit health-care network has engaged in the illegal practice of harvesting and profiting from the sale of fetal body parts, or any associated wrongdoing. Planned Parenthood has denied all allegations.

With more undercover videos expected for the remainder of the summer, pro-choice groups are bracing for additional fallout. However, as evidence of the Center for Medical Progress’ questionable tactics comes to light, it becomes more difficult to give their sensationalist claims much credence, Allen said.

“If he really felt this way, I think there are better ways to go about expressing your opinion than to basically scam people into saying whatever he wants them to say,” she said of Daleiden. “It’s just manipulative.”

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Activist Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos Turns Himself In

Imani Gandy

David Daleiden intends to plead not guilty and to reject a proposed plea deal that would keep him out of prison, according to CBS News.

David Daleiden, the anti-choice activist behind the campaign charging that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal tissue, surrendered to authorities in Harris County on Thursday, one week after a grand jury indicted him on felony and misdemeanor charges related to that campaign.

Daleiden immediately posted a $3,000 bond and was released. Sandra Merritt, an anti-choice activist and Daleiden’s associate, turned herself in to authorities on Wednesday. She also posted a bond and was released.

Daleiden and Merritt were indicted on felony charges of tampering with a governmental record related to their use of fake identification cards to gain admission to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston. The pair could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Daleiden was also charged with a misdemeanor count related to the purchase or sale of human organs.

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The anti-choice activists’ attorneys negotiated a deal with the authorities for their voluntary surrender after they were indicted January 25 and warrants were issued for their arrest, according to CBS News.

Daleiden intends to plead not guilty and to reject a proposed plea deal that would keep him out of prison, according to CBS News. His local counsel, Terry Yates, plans to head to trial if he is unable to quash the indictment.

“David will not be taking [a plea deal],” Peter Breen, special counsel with the Thomas More Society, told reporters outside the Harris County courthouse, according to the Washington Post. “What we want is an apology, and that’s where we’re at right now. He is innocent of the charges.”

The charges stem from Daleiden’s “Human Capital” project, a 30-month long sting operation during which Daleiden created a fake tissue procurement company called BioMax, and, along with Merritt, gained entrance to the Houston clinic under false pretenses using fake identities. Daleiden offered clinic staff $1,600 to purchase fetal tissue. Staff at the clinic rejected his offer, according to Dawn Laguens, executive vice president and chief experience officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The sting operation resulted in multiple Republican-led state and federal investigations, none of which have found evidence to support Daleiden’s claims that Planned Parenthood is profiting from the sale of fetal tissue or “baby parts.”

A Harris County grand jury was tasked with investigating the charges levied by Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress against Planned Parenthood. The investigation found that Planned Parenthood had not engaged in any wrongdoing with respect to its fetal tissue donation program. In a legal twist, the grand jury indicted the two anti-choice activists who covertly recorded videos of the health-care provider and its employees.

The indictment of Daleiden and Merritt has rallied anti-choice advocates to their cause. A petition asking the Harris County District Attorney’s office and the grand jury to drop the charges has garnered more than 115,000 signatures.

Daleiden and his advocates insist that he is an investigative journalist whose First Amendment rights have been infringed upon.

Planned Parenthood officials have balked at the suggestion.

“We don’t know of any journalists who have engaged in wire fraud and mail fraud, lied to multiple government agencies, tampered with government documents, and broken laws in at least four states—only to lie about what they found,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, according to the Washington Post. “It’s hard to imagine anyone calling that ‘journalism.’”

News Law and Policy

Judge Blocks Group Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos From Disclosing Footage to Supreme Court

Imani Gandy

A district court judge last week refused to grant David Daleiden's request to submit to the U.S. Supreme Court video footage from the smear campaign against Planned Parenthood.

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

United States District Court Judge William Orrick last week refused to grant the request from David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) to submit to the U.S. Supreme Court video footage from the smear campaign against Planned Parenthood.

Daleiden and CMP, an anti-choice front group created to attack Planned Parenthood through a series of heavily edited videos, requested that Orrick lift the temporary restraining order (TRO) he issued in July so they could submit to the Supreme Court audio recordings surreptitiously recorded at the private meetings of the National Abortion Federation (NAF). Daleiden and an associate at CMP were recently indicted on felony charges related to those recordings.

The request was in connection with an amicus brief they intend to file in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a landmark Supreme Court case that could remove abortion access for many Texas women and serve as a copycat law for state legislatures looking to end legal abortion.

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Those recordings featured comments from three speakers on a panel about targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws at NAF’s 2015 annual meeting, along with remarks from an independent clinic owner at NAF’s 2014 annual meeting. The recordings would, according to Daleiden and CMP, “allow Defendants to make the points they need to make while still protecting the anonymity of all non-presenters at the conference.”

Citing “the depth of their knowledge regarding the abortion industry gained as a result of the multi-year investigative journalism venture, the Human Capital Project,” Daleiden and CMP claim that they are “uniquely qualified to file an amicus brief in Whole Woman’s Health.”

The defendants claimed that the recordings would counter the “dire predictions made by abortion industry representatives (including Planned Parenthood) in their filings in the Supreme Court.” Those dire predictions? That the omnibus anti-choice bill known as HB 2 would decimate abortion access in Texas and lead to half of the clinics in Texas shutting their doors.

Daleiden and CMP claimed that the comments from presenters at NAF’s 2015 annual meeting demonstrate that market forces are at work in abortion access and that abortion providers can remain viable despite TRAP laws in Texas. The recording from the 2014 meeting featured an independent clinic owner who purportedly characterized Planned Parenthood’s business model as one in which clinics are opened irrespective of patient need.

The public interest in these comments outweighs the “insubstantial privacy interest at issue for NAF or its members who have already made public their support for abortion rights,” Daleiden and CMP wrote in their brief.

NAF flatly disagreed. “[T]he mere fact that David Daleiden wants to file an amicus brief in the Supreme Court cannot possibly trump the critically-important privacy interests protected by this Court’s TRO,” NAF wrote in its responsive brief.

NAF argued that Daleiden had misrepresented the nature of the comments he sought to include in his amicus brief filing.

NAF further noted that even though the four comments from the TRAP law panel presenters and the independent clinic owner, taken together, last less than eight minutes, Daleiden sought to disclose audio files that are more than three hours long. The three hours of material are not relevant to any of the issues in Whole Woman’s Health, according to NAF.

Orrick agreed.

“I have reviewed the portions of the recordings that defendants argue rebut or undercut the arguments made by NAF and Planned Parenthood in the Supreme Court case,” he wrote. “Defendants have mischaracterized the nature of the comments made by the presenters and the independent clinic owner; the comments are not directly relevant to the amicus brief statements defendants attribute to NAF and Planned Parenthood.”

NAF also took issue with Daleiden’s claim that the privacy interests at issue are “insubstantial.”

Rejecting Daleiden’s argument that the presenters and the independent clinic owner identified in the audio recordings were courageous enough to publicly identify themselves as pro-choice and that their decision to openly support access to safe, legal abortion care somehow lessened their privacy interest, NAF wrote, “publicly identifying oneself as a NAF member and advocate of the pro-choice movement is a far cry from being identified publicly by Daleiden and his cohorts as being involved in ‘baby trafficking.’”

NAF pointed out that even if specific people are not identified by name in the material, the very disclosure of the material “will inevitably lead to harassment, intimidation, and violence perpetrated at NAF member clinics.”

“The three people murdered in Colorado were not featured on any of Daleiden’s videotapes,” NAF argued, “Yet they were made to suffer the terrible consequences of his and CMP’s hate campaign.”

Orrick again sided with NAF.

“It is not necessary here to repeat the reasons I issued the TRO in the first place—the deceitful lengths the defendants went to obtain these recordings and the legitimate safety concerns of NAF and its members, made all too real by the targeting of individuals on the publicly disclosed videos, the substantial increase in threats of violence to NAF members and more recently the tragedy in Colorado Springs,” Orrick wrote.

“The question is whether defendants’ desire to use the information in their amicus briefs should permit an exception to the TRO,” Orrick continued. “The answer is ‘No.’”

NAF and Daleiden are waiting for Orrick to issue a ruling as to whether he will convert the TRO he issued blocking Daleiden and CMP from releasing any more video footage recorded at NAF’s meetings into a preliminary injunction. Orrick heard oral arguments on that issue in December.

Orrick’s order refusing CMP and Daleiden’s request to modify the TRO to permit disclosure to the Supreme Court, however, signals that CMP and Daleiden are likely to lose on that issue too.

“While defendants argue that the individuals making the four comments they are interested in using in their amicus brief (three speakers on the 2015 NAF panel and the independent clinic owner) are publicly known as involved in ‘abortion advocacy,’ that contention does not mean that those individuals have no interest in the confidentiality of the specific comments and statements captured on the recording made during the NAF Annual Meetings,” Orrick wrote.

“This is especially true given the allegations—which will be addressed shortly in the ruling on the motion for a preliminary injunction—that defendants’ videos released as part of their Human Capital Project have been selectively edited to mischaracterize the comments made by the identified speakers, and, as a result, those speakers have been harassed and threatened.”