(Bloomberg) -- Bodyguards for the family of billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch used police badges from a tiny New Mexico town that authorized them to carry concealed weapons in all 50 U.S. states, according to documents seen by Bloomberg News.
The Lake Arthur police department that awarded the badges for volunteer service is the same one that for years provided a similar perk to Robert Mercer, the 71-year-old New York hedge fund manager and a key financial backer of President Donald Trump.
Koch Industries Inc.’s security unit obtained the badges for dozens of people over several years, including bodyguards employed directly by the Wichita, Kansas-based company and by an outside contractor, according to a person with knowledge of the arrangement. Bloomberg News was able to verify the names of eight current or former Koch guards who had Lake Arthur badges.
Koch and the outside contractor, Rimi Corporate Services Inc., based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, occasionally provided donations to the Lake Arthur reserve program, the person said. The town has 433 residents.
The arrangement with Lake Arthur illustrates how a 2004 federal law, enacted to improve the safety of the nation’s police officers by allowing them to carry weapons off-duty, has come to be used by some of the nation’s wealthiest people to arm themselves or their private security forces.
The Kochs are among the most influential conservative figures in the country, overseeing a political network that directs hundreds of millions of dollars to promote free-market causes each year. Steve Lombardo, a spokesman for Koch Industries, co-owned by the Koch brothers, declined to comment.
“I don’t know anything about that,” Michael Purdy, Rimi’s founder, said in a brief phone interview when asked about Koch bodyguards receiving Lake Arthur badges.
Ysidro Salazar, the mayor of Lake Arthur, terminated the reserve program last week after the publication of a Bloomberg Businessweek article about Mercer’s membership. He also placed Police Chief William Norwood on administrative leave, saying the program “got a little bit too big for him and a lot of the reserves kind of took advantage of that fact.”
Salazar said he didn’t know about any Koch bodyguards and that the town didn’t have any records of gifts because they would have gone to two nonprofit groups associated with the Lake Arthur reserve program rather than to the police department. Norwood didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.
Members of the Lake Arthur reserve program also have included martial-arts champions and the actor who played the villain in “Free Willy 3.” Dan Bilzerian, known as the King of Instagram for cavorting with topless models and machine guns on the social-media site, once was a volunteer reservist, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
In 2016, Bilzerian posted a photo of himself, Chief Norwood and two clothed models in a room full of assault-style weapons.
An apparent email mishap by Norwood provided a clue to the Koch connection. On March 1, after Bloomberg began asking questions about Mercer’s involvement in the department, Norwood sent a program-wide message ordering volunteers not to speak to the media.
“We can all appreciate that the Liberal Fake Media is on a witch hunt,” Norwood wrote.
While Norwood usually kept hidden the names of other recipients of group emails, this time they were all visible to each other. Bloomberg News reviewed two copies of the email, which listed 275 recipients, and was able to identify eight as current or former Koch guards through other documents, including social-media postings and state licensing records.
The guards identified by Bloomberg News are mostly former military commandos, including ex-Navy SEALs. Since they attracted notice for their political spending almost a decade ago, the Kochs have been vilified by the left and have been subjected to frequent death threats.
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