• Attorneys in an Idaho lawsuit say high-profile anti-government activist Ammon Bundy is exploiting Wyoming’s controversial privacy laws.
By Maggie Mullen, WyoFile.com
Ammon Bundy is using Wyoming’s controversial corporate privacy laws to hide his assets in a series of shell companies, according to recent court filings in an Idaho lawsuit.
As first reported by Boise State Public Radio, attorneys for an Idaho hospital suing Bundy for his actions surrounding a child protection case leveled the accusation.
“All indications are that Bundy has made millions as a professional extremist and conflict entrepreneur and that he is now doing his best to fraudulently convey his considerable wealth into shell corporations and Wyoming trusts,” filings allege.
Last year, the Washington Post investigated whether Wyoming’s private-trust and limited-liability-company laws are prone to abuse, prompting the Legislature to consider reforms. Wyoming is one of four states that does not require the beneficial owners of a private trust or LLC to be publicly listed. Lawmakers have so far chosen to keep the status quo, but the Bundy controversy has renewed concerns about bad actors.
Bundy rose to national attention in 2016 during the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by anti-government activists. In 2022 he lost an independent election bid to become Idaho’s governor.
In March of last year, he led protests at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center, where the grandson of one of his associates, Diego Rodriguez, was being evaluated for malnutrition. The protests tied up the facility’s phone lines, forced the hospital into lockdown mode and rerouted ambulances, according to the Idaho Capital Sun. Additionally, the personal information of some hospital staff was shared online, “resulting in hateful language and very visible and alarming threats on social media,” according to statements by the hospital. In May 2022, St. Luke’s Health System filed a civil lawsuit against Bundy, Rodriguez and organizations tied to both men for defamation and harassment.
Attorneys for St. Luke’s now say Bundy is putting assets into Wyoming trusts to prevent their clients from collecting on a judgment.
“The allegations have no merit,” Bundy told WyoFile. “The media here has defamed me over and over but I believe in free speech so I do nothing about it.”
A jury trial for the case is scheduled for July 10, according to Idaho’s online court portal.
By early December 2022 — just six months after St. Luke’s filed suit — Bundy sold his home in Emmett, Idaho to White Barn Enterprises LLC, according to court documents, which estimated the property’s value at $1.2 million. The documents also show White Barn Enterprises is owned by Farmhouse Holdings LLC, a Wyoming-based entity.
Operating agreements for the two LLCs list Aaron Welling — the treasurer for Bundy’s gubernatorial campaign — as manager of both entities. In Wyoming, an LLC’s owners, officers and beneficiaries can be kept private by listing a registered agent instead. It becomes public information if law enforcement, or as in this case, legal proceedings require its disclosure.
IRS documents included in the filings indicate Welling is the sole member of each company. Both LLCs were formed on July 20, 2022 — shortly after the suit’s filing — according to records from Idaho and Wyoming’s respective secretary of state offices. The court documents also included an email exchange between Welling and Donavan LaCour, an advisor with Prime Corporate Services — a company specializing in forming business entities — from December 2022.
“The WY Holding Company is for Anonymity and privatization,” LaCour wrote. “People can’t see you as the member on your LLC in WY or your mailing address. The Trust has beneficial ownership in the WY LLC, that way everything that the WY LLC has as a subsidiary can now roll up in the Trust and avoid probate.”
In the process of selling his home, Bundy also paid approximately $5,400 to remove a lien on the property, according to court documents. A judge had placed the lien when Bundy failed to pay St. Luke’s attorneys fees, which he was ordered to do after failing to appear in court.
“The fact is, St. Luke’s liened my home last fall, I paid off the lien as required by law and sold my house. Completely legal,” Bundy told WyoFile. “[I] am not affiliated with any shell companies. Simply just another smear tactic.”
Bundy said he is living at the property “for now” and pays nearly $2,700 in rent to Welling. Bundy also characterized the lawsuit as a “SLAPP lawsuit,” — a “strategic lawsuit against public participation” — meant to chill free speech by burdening critics with the cost of a legal defense and the stress of potential liability.
Legal proceedings allege Bundy’s decision to shift assets to Wyoming in the midst of the lawsuit, but Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) questions whether transparency should rely on the courts.
“I think it’s a very fair question to decide how much anonymity we want to give in Wyoming,” Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) told WyoFile. “I lean towards more disclosure, I’ve become more that way over time.”
As former co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee, Case led the charge last summer to examine Wyoming’s privacy laws as they apply to private trusts and LLCs. Case had concerns about the potential for bad actors to abuse the system, as well as missed revenue for Wyoming. Trust companies in Wyoming hold at least $31.5 billion worth of assets in trusts — close to the state’s entire GDP — and Case considers it an untapped source of tax-income for the state.
“It’s a big business for a narrow amount of practitioners in Wyoming,” Case said.
During a May 2022 meeting, the committee spent considerable time on the topic, but the room was divided by “two widely different thoughts,” Case had said. Business attorneys and professionals — several of which helped the Legislature draft and revise the very laws at the center of the discussion — testified in objection to the idea that Wyoming may be enabling criminal activity. Meantime, representatives from the Equality State Policy Center and the DC-based Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Coalition raised concerns that opposition voices had vested personal interests in maintaining the status quo.
Ultimately, the committee adjourned without taking further action, such as requiring research or bill drafting from legislative staff. Instead, Case brought a personal bill to the 2023 general session. Senate File 93 – Limited liability company reporting would have required LLCs owned by a trust to disclose the identities of its owners. Secretary of State Chuck Gray spoke in favor of the bill during a Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee meeting in January.
“This is an issue I think we need to get a handle on,” Gray told the committee. “While it is crucial that Wyoming remain the most pro-business state in the nation, we should not allow foreign entities to take advantage of our laws for nefarious ends.”
Attorney Scott Meier urged the committee to vote down the bill. Meier, who serves as President of the Wyoming Bankers Association, spoke on behalf of his own law firm.
“What are we trying to accomplish? Are we just being nosy, just trying to figure out who owns what?” Meier said, adding that anonymity is critical to protecting business secrets. Meier also pointed to extensive legislation from 2010 that completely repealed Wyoming’s LLC laws and replaced them with statutes that were partly intended to increase privacy.
“In this case, it sounds to me like a very dangerous slope, a very slippery slope,” Meier said. “And you’re looking and saying ‘now we want to know’ … but nobody can tell me why other than, yeah, there was a newspaper article.”
The bill died in committee by a 3-2 vote.
The Joint Corporations Committee will meet at the end of May in Lander and will hear an update from the secretary of state’s office regarding its business division and the growth of LLCs in Wyoming.
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.