CLAIM: A legal filing shows that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, are involved with an Oklahoma diamond mining business.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The document does not prove that either leader has a stake in the purported business named in the filing, Paragon Diamonds, LLC. Legal experts confirmed to The Associated Press that the filing appears to be bogus, meaning it was filed without any reasonable cause or is invalid. The company does not appear on Oklahoma’s business registry, and representatives for DeSantis and Fauci also confirmed neither are involved with such an entity.
THE FACTS: Social media users in recent days have circulated the Florida filing to falsely claim that it proves that DeSantis, Fauci and others are in business together in an Oklahoma diamond mining company.
“Can someone answer why Ron DeSantis is in the Oklahoma diamond business with Anthony Fauci and a former CDC Director?” wrote one Twitter user this month, sharing images of the form and a link to the filing on Florida’s secured transaction registry.
Similar posts on Instagram also claimed that the two are “in a diamond mining business in Oklahoma together,” sharing images of the same filing.
However, legal experts confirmed that the filing appears to be fraudulent, and contains numerous errors.
The form, called a UCC-1, is a Florida Uniform Commercial Code Financing Statement that was filed in January 2021. The Uniform Commercial Code is a set of laws for all commercial transactions.
A financing statement is a legal form that allows a lender to announce a lien — or a legal claim — on an asset to secure a loan. By filing the legal notice, a creditor is declaring their right to obtain personal property, or collateral, of debtors who default on business loans.
On this particular form, the filer lists a Sulphur, Oklahoma, address under the name of Paragon Diamonds, LLC. The filer is alleging that DeSantis, Fauci and others are “debtors” who owe money to the filer, named as the “creditor.” The filing also misspells DeSantis’ middle name.
However, it is not clear whether the filer is claiming that the people named are involved in a diamond business. The financing statement does not detail any collateral.
“It’s almost certainly an invalid filing in the sense that it doesn’t actually describe any collateral,” said Lynn LoPucki, a professor at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law.”
He added that the filing appeared to be “obviously bogus,” and said he didn’t see any mention of a diamond mine in the actual claim made in the form. In fact, there’s only one active diamond mine in the U.S., and that’s at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas, according to the park.
There are additional signs that show it isn’t legitimate, said Thomas Russell, a visiting professor at the Levin College of Law.
“This is a frivolous filing. It’s not what the form should be used for,” Russell said. “The claim doesn’t make any sense.”
LoPucki explained that the Uniform Commercial Code system can easily be abused, because such financing statements do not have to be verified ahead of filing, nor do they require a signature from all parties named. This means that anyone can file such a lien implicating anyone.
“There is a lot of trouble with the UCC system because they don’t require the financing statements to be signed by the debtor,” he said.
Russell added that the problem is “common enough” that many states have passed statutes making it easier to toss such filings or penalize the person who made them.
A 2019 report by the National Association of Secretaries of State on the rise of such filings stated that “financing statements with no legitimate basis under the UCC” are “a persistent problem for state filing offices and the individuals targeted.”
“Often used as a retaliatory measure by government separatist group members, prison inmates, and others looking to harass or intimidate public officials and corporations/lending institutions, these filings can create serious financial difficulties for victims,” the report states.
The report also notes that secretary of state offices, which typically serve as the filing location for these public notices, do not have the authority to verify the accuracy or the validity of the documents.
A spokesperson for DeSantis confirmed to the AP that the filing is inaccurate.
“Governor DeSantis is not involved with any such business,” Press Secretary Bryan Griffin wrote in an email.
The National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where Fauci serves as the director, similarly confirmed in a statement to the AP that the information contained in the filing is false.
Additionally, no record of such a business called Paragon Diamonds, LLC, appears in the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s business registry, nor does any such entity appear under the filer’s name in the same database.
The filer did not respond to a request for comment.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.
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