HOUSTON (AP) — The leaders of a Texas-based group that promotes election conspiracy theories were jailed Monday for not complying with a court order to provide information in a defamation lawsuit over some of their claims.
Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips, who run True the Vote, were ordered detained by U.S. Marshals, according to an order signed by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt in Houston. They will be held for at least one day or “until they fully comply with the Court's Order,” Hoyt wrote.
Houston-based True the Vote provided research for a debunked documentary that alleged widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Engelbrecht, Phillips and their nonprofit organization are being sued by Michigan-based election software provider Konnech Inc. over True the Vote's claims of a Chinese-related conspiracy involving U.S. poll workers’ information.
Alfredo Perez, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service in Houston, said Monday that Engelbrecht and Phillips were in the law enforcement agency’s custody.
True the Vote said in a statement read during a video livestream Monday that its attorneys would appeal Hoyt's ruling.
Konnech provides election software used to recruit and train poll workers. It has accused Engelbrecht, Phillips and their group of falsely claiming that Konnech stored the personal information of U.S. election workers in an unsecured server in China.
The lawsuit also alleges True the Vote’s leaders illegally downloaded from Konnech’s server the personal data of 1.8 million U.S. poll workers.
Konnech says all of its U.S. customer data is secured and stored on “protected computers within the United States.”
Hoyt issued a temporary restraining order earlier in October telling Engelbrecht and Phillips to return all data belonging to Konnech and reveal the names of anyone who helped access it.
In a court hearing last week, Phillips declined to reveal the name of an analyst who reviewed the data.
True the Vote quoted Engelbrecht in its statement as saying that the group does not believe the person was covered by Hoyt’s disclosure order.
Konnech’s lawsuit accuses Engelbrecht and Phillips of “racism and xenophobia” by making “baseless claims” that “the Chinese Communist Party is somehow controlling U.S. elections through Konnech because its founder and some of its employees are of Chinese descent.”
Konnech’s CEO and founder, Eugene Yu, 65, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in China, according to his attorneys. He has lived with his family in Michigan for more than 20 years.
Engelbrecht and Phillips have pointed out that Los Angeles County prosecutors recently charged Yu with grand theft by embezzlement and conspiracy to commit a crime.
Prosecutors allege that Konnech violated its contract with Los Angeles County by sending election workers' information to a China-based subcontractor who helped fix Konnech software.
Gary S. Lincenberg, one of Yu’s attorneys, has denied the allegations.
“This is a deeply misguided prosecution that attempts to criminalize what is, at best, a civil breach of contract claim involving poll worker management software,” Lincenberg said last week in a court filing.
True the Vote’s claims of election fraud have been widely discredited.
Cellphone data analysis done by True the Vote was used by conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza in his film “2000 Mules” to try to show that Democratic operatives were paid to illegally collect and drop off ballots in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Independent fact-checkers, including at The Associated Press, found that True the Vote did not prove its claims. Election security experts say it is based on faulty assumptions, anonymous accounts and improper analysis of cellphone location data. Georgia election officials also have said the claims are false.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70
Associated Press writer Terry Wallace in Dallas contributed to this report.