CLAIM: A legal filing shows that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, have an interest in a diamond mining company in Oklahoma.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The document does not prove that any of the senior figures involved in the alleged company named in the filing, Paragon Diamonds, LLC. Legal experts confirmed to The Associated Press that the filing appears to be fake, meaning it was filed without good reason or is invalid. The company does not appear on the Oklahoma commercial register, and representatives from DeSantis and Fauci also confirmed that neither of them has any interest in such a company.
THE FACTS: Social media users have circulated the Florida filing in recent days to falsely claim that it proves DeSantis, Fauci and others are doing business together at an Oklahoma diamond mining company.
“Can anyone answer why Ron DeSantis is in the Oklahoma diamond business with Anthony Fauci and a former CDC director?” wrote a Twitter user this month, sharing images of the form and a link to submitting it to Florida’s secure trade registry.
Similar posts on Instagram also claimed that the two “operate in a diamond mining business together in Oklahoma” and shared images of the same file.
However, legal experts confirmed that the filing appears to be fraudulent and contains numerous errors.
The form, referred to as UCC-1, is a Florida Uniform Commercial Code Funding Statement filed in January 2021. The Uniform Commercial Code is a set of laws governing all commercial transactions.
A financing statement is a legal form that allows a lender to register a lien – or title – on an asset to secure a loan. By filing the legal notice, a creditor declares their right to receive personal property or collateral from debtors who default on business loans.
On this particular form, the applicant lists an address in Sulfur, Oklahoma under the name of Paragon Diamonds, LLC. The filer alleges that DeSantis, Fauci and others are “debtors” who owe money to the filer, who is referred to as a “creditor.” The filing also misspells DeSantis’ middle name.
However, it is not clear whether the applicant claims that the named persons are involved in a diamond business. The financing statement does not show any collateral.
“It’s almost certainly an invalid application in the sense that it doesn’t actually describe 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 saw no mention of a diamond mine in the actual claim on the form. In fact, there’s only one active diamond mine in the US, and that’s it Diamonds State Park Crater in Arkansas, according to the park.
There are other indications that it’s not legitimate, said Thomas Russell, a visiting professor at Levin College of Law.
“It’s a frivolous act. The form should not be used for that,” Russell said. “The claim makes no sense.”
LoPucki explained that the Uniform Commercial Code system is easy to abuse because such funding statements do not need to be verified prior to filing, nor do they require a signature from all named parties. This means that anyone can file such a lien affecting anyone.
“There are a lot of problems with the UCC system because they don’t require the debtor to sign the financing statements,” he said.
Russell added that the problem is “common enough” that many states have enacted laws making it easier to throw out such requests or penalize the person who made them.
A 2019 National Association of State Secretary of State Report commenting on the increase in such filings, stated that “funding statements without a legitimate basis under the UCC” are “an ongoing problem for government registrars and the individuals concerned.”
“Often used in retaliation by members of state separatist groups, prison inmates and others seeking to harass or intimidate officials and corporate/financial institutions, these filings can cause serious financial hardship for victims,” the report said.
The report also points out that foreign ministers’ offices, which normally serve as a repository for these public announcements, are not authorized to check the accuracy or validity of the documents.
A DeSantis spokesperson confirmed to the AP that the filing is inaccurate.
“Governor DeSantis is not involved in such deals,” spokesman Bryan Griffin wrote in an email.
The National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, of which Fauci serves as director, also confirmed in a statement to the AP that the information in the filing is incorrect.
Additionally, no record of any such entity named Paragon Diamonds, LLC appears in the Business Records of the Oklahoma Secretary of Statenor does such entity appear under the applicant’s name in the same database.
The applicant did not respond to a request for comment.
This is part of AP’s efforts to address widespread misinformation, including working with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content circulating online. Learn more about fact checking at AP.