By Zachary R. Mider and Zeke Faux, Bloomberg News
Robert Mercer, the New York hedge fund manager and backer of President Donald Trump, is flashing a new badge.
For most of the past six years, Mercer was a volunteer policeman in the tiny town of Lake Arthur, N.M., an arrangement that allowed him to carry a concealed weapon in any U.S. state under a law that applies only to law-enforcement officers. As Bloomberg Businessweek reported last month, Mercer gave up his New Mexico badge for undisclosed reasons in September. The mayor of Lake Arthur shut the volunteer program last week.
But the 71-year-old financier is still in the law-enforcement game. Last week, a lawyer for the office of Sheriff Chad Day of Yuma County confirmed that Mercer is a volunteer member of the agency.
“From time to time, he serves in certain roles as designated by the sheriff,” said the lawyer, Robert Lees, who also helped set up the sheriff’s volunteer posse. Yuma is a rural northeastern Colorado county with a population of about 10,000 that borders Nebraska and Kansas.
In 2016, a year before Mercer gave up his Lake Arthur badge, a foundation he controls paid for a new $64,428 Dodge Ram 1500 Limited pickup truck for the Colorado sheriff’s official use, according to a budget presentation to the county’s board of commissioners explaining the donation.
“The sheriff’s vehicle has needed to be replaced for three years now and would not have been replaced with something so nice, but still would have required approximately $40,000 of county expenditure,” the presentation said.
A spokesman for Mercer’s hedge fund declined to comment. Day said in an interview that he doesn’t trade badges for donations. “That’s not what’s going on in my agency,” he said.
Day refused to comment on any individual posse members, saying the names of volunteers were kept secret for safety reasons. That was before the lawyer for the sheriff’s office confirmed Mercer was a volunteer.
In addition to the truck, the Mercer-backed Law Enforcement Education Foundation also donated Tasers worth more than $20,000, Day said. He said he is hoping to win another grant from the foundation to replace some outdated handguns.
“There are people that are supportive of my office because they’re good people that want to help,” he said. “It’s an awesome thing for there to be people in the world like that, and I’m really thankful for all of them.”
Lees confirmed that two Mercer associates, George Wells and Peter Pukish, had also joined the sheriff’s office. Both men had previously volunteered alongside Mercer in New Mexico. Wells is Mercer’s son-in-law, and Pukish is a family friend and longtime employee. Both are officers of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation. Wells and Pukish didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“In addition to whatever donations they made, these people bring certain qualifications to the table,” Lees said of the three men.
The Yuma County posse has about two dozen members, Day said, of whom seven or eight live outside the county. He said some but not all posse members qualify for privileges under the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, the 2004 federal law that allows officers to carry concealed weapons nationwide.
Mercer, whose financial backing of Steve Bannon, Breitbart News and the political-data firm Cambridge Analytica helped put Trump in the White House, lives in a mansion on Long Island, New York. He stepped down as co-chief executive officer of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies late last year and remains a researcher at the firm.
A Colorado gun-rights activist named Dudley Brown introduced Sheriff Day to Mercer’s foundation, according to the minutes of a February 2016 Yuma County Board of Commissioners meeting. Brown is the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which positions itself as a “no-compromise” alternative to the National Rifle Association. He declined to comment.
Sheriff Day rejected a Bloomberg News request this month under Colorado’s public-records law for documents relating to Mercer and his associates, including information on their qualifications and duties. He said disclosing the names of volunteers could endanger their safety.
“Some of my volunteer resources are directly involved in confidential undercover operations that involve direct ties and associations with the Mexican Cartel which has a presence in my area,” Day wrote in an earlier email. “It would not be safe tactically or personally to identify individuals who serve in association with those types of cases.”
Lees, the lawyer, wouldn’t say if Mercer or his associates have been infiltrating cartels. “What they do is entirely confidential,” Lees said. “I’m neither confirming nor denying that they serve in those roles.”