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'Lobbying' firm raises more questions than answers

'Lobbying' firm raises more questions than answers

The DG Group appears to have all the trappings of a Washington lobby firm.

Featuring images of the Capitol dome and promises of inside access, its sleek website
advertises a “scalable lobbying and global advocacy consultancy firm” with a track record of success.

But much of the site is phony.

For a closer look at the DG Group's website, click here.

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It uses text lifted from the BGR Group, the lobbying firm founded by former GOP Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. The DG Group origin statement includes a paragraph from the website of Mercury, a global PR firm with a Washington office. 

Staff pages for the DG Group are not linked to the main site but can be found with a Google search and showcases several high-ranking Republican operatives — all of whom are current or former employees of the BGR Group, listed under different names and
photos. 

Loren Monroe, a principal at BGR, said, “Perhaps I should be flattered that he’s borrowing our marketing language and our bios, but plagiarism and identity fraud are serious issues.”

His bio appears on the DG Group site under the name “Robert Wood.” The matter has been referred to the FBI, Monroe said. 

The FBI said it could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.

The photos of the DG Group lobbyists appear to be taken from PR websites and stock-photo archives. One of the people pictured as part of the firm’s leadership is a professor at Duke University’s Divinity School. Another is a comedian based in San Diego.

“Why in the heck would anybody want a picture of a Methodist bishop, next to all these famous people?” said William Willimon, the professor and bishop whose photo is juxtaposed with one of Jack Kemp, the former Republican vice presidential candidate who died in 2009 and purported co-founder of the firm.

The Hill traced the website for DG Group to Maurice Aguirre, a Dallas resident who has long billed himself as a political player.

He said the website was part of an elaborate attempt to conceal his past misconduct and cultivate an image as a premier K Street lobbyist.

“I am ashamed of the past, and the poor decisions I’ve made in my life. Things that continue to follow me everywhere I go,” Aguirre told The Hill. “All I ever wanted was a chance to prove myself in lobbying, fundraising and international consulting.”

He formerly served as the dean of the Dallas County Community College District but stepped down in 2005 after officials learned about a federal indictment, his criminal past and a forged Harvard University transcript. 

He was accused of taking part in an elaborate scheme that involved claiming to be close to high-ranking government officials in order to obtain thousands of dollars in rare fountain pens, according to The Dallas Morning News. Aguirre, who was found guilty of mail fraud in the case, was also accused of forging a thank-you note from President George W. Bush. 

In 2000, he was convicted of trying to use a fake State Department badge to obtain a free hotel room.

To further his newly crafted persona, Aguirre says he hired a reputation management firm.

 He said that the company plagiarized articles, blogs and press releases about the DG Group and his career, including putting his name on fake versions of The Hill’s annual Top Lobbyists list. Aguirre said he only gave them topics about which to create “generic” posts.

The Hill contacted the reputation management firm, which declined to comment, citing its privacy policy.

Aguirre claimed that he ordered the biographies on the DG Group site to be deleted years ago and expressed surprise when told that they could still be found online.

He added that he had two business partners who made many of the DG Group’s management decisions, though their names never appeared on the site. 

To bolster his case, Aguirre forwarded an email chain to The Hill that he said included one of the former partners and the designer of the DG Group’s website. The email address of the designer is registered under the name “Maurice Aguirre.”

The Hill could not locate either business partner. Both of them departed the firm and the United States last year, Aguirre said.

Nonetheless, he insists that the DG Group exists and describes it as a “virtual lobbying firm” where potential clients can have advocates “reachable by phone or email” and who are “able to get the job done.” 

Asked why other content that
appears to be plagiarized is still featured on the firm’s website, including a “message from the chairman” copied from BGR and attributed to one of the fake DG Group lobbyists, Aguirre said he hadn’t noticed the material was still online.

“I got so discouraged … after not getting jobs as a lobbyist or a consultant that I basically stopped visiting the website,” he said. 

After the initial conversation with The Hill, the “message from the chairman” was deleted from the DG Group’s main page. Aguirre said the whole site would be revamped soon, adding that he is not tech savvy.

Experian business records from 2013 place the DG Group at Aguirre’s home in Dallas.

Although social media profiles tout his presence in Washington, Aguirre has never lived in D.C. and did not file federal lobbying paperwork until contacted by The Hill. He is not registered to lobby in Texas.

One of his former clients, a nonprofit called the Beagle Freedom Project, says their relationship began last year and quickly went sour. The group now has a disclaimer on its website warning people not to field any calls from Aguirre on its behalf.

“We didn’t have a long tenure with him, but it was certainly dramatic,” said Kevin Chase, the organization’s vice president. 

“At first blush, it was quite an impressive pedigree and lineup of people he worked with. He relayed all these stories and awards he had won as a super lobbyist in D.C.,” he said, adding that Aguirre called and offered his services pro bono, which the group accepted.

Chase said that the group invited Aguirre to events in New York and Washington. The address he gave them, located in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in downtown D.C., kept coming back “return to sender.”

Within three months of first contact, the Beagle Freedom Project sent Aguirre a cease and desist letter.

Aguirre disputes that account of events, and says his representation for the group ended after about a month.

Pressed about his lobbying career, Aguirre said he has had other clients, including “several oil, gas, energy, hospitality and transportation companies and organizations.” Aguirre said he couldn’t name those clients due to confidentiality agreements.

He has been trying to revamp his image in Texas as well, securing a position as the executive director of the Dallas Chamber Music Society
in 2013.

Aguirre soon resigned amid allegations that he didn’t adequately handle day-to-day operations, the
Morning News reported at the time.

The organization declined to comment to The Hill, citing a policy of not discussing current or former
employees.

Not all of those who have been associated with Aguirre have had negative experiences, however.

His other pro bono client, Joe Dwyer, says Aguirre secured a meeting with the staff of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) last year and has been helpful in writing letters to lawmakers and advocacy groups.

Christie’s office didn’t comment for this article.

The Dallas Black Dance Theatre lists Aguirre as a member of its board of directors. 

Board President Georgia Scaife said Aguirre has “contributed towards major marketing and advertising” for the organization in terminals in the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. 

In addition to attending performances and board meetings, “he also helps to identify potential donors and has brought in new donors,” Scaife said.

Asked what people should know about him, Aguirre says that he’s long been involved in politics, primarily in Texas.

“It’s something that was attractive to me for many years. I grew up in Mexico, where my dad was in politics as well. It’s always been a passion of mine.”