Boasting 3.2 million followers on Twitter, philanthropist Bill Pulte has used his account to discover deserving causes for fundraising and donations. Now, he suspects that multiple top executives at the Fortune 500 company in his family’s name have weaponized that social media platform against him.
A multi-millionaire, the younger Pulte also serves as CEO of a private equity firm, and he has no formal role in the company that bears his family’s name: PulteGroup, an Altanta-based home construction company that ranked 267th on the Fortune 500 list for 2022.
Pulte filed a lawsuit last week against the PulteGroup’s then-incoming chief operating officer Brandon Jones for allegedly creating “a sophisticated network of fictitious accounts,” known as bots, “to target, publish and artificially amplify incessant, targeted, coordinated and malicious harassment attacks on Pulte, his grandfather and The Pulte Family.” PulteGroup fired Jones two days later, finding him in violation of the company’s code of ethical business conduct.
The lawsuit’s blast radius within the company could be widening, after a second top PulteGroup executive allegedly deleted his Twitter account. That executive, general counsel Todd Sheldon, questioned whether the lawsuit could pose liability to him personally, according to a four-page letter obtained by Law&Crime.
Sheldon did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s email requesting comment.
“Shocked and Disappointed”
In the letter, Pulte’s attorney Jason Gordon placed a litigation hold on Sheldon, accusing him of interacting with Jones through a recently deleted Twitter account operating under the pseudonym “@tniless.”
“You discussed this Twitter account with Pulte and another Director in 2018 or 2019,” the letter states. “Pulte was shocked and disappointed to learn that the Pulte Family’s correspondence with the Board of Directors pertaining to the allegations of the lawsuit, after coming into your possession, appears to have been used by you to address whether you have any personal liability as to the claims in the lawsuit.”
Pulte’s lawyer says that the “@tniless” either “knowingly or unknowingly” interacted with Twitter accounts attributed to Jones, including one named “Stephen Matthews” (@stephen_matthe), which the lawsuit linked to Jones’s email address.
As quoted in the lawsuit, the @stephen_matthe account posted a “false, malicious and defamatory” tweet attacking the younger Pulte and his grandfather.
“This Bill Pulte has nothing to do with Pulte Homes. He trades in his grandfather’s legacy as if he had something to do with it.”
Grandfather William J. Pulte died at the age of 85 in 2018, and the lawsuit says the tweet distorts his memory.
“Pulte had a close relationship with his grandfather and was the only family member, of his grandfather’s 14 children and 25 grandchildren, recruited by his grandfather to work in Pulte Homes,” the lawsuit says. “Pulte’s relationship with his grandfather was so good that he was the only descendant to receive an inheritance from his grandfather.”
Beyond allegedly smearing the Pultes, Jones also used bot accounts to disclose “confidential, non-public information” about the company, according to the lawsuit.
Pulte says other tweets linked to Jones falsely accused him and his family members of crimes, like arson and securities fraud, and violated company rules on engaging with “pornography, sexually suggestive content.”
Though Pulte’s lawyer says he discovered interactions between the “@tniless” and @stephen_matthe” accounts, he stops short of outright accusing Sheldon of conspiring with Jones.
“However, a review of your Twitter account has not at this time revealed any attacks directed at Pulte, the Pulte Family, or anything that amounts to violation of PulteGroup’s Code of Conduct,” the litigation hold letter says. “Thus, while you may not be a potential party to this lawsuit, you are a likely fact witness, including due to the fact that it appears you may have used privileged and confidential information belonging to the Board of Directors for personal means in deactivating or deleting your personal Twitter account. This is why Pulte asked the Board of Directors to put up a Chinese wall as to the Executive team, which includes you and your office. This presents a legal quandary.”
As of press time, the “@tniless” account is no longer active, and Pulte says that Sheldon wiped it after being told to preserve documents for an internal investigation. In a statement released through the family’s official Twitter account, Pulte called the deletion “very odd.”
Social Blade, an analytics website, indicates that the account was created in April 2009, and it tweeted some 24 times during his roughly 13-year life span, with a modest group of 34 followers.
Pulte’s lawyer wants several categories of information seeking any messages Sheldon exchanged with Jones via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, email or text messages.
The attorney also wants Sheldon to answer four questions, starting with: “Why did you delete your personal Twitter account after the Board of Directors (unaddressed to you) received correspondence from Bill Pulte and the Pulte Family?”
Pulte also has questions about Sheldon’s decision to appoint the company’s outside law firm King & Spalding for the investigation. The letter suggests that the general counsel should have tapped “an independent law firm for the investigation into the alleged actions of Brandon Jones (and potential co-conspirators).”
As a Twitter philanthropist, the younger Pulte has used his fortune to help raise $2.5 million for the family of the teacher killed in the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school shooting. He also raised $10,000 for the funeral costs of the family of an 18-month old killed by the boyfriend of the child’s mother. He regularly gives away money to people who message him.
PulteGroup did not respond to a detailed email requesting comment on the contents of the letter.
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