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$2.3 million stolen from Wisconsin Republicans before 2020 election is recovered

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FILE - Former President Donald Trump campaigns at the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway on Oct. 27, 2020 in West Salem, Wis.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — All of the $2.3 million stolen from the Wisconsin Republican Party by hackers just before the 2020 presidential election has been recovered, including nearly $600,000 obtained by the FBI and given back to the party last month, the state party executive director said Tuesday.

The state GOP noticed suspicious activity on Oct. 22, 2020, and contacted the FBI a day later, less than two weeks before Election Day. The party determined that the money had been taken from the account it was using to help try to reelect President Donald Trump. He went on to lose Wisconsin to President Joe Biden by less than 21,000 votes.

The investigation into the theft is ongoing, Wisconsin party executive director Mark Jefferson said.

“We understand that the investigation remains active and what determinations have been made on holding those responsible accountable, we are not privy to at this time,” Jefferson said.

Leonard Peace, a spokesman for the FBI in Wisconsin, did not immediately return a message.

The Republican Party chairman at the time, Andrew Hitt, said in 2020 that the hackers manipulated invoices from four vendors who were being paid for direct mail for Trump’s reelection efforts as well as for pro-Trump material such as hats to be handed out to supporters. Invoices and other documents were altered so when the party paid them, the money went to the hackers instead of the vendors, Hitt said.

The party has increased its cybersecurity operations over the past two years and have not been hacked again, although there have been numerous attempts, Jefferson said. That work includes contracting with an outside agency to help train party employees, Jefferson said.

“Cybersecurity has only become more of a problem over the past two years,” he said.

The FBI returned just under $600,000 to the party on April 14, which was listed on campaign finance forms as a “recovery of fraudulent transfer.” The fraud unit with the party’s bank was able to recover $1.5 million over the past 18 months, Jefferson said. The rest of what was stolen was replaced either through insurance payments or fundraising targeted to help recover from the theft, he said.

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