The strange, sprawling tale of Paul Carnes

Odd man out
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  November 14, 2011


In his first few weeks at Occupy Boston, Paul Carnes was just another face in the horde, an affable 27-year-old with a sweet Southern accent. He dressed differently than most Dewey Square squatters — favoring dress shirts and neckties — but otherwise fit right in, assisting with everything from logistics to heavy lifting. Media outlets sometimes requested interviews with Carnes due to his preppy flare, but he largely avoided the spotlight, preferring to help campers set up tents. Along with his close friend Sydney Sherell, he also liked to spend hours at the information desk — a default greeting post for visitors and donors.

Though they have come to perceive him as a grifter and the oddest Occupy adversary imaginable, most who can recall his early movements claim Carnes first came off as an average protester, going through the daily picket motions and crashing in a small tent with Sherell at night. If anything seemed strange at all, it was his vocal dislike of the movement's every-voice-counts mantra. Occupy runs on an equal-opportunity structure called "horizontal democracy." Carnes focused on smaller working groups and sat out the more formal general assemblies (GAs).

When the GA voted to streamline fundraising efforts three weeks into the occupation, Carnes jumped at the chance to take financial control where he saw possible. Up until that point, each working group had its own donation box, so people could give to the medical team at the first-aid tent, to the tech squad at the media tent, and so forth. In its attempt at transparency, the assembly finally established a central collection hub and Financial Accountability Working Group (FAWG) to oversee fiscal operations. Carnes volunteered to help the effort, agreeing to guard cash donations and sign his name on bank accounts. He assured people that he could handle such duties on account of his studying at Harvard Business School — even though he never matriculated there.

But less than a week after Carnes took over camp finances, FAWG issued a press release stating that Carnes and Sherell had been expelled from the group due to "lack of accountability and transparency, as well as their failure to provide information to both the FAWG and the General Assembly." Accusers charged Carnes with refusing to share paperwork for a City of Boston "Doing Business As" (DBA) certificate that he established (with the group's permission) for Occupy Boston, and for an account that he opened at Liberty Bay Credit Union. Gripes were also made about receipts found in the cash box for which Carnes was responsible; hundreds of dollars' worth of purchased items were unaccounted for, and he appeared to be treating himself to meals and snacks near Dewey Square. Lastly, members of FAWG realized that the smooth talker from Alabama who called himself Paul Carnes also had a second identity — the guy with the keys to their account was also a notorious online anti-hero named Paul Fetch.

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  Topics: News Features , theft, con, OccupyBoston,  More more >
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