Publicly traded Fortune 500 company PulteGroup has come under fire following revelations that newly-minted and quickly terminated Chief Operating Officer Brandon Jones had been engaged in a months-long harassment campaign targeting Bill Pulte and PulteGroup founder and patriarch William J. Pulte.
Bill Pulte, who served four terms as a director in his grandfather’s company, has filed a lawsuit against former PulteGroup COO Jones in response to an alleged harassment campaign that utilized pseudonymous and bot accounts to defame and attack the philanthropist.
Pulte, who is less known for his involvement with PulteGroup and more easily recognized for his charitable ventures on social media, has over 3 million followers on Twitter and regularly invests his time in giving back to those less fortunate, whether they are victims of mass shootings or struggling single parents trying to make ends meet.
However, according to court documents filed by Pulte’s legal team, Jones, acting under the pseudonym “Stephen Matthews” (which was registered with his personal email address) and using many automated accounts, began peppering Pulte’s Twitter with false and defamatory statements about his role in the company, presumably to damage Pulte’s hard-fought reputation.
“My friend was laid off because of you,” one Tweet allegedly from Jones said. “The employees blame you.”
Another Tweet claimed that Pulte, who served on the board of directors at the request of his late grandfather, was never involved with the company. “This Bill Pulte has nothing to do with Pulte Homes,” it claimed. “He trades in his grandfather’s legacy as if he had something to do with it.”
Jones is further accused of improperly receiving information from closed meetings held by the PulteGroup’s board of directors to manufacture and release “false and partial misinformation.”
PulteGroup, following revelations about Jones’ attacks on Pulte and his grandfather, severed ties with the newly-promoted COO.
But, how Jones might have received this information to begin with is something that Pulte’s legal team is investigating and something that Bill Pulte has personally called on PulteGroup to audit on their own. In the meantime, Pulte has concerns about another executive whose proximity to and communication with Jones has earned scrutiny.
Todd Sheldon, PulteGroup’s general counsel, deleted his personal Twitter account after the company’s board of directors received a letter from Bill Pulte regarding the allegations against Jones. Sheldon, during his communications at the time, expressed concerns about his exposure to Pulte’s lawsuit and wondered whether he could be held liable.
In a letter to Sheldon from Pulte’s lawyer, his legal team revealed they were uncertain whether Sheldon played a role in the harassment campaign, but owing to his involvement with Jones’ personal and pseudonymous Twitter account, they were formally requesting that PulteGroup’s general counsel preserve his communication records:
Further, it appears that through your Twitter account you may have either knowingly or unknowingly interacted with Twitter accounts that are attributed to Brandon Jones, as alleged in the lawsuit, including the “Stephen Matthews” account (@stephen_matthe) which is linked to Brandon Jones’s personal email address.
Bryan Pulte, the eldest son of the family patriarch as well as the uncle of Bill, issued the following statement following the news:
I was shocked and angered to read about the harassment and smear campaign launched against my nephew Bill Pulte, my Father and members of my family.
During my dad’s later years he developed a special bond of trust and confidence with my nephew. I know his wish was to have my nephew Bill Pulte take an integral part in maintaining the success of Pulte Homes.
Now, I ask the Pulte Homes board to continue to do the right thing and launch an immediate un-conflicted, independent investigation through a white-shoe law firm, totally unconnected to the current consulting contracts.
Founded in 1950, PulteGroup is the nation’s third-largest home builder and has constructed more than three-quarters of a million homes. William Pulte had 14 children and 25 grandchildren. His namesake, Bill Pulte, developed a close personal and working relationship with his grandfather and was the sole family member to receive an inheritance following his passing in 2018.