Counter-espionage missions in China and Russia. Top-secret assignments for the CIA. And can’t-miss real-estate investment opportunities leading to big paydays.
This is what Kiernan Major allegedly sold to his friends and followers for years, including at least two veterans of the armed forces, who told The Daily Beast that he invited them to invest in his string of businesses, which they say turned out to be shams. Prosecutors say Major also duped two young women out of their savings, for a total of $125,000 combined, before the FBI arrested him last week on stalking charges.
As The Daily Beast first reported, authorities say the 26-year-old Marine Corps washout pretended to be a CIA operative who ran his own cyber security firm and even pressured one of the victims, whom he claimed was his then-girlfriend, to drain her bank accounts to pay for his hotels, airfare, and other expenses all “in the name of national security.” A criminal complaint states Major threatened his ex, saying one of the “agencies” he and his firm, EyesOnly, was affiliated with would target her if she didn’t foot his bills.
Now acquaintances tell The Daily Beast that Major also scammed them in a real estate enterprise, using tens of thousands he siphoned from them to bankroll his luxurious lifestyle.
According to his accusers, Major began some of his schemes in Auburn in Cayuga County, New York, where he grew up. The alleged fraudster flitted to Tampa, New York, and Los Angeles, his latest domain before the feds nabbed him in Ames, Iowa. It’s unclear why Major was in the Hawkeye State when authorities found him visiting a friend, who is from New York State and isn’t charged with any wrongdoing, but his criminal case will proceed in California. (The friend, who claimed no knowledge of anything Major had been up to and asked not to be identified, declined to comment on the circumstances of the arrest.)
Major waived his right to a detention hearing and preliminary hearing scheduled for Aug. 1, court records show. “Mr. Major understands that waiver of the preliminary hearing means the case will go forward and be presented by the government to a grand jury at some point in the near future, after which either a formal indictment will be returned, or the current case dismissed if an indictment is not returned,” his lawyer, Melanie S. Keiper, of the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Des Moines, noted in a recent court filing. Keiper did not return a message seeking comment.
As for Major’s detention, Keiper wrote in a separate filing, “Although Mr. Major is waiving his right to a detention hearing at this time, he reserves the right to have a detention hearing and seek release from custody at a later date.” (The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California had requested pretrial detention for Major, arguing he was a flight risk and that “no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure ... the appearance of the defendant as required” and “safety of any other person and the community.”)
In the meantime, multiple people who say they’ve lost big in some of Major’s alleged investment schemes hope federal agents keep digging—and help them, too.
Some residents in and around Major’s hometown of Auburn breathed a sigh of relief when they read the wannabe intelligence maven was behind bars.
One acquaintance said that Major seemed to target kids from relatively affluent families in his alleged scams and that he’d take as much as $10,000 from unsuspecting pals. They said that many young people weren’t repaid until their parents confronted his parents, who initially bailed him out. “In a small community it’s a difficult call for one family to expose another family’s improprieties, especially knowing that the parents are good people,” the person said. (Major’s mother did not return messages left by The Daily Beast, and his father died in 2021.)
Major provided at least two of his alleged victims with a “contract” to invest in one of his sham companies before taking off with the funds, the person said, adding that they were thankful that he was finally caught. They believe Major’s long-running schemes were due to mental illness. “For the longest time no one could find him,” the person continued. “He was moving from place to place constantly. Hopefully, Kiernan will get the help that he needs.”
On social media, Major used one of his Instagram accounts to target some former allies who accused him of running a scam. The Daily Beast reviewed one Instagram story with text that offered $2,000 to anyone with negative information about one friend-turned-accuser below the person’s photograph. In a separate Instagram video, Major stares into the camera as he sits outdoors on a patio and appears to be gripping a cocktail. He looks beachy, with his shirt open and a bandana around his neck while lounging in the sunshine. “There’s people who think, you know, that I owe ‘em money and I don’t. Or they’d take me to court. Where the fuck are the lawsuits, you pussies? Sue me, fucking sue me…” He then mocks the audience and laughs, “You guys are doing this over, like, a couple k, a couple thousand…”
“Sue me, sue me, sue me,” he theatrically growls while gripping a different drink, which he tells viewers is Champagne, and kicking his legs up in the air.
Major seemed to be on a roll, increasing the amount of money he was asking friends to invest—until he crossed the two female victims cited in his federal case.
“He was very well spoken, very convincing to some people that don’t know him,” the classmate told The Daily Beast. “He hones in on something, studies it, bullshits his way through the rest of it.”
“He put up a facade so long that I think it caught up to him. He made everyone think he was well-off and wealthy and he couldn’t keep up with it anymore.”
Major was “obsessed” with government agencies in high school, the classmate recalls, and joined the U.S. Marine Corps once he graduated. “He became very keen on top-secret clearances, knowing things that other people shouldn’t,” the person said.
He left the Marines early, however, for reasons that aren’t publicly known. The classmate told The Daily Beast that Major said he got a “concussion” in the Middle East, and a local parent who knows him said he claimed to suffer a severe brain injury while stationed overseas and was forced to leave the Marines because of it. (According to an uncle and two of Major's classmates, he did sustain a traumatic brain jury as a child after falling in his basement.)
Major’s LinkedIn page also claimed he “Received an Honorable Discharge post-injury” and has “Been personally responsible for over $100 million of very sensitive U.S. government equipment on multiple occasions.”
A Marine Corps spokeswoman told The Daily Beast that Major was in the service’s entry-level training pipeline from July 2014 until January 2015, and was discharged from the service in November 2015. “His early separation is indicative that his service was incongruent with Marine Corps standards,” the spokeswoman said, but would not provide further details of Major’s departure.
While a LinkedIn profile for Major boasted that he was “Deployed with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines to a variety of European and Middle Eastern nations in pursuit of operation Eager Lion 15 and the Global War on Terrorism,” the Marine Corps spokeswoman said that Major never deployed overseas. Eager Lion 15, according to the Marine Corps website, is an annual, multinational military exercise held in Jordan. Major’s last duty assignment was Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the spokeswoman said.
The classmate said Major’s first business out of the Marines was selling search engine optimization (SEO) video courses, for which he’d host conferences in hotel banquet halls. He then gravitated toward a real estate wholesaling concern, seeking thousands in investments from friends and acquaintances and promising people a return.
A second person said that in 2015, they attended one of Major’s SEO seminars at the Hilton Garden Inn that included 10 to 15 of his former classmates. According to the attendee, Major “bragged about how much money he had and called us all losers for not joining" his business opportunity, which from the person's perspective, seemed like a “pyramid scheme.” The person added, “It was pretty evident that what he was doing wasn’t legitimate and I left the seminar halfway through because he was a bully and manipulator.”
After the event, the acquaintance added, Major said he sold his domain name for $30,000 to a company, and “that was the start of him flaunting ‘his wealth’ heavily on social media and trying to get people to have him invest through forex and real estate wholesaling.”
Later, Major told everyone he was moving to Switzerland, where he claimed to have confidential business. At another turn, Major set his sights on New York City, staying at a hotel for a couple of weeks until staff discovered his credit card wouldn’t go through, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, who said the hotel was ready to call the police until someone arrived to bail Major out.
The image he built—with social media posts replete with flashy cars and fancy hotels—seemed to work. “He preyed on women the most,” the classmate added. “They seemed to be easier targets for him. He would fly them out to L.A. all the time. He didn’t have a set home. He would be in Florida, or Los Angeles.”
Major’s Instagram stories from June 2021 show he claimed to be working on a Netflix documentary. He also posted supposed conversations with celebrities, including actors Adam Sandler and Jonah Hill and singers Justin Bieber and Harry Styles, which acquaintances suspected were fake messages. Major shared a screenshot of one purported Instagram message from Sandler, who wrote, “Kiernan, it has been a tremendous honor to speak with you. I’m inspired by your journey and couldn’t be happier to bear witness to everything taking place. This film will inspire people for many generations to come.”
In August 2017, Major invited more than 30 friends from high school to a big party in Manhattan. In messages to the group, Major announced, “My budget sits around $50,000. Also Dom Perignon is significantly more than $100 in a club. I have also contacted Action Bronson and Logic’s management in Manhattan. As of now ‘RatPak’ or Logic’s people have responded and ARE interested.” He continued, “You’ll be able to meet with investors (if you want) as well so if you are interested in starting something or pursuing a (profitable) dream I have a good word to put in for you they will be open to listen.”
Major then went on to say that his business acquired $4.6 million in real estate and provided classes, presumably in real estate, for up to $1,999.99 a month. He added that he owns some New York City properties that he rents out, too. “I always keep to at least 4 streams of steady income," he wrote in the group message reviewed by The Daily Beast. "If you have questions just text me I’m not trying to sound and more douchey.”
“By the way bring a suit guys, for you young women ummm the equivalent,” he later added.
But one person who was invited said the Big Apple soirée never materialized. The last message the acquaintance received asked for people to settle on a date for the event, and warned, “Also, if you’re one who thought this is/was some sort of scam or that I would extort anyone or use this in any way to gain absolutely anything for myself, fuck you.”
Some friends, however, did feel that Major scammed them in other ways.
According to two people interviewed by The Daily Beast, Major also took around $10,000 from one young man in Auburn who received the money as an inheritance after his father died. It’s unclear whether those funds were ever repaid.
The parent of one twenty-something who was allegedly approached by Major around 2018 begged their son not to get involved with him. “Our son gave him $3,000,” they said. “And we found out about it… but we ended up getting our money back. But there were other kids that got scammed by him. Some people got their money back. Some didn’t.”
“He kept promising people stuff,” they added, saying their son was promised a job that never materialized. “Like young kids just out of high school. You know, they’re just very naive. And my son was afraid to tell us at first. I mean, come on—we’re not stupid people. We figured it out, like real quick.”
“Kiernan was a nobody but he wanted to be a somebody,” the parent continued. “He’s very cunning. He’s a very charming kid.”
The would-be victim, whose parents said he paid Major in cash and never got a contract or any sort of receipt, and that Major promised to double his money. The son only got his money back after the parents warned Major they were going to call the police. Still, after returning the funds, he continued to harass the family with threats of lawsuits and messages both parents said they found frightening.
Some of those messages were posted publicly via Major’s Instagram and targeted six other people by publishing their last names and claiming they had been “slandering” him.
“My counsel has successfully retained useful data involving the following surnames in the upstate New York region,” read a copy of the post reviewed by The Daily Beast. “These names have been caught slandering me and my businesses for multiple years directly resulting [sic] a variety of extortions (and attempts) and a targeted, consistent mixture of violence.
“Their unearned, silver-spoon credibility will be eviscerated by whatever means necessary, regardless the losses I must take to succeed in this effort.”
“Although I have equally advantageous information on hundreds of more names, I am going to make these ones an example and then we are gonna regroup and see if throwing my name around like candy is still in your budget.”
“I warned you. I watched you. Soon I will own you.”
After the young man’s parents asked for specifics about his supposed business, Major provided an address on Wall Street where he said his offices were located. But when they called the property manager to inquire, they were informed that there was no company of the sort there.
Reflecting on the surreal experience, the parent said, “It’s just incredible. The visions of grandeur… he was always a legend in his own mind. And there’s absolutely nothing there.”
To those who knew him, Major came from a normal, respectable middle-class family in Auburn. He was the son of a nurse and a corrections officer, who died unexpectedly early last year. His uncle, a retired police officer, told The Daily Beast he was “floored” and “stunned” that the FBI collared Major.
The uncle said he hasn’t seen or spoken to Major for years, and didn’t even have his number, but knew that his activities caused grief for both his parents. “I didn’t really know where he was living until the story came out,” the uncle said. “It was a source of stress in everybody’s life, his mother, father. No one wants to see this stuff going on.”
“Obviously as a family, we’re sad that there’s all these victims,” the uncle added. “We feel horrible for them. That’s not indicative of how our family was brought up at all.”
“His father was a corrections officer, we’re in a small city in upstate New York. I never in a million years thought that would happen. But then again things happen. For Kiernan, there’s consequences for actions. This is what’s going on.”
In September 2019, one alleged victim of Major’s schemes complained on the Better Business Bureau website, calling him “a fraud and scam” who refused to issue a $17,800 refund for a joint venture with his real estate firm. Major, the person claimed, invited them to this supposed business opportunity via social media. All the individual had to do was pay 20 percent of the purchase price for a property and they’d receive $28,950 weeks later.
“He would use excuse after excuse as to why he was not able to speak and how he was dealing with other situations implying they were more important than me receiving my $17,000 back,” the person wrote on the BBB’s website.
Major replied to the accusations two months later, saying his company Property Beast “has made a good faith effort to resolve this matter.” He said the complainer “clearly ignored our written disclaimers, policies and guidelines that were provided to him beforehand that would have protected him—not to mention he violated multiple statutes within our agreements putting the company and its clients at further legal and financial risk.”
“In conclusion,” Major added, “we take claims of fraud incredibly seriously and would like our constituents to know that nearly everything in the above referenced complaint is unsupported by facts and we are very confident these lies will not remain here for very long.”
Undeterred, the writer responded that “multiple ACTIVE DUTY military members” are “in this same situation some are overseas some are here at home. KIERNAN M MAJOR also targeted veterans.”
One service member told The Daily Beast that Major offered partnership ventures in his real estate wholesaling business, Property Beast LLC, but vanished after they asked for their money back. (Wholesalers typically act as middlemen, inking a contract with a homeowner and selling the property to a real estate investor above the asking price. They can also buy distressed properties and resell them for a profit.)
A defunct website for Property Beast says Major, the company’s founder, “is responsible for over $100MM in real estate transactions” and “has generated millions of dollars in gains for himself and many others across various fields.” The business’s website advertises “Joint Venture Opportunities (50/50 split on assignment deals),” “VIP Private Jet Travel” via the JetSmarter app, and “Direct Access to Over $500MM+ in Investor Cash (value incalculable).”
Yet around the same time Major courted the service member, the landlord of Major’s Tampa luxury apartment sued to evict him and a roommate, Trent Valentino. Court records allege Major failed to pay $2,717 in rent, and a judge ruled in the landlord’s favor, allowing them to take possession of the premises. (Valentino did not respond to messages seeking comment.)
“He walked around like he was this big-shot real estate guy,” said the service member, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal from Major. “He sold people on get-rich-quick real estate commissioning transactions that are done legally, but only someone who’s been in the business long enough could actually do it and maintain that as a business.”
“There was a fat group of us who really believed this guy was legit, and we all got sold on his mentorship courses and partnered wholesale deals that sounded too good to be true.”
The person and his ex-business partner say they wired thousands to Major in 2018. “I remember he boasted about having $1.4 million in his bank account, supposedly from wholesale deals that were doing great for him,” the person added of Major.
“I think that in itself was probably the main catalyst for people to believe him, ‘cause $1.4 million is a lot of money,” the person said.
“When he never gave us the money we were supposed to make on this supposed investment, he just made excuses until he disappeared,” the service member said.
Still, the person didn’t go to the cops or otherwise try to recoup the investment. “I was also scared to pursue anything because he was a very intimidating person.”
Indeed, court records in Major’s criminal case suggest he could be potentially dangerous, and that he allegedly threatened his ex-girlfriend with payback from his “friends in the Government.” The FBI says he also sent death threats to the ex, and the other female victim (who was his employee), and her father.
“I will fucking find you fuckers and I will fucking hold you accountable by whatever means necessary. MEET WITH ME AND BE EVEN. Or fucking DIE. And I mean DIE. You will both regret this,” he wrote both women in June 2022, after they’d united and turned against him. Soon after, he texted his ex, “I INTEND TO KILL YOUR WHOLE FAMILY.”
Around the same time, Major posted images of a Glock handgun with an ejected magazine on Instagram, along with the words: “Calling my bluff, gon’ answer, ‘Hello.’”
The Daily Beast reviewed a “letter of intent” that Major sent to the service member that indicated Major would pay him what he would have made had their deal worked out, as soon as Major’s assets were returned to him by “current investigating parties.” Major doesn’t indicate who was investigating him and his company, but warns, “Please take into consideration the seven-figure loss my company, its contractors and employees are taking - at no fault of our own - for the duration of this investigation - and respectfully - on top of this guaranteed payout to yourself and many other joint venture partners.”
Meanwhile, a New York-based entrepreneur told The Daily Beast he received the same boilerplate letter from Major after demanding a refund of his investment, too.
The entrepreneur said that in the spring of 2019, he invested nearly $18,000 in Major’s Property Beast venture. Major then invited him to Tampa, where he met Valentino, who acted as Major’s employee and set up appointments. “He’s like, ‘Come, come and I’ll show you the houses,’” the person added of Major. “I’m there like, oh wow. He looked like a nice guy, he took me out to restaurants.” Now the person believes that “the money he took me out with and the money that he put me in the hotel with was the money I already gave him.”
Not long before, Major had swooped in and offered to help the man make $40,000 or so that he lost in another charlatan’s real estate scam. Major, the person said, acted like a “savior.”
But according to the entrepreneur, Major never showed him the houses as promised and stopped answering his questions after the Florida visit. Whenever he asked for his return on investment, he said Major would get aggravated and “belittle” him. For almost a year, he said, Major gave him false hope that his money was coming.
In a letter, Major promised to pay him $24,000, the amount Major claimed the entrepreneur “would have received had our partnership worked out as we both hoped and intended.”
“He would show you deals. He would make you believe he knows what he’s talking about,” the person said, adding that Major posted pictures on Instagram with McLaren sports cars and posing alongside Hollywood producer Jeff Rice, whom he referred to as a “friend.”
“He made you believe a story that he wanted to paint. That’s why he got all the money from us.”
Reached by phone, Rice told The Daily Beast he doesn’t know Major but will sometimes allow people to snap his photo. “I try not to be mean,” Rice said, adding, “This is why I’m not on Instagram. I try to stay out of the limelight."
The man showed The Daily Beast text messages he sent to Major seeking answers on his investment. In one reply, Major apparently fumed, “You constantly press me like my integrity is in question. And you never try and hear what I am explaining you just say I say one thing and do another which is fundamentally false.”
“All I wanted was to speak to you on the phone see what’s happening,” the entrepreneur texted.
“THEN SCHEDULE WITH MY ASSISTANT LIKE YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO,” Major said.
During the conversation, Major also alluded to some kind of business emergency. The Daily Beast reviewed a screenshot of an Instagram story from the same time period, where Major imposed text over a photo of what appears to be his legs in sweatpants and feet kicked up in socks. “For those of you who are not aware… A few partners and I were scammed for over $3MM this past week. Please allow me some time to address this matter and its effect on my businesses & relationships.”
“Don’t f*cking DM me about it either,” Major concluded.
In texts to the entrepreneur, Major wrote, “You literally don’t even care that my business was annihilated for almost no reason and you put that blame on ME. I’m paying you with my own money…”
“Why don’t you ask all my employees why they worked for me for weeks without pay… must be because of how shitty I am…right?” Major added.
In his final message to the entrepreneur, Major sort of apologized.
“Although it sucks, I think it’s obvious that I couldn’t foresee this situation,” Major wrote, adding, “Regardless of how I present myself online or elsewhere, just know I am focusing on this significantly more closely than anything else and always have been.”
“I would imagine you don’t have much faith in me as a mentor or coach of any sort and I couldn’t possibly blame you. My true intention was to help a few of you guys and I was simply unable to keep my promise as described.”
“I also intend to provide a 50% refund for you as well at a minimum,” Major wrote before signing off. “Thank you, I hope you annihilate the week.”
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