A Virginia real estate agent appears to have played a central role in elevating an outlandish conspiracy theory that claims satellites were used to steal the 2020 election from Donald Trump.
The agent also appears to have been caught lying that she owned, and resided in, a $30 million historic Virginia farm.
The agent in question is Michele Roosevelt Edwards, who is also sometimes known as Michele Ballarin, among other aliases. Earlier this month, the Washington Post detailed how Edwards was once a “struggling single mom” who reinvented herself as a well-connected business leader. Along the way, she also branded herself as a specialist of sorts on Somalia who had ties to leaders of the African country and who could negotiate with the region’s infamous pirates.
But recently released documents have also linked Edwards to a conspiracy theory known as “Italygate.” The conspiracy specifically claims that an Italian defense contractor coordinated with CIA officials to rig the U.S. 2020 presidential election. The conspirators pulled this off, the theory goes, by using satellites and other technology to switch votes in favor of Trump to instead support now-President Joe Biden.
There is no indication that anything of the sort happened, with Reuters specifically saying evidence has disproved the theory. On Monday, The Daily Beast called Italygate “the craziest election conspiracy yet.”
Edwards’ connection to the theory comes from two companies she oversees. The first is USAerospace Partners. According to the Post, a letter detailing the Italygate theory appeared on USAerospace letterhead and in December somehow made it into the hands of White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
It’s unclear how Meadows got the letter in the first place, the Post reported, but he later sent it to acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen.
USAerospace is, according to the Post, a “little-known Virginia aviation company.” The firm is best-known for swooping in and buying Iceland’s WOW Air in 2019 after the budget carrier shut down. At the time, Edwards (usually going by the name Michele Ballarin) was widely mentioned in airline trade publications as among the owners of USAerospace, and the plan was for WOW Air to resume flights in the near future — though that never happened.
According to her LinkedIn Page, Edwards is the chairperson of both USAerospace and WOW Air. And the Post described USAerospace as “Edwards’ company.”
Despite these connections, however, when Talking Points Memo reached Edwards for a brief phone interview, she denied any knowledge of the letter and then hung up.
Inman reached out for comment to Edwards’ most recent apparent phone number and email address, but did not receive a response. USAerospace also did not respond to Inman’s request for comment.
However, Edwards’ connections to the conspiracy theory don’t stop with USAerospace.
According to the Post, Edwards also leads another company called the Institute for Good Governance (IGG) that spread the Italygate theory as well. In that case, IGG put out a press release in January detailing what it described as a “shocking deposition” from an Italian defense contractor.
According to the release — an archived version of which is still viewable online — the contractor claimed that he used “computer systems and military satellites” to change votes. The release goes on to describe this as a “flawless plot to take down America” as well as “proof that the election was indeed stolen.”
The press release was a co-production with Nations In Action, a nonprofit run by conservative political operative Maria Strollo Zack. The Post described Zack as having “embraced the conspiracy theory,” and reported that she personally told President Trump about Italygate on Dec. 24.
It is unclear, though, how Zack and her nonprofit came to work with Edwards and her company on a press release about the conspiracy theory. Zack declined to comment to the Post, and did not respond to Inman’s request for comment.
What is clear, though, is that Edwards’ two companies both appear to have been involved in pushing the debunked story.
Other parts of Edwards’ public persona also appear to be crumbling.
In February, Edwards gave an interview to an Icelandic television crew. The interview took place at North Wales Farm, a historic estate in Virginia, and was supposed to be about the long-delayed revival of WOW Air.
Edwards was asked during the interview why the house lacked personal effects. She replied that the estate was a “recent acquisition” and that it was “not rented property I can assure you.” In other parts of the interview she said the property was not for sale and described one room as “my bedroom.”
However, the estate does in fact appear to be for sale, with an active listing asking price just under $30 million.
The Post also discovered that the property is owned by the company of a now-deceased financier, not by Edwards. That financier’s widow told the Post she doesn’t know Edwards, and when shown video of Edwards inside the home replied, “She’s in my house. How is she in my house?”
Edwards’ claims about the estate are all the more curious because she apparently has a background in real estate herself. Edwards appears to have worked as a real estate agent at Sager Real Estate, a brokerage based in Virginia. Though her name does not currently appear on the company’s website, a cached version of the site lists a Michele Ballarin as a licensed Realtor in Virginia with a Sager email address.
The photo of Ballarin on Sager’s site appears to show the same person from the Icelandic TV interview, and from other public appearances Edwards’ has made.
The cached version of the website dates from June 15, 2021 — four days before the Post published its story.
It was not immediately clear how long Edwards may have worked at Sager, or how active she was as a real estate agent. Inman reached out via phone and email to Sager Real Estate with questions about Edwards’ work there, but did not immediately receive a response.
Without input from Edwards’ herself, it’s difficult to know just what exactly is going on. But both the estate and the conspiracy theory episodes come after a long and colorful career for Edwards. According to the Post, she married a real estate developer more than three decades ago, and in 1986, ran for Congress as a Republican in West Virginia but lost.
By the late 2000s, she claimed to have been key in securing the release of hostages from Somali pirates, though a Wikileaks document indicated officials actually thought she was getting in the way, according to the Post. A retired naval office at the time reportedly said, “The problem with Michele is separating fact from fiction. What is real, and what is made up?”
For now at least, it seems the same could be said for Edwards’ more recent efforts as well.