The Intercept: The Mad American and the Mozart Group


The Intercept posted a report by its editor, Peter Maas, who says that a month after Russia invaded Ukraine last February, a private American Mozart Group company, was created with the goal of training Ukrainian soldiers who were rushing to the front lines without the necessary uptime.

Initially made up of a handful of retired Marines, the Mozart Group attracted wide media coverage and was portrayed as a noble effort by American volunteers to impart their fighting skills to the embattled Ukrainians.

Choosing the name of Mozart for the group was like an eye-catching response to the Russian Wagner Group, a notorious Russian paramilitary company accused of war crimes in Ukraine and elsewhere.

In contrast, the American Veterans described Mozart as a donor funded initiative to provide humanitarian assistance along with military training, and its members don’t engage in combat, and say they don’t even carry weapons.

By August, Mozart had deployed three teams of ex-soldiers (two for military training and one for getting civilians off the front lines) each costing up to $100,000 a month, according to a fundraising email from Navy SEAL, Andy Milburn, the commanding general. group previously.

Volunteers with the Mozart Group in Donetsk Province, but war is a messy business, and last week a landmine exploded under the leadership of Mozart’s group.

Andy Payne, a Kyiv businessman and former Marine, filed a lawsuit in Wyoming, where Mozart is registered as a limited liability company, accusing Milburn of financial fraud, sexual misconduct, robbery, attempted bribery, and ignoring US arms transfer regulations, and the threat of a retired US general.

The suit asks the court to remove Milburn from the company and order him to pay damages of more than $50,000.

According to the lawsuit filed by Payne, who says he is Mozart’s majority shareholder, Milburn presided over the group in such a way that senior Ukrainian army officers said he wished he’d come home and stop saving our country.

The past few decades have seen an abundance of unmonitored private military companies accused of engaging in widespread abuses.

The most notorious of these after 9/11 was the Blackwater Company, led by former US Navy SEAL Erik Prince, whose highly paid mercenaries were mostly retired US Army personnel operating in Iraq and implicated in war crimes there.

Although Prince wasn’t personally charged, Wagner’s forces were accused of atrocities in every war zone in which they were involved.

The Mozart group puts itself in a different mold, as it claims that its members are unarmed and help civilians and soldiers.

Milburn reacted angrily when a US magazine called him a foreign fighter.

However, the company found a unique way to become the subject of controversy.

A day after filing the lawsuit, Milburn responded with a barrage of counteraccusations in social media posts, calling Payne a disgruntled former CFO of the company and saying Payne had been accused of financial and sexual misconduct.

He also said that Payne invests a lot of money in Russia, which is a serious accusation in the current wartime.

In a surprising accusation, Milburn alleged that Payne had tried to sell Mozart to the Taliban.

Milburn subsequently deleted those posts, although he told The Intercept that he still stands by what he said.

“I apologize for allowing this individual to belong to the Mozart Collection… We’re re-evaluating our vetting process and won’t allow this to happen again”, Milburn wrote on Twitter.

Payne requested a response to Milburn’s accusations, telling: “I won’t comment on the ongoing lawsuit, but recent posts and comments ensure that defamation will be a much larger part of the proceedings than originally envisioned”.

The full story of what is happening inside Mozart is not yet known, although it’s normal for the founding partners of a startup to have a falling out, it doesn’t often happen in an active war zone.

Interesting information indicates that there is an effort to profit from Mozart’s outstanding work in Ukraine by turning it into a private military company with global aspirations.

While Milburn constantly asserts that Mozart is philanthropic and dedicated solely to saving Ukraine, the lawsuit accuses him of seeking military contracts in Armenia.

This accusation doesn’t appear to be unfounded, as a recent article in Intelligence Online stated that Mozart now plans to become a traditional, for-profit private military contractor and expand into other war-torn regions.

Mozart’s chief operating officer, former naval officer Martin Wetteror, confirmed that it was looking for new customers in other locations in the world.

Whatever the outcome, the lawsuit calls into question the stability and credibility of what The New York Times described a few months ago as one of Ukraine’s largest private military companies.

It seems certain to lend strength to Russia’s sharp criticism not only of Mozart, but also of overall American efforts to help Ukraine, as Mozart is one of the most visible citizen-led initiatives in America.

Mozart groups, and since its inception, has been intricately linked to Milburn, who describes himself as the founder of the group.

Milburn, a British-born American, retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of colonel in 2019 after more than three decades of service that included deployments to Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.

The most recent was the deputy commander of the US Central Operations Command, which plans special actions in the Middle East and Central Asia.

He wrote a memoir about his career, When the Storm Gathers, and contributed articles of a military nature to several prominent websites.

He then traveled to Kyiv as a freelance journalist weeks after the Russian invasion in February, where he submitted five stories for Task and Purpose, a military website.

His last story, published on April 2, was about an ex-Marine accused of rape in Ukraine, but that story was later retracted and now carries an editor’s note saying it is undergoing an editorial review of standards and practices and won’t be available until the full review, and while the editors at Task and Purpose didn’t respond to messages from “The Intercept” about the editorial review; Milburn told The Intercept that he sticks to the story.

A day after this article was published, Milburn made what appears to be his first public mention of the Mozart Group in a tweet on April 3, revealing that it comprises former US Special Operations Forces personnel who provide critically needed capabilities to frontline units in Ukraine.

The group’s activities primarily involve advising, training and equipping special operations forces and Ukrainian resistance units.

One day later, he made his first attempt to collect donations via Paypal, to collect $ 20,000, and within hours, as he wrote on Twitter; He got half of the money from a military contracting company.

Two weeks later, Milburn explained in an article for Newsweek magazine that his work at Task and Purpose seemed insignificant with the outbreak of war, so he decided to organize a military training after people he knew from previous visits to the Ukrainian army asked him for help.

With US military personnel largely out of the country and US diplomats gone in the early days of the Russian invasion, Milburn attracted a great deal of media attention, and was one of the few Americans on the ground with combat experience and working with the Ukrainians, willing to speak with reporters.

He was frequently interviewed on satellite channels.

While major newspapers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France carried articles about him, a report on his character in the New York Times bore the headline, “An American in Ukraine Finds the War He Was Looking for”.

But none of these stories referred to the accusations now made by Paine against Milburn.

Paine announced his 12-page lawsuit in a LinkedIn post last week challenging Milburn’s portrayal of himself as the founder of Mozart.

Ukraine is in dire need of basic military training.

I called a friend who is a retired US Marine and asked if he knew of anyone who could contribute to the training.

He referred me to Andy Milburn, who came to Ukraine a few weeks later.

According to Paine, “I registered, selected the name, and arranged the funding to launch the Mozart Collection with the aim of providing training and support as needed for the war”.

Payne’s post states that he owns 51% of the group’s shares, while Milburn owns 49%.

In response to a request from The Intercept for documentation, Payne provided three pages of a 35-page operating agreement for Mozart, one page showing a chart attributing 51% of the company to Payne and 49% to Milburn.

While Payne hadn’t previously declared his ownership of Mozart, there is a public record of the two men’s collaboration.

On April 10, they launched a YouTube channel called “Two Marines in Kyiv,” which now hosts seven videos, most of which feature discussions between them.

The channel’s “About” page describes Milburn as CEO of the Mozart Group, and Payne as head of the Ukrainian Freedom Fund, Fund,” which according to its website is a nongovernmental organization that has raised more than $3 million since February for military and humanitarian aid.

Payne’s most serious allegations revolve around Milburn’s handling of the donated funds, which the lawsuit describes as efforts to facilitate the transfer of funds away from the Mozart Collection.

Receiving them in personal accounts or other accounts controlled by him.

At least some of Milburn’s personal fundraisers weren’t hidden from donors: his social media requests for donations included explicit links to his Venmo and PayPal accounts, which he said were necessary because Mozart’s donation platform wasn’t working at the time, perhaps because Russian penetration.

But until Payne’s lawsuit, he was not accused of misusing funds held in those accounts, or other accounts he controlled.

It doesn’t end there, according to the lawsuit, Milburn hired a woman as his personal assistant whom he met on a social media dating site and had an affair with, and paid her an annual salary of $90,000, which according to the lawsuit was four times average wages.

The lawsuit also alleges that Milburn made unsolicited sexual advances to an office manager.

The lawsuit accuses Milburn of organizing and participating in a robbery of a warehouse rented by Bain’s Ukraine Freedom Fund.

Additionally, the case alleges that Milburn was drunk and broke curfew in Kyiv, which resulted in Ukrainian authorities temporarily detaining him on more than one occasion.

According to the lawsuit, Milburn sent hostile and vitriolic messages to a retired commander-in-chief of the US Special Operations Command in Europe after the general refused to join Mozart (the retired general’s name isn’t mentioned).

He’s now referred to by the Ukrainian military leadership as the Mad American.

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