FANTASY POST: President Cuts Short Vacation To Address Nation On ‘Grave Threat To National Economic Security’; Government Targeted With ‘Taunt’ From Purported MLM Operators Amid Sea Of Incongruity; ‘We Have The Power,’ Unnamed ‘Group’ Says
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a fantasy post. The “story” below is not real. The PP Blog occasionally presents fantasy posts, parody and satire as a means of advancing the discussion about issues in the world of online crime and marketing schemes.
BAR HARBOR, Maine (PPBlog) — President Obama abruptly cut short his family vacation here Saturday and returned to Washington aboard Air Force One after being informed that the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI had uncovered “a financial fraud that posed an undeniable, grave threat to national economic security.”
The threat included a multilayered “taunt” aimed at the U.S. government, according to an emergency court affidavit filed in the case. Intelligence analysts are seeking to piece together clues, and federal agents have rushed to a secluded cabin off Interstate 80 in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, roping off an area of one square mile and calling it a crime scene.
A separate group of agents rushed to a rented garage in Florida. The agents were scouring it for clues, while yet another group of agents positioned themselves both inside and outside branches of a Florida bank.Â Bank officials were summoned from their homes on Saturday afternoon to gather account documentation and stop transactions before they could be completed, and a federal judge signed seizure warrants and an emergency injunction to halt the flow of money in wee hours of Saturday morning.
It was not immediately clear if the threat originated with a foreign or domestic source. What is clear is that the U.S. government is taking it seriously.
“The president believes it is credible and intends to ask the American people to do their part to end the reign of nefarious enterprises that are enlisting Americans to do their bidding and putting the security apparatus at risk,” a senior White House official said.
The White House announced that the president, who hurriedly walked off a golf course after a Secret Service agent was heard saying, “Mr. President, there is a secure call for you and you need to take it now,” asked the broadcast networks for time to address the American people. The president is expected to speak at 9 p.m. EDT.
Obama’s weekend getaway with his family changed in an instant, according to a pool reporter following the president. The precise nature of the threat was not immediately clear. The pool reporter was the only reporter who witnessed the scene as events unfolded at the golf course. Other reporters traveling with the president were kept in a media bullpen a mile away from the course. A “pool reporter” serves as the eyes and ears of the media when the White House places restrictions on coverage of the president’s public appearances.
Pool Reporter Describes Opening Moments Of Drama
The pool reporter, a prominent writer for a golf magazine,Â suddenly found himself wearing the hat of a breaking-news reporter covering an emerging, high-stakes political and security drama. The reporter, according to the pool report distributed to news agencies, was following Obama as the president “sized up his options after his golf ball had landed in a greenside bunker after ricocheting off a sprinkler head on the difficult No. 3 hole at Bar Harbor Golf Course.”
“At 2:12 p.m. Saturday, the president was standing in the bunker with his sand wedge when a Secret Service agent approached him hurriedly from the tree line and sharply asked Obama to step out of the bunker,” the pool reporter noted. “The president immediately complied. The agent then whispered in the president’s ear.
“Obama could be seen mouthing the words, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,'” the pool reporter continued. “But it was clear that the president knew the agent was not joking. Obama then dropped his sand wedge at the edge of the trap. The first lady, whose second shot had avoided the bunkers guarding the Par 5 hole thus positioning her for a 30-foot eagle bid, then laid her putter on the green.
“Her attention immediately was riveted on her two daughters, and she walked toward them protectively, in an atmosphere of uncertainty,” the pool reporter continued. “Smiles instantly vanished from the girls’ faces. Only moments earlier they had been been racing each other from hole to hole while trying to keep their bright-orange snow cones intact and playfully chiding their father because their mother, who is not a golfer, had covered 500 yards on the No. 3 hole by striking two consecutive shots perfectly. Her second shot — with a loaner 3-wood — was particularly majestic. After taking two practice swings, the first lady addressed her ball and took a mighty cut, lashing a splendid line drive that traveled 200 yards in the air, landed with yardage-gathering topspin and gobbled up anotherÂ 80 yards. Her ball settled pin-high on the green. Moments earlier the president’s ball — much to the delight of his daughters — had careened wildly off the sprinkler head. It was barely visible in the bunker.
“The president — at once listening to the agent and monitoring his wife and children — appeared to force a sliver of a smile when addressing his daughters from 60 feet. ‘You’re OK, your Mom’s OK and I’m OK,’ the president said audibly to the girls. ‘Your Mom’s putt is a gimme, becauseÂ your Dad’s the president,’ Obama said. With that, awkward smiles returned to the girls’ faces. Agents then ushered the first family to golf carts for a short ride back to the clubhouse parking lot. From there, the presidential motorcade sped to the airport.”
Urgent Call Caused Obama To Ask For Airtime 10 Days Earlier Than Planned; President Laments ‘Internet Cesspool’ That Is Hindering Economic Recovery
In an emergency court action filed in Florida early Saturday morning, the FTC said it had learned that two purported multilevel-marketing (MLM) firms had collected $100 million in just four hours after launching Internet-based “programs” to sell a purported meat product marketed as “100 PERCENT U.S. BEEF” and a suspicious substance marketed as “100 PERCENT PURE POWDERED WATER.”
The programs were on pace to record $600 million in sales in the first 24 hours, the agency said.
Despite the “beef” claim, the meat is believed to be “roadkill” — animals such as deer, chipmunks,Â squirrels and groundhogs struck by cars, according to the FTC. It was unclear if the scheme’s operators actually planned to package a mislabeled product and pass it off as beef or simply went through the motions of claiming to have a product in a bid to recruit a commission-based sales force.
In court filings, the FTC said the schemers purported to have “guaranteed government contracts” to sell the product to “prisons” and “hospitals” and that marketers promoting the scheme on the Internet were “being offered commissions 10 levels deep to recruit a sales force to monitor highways — particularly in rural areas — for animal carcasses.”
“Get in NOW!’ a promoter’s ad for the program screamed, according to the FTC. “Earn Unlimited Income through our REVOLUTIONARY ARBITRAGEÂ COMPRESSION MATRIX. Join the leaders’ team! Own your own business for only $5,000. We’ve done the DUE DILIGENCE so you don’t have to! You’ll have your money back and BE IN PROFIT TONIGHT!!!!!”
Promoters were “offered payments for entering the locations of the carcasses into a purported database and for recruiting others to do the same,” the FTC said.
Participants were told that the product was “nutritious, high in protein and iron and in ‘unprecedented’ demand due to cuts to state budgets and skyrocketing healthcare costs,” the FTC said. California and other states have been battling severe revenue shortfalls.
Alarmingly, the FTC said that “thousands of marketers reflexively began to sell the purported program on the Internet, apparently without questioning the incongruity of being asked to report the locations of animals killed by cars by a company that purported to sell ‘beef.'”
At the same time, the FTC noted in court filings that the “marketers also did not appear to ask questions about precisely how one would reduce water to a powder and what one would add to ‘powdered water’ to reconstitute it.”
“Their approach apparently was to focus on commissions they’d earn by introducing others to the roadkill-reporting recruitment scheme, rather than asking even the most basic questions about the propriety of the purported program, the value and marketplace demand of the purported product and the bizarre incongruity of entering data about dead animals for a share of commissions even as the company they represented purported to be in the business of marketingÂ ‘beef” to financially strappedÂ government agencies and hospitals while at once soliciting roadkill reports,” the FTC said.
Although promoters were told the companies used “only USDA-certified butchers and refrigerated trucks” to retrieve the carcasses and transport them to a “high-tech processing center,” the FTC said the “trucks were rented with a credit card tied to an offshore ‘shell’ company, the trucks were not refrigerated, no ‘government’ or ‘hospital’ contracts’ existed and the ‘high-tech processing center’ was a secluded mountain cabin off Interstate 80 in California that had no indoor plumbing, let alone electricity and a freezer system.”
The substance marketed as powdered water was “another, crimson-red, obvious red flag,” the agency said, adding that investigators believed “it was a test to probe the limits of promoters’ gullibility.” The agency noted that it believed “clues about the obvious fraud deliberately were left at the cabin” and that the powdered substance “consisted of the pulverized bones of animals collected while the scheme was in its ‘prelaunch’ phase.” Processing activities at the cabin were powered by “gasoline generators rented from the same company that supplied the trucks,” the agency said.
The products were marketed by two “purported MLM firms” that claimed to be based in Florida and Las Vegas, the agency said, alleging that the “schemers set up a series of shell companies to whisk electronic payments sent in by ‘independent sales consultants’ offshore.”
FTC investigators contacted both the Secret Service and the FBI “immediately” after observing a “deeply disturbing” message at the California cabin that read, “We know how to use greedy Americans to fund our projects,” the agency said. The schemers did not describe their “projects,” triggering concerns that the operators were financing terrorism.
The FTC did not reveal how it had learned about the cabin. A government affidavit in the case noted that FTC investigators located the cabin “late Friday night,” a kernel of information that may demonstrate that the FTC was alarmed about the early information it received and acted immediately on it, rather than waiting until Monday to pursue the probe.
Investigators said in the affidavit that they believed the “scheme was deliberately designed to be detected.” An evidence exhibit filed with the emergency complaint included photos of a room whose entryway included a makeshift sign that read, “Powder Room. LOL!!!!! Americans are so dumb and greedy! We have the power of the Internet and use it around the clock to rob your citizens and credit-card companies!!!!!!!!!!”
Pointedly, investigators said the “we” to which the sign referred did not identify the group “responsible for what clearly was a taunt directed at the U.S. government and the banking infrastructure.” The powdered substance was found inside the room. It was contained in plastic bags labeled “Powdered Water!!!!! Idiots!!!!!” according to the affidavit.
Skeletal remains of animals were found inside the room, which contained a “pulverizer,” according to the affidavit. A second sign inside the room appeared to be a taunt directed at the MLM industry itself.
“We’ve been leading the marketing ‘LEADERS,'” the sign read. “Silly fools. Our best weapon is their greed. We lie to them, and they spread the lie. They’re EASY.”
In a separate affidavit, the FTC said it also was consulting with the SEC because it believed the complex organizational structure of the purported business “opportunity” was a “scheme within a scheme” that had been “deliberately designed to hide a pump-and-dump securities swindle involving purported penny stocks.”
Decaying carcasses of “various species of animals” were found outside the cabin, the FTC said. A “gasoline-powered meat grinder” was found under a tarp, the agency said.
Also found outside was another makeshift sign that read “Jesus wants you to be rich. Plant the seed and prosper!”
Documents described as “bogus news releases written in the same, mocking style as the room signs” were recovered at the scene, the agency said.
“Welcome to Web 2.0,” one of the documents began. “We are the puppeteers of the LEADERS!”
FTC officials also said they were consulting with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission “because the evidence suggests the ‘opportunity’ also may be a front for a purported foreign-currency and precious-metals trading ‘program’ believed to be serving as a money-laundering conduit.”
Of particular concern, according to the FTC, was a document found in the “Powder Room” with a sheath of other documents.
This document “purportedly was a printout from a website with the bizarre name of “ROFLMAO Forex International Ltd.,” the FTC said.
The document “purported that investors funds were ‘guaranteed’ by a ‘proprietary, software-based trading system’ that made it ‘impossible’ to lose money,” the FTC said.
Meanwhile, in Florida, dozens of FBI agents swarmed a garage in Miami amid reports they were looking for evidence of the fraud. Federal prosecutors filed a forfeiture lawsuit to stop the scheme in its tracks, and a federal judge signed an emergency asset freeze and froze at least 65 bank accounts.
In a highly unusual move, agents served the seizure and freeze orders on banks at the homes of their registered agents, presidents and branch managers on Saturday, citing fears that electronic deposits consisting of the proceeds of the “multilayered scheme” could disappear “offshore” if not blocked before U.S. banks opened for business on Monday.
Lights were on inside the banks, and people wearing casual clothing were seen hovering over computer keyboards. Grim-faced FBI agents lined the sidewalks outside the banks and supervised events inside.
“Some people who purport to be marketing ‘leaders’ and ‘businesspeople’ have gone stark, raving mad,” said one of the agents. He opined that the “followers” of the purported program leaders “were every bit as responsible, every bit as crazy.”
“This is madness personified,” the agent said. “You can quote me on that without using my name.”
Obama, whose aides have been drafting a speech on securities and marketing fraud the president intended to deliver during a prime-time address next week, decided on Air Force One to move up the date of the speech and “have a candid talk with the American people about this dangerous and unprecedented crime wave,” according to the senior White House official.
The official described the president as “livid” because the nation was confronting an unmatched wave of white-collar crime that had put the markets on the brink of collapse and that “nefarious forces” were responding by working to sanitize and even institutionalize crime “by calling it something else.”
“There has never been anything like this is U.S. history,” the official said. “Some people simply have taken leave of their senses and, apparently, have come to believe that ‘anything goes’ on the Internet. The ability to slap a price tag on somethingÂ no matter how obviously vile — the ability to use the Internet to build a so-called ‘organization’ to recruit commission-based salespeople to sell the ‘opportunity’ despite a complete absence of knowledge about the identities of the ‘program’ operators and the nature of the ‘business’ itself — is draining tens of billions of dollars from the economy and putting it in the hands of people who occupy the murkiest of worlds.”
The official said that the president had come to believe that “an attack of a thousand tiny cuts was under way on the U.S. financial system, fueled in no small measure by people who refuse to perform even a minimal amount of due diligence when recommending ‘programs’ on the Internet.
“They don’t have a clue who is running the ‘programs,’ how the money is being used and who gains ultimate control of the money,” the official said, noting that billions of dollars are “being sucked out of the U.S. economy by serial criminals who’ve tapped the spigot of despair and called it hope.”