EDITORIAL: Top Justice Department Official Speaks On Transnational Organized Crime, References Bogus ‘Libel’ Actions Brought Against ‘Individuals Who Expose . . . Criminal Activities’

EDITOR’S NOTE: A top U.S. official — speaking today in Mexico City at the High-Level Hemispheric Meeting Against Transnational Organized Crime hosted by the Mexican government under the framework of the Organization of American States (OAS) — addressed the challenges the world law-enforcement community is confronting in the Internet Age.

In remarks apt to cause unease within the HYIP and organized-crime spheres, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole noted that the government was wise to efforts by criminals to chill efforts to expose crimes by filing libel lawsuits. (A link to Cole’s full prepared remarks appears at the bottom of this story.)

Some recent Ponzi cases in the United States involving incredible sums of money — and the corresponding behavior of some of the participants — help prove the point . . .

Now-convicted racketeer Scott Rothstein threatened libel lawsuits when his $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme was on the verge of imploding.

AdSurfDaily President Andy Bowdoin, named a defendant in a 2009 civil case that alleged racketeering,  issued “slander” lawsuit threats prior to the August 2008 intervention by the U.S. Secret Service in the ASD scheme. The threats were issued not long after Bowdoin had returned from a trip arranged by a lawyer in which the ASD patriarch had ventured to Panama and Costa Rica, according to court filings.

Bowdoin later was indicted, amid allegations he was presiding over an international  Ponzi scheme that had gathered at least $110 million. Robert Hodgins, who was referenced in 2007 ads for ASD, is an international fugitive wanted by INTERPOL. The United States accused Hodgins of laundering proceeds for narcotics traffickers in Colombia.

In advance of today’s High-Level Hemispheric Meeting Against Transnational Organized Crime, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza noted that such crime “is the principal continental source of activities such as drug trafficking, the illicit trafficking of firearms and immigrants, human trafficking, money laundering, corruption, kidnapping, and cybercrimes.”

Befitting its importance, the hemispheric meeting was hosted by Felipe Calderón, the president of Mexico.

Among others things, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole said this at the meeting:

“The advance of globalization and the internet, while hugely beneficial to people everywhere, has also created unparalleled opportunities for criminals to expand their operations and use the facilities of global communication and commerce to carry out their criminal activities across national borders.”

Although Cole did not use the term “HYIP” in his remarks, it is clear that the U.S. government is well aware of the dangers online fraud schemes pose as they reach across borders to accumulate tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars — sometimes through a single fraud scheme.

As the PP Blog read the text of Cole’s remarks, another thing leaped off the page. Indeed, Cole said this (emphasis added):

“Because of the sophistication of the world economy, organized crime groups have developed an ability to exploit legitimate actors and their skills in order to further the criminal enterprises. For example, transnational organized criminal groups often rely on lawyers to facilitate illicit transactions. These lawyers create shell companies, open offshore bank accounts in the names of those shell companies, and launder criminal proceeds through trust accounts. Other lawyers working for organized crime figures bring frivolous libel cases against individuals who expose their criminal activities.

Cole, of course, wasn’t talking specifically about the AdSurfDaily Ponzi case and ASD’s preposterous claims that Bowdoin had found a legitimate way to pay interest of 1 percent a day on the tens of millions of dollars sent in by participants and that ASD would create 100,000 millionaires in three years.

Even so, the words Cole uttered in Mexico City today have deep relevance to the HYIP sphere. Indeed, ASD reached across international borders and relied on an international sales force.

Here is how ASD worked: It relied on “legitimate actors” of the sort Cole described — in ASD’s case, a lawyer who allegedly scrubbed the “opportunity” to ensure compliance, and Moms and Pops and entrepreneurs (and people down on their luck) who signed up and became the friendly faces to their prospect bases. The salespeople were paid 10 percent for recruiting a friend with money and 5 percent more if the friend could recruit a friend with money — on top of “surfing” earnings of 1 percent a day and even more through the purported miracle of “compounding.”

The current HYIP scheme of JSS Tripler/JustBeenPaid has the same type of payout schemes that ASD foisted on the marketplace. One big difference is the JSS/JBP says it can provide twice the daily payout of ASD.

JSS/JBP’s purported operator is Frederick Mann, a former ASD pitchman.

In September 2011, the U.S. Secret Service described ASD as a “criminal enterprise.”

You’ll note above that Cole today used the same phrase to describe one of the inherent threats of transnational organized crime. And, as noted above, he also spoke about bids to chill critics through the filing of libel lawsuits.

Those same types of threats were made in the ASD case, beginning in the summer of 2008. In fact, federal prosecutors even included an evidence exhibit in case filings that alluded to one such alleged threat. Unmentioned in the initial ASD case filings were the bids to chill reporters in at least two states and a newspaper in Georgia.

If you’ve been following the HYIP sphere for any length of time, you know that threats to sue members of the antiscam community are part of the landscape — so much so, that it has become an HYIP cliche. The bids to chill are not limited to threats to sue for libel and “slander,” however.

It also is becoming an HYIP cliche that the operators and apologists for brazen HYIPs threaten to file complaints with the ISPs of members of the antiscam community — i.e., if you report about us we’ll take down your Internet connection and/or sue you for copyright/trademark infringement.

These things are transparent bids to chill speech. They also are designed to have a secondary “benefit”: to make the marks — who may consist in part of people who are otherwise “legitimate actors” — believe that harm will come to them if they ever complain, that there are severe consequences to those who complain.

These nefarious methods have surfaced in scheme after scheme after scheme, as have various assertions about “offshore” venues and the purported “safety” the “offshore” venues provide. Longtime observers know the claims are part and parcel to the HYIP sphere — and that claims that someone is a successful businessman who has presided over multiple companies almost certainly will be incorporated into the sales pitch for an “opportunity.”

The FBI, for just one example, has been warning for years about securities fraud, the “shadow banking system” and the use of shell companies to disguise fraud proceeds. The director has testified repeatedly on Capitol Hill  about the subject, while simultaneously warning about debit cards that are being used in nefarious ways and the dangers posed by lone wolves and “home-grown, violent extremists.”

All of these things are or may be in play in the HYIP sphere. Here are some things you should know:

  • It is likely that the scheme’s operator is trading on the credibility you have with loved ones and friends within your immediate sphere of influence to drive dollars to the scam. It is equally likely that you are being denied the sort of information that would empower you to make an informed purchasing decision and highly likely you are being asked to participate in a venture that could result in prosecutions under both civil and criminal law, possibly even the RICO statute.
  • The rate of return will be preposterous in any real-world context and the math will be fuzzy and confusing, if not downright impossible.
  • Your sponsor will lie to you or pass on GIGO that is part of the company line because the company line is more convenient than the uncomfortable truth. It will be garbage coming in, and garbage going out.
  • You will be subjected to a direct or indirect threat or a bid to chill, especially if you ask uncomfortable questions or raise any doubts.
  • There  is a chance you’ll be working for a racketeer or an international criminal, perhaps even a “sovereign citizen” who has hatched a construction by which nothing is a crime, that all conduct is lawful in the name of freedom and free markets. If your sentiment is against the government or “big business” because of your personal financial situation or your political or philosophical views, an extremist may try to exploit your sentiment for personal profit.

Just some things to think about in the age of the HYIP, the age of terrorism and the age of transnational organized crime as practiced on the Internet . . .

Read the full remarks of Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole here.

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4 Responses to “EDITORIAL: Top Justice Department Official Speaks On Transnational Organized Crime, References Bogus ‘Libel’ Actions Brought Against ‘Individuals Who Expose . . . Criminal Activities’”

  1. My offer of legal assistance is still open. I would love to put one of these characters under oath and question them as to their activities. How many times do you think we would hear the words “Fifth Amendment?”

  2. “Other lawyers working for organized crime figures bring frivolous libel cases against individuals who expose their criminal activities.“

    Gee that sounds like the Robert Guenther and Larry Friedman deal. I wonder what ever happened to Ole Larry and if he is still claiming to move mountains?

  3. […] this March 1, 2012, story that reports a top U.S. Justice Department official speaking in Mexico referenced bogus libel […]

  4. For any interested, there’s an interesting discussion currently going on regarding legal threats to a group just for discussing a possible scam.