UPDATE: Alleged ‘PhoneCard USA’ Ponzi Schemer Once Arrested In Brazil On Narcotics Charges Now Charged In United States With Possessing ‘Improvised Explosive Devices’
Istvan Merchenthaler, the U.S.-based alleged “PhoneCard USA” Ponzi schemer who reportedly was arrested on narcotics-trafficking charges in Brazil a decade ago and later was linked to pipe bombs found in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, has been indicted on charges of possessing “approximately 60 plastic PVC pipe improvised explosive devices” plus “approximately 400 cardboard tube IEDs, a 9mm Cobray M-11 semi-automatic machine pistol, and ammunition,” federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said.
“IED” stands for “improvised explosive devices.” Such devices have been associated with terrorism and guerrilla warfare. A common form is the roadside bomb.
Merchenthaler, 43, additionally was indicted in Maryland on two counts of being a fugitive in possession of firearms and ammunition and one count of possessing an unregistered destructive device. Further south, in North Carolina, Merchenthaler was indicted on two counts of being a fugitive in possession of firearms and ammunition and one count of possessing an unregistered destructive device.
The IEDs, machine pistol and ammunition were found after the first of two Ponzi indictments against Merchenthaler was handed down in 2012. The Maryland and North Carolina cases have been consolidated and will be heard by U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
From a statement by the office of U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (italics added):
[F]rom at least about May 2006 to about February 2013, Merchenthaler claimed to be the founder of PhoneCard USA, a company that was purportedly a “premier distribution source” for prepaid phone cards and cell phones. Merchenthaler, who used a number of aliases, falsely claimed that PhoneCard USA had “lucrative contracts” with major retail chain stores including Walmart, 7-Eleven, and BJ’s Wholesale Club. Further, Merchenthaler falsely claimed to have friendships with executives at Walmart and 7-Eleven. In reality, Merchenthaler operated a “Ponzi” scheme, stealing over $2 million from over 200 investors and using much of these funds for his own benefit and to perpetuate his scheme.
Merchentaler allegedly possessed pipe bombs.
In at least one promo by an apparent affiliate of the uber-bizarre MPB Today MLM “program” in 2010, pipe bombs were referenced — in the context of Walmart. An online promo for MPB Today claimed this (italics added):
If you “hate Walmart and have written a 603 page manifesto on how Walmart is trying to take over the world and steal your soul,” you should “stop making that pipe bomb and read how you can avoid Walmart and still make bank,” according to the pitch.
Like Merchenthaler allegedly did with PhoneCard USA, some MPB Today promoters claimed that the “program” had been endorsed by Walmart. It is common for scammers to imply ties to famous businesses.
Indicted alongside Merchenthaler in the IED case was Ryan Joseph Hribick, 32, of Coatesville, Pa. He was charged with count of possession of unregistered firearms, one count of manufacturing and dealing explosive materials, one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of witness tampering.
Hribick, prosecutors said, “instructed and conspired with others to destroy and conceal cardboard tubes and flash powder – which Hribick was using to manufacture IEDs – so as to keep that evidence from federal agents and the federal grand jury.”
And Hribick “attempted to influence the testimony of a federal grand jury witness regarding the destruction and concealment of evidence,” prosecutors said.