BULLETIN: Feds Say TelexFree Has ‘Disturbingly Cult-Like Quality’; SEC Accuses Faith Sloan Of Lying To Court

telexfreelogoBULLETIN: (12th Update 9:50 p.m. EDT U.S.A.) In resisting former TelexFree President James Merrill’s latest bid to make bail in the criminal case against him, federal prosecutors said today that TelexFree “has a disturbingly cult-like quality.”

Meanwhile, in separate action in the SEC’s civil case against TelexFree, the agency has accused alleged TelexFree pitchwoman Faith Sloan of lying to a federal judge in a declaration that asserted she did not hear about the TelexFree action until weeks after it had been filed.

Although Merrill attorney Robert Goldstein argued yesterday that TelexFree may have much higher retail-sales numbers than the government believes from its VOIP product — somewhere on the order of $200 million — the office of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz countered today that TelexFree owed $5 billion to its promoters when the scheme collapsed.

Prosecutors also argued that U.S. Magistrate Judge David Hennessy made the right call last month when he ruled Merrill should continue to be jailed.

The “massive amount of revenue the company received between February 2012 and April 2014 did not come from its VOIP product selling like hotcakes, but from an ongoing influx of investor dollars, which it then paid out in commissions.

“Becoming a TelexFree ‘promoter’ cost $340 or $1425, depending on the level of buy-in,” prosecutors continued. “But once someone signed up they were able, for example, to make a guaranteed 200% to 300% annual return on their investment for doing basically nothing and without selling a single VOIP product.”

Merrill knew it was a sham while TelexFree members accorded him “rock star status,” prosecutors contended.

Thousands of promoters “remain fanatically loyal to the company which, despite the bankruptcy and three government enforcement actions, they see as helping hard working people make a little money on the side,” prosecutors argued.

From prosecutors’ argument that Merrill should remain jailed (italics/carriage returns added/light editing performed):

As the government emphasized at Merrill’s detention hearing, understanding the risk of releasing him requires understanding the unique aspects of the TelexFree phenomenon. It is these aspects that ultimately convinced the Magistrate Court that this case is unlike the general run of white collar cases.

First, like many “multi-level marketing” companies, TelexFree has a disturbingly cult-like quality. Egged on by the company itself, promoters spoke of “reaching their dreams” and being “100% TelexFree.” TelexFree’s promoter extravaganzas – in the United States, Brazil and Spain, among other places – were recorded and posted on YouTube. These events had a “boisterous . . . rock concert atmosphere,” at which crowds of promoters cheered James Merrill when he took the stage . . .

Merrill would have the crowd “do the wave.” As the “American face” of TelexFree, crowds of foreign promoters lined up to have their pictures taken with Merrill; his wife conceded that he was “treated like a minor celebrity.” . . .  In or about November 2013, TelexFree rented a cruise ship and invited thousands of promoters to join a cruise off the coast of Brazil. Merrill addressed the crowd of (at least) hundreds from the promenade deck, helicopter hovering in the background.

Second, thousands of these promoters do not live in the United States, but in Canada, the Caribbean, and Central and South America . . . Thousands remain fanatically loyal to the company which, despite the bankruptcy and three government enforcement actions, they see as helping hard working people make a little money on the side.

Many TelexFree promoters, at least the earlier ones, made substantial sums from their involvement.

Third, TelexFree itself exists in several foreign countries, including Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom and the Dominican Republic. According to Canadian corporate filings, Merrill and Wanzeler are the directors of TelexFree Canada . . . the Facebook page for which lists 7,691 “likes” and shows dozens of supportive messages, all written after the bankruptcy and enforcement actions were filed. Merrill and Wanzeler are also the directors of TelexFree’s Dominican entity. This is nothing, however, compared to TelexFree’s presence in Brazil, where thousands of Brazilian promoters took to the streets in June 2013 when the Brazilian government sued TelexFree’s Brazilian entity for running a pyramid scheme.

Even though Goldstein argued yesterday that Merrill — unlike his TelexFree co-defendant Carlos Wanzeler — remained in the United States to face justice after the April 15 raid at TelexFree headquarters, prosecutors asserted that evidence exists that Merrill and Wanzeler were “like brothers.”

Wanzeler, they argued, “has access to substantial funds and has been Merrill’s close friend for 20 years.”

“According to bank records, in February 2013, Wanzeler gave Merrill a check for $865,000, using funds drawn from TelexFree’s Brazilian operations,” prosecutors said. “In December 2013 – around the time he withdrew $3,000,000 for himself – Merrill authorized the transfer of about $7,000,000 to Wanzeler from TelexFree accounts. The real risk here is not Merrill fleeing to Brazil, but Wanzeler helping him from that location.”

And, they continued, “TelexFree has substantial assets overseas. The government has managed to freeze millions of dollars in United Kingdom and Singapore accounts, but various accounts remain unfrozen. There is a TelexFree account in Cayman with the Royal Bank of Canada. It remains unfrozen and the account balance is unknown. Similarly, the government has seized a $10,000,000 cashiers’ check made out to TelexFree Dominicana SRL – TelexFree’s Dominican entity – but no Dominican accounts are frozen. Finally, in or about 2013 Merrill and Wanzeler traveled to Singapore, where we know there are three accounts in the names of TelexFree and Carlos Wanzeler. One of these accounts is frozen, but not the other two.”

Merrill, prosecutors said, had traveled to Brazil four times since 2008, and also has ventured to Spain and Japan.

But TelexFree’s “network of supporters is not just overseas,” prosecutors argued. “[Merrill] knows several TelexFree promoters in the United States who made substantial sums with the company, and would be in a position to assist him.”

These things and more make Merrill a flight risk, prosecutors asserted, noting he potentially faces an effective sentence of life in prison in the United States.

Hennessy, who ordered Merrill jailed last month, already has spoken to these issues, prosecutors contended. From prosecutors,  quoting the judge at an earlier hearing (italics added):

There’s evidence, and I certainly think it’s persuasive, that the defendant had a key role in a massive Ponzi scheme. He faces 20 years in jail [on the single charge in the complaint], and there’s something unique to this case that I haven’t really seen in other cases where as a result of his participation in TelexFree, and in the alleged Ponzi scheme, the crime itself has created for the defendant a type of world outside the United States to which the defendant belongs. There are associates outside the United States, including the defendant’s close friend and former business partner, Carlos Wanzeler. There are bank accounts outside the United States, and it’s unclear how much money is in those accounts and whether the defendant has either direct signatory authority over those accounts or has the ability to instruct others to withdraw money from those accounts for the defendant.

“In short,” prosecutors argued,  “Judge Hennessy concluded that this was not the usual white collar case essentially because, unlike the usual white collar defendant, Merrill (a) potentially faces life in prison, and (b) should he decide to flee, a preponderance of the evidence shows that he has somewhere to go, and the means to go there . . .  As the Magistrate Court found, in several countries there are ‘promoters who may be willing to assist the defendant.'”

And, prosecutors argued, the judge expressed concern not only that Wanzeler could help Merrill flee, but that “Wanzeler might have a more personal stake in Merrill not being available to the government.”

As for Sloan, the SEC said she was playing fast and loose with the truth.

The PP Blog reported on April 25, eight days after news of the lawsuit broke on an international basis, that the SEC asserted it had spoken to Sloan on April 17 and advised her she was being sued. Sloan, the SEC contended, wanted to know back then why the agency was “picking on” her.

Faith Sloan. Source: YouTube.

Faith Sloan. Source: YouTube.

But Sloan now maintains she first learned of the case in “late May,” according to the SEC.

“The bottom line is simple: Sloan has known about this case since April 17,” the SEC alleged today. “She was told how to get a copy of the Complaint but refused to provide an address where the Commission could serve her pursuant to Rule 4. On May 6, she was served with the Summons, the Complaint, and the April 16 Order. Her assertion —made under penalties of perjury —that she did not hear about the case until late May is a flagrant falsehood.”

NOTE: Our thanks to the ASD Updates Blog.

Also see May 6, 2014, PP Blog post: EDITORIAL: TelexFree, Rabbit Holes And Vomit

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4 Responses to “BULLETIN: Feds Say TelexFree Has ‘Disturbingly Cult-Like Quality’; SEC Accuses Faith Sloan Of Lying To Court”

  1. Quick note: Yesterday the Feds said TelexFree “has a disturbingly cult-like quality.”

    What happens today?

    Well, someone posts a big photo on Twitter that screams, “100% TelexFRee !!!”

    The site appears to be in Russian. The photo shows the TelexFree logo buried in sand and several sets of hands reaching out to manicure it. I suppose the message is “togetherness.”

    Here are a few lines from the government’s motion yesterday to keep Merrill jailed:

    “Until the scheme collapsed (although TelexFree chose to call it “filing for bankruptcy”), Merrill was the leader and public face of a modern, and dangerous, form of the traditional Ponzi scheme.”

    This situation is truly dangerous.


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