ACKMAN: ‘We Can Fight Pyramids With Our Own Pyramid’

From the Pershing Square news release today.

From the Pershing Square news release today.

2ND UPDATE 3:23 P.M. ET U.S.A. In another swipe at Herbalife and perhaps MLM recruiting schemes in general, activist investor Bill Ackman says he’s out to combat pyramid schemes by creating one himself.

Ackman’s apparent tongue-in-cheek approach adopts a typical “tell five” MLM marketing technique as part of a bid to create Internet virality for a video released last week that is designed to educate the public about pyramid schemes. The video is available in English and Spanish. It was produced by Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management LP.

“This video will help consumers avoid being defrauded,” Ackman said today in a news release issued through BusinessWire. “I encourage you to send it to five friends and encourage them to send it to five friends who can send it to five friends and so on, and we can fight pyramids with our own pyramid.”

BusinessWire is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, the Warren Buffett-led company that also owns Pampered Chef, an MLM company. Pershing Square previously has used BusinessWire to spread Ackman’s long-running contention that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme that incentivizes recruits to gather more recruits.

Buffett’s name has been used in any number of promos for commission-based MLM or network-marketing schemes, even when the legendary investor has no ties to the “opportunity” being promoted. The disingenuous message has been that Buffett’s corporate interest in Pampered Chef means that all MLM schemes pass muster.

In 2011, Buffett’s image was hijacked by the JSSTripler/JustBeenPaid scheme, a Ponzi-board “program” with possible ties to the “sovereign citizen” movement. Earlier, in 2010, Buffett’s image was appropriated by MPBToday, a “get two” MLM “program.”

MPB Today operator Gary Calhoun later was charged in Florida with racketeering and banned from MLM.

Herbalife denies it is a pyramid scheme.

As the PP Blog reported last week, Ackman’s video also channels an approach used by promoters of TelexFree, an alleged Ponzi/pyramid scam that may have gathered more than $1.2 billion in about two years of operation. The video also may provide a subtle reminder of Zeek Rewards, an MLM venture and alleged Ponzi/pyramid scheme that traded on images of the American Flag on its way to raising about $897 million in less than two years.

Ackman’s video also shows a representation of the American Flag, suggesting that franchise companies such as Burger King, H&R Block and Midas legitimately are part of the American Dream but that MLM schemes such as Herbalife may not be.

“Some of the start-your-own business offers you’ll see are legitimate opportunities,” according to the narration in the Ackman video. “But some are scams, designed to take advantage of you.”

Herbalife is not mentioned in the video, but one of the animated characters looks suspiciously like Herbalife CEO Michael O. Johnson.

The accompanying news release from Ackman does mention Herbalife, noting that “Funds managed by Pershing Square are short the stock of Herbalife Ltd and own put options on the Company. Pershing Square may increase, decrease, dispose of, or change the form of its investment in Herbalife for any or no reason, at any time.”

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