EDITORIAL: With Conviction Of Zeek’s Burks, Another Senior MLMer Faces Prospect Of Decades In Prison
UPDATED 4:31 P.M. EDT U.S.A. Zeek Rewards was always inexcusably horrid, fueled by serial willful blindness and the sort of practiced disingenuousness that props up so many MLM “programs.” In dollar volume, Zeek ended up being more than seven times larger than the $119 million AdSurfDaily MLM Ponzi scheme that put ASD operator Andy Bowdoin in federal prison for six and a half years. By this measuring stick, Zeek’s Paul Burks could be staring at 45 or more years.
As things stand, Burks, 69, faces a maximum of 65 years. He was convicted July 21 of mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit both and tax-fraud conspiracy. The jury reportedly returned the verdict in less than three hours.
Bowdoin, 77 when he accepted a plea deal before trial in 2012, received the maximum term of 78 months under the deal after earlier facing decades in prison. He pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud and acknowledged ASD was a Ponzi scheme and that the “program” never had operated lawfully from its 2006 inception. Other charges that could have led to a longer term were not pursued.
Burks did not have a plea deal. The $939 million dollar volume of the Zeek scam will not be the sole measuring stick considered by U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. when Burks’ sentencing date comes around. Even so, 45 years is not out of the question, given the terms imposed on other Ponzi schemers. Scott Rothstein, for example, received 50 years for a $1.2 billion scam.
Rothstein reportedly cooperated with the government after his convictions with the hope of receiving a sentencing reduction. Whether Burks will have a similar option or be able to argue successfully for mitigation is unknown.
What is known is that even 20 years for Burks, nearing his 70th birthday, is a virtual life sentence. Like Rothstein, he has some serious thinking to do.
Zeek was a tragedy for many, many investors lured in by promises of enormous returns. Can there be any doubt it’s also a personal tragedy for Burks and his family, given what the Zeeker-in-chief now faces?
Why Burks ever would choose to pursue Zeek after what happened at ASD remains an open question. The frauds were remarkably similar. Bowdoin went to jail for an MLM scam when he was 77. The ASD case practically screamed, “Don’t do this!”
“This massive scam is one of the largest in breadth and scope ever prosecuted by this office,” U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose of the Western District of North Carolina said about Zeek.
Another problem for Burks is that North Carolina, a U.S. banking center, can be downright unfriendly to Ponzi schemers. Keith Franklin Simmons was sentenced to 50 years for his $40 million “Black Diamond” scheme, a scheme much smaller than Zeek. Although that sentence later was reduced on appeal to 40 years, four decades is hardly a bargain — and Zeek had something else in common with Black Diamond in addition to operating in the same federal district in the same state.
Burks had to know that Zeek was going to cause his world to crumble. He’d been an MLMer for years, he knew about the ASD case, Bernard Madoff, Rothstein, Ponzi pain in general throughout society and bizarre happenings in his own company.
Why he moved forward is a sort of maximum imponderable. Why so many in the trade followed him after ASD is an even more disturbing question.
Zeek’s wing of MLM, which also includes ASD, TelexFree, WCM777 and others, has harmed millions and millions of people. It is a vast wasteland of wink-nod disingenuousness and racketeering. The cross-border nature of these schemes is truly frightening.
Kenneth D. Bell, the court-appointed receiver for Zeek, is pursuing class-action litigation involving more than 9,000 alleged Zeek winners. It is known that some of the winners also participated in ASD. These winners were at the scene of two crimes. Some of them were at the scene of more than two.
This is a major problem for MLM, whether the trade acknowledges it or not. Recruits were told Zeek couldn’t be a Ponzi scheme because MLM lawyers were involved.
And they were told that Zeek was on the up-and-up because it issued 1099 tax forms. These longstanding MLM myths have been shattered in both criminal and civil prosecutions.
With respect to Burks’ sentencing, the government’s recommendation is not yet known. Lengthy sentences for senior-citizen Ponzi schemers, however, are hardly unprecedented. Madoff, in his seventies, received 150 years.
Richard Piccoli, 83, received 20 years for a scheme far smaller than Zeek in dollar volume and number of victims. Piccoli advertised in Catholic publications, and is believed to have caused about $25 million in losses to about 250 people.
Zeek advertised online and in MLM publications, creating hundreds of millions of dollars in losses while creating hundreds of thousands of victims.
NOTE: Our thanks to the ASD Updates Blog.