EDITORIAL: When MLM Is PR Poison: Footnote In Zeek Receiver’s Most Recent Filing Harkens Back To Scam Of Yesteryear — Also, Does Unrelated ‘Agape World’ Case Provide Clues About Tax Scam Within Ponzi Scam At Zeek?

From the 2010 MPBToday MLM scam, which in part traded on the names of Walmart and a Florida bank.

From the 2010 MPBToday MLM scam. Like Zeek Rewards, MPBToday traded in part on Walmart gift cards.

Ah, those serially disingenuous MLM hucksters and commission-based Ponzi pitchmen: They’ll ultimately destroy their own brands while picking millions of pockets. Before doing so, they’ll use your brand as a temporary means of sanitizing themselves, bring PR disasters to your legitimate company and perhaps even find an insidious way to turn the government into their banker.

Longtime PP Blog readers will recall the outrageous scam of MPBToday. MPBToday duped the MLM masses in part by planting the seed that Walmart gift cards or prepaid Visa cards would flow to members in unlimited supply if they sent $200 to the Florida-based “program” for a “one-time” purchase of “groceries” and if the members recruited two others who’d also recruit two others to do the same.

In addition to being a pyramid scheme that sent operator Gary Calhoun to prison in Florida on a racketeering charge, MPB Today could have been a scam that disguised “program” earnings as nontaxable “gifts” to dupe Uncle Sam.

It’s almost axiomatic in MLM Scam Land that an “opportunity” and/or its Stepfordian promoters will imply a tie to a major brick-and-mortar business or even the government, when no such ties exist or the ties are no more official than ties any consumer can enjoy — purchasing a gift card from a major retailer, having a bank account or renting a room at a major hotel chain, for instance. It happened at MPB Today in 2010, and it’s happening now within the Stepfordian wing of TelexFree — a wing in which promoters have suggested that TelexFree has been “authorized” or “approved” by the government.

It also happened both internally and externally at WCM777, now the subject of cross-border investigations in both North America and South America. In an apparent bid to sanitize the WCM777 scheme, alleged operator Ming Xu arranged to have himself photographed with celebrities such as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Meanwhile, WCM777 promoters rushed to YouTube and other social-media sites to claim that WCM777 had ties to famous businesses such as Siemens and a host of hospitality companies with famous flags.

Such rank MLM disingenuousness also occurred within the $850 million Zeek Rewards scheme. In the PP Blog’s view, Zeek’s maximum expression of such deception occurred when it was auctioning sums of U.S. cash and telling successful bidders they’d get paid through offshore payment processors such as AlertPay and SolidTrustPay. By divining sums up for auction and accepting bids for U.S. currency, Zeek implied it had been approved by the U.S. government, perhaps specifically the Treasury Department.

And by sending the incongruous (and bizarre) message that the Treasury-approved Zeek MLM scheme would pay members via offshore processors linked to the equally outrageous AdSurfDaily Ponzi scheme broken up by a Task Force consisting of the U.S. Secret Service and the Treasury Department (IRS) in 2008, Zeek served up another colossal mess for MLM.

Zeek, of course, followed the footsteps of MPBToday — whose operator lost his liberty after pushing all those Walmart cards out the door — by leeching off the names of major American retailers. In addition to auctioning cash, Zeek auctioned gift cards.

And this brings us to an interesting footnote in a quarterly report filed Jan. 30 by Kenneth D. Bell, the receiver in the Zeek Rewards Ponzi-scheme case. Zeek operated through Rex Venture Group (RVG).

“Unlike other retailers the Receiver Team approached, Wal-Mart and Home Depot readily agreed to refund the full amount of their gift cards held by RVG at the time of shut-down,” Bell advised Senior U.S. District Judge Graham C. Mullen.  “The remaining gift cards were sold at auction, and their value is included in the gross receipts from the personal property portion of the Receivership auction.”

Walmart and Home Depot know a PR disaster when they see one. They ponied up quickly when the receiver asked them, thus making his job of gathering funds for Zeek victims a bit easier. Some other companies that perhaps have less PR savvy did not. The receiver auctioned their gift cards in public.

Bell’s examination of Zeek’s money flow continues, according to the Jan. 30 report. The report reveals that lawsuits against alleged insiders and winners had not been filed as of the 30th, but remain pending.

The receivership is “on the brink of filing,” Bell said.

Some Zeekers who choose to see instead of turning a blind eye perhaps can gain an understanding of just how dangerous the “program” was to the U.S. financial system — and not just the relatively small segment in which retailers that issue gift cards reside. Not only did Zeek create legal and PR dilemmas for itself, it created them for others, including gems of U.S. commerce and banking.

During 2013’s fourth quarter, attorneys for the receiver “sent demand letters to fifty-four (54) financial institutions seeking reimbursement for teller’s checks on which financial institutions were believed to have improperly stopped payment under Section 3-411 of the Uniform Commercial Code and in violation of the Freeze Order,” Bell advised the court.

“As of December 31, 2013, thirty-one (31) financial institutions had not responded to the Receiver’s demand(s) for payment of stopped payment cashier’s checks and bank money orders,” Bell continued. “Additionally, fifteen (15) issuers of teller’s checks had not responded to demand letters.”

Let’s hope these financial institutions develop the PR savvy of Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Zeek not only was a train wreck unto itself, it set the stage to involve legitimate enterprises in its own bizarre drama. Company after company that conducted business with Zeek or whose customers did so has had to lawyer up or at least rely on in-house counsel to determine how much exposure the “program” brought to legitimate enterprises.

The Zeek story is far from being over and likely will reverberate for years in the financial community. Bell now says that he’s “discovered additional RVG financial accounts during the fourth quarter.”

Zeek money, according to the report, circulated onshore and offshore.

“All transactional information received from financial institutions through the end of the fourth quarter has been included in the creation of the financial books and records,” Bell advised the court. “However, communications with financial institutions are ongoing, and there are outstanding requests by the Receiver for transactional information.”

When will other shoes drop?

“The Receiver Team continued its investigation into potential claims against RVG insiders and third-party advisers as a part of its ongoing fact investigation, continuing its analysis of documentary evidence that will be used in proving such claims,” Bell advised the court. “The Receiver Team also responded to requests for assistance and information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office that aided the government in obtaining plea agreements from both Dawn Wright-Olivares and Daniel Olivares.”

Wright Olivares, Zeek’s former COO, was charged criminally and civilly in December 2012 2013 (Feb. 5, 2014 edit). Olivares, her stepson, also was charged criminally and civilly. They are expected to appear in court this week to enter formal guilty pleas to criminal conduct.

Federal prosecutors say tax fraud occurred at Zeek.

Here, we’ll point you to an unrelated story by Jordan Maglich at PonziTracker.com. The story is about an alleged pitchman for Ponzi schemer Nicholas Cosmo, now serving 25 years in federal prison for his epic Agape World fraud. (Quick side note: Agape World was a purported “bridge lender,” similar in some ways to the outrageous “Profitable Sunrise” MLM fraud scheme broken up by the SEC last year.) The PonziTracker story on Agape World developments is titled, “Ponzi Associate Jailed For ‘Mind-Boggling’ Money Laundering Scheme.”

The story explains why alleged Cosmo pitchman Anthony Ciccone now is in jail. A snippet from the story:

According to prosecutors, Ciccone overpaid approximately $1.7 million in federal and state income taxes beginning in 2008 that was comprised of Ponzi scheme proceeds. Several years later, the funds were returned to Ciccone in the form of tax refunds, and Ciccone subsequently had his wife and mother-in-law launder the refund money through their bank accounts.

We wonder: Could some of the Zeekers effectively have been doing the same thing — deliberately overpaying taxes and using the government as a de facto bank that temporarily would conceal and warehouse Ponzi proceeds for return later in the form of tax refunds?

From a Dec. 20, 2013, PP Blog report on the criminal allegations against Wright-Olivares (italics/bolding added):

And for the 2011 tax year, according to the charging documents, “P.B.,” Wright-Olivares and others reported to the IRS that Zeek investors had received more than $108 million from the scheme when Zeek had paid out only about $13 million.

This caused Zeek victims to file “false tax returns with the IRS reporting phantom income that they never actually received,” according to the charging documents.

Zeek used the “false tax notices to perpetuate the Ponzi scheme,” according to the charging document.

NOTE: Our thanks to the ASD Updates Blog.

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One Response to “EDITORIAL: When MLM Is PR Poison: Footnote In Zeek Receiver’s Most Recent Filing Harkens Back To Scam Of Yesteryear — Also, Does Unrelated ‘Agape World’ Case Provide Clues About Tax Scam Within Ponzi Scam At Zeek?”

  1. This seems to speak to a larger pattern.

    It’s important to remember Paul Burks’ pre-Zeek track record. He had a decade long history of subsistence level scamming. From Free Store Club to New Net Mail and GoGo Hub he was running pyramid schemes just well enough to keep himself and a few other people from finding honest work. To my regret the first time I heard of Zeek I found out who was behind it and laughed it off.

    But at some point some very heavy hitters cast their lots in with Paul. Todd Disner, Trudy Gilmond, O.H. Brown, Jerry Napier all lined up behind the “singing magician” of North Carolina and Paul Burks went from under the radar to off the charts.

    Paul and his Rex Ventures crew didn’t suddenly get smarter. He didn’t go from pretending to invent an improved form of email (he called them I-Corrs) to using the IRS to help launder money.

    Paul Burks wasn’t the mastermind, he was the front man and in part, fall guy. But unlike Paul, the people who “made” Zeek Rewards are still out there running scams.