Zeek Rewards: Jaymes Meyer Gets 15 Years in Prison and $4.8 Million Judgment

According to the Charlotte Observer:

A federal judge in Charlotte delivered a message Tuesday to a Napa Valley financier:

 

 

What Zeek Rewards giveth, the federal government taketh away.

In Jaymes Meyer’s case, that includes his freedom.

The CEO of Preferred Merchants LLC in Napa, Calif., will serve 15 months in prison and pay a $4.8 million judgment for attempting to hide millions in assets connected to the Rex Ventures Group, the Lexington-based parent company of Zeek Rewards, which prosecutors describe as one of the largest Ponzi schemes in U.S. history.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/crime/article97429572.html#storylink=cpy

Zeek Rewards: Receiver Replies to Class Defendants

zeekrewardsJust filed today, Kenneth Bell has replied to the Class Defendant’s (Rhonda Gates, Innovation Marketing, LLC, Aaron Andrews, Shara Andrews, and Durant Brockett) response to his initial Motion for Summary Judgment and Partial Summary Judgment against the Net Winner Class. It seems that Jerry Napier, Darren Miller, T. Le Mont Silver, Global Internet Formula, Inc., Karen Silver, and Dave and Mary Kettner did not respond to the Receiver’s motion.

Under “Summary of Argument”, the Reply states that after more than a year and considerable cost to the Receivership engaging a defense expert to investigate the question of whether or not Zeek operated as a Ponzi that the

Defendants have conceded—without a single reference to their own expert—that ZeekRewards was a Ponzi scheme which intentionally defrauded hundreds of thousands of victims out of hundreds of millions of dollars. Indeed, since the filing of the Receiver’s motion Paul Burks, the mastermind of the ZeekRewards scheme, has been found guilty by a Federal court jury of three counts of securities fraud and one count of tax fraud related to the Ponzi scheme. So, the fact that ZeekRewards was a Ponzi scheme has now been established as a matter of undisputed facts and law.

Despite this concession that Zeek was a Ponzi, the Defendants argue that they can avoid returning their “net winnings” based upon the TOS (Terms of Service) which

can limit the Receiver’s rights to assert claims and that they should be given credit for recruiting victims to the scheme. Defendants still act as if Zeek was a legitimate business and Defendants were “internet marketing specialists” entitled to be paid as employees rather than investors in the scheme, all of which is of course pure fiction.

The Court should resist Defendants’ invitation to create the dangerous loophole of allowing a fraudster to use the terms implementing a Ponzi scheme to limit the right of a subsequently appointed Receiver to recover funds paid to the winners of the fraudulent scheme. While such a rule would be a great recruiting tool for future Ponzi scheme operators, it is surely an unacceptable legal rule and public policy.

The Defendants urge the Court to rule that purchasing bids, posting online advertisements (which only took 5 minutes a day) and recruiting thousands of victims somehow means they provided “reasonable equivalent value” such that they get to keep the victim’s money.

Bell goes on to eviscerate the Defendant’s attempt to legitimize their actions:

In other words, Defendants claim that those Defendants who spent the most time successfully promoting the scheme and multiplying the number of its victims should be given the most credit against the Receiver’s claims to recover their fraudulently transferred winnings. In fact, in arguing that they were supposedly rightly paid for their “services,” Defendants stretch to compare themselves to the utility company, which among many other differences does not invest money in their customers’ businesses hoping to share in compounding profits of 125% every ninety days. Whether or not innocent third-party trade creditors of a Ponzi scheme could be subject to a clawback action is not at issue in this case. Here, Defendants—all active participants and investors in the scheme—provided no value to ZeekRewards as a matter of law and fact; instead, as a result of their efforts the company became liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in losses incurred by the victims they recruited to the scheme.

You can read the full Response, the Zeek Terms Of Service and the Purchase/Subscription Agreement here.

Zeek Rewards: “Net Winner Class” Defendants File Reply to Complaint

zeekrewardsIn case 14-cv-91, Bell v Disner ,et al, the “Defendant Class of Net Winners” by and through their Texas attorney, James Kevin Edmundson, have filed a “Defendants’ Answer to Complaint and Affirmative Defenses” in reply to the original complaint filed back on February 28, 2014.

The very first 2 sentences are this:

1. The statement that RVG operated as a Ponzi scheme is a legal conclusion to which no response is required. Defendants lack knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the remaining allegations of paragraph 1.

2. Defendants deny the allegations of paragraph 2 because, among other reasons, they have no information leading them to believe that RVG was a “scheme” or that they or others were somehow “net winners” as opposed to individuals who worked diligently for the income they earned in connection with Zeek.

I suppose even though a legal decision has been made as to whether Zeek was a Ponzi or a “scheme”, following the conviction on all counts of Paul Burks in the criminal trial, one would surmise that these positions by the Net Winners would be somewhat untenable. But, it gets even better with their Affirmative Defenses: (Pay particular attention to “C”, emphasis added)

AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSES
A. Defendants devoted significant time and money working on behalf of RVG, which was performed pursuant to a contract between Defendants and RVG by which RVG agreed to pay Defendants for the work that they performed. Defendants performed as agreed and were owed the compensation that RVG promised to pay.
B. If RVG was a Ponzi scheme, Defendants had no knowledge of that fact. If RVG was a Ponzi scheme, then all of the other affiliates who participated in RVG have unclean hands as a result of their participation in a fraudulent scheme.
C. On information and belief, the SEC knew or should have known of the RVG Ponzi scheme, but delayed unreasonably in its prosecution of claims against RVG. Alternatively, the SEC knew for some time that RVG was operating as a Ponzi scheme but intentionally delayed disclosing that information to Affiliates and to the public. That unreasonable delay has prejudiced Defendants because t h e y h a v e paid taxes on the money they earned working on behalf of RVG and have incurred business expenses as a part of their work on behalf of RVG. The Receiver in this action stands in the SEC’s shoes and also delayed to Defendants’ detriment and now seeks return of all monies Defendants earned in connection with RVG, with no credit for the taxes or business expenses that Defendants legitimately paid, but that could have been avoided had the SEC or the Receiver timely advised Defendants of RVG’s true nature or acted in a more expeditious manner.
D. The Receiver’s claims in this case against Defendants are barred by the equitable doctrine of laches.
E. Defendants accepted compensation in connection with RVG in good faith, in exchange for reasonably equivalent value and in accordance with the terms of the contract between Defendants and RVG.
F. Defendants are entitled to a setoff for the amounts they paid to RVG for the purchase of bids and to otherwise participate in the Affiliate program, the amount of any and all expenses they incurred in operating their business for the benefit of RVG, for the amount of all taxes they paid and for the value of the funds the Receiver wrongfully misappropriated from Defendants’ e-wallet accounts. Defendants are also entitled to a setoff to the extent of any judgment on their counterclaims.
G. The Receiver has filed suit against two attorneys who provided legal advice to RVG and Affiliates, including Defendants. Defendants relied on that advice in concluding that RVG was a legitimate business and in committing significant personal resources to grow their now defunct business. Because Defendants’ damages were caused in part by the conduct of the two lawyers, Defendants are entitled in equity and at law to a credit for all money the Receiver recovers from the two attorneys as a result of their claims against them.
H. Plaintiff’s claims are time-barred pursuant to the express terms of the agreement between RVG/ZeekRewards and Defendants.

SEC Halts $207 Million Traffic Monsoon Ponzi

sec-logo

U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Litigation Release No. 23604 / July 28, 2016

Securities and Exchange Commission v. Traffic Monsoon et al., No. 2:16-cv-00832-JNP (D. Utah filed July 26, 2016)

SEC Halts $207 Million Internet-Based Ponzi Scheme

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that it has obtained an asset freeze against the operator of a Utah-based international Ponzi scheme that raised more than $207 million from investors worldwide, primarily in the U.S., India and Russia.

In a complaint filed in federal court in Salt Lake City on July 26, the SEC alleges that Traffic Monsoon LLC and Charles Scoville, the company’s only member operated an Internet-based Ponzi scheme that they falsely represented to investors was an advertising company. According to the SEC complaint, Scoville began operating Traffic Monsoon in October 2014 as a combination Internet traffic exchange and pay-per-click program and recruited more than 162,000 investors around the world. According to the complaint, although Traffic Monsoon markets itself as a highly successful company, nearly all of its revenue is generated by other investors, not its products or services. The complaint alleges that more than 99% of Traffic Monsoon’s revenue is derived from new investor funds, making claims that it is a successful advertising business merely an illusion.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that Traffic Monsoon and Scoville violated Sections 5(a), 5(c) and 17(a)(1) and (3) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) thereunder. Among other things, the SEC’s complaint seeks permanent injunctions, prohibiting further violations of the laws charged, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest and civil penalties from Traffic Monsoon and Scoville.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Alison Okinaka, Scott Frost and Cheryl Mori of the SEC’s Salt Lake Regional Office. Daniel Wadley is leading the SEC’s litigation.

SEC Complaint

 

http://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2016/lr23604.htm

 

Zeek Rewards: Verdict Sheet, Burks Criminal Trial

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Tax Crimes Handbook, SECTION 4 CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT OFFENSE OR TO
DEFRAUD THE UNITED STATES – 18 U.S.C. § 371

Overt Act:
[b] In furtherance of the conspiracy. The government must prove that the commission of
the overt act was in furtherance of the conspiracy. Grunewald v. United States, 353 U.S. 391,
396-397 (1957); Braverman v. United States, 317 U.S. 49, 53 (1942); United States v.
Provenzano, 615 F.2d 37, 45-46 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 953 (1980); Castro v. United
States, 296 F.2d 540, 542-543 (5th Cir. 1961). The overt act must have been calculated to
achieve some goal or objective of the conspiracy. Grunewald, 353 U.S. at 414-15.

 

Zeek Rewards: Paul Burks Found Guilty on All 4 Counts!!

zeekrewards

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of North Carolina

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 21, 2016

Former ZeekRewards CEO Is Convicted Of Federal Charges For Operating $900 Million Internet Ponzi Scheme

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose announced that a federal jury sitting in Charlotte retuned a guilty verdict today against the former CEO of ZeekRewards for operating a $900 million Internet Ponzi scheme.  Following a three-week trial, the jury convicted Burks, 69, of Lexington, N.C., of wire and mail fraud conspiracy, wire and mail fraud, and tax fraud conspiracy.

Michael Rolin, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service, Charlotte Field Division and Thomas J. Holloman III, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) join U.S. Attorney Rose in making today’s announcement.

“For nearly two years, Burks used deceit and dishonesty to engineer an extensive Ponzi scheme that amassed millions of dollars from thousands of victims, many in the Western District of North Carolina. This massive scam is one of the largest in breadth and scope ever prosecuted by this office.  I commend the United States Secret Service and the IRS agents who worked closely with our prosecutors to unravel Burk’s fraud and to obtain a conviction against the mastermind of a scheme that has left so many victims with substantial losses.  I want to remind the public to steer clear of ‘get rich’ schemes and to follow the old adage that if it looks too good to be true, it likely is,” said U.S. Attorney Rose.

“Today’s verdict is the result of a joint investigative effort and it is representative of the commitment the U.S. Secret Service and our partners have towards ensuring those intent on defrauding the citizens of North Carolina and the United States are held accountable,” said Special Agent in Charge Rolin.

According to filed court documents, court proceedings, evidence introduced at trial and witness testimony:

From January 2010 through August 2012, Paul Burks was the owner of Rex Venture Group, LLC (RVG), through which he owned and operated Zeekler, a sham Internet-based penny auction company, and its purported advertising division, ZeekRewards (collectively “Zeek”).   Burks and his conspirators induced more than 900,000 victims – including over 1,500 victims in the Charlotte area – to invest in their fraudulent scheme, by falsely representing that Zeekler was generating massive retail profits from its penny auctions, and that the public could share in such profits through investment in ZeekRewards. Burks and his conspirators, including Zeek’s former Chief Operating Officer Dawn Wright Olivares and her step-son and Zeek’s Senior Technology Officer Daniel C. Olivares, claimed at one point that investors would be guaranteed a 125% return on their investment.

Burks and his conspirators represented that victim-investors in ZeekRewards could participate in the Retail Profit Pool (RPP), which supposedly allowed victims collectively to share 50% of Zeek’s daily net profits.  Burks and his conspirators did not keep books and records needed to calculate such daily figures.  Instead, Burks simply made up the daily “profit” numbers.  Contrary to the conspirators’ claims, the true revenue from the scheme did not come from the penny auction’s “massive profits.”  Instead, approximately 98% of all incoming funds came from victim-investors, which were then used to make Ponzi-style payments to earlier victim investors.

In addition to promising massive returns on investments, Burks and his conspirators used a number of ways to promote Zeek to current and potential investors.  For example, the conspirators hosted weekly conference calls and leadership calls, where participants could call in listen to Burks and others make false representations intended to encourage victim-investors to continue to invest money and to recruit others to invest in Zeek.  Burks also organized and attended “Red Carpet Events,” where victim investors came to hear details of the scheme in person.  During these events, Burks and his conspirators made false representations about the massive retail profits generated by Zeek.  They also used electronic and print media, including websites, emails and journals, to make false and misleading statements about the success of Zeekler to recruit victim investors.

As the Ponzi scheme grew in size and scope it became unsustainable and it eventually began to unravel as the outstanding liability resulting from the bogus 125% return on investment continued to rise beyond control.  By August 2012, Burks and his conspirators fraudulently represented to the collective victims that their investments were worth nearly $3 billion, but had no accurate books and records to even determine how much cash on hand was available to pay such liability.  Contrary to representations made to victim investors, at that time, Burks and his conspirators had only $340 million available to pay out investors.  Over the course of the scheme, Burks diverted approximately $10.1 million to himself.

Burks also failed to file corporate tax returns or to make corporate tax payments for his companies, among other things.  In addition, for tax year 2011, Burks issued fraudulent IRS Forms 1099s, causing victim-investors to file inaccurate tax returns for phantom income they never actually received.

Burks will remain free on bond.  A sentencing date for the defendant has not been set yet.  The wire and mail fraud conspiracy charge, the mail fraud charge and wire fraud charge each carry a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $250,000 fine.  The tax fraud conspiracy charge carries a maximum prison term of five years and a $250,000 fine.

Burks’ co-conspirators, Dawn Wright Olivares, Zeek’s Chief Operating Officer, and her step-son and Zeek’s Senior Technology Officer, Daniel C. Olivares, pleaded guilty in December 2013 to investment fraud conspiracy.  Dawn Wright Olivares also pleaded guilty to tax fraud conspiracy.  Both defendants currently await sentencing.

In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Rose thanked the U.S. Secret Service and IRS-CI for investigating the case, and the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, Division of Enforcement for its assistance with the investigation.

The prosecution is handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Jenny Grus Sugar and Corey Ellis of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.

Additional information and updated court filings about this and related cases filings can be accessed at the district’s website: http://www.justice.gov/usao/ncw/ncwvwa.html.

 

Zeek Rewards: Latest Docket Entries in Burks’ Trial

This is all that was on the docket today:  zeekrewards

Full docket text:  (July 15)
Minute Entry: JURY TRIAL as to Paul Burks held before District Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr.. Evidence continued. Jury Trial set for 7/18/2016 09:30 AM in Courtroom 2-1, 401 W Trade St, Charlotte, NC 28202 before District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr.Government attorney: Jenny Sugar, Corey Ellis. Defendant attorney: Noell Tin, Jacob Sussman, Melissa Owen. Court Reporter: Cheryl Nuccio. (chh)

Full docket text: (July 14)
Minute Entry: JURY TRIAL as to Paul Burks held before District Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr.. Evidence continued. Jury Trial set for 7/15/2016 09:00 AM in Courtroom 2-1, 401 W Trade St, Charlotte, NC 28202 before District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr.Government attorney: Jenny Sugar, Corey Ellis. Defendant attorney: Noell Tin, Jacob Sussman, Melissa Owen, Isham Reavis. Court Reporter: Cheryl Nuccio/Laura Andersen. (chh)

No new motions have been added to the docket file in the past few days, and Judge Cogburn has not made a ruling on the prosecution’s motion to preclude the testimony of the defendants “expert witnesses”.

Zeek Rewards: Government Rests Its Case

zeekrewardsI checked the docket a little while ago and saw this entry for July 13th:

Full docket text: (emphasis added)
Minute Entry: JURY TRIAL as to Paul Burks held before District Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr.. Evidence continued. Government rested. Oral Rule 29 Motion by defendant is denied by court. Jury Trial set for 7/14/2016 09:00 AM in Courtroom 2-1, 401 W Trade St, Charlotte, NC 28202 before District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr.Government attorney: Jenny Sugar, Corey Ellis. Defendant attorney: Jacob Sussman, Isham Reavis, Melissa Owen, Noell Tin. Court Reporter: Cheryl Nuccio/Laura Andersen. (chh)

Here is the definition of Rule 29 from the Cornell Law website:

Rule 29. Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal

(a) Before Submission to the Jury. After the government closes its evidence or after the close of all the evidence, the court on the defendant’s motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction. The court may on its own consider whether the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction. If the court denies a motion for a judgment of acquittal at the close of the government’s evidence, the defendant may offer evidence without having reserved the right to do so.

Judge Cogburn didn’t find that there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction; I like this guy.

So far, Judge Cogburn has not ruled on a few defense motions and there is no entry for the government’s motion to preclude Burks’ expert witnesses.

I wish we had someone in the courtroom for all of this. The docket entries are minimal at best.

Zeek Rewards: Prosecution Seeks to Limit or Preclude Reliance Witnesses

Jill Westmoreland Rose, United States Attorney, has filed a motion in limine to preclude Paul Burks from zeeklerintroducing “irrelevant testimony” through Nehra & Waak, Keith Laggos, Kevin Grimes, Howard Kaplan, Gregory Caldwell, and Greer & Walker.

A motion in limine is a motion made at the start of a trial requesting that the judge rule that certain evidence may not be introduced in trial.

The Motion goes on to say:

On or about April 11, 2016, Defendant notified the United States that he may assert a reliance defense in his response (Doc. 52) to the Government’s Motion in Limine regarding the reliance defense (Doc. 47), though no specific individuals upon whose advice the Defendant relied were named. On or about June 26, 2016, the defense again repeated that he may assert a reliance defense in its trial brief. (Doc. 86, page 6.) Again, no specific individuals were named. Moreover, Defendant’s trial brief asserts that his purported reliance defense is based upon the assertion that he made changes to the (already existing and implemented) program in good faith based on the advice of experts. That is, by his own admission Defendant did not seek advice about potential future conduct, but instead about his ongoing conduct.

Burks also appears to net be able to keep his dates straight:

In particular, Defendant has asserted that he first sought advice from the following individuals during the following months:
• Nehra & Waak – April 2011 (though this appears to be an error and should be June 2011)
• Keith Laggos – June 2011
• Kevin Grimes – December 2011
• Howard Kaplan – January 2012
• Gregory Caldwell – January 2012
• Greer & Walker – March 2012

The prosecution contends that at trial, they will establish that Zeek Rewards launched in January 2011 and promised a 125% return. Additional evidence will show that Burks and his co-conspirators “were aware that compounding bids purchased by affiliates in Zeek rewards were ‘debt bids’ creating exponential debt to the company well beyond 125% and driving away retail customers.”

Though cosmetic changes were later made to the program, it continued to essentially function in the exact same manner as it had before any consultants or attorneys were employed: money came in largely from affiliates (who were supposed to be the “advertising” force for Zeekler.com the penny auction); those affiliates received a purported “profit-share” equivalent to approximately a 125% return on their bid purchases in a 90 day period (later as a Retail Profit Pool percent averaging 1.43% per day); and Defendant Burks promoted the program as sharing the profits from the penny auctions.

Next, they establish how the testimony would be irrelevant:

Even if Defendant can establish “that he disclosed all material facts to [the counsel or expert] and that he acted strictly in accordance with [the counsel or expert’s] advice,” to establish a reliance defense, he must establish that he obtained that advice prior to and with regard to future conduct.

 

 

Simply, “a defendant who takes ‘significant steps’ toward the completion of his criminal action cannot avail himself of later-received advice of counsel respecting the lawfulness of that action.” Id.

 

 

Put another way, “[t]he party must also consult the attorney as to the lawfulness of his possible future conduct and may not consult an attorney after he has already manifested an intent to act unlawfully in an attempt to retroactively protect himself from the consequences of his illegal conduct.”

 

 

Defendant Burks had formed intent and taken significant steps in the scheme prior to the time he sought counsel.

The Conclusion says it all:

Without evidence presented that Defendant (1) obtained the advice of counsel or expert (1) prior to engaging in the conduct and then (2) relied upon the instructions or advice of a particular “expert,” there can be no reliance defense. See Pearrell, 1996 WL 10284 at *2; Polytarides, 584 F.2d at 1352. Here the evidence already establishes that Defendant did not seek advice until after he had manifested the intent to commit his crimes and taken significant steps in furtherance of his scheme. Thus, there can be no reliance defense, and the testimony of Defendant’s “Advice of Counsel/Expert” witnesses should be precluded as irrelevant, as their testimony would not make any fact of consequence more or less probable.

 

The prosecution believes that is these “expert witnesses” are allowed to testify, the “minimal relevance will be outweighed by the risk of confusing the issues and misleading the jury.”

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