Fortune Hi Tech Marketing: Real Money Made From Recruiting, Not Product Sales

Earlier this week I showed you how Fortune Hi Tech Marketing appears to be a pyramid scheme, rather than a legitimate “direct sales” company or multi-level marketing opportunity. Today we are taking a look at the recruiting aspect, which is what I believe makes FHTM cross over the line into the world of pyramid scams and Ponzi schemes. Last time I cited claims from participants in FHTM that recruiting was the true focus of the “business,” and today we’ll look at that a little more in depth.

There are so many ways to get people to buy into the idea of joining an MLM. These days, you will hear about unemployment and financial pressures, and how companies like Fortune Hi Tech Marketing offer an opportunity for unlimited earnings. The recruiters will tell you that even if you don’t get rich with FHTM, you can still make some money to help pay bills.

Be your own boss… make an unlimited income… control your own financial future… provide a better life for your family… pay a few bills each month… make money from things you’re already buying… All of these things sound attractive to almost anyone, and that’s why they are used in recruiting pitches.

Read moreFortune Hi Tech Marketing: Real Money Made From Recruiting, Not Product Sales

Milwaukee Accountant Fights Back

Cary Spivak – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Forensic accountant Tracy Coenen has been dismissed from a $270 million defamation lawsuit filed against her, convicted fraudster Barry Minkow and others. Coenen hails her victory on her Fraud Files blog. Minkow, you may recall, is the one-time entrepreneurial whiz turned felon after his ZZZZ Best carpet cleaning company … Read more Milwaukee Accountant Fights Back

Medifast “Take Shape For Life” Lawsuit: Total Vindication for Tracy Coenen in SLAPP Suit

More than a year ago, Medifast Inc. (NYSE:MED) sued me, my company Sequence Inc, Barry Minkow, his company Fraud Discovery Institute, Robert FitzPatrick, William Lobdell, and an anonymous message board poster for defamation. Barry Minkow and FDI initiated an investigation of the company in 2008, and the rest of us researched the company and contributed our opinions to FDI’s reports on the company and its multi-level marketing division Take Shape For Life (TSFL).

We criticized the company and its MLM business model. We expressed negative opinions about the disclosures Medifast makes about this “business opportunity.” I dared to suggest that Medifast might be a weight loss pyramid scheme.

A year after the first report on the company was released by FDI, Medifast sued us for $270 million, alleging defamation, criminal conspiracy, unfair business practices, and market manipulation. The defendants each filed anti-SLAPP motions, basically saying that Medifast was attempting to silence critics in violation of our First Amendment rights.

Read moreMedifast “Take Shape For Life” Lawsuit: Total Vindication for Tracy Coenen in SLAPP Suit

Fortune Hi Tech Marketing: Multi-Level Marketing Scam or Pyramid Scheme?

Fortune Hi Tech Marketing is one of hundreds of multilevel marketing companies that operate in the U.S through a combination of clever lawyering (“Let me show you how to set up your MLM so it appears to abide by the laws.”) and failure of law enforcement to enforce the laws against pyramid schemes and business opportunity scams (aided in large part by the Direct Selling Association and its lobbying efforts).

What makes FHTM different? Nothing, really. Every multi-level marketing company seems to claim it is different! It either has magic juice, special vitamins, the supposed opportunity to make money on things you already consume anyway, or any of a number of claims of uniqueness.

FHTM was founded in 2001 by former Excel Communications superstar Paul Orberson. This news story on Fortune Hi Tech Marketing from WHAS11 in Louisville, KY say that the company has 200,000 representatives and brings in revenue of $500 million per year. (Although the company’s CEO, Tom Mills, claimed he didn’t know how many representatives FHTM had. Incredible!) Oddly enough, this multi-million dollar business is run with only 60 employees at headquarters.

Read moreFortune Hi Tech Marketing: Multi-Level Marketing Scam or Pyramid Scheme?

China MediaExpress Holdings: Critics and Short Sellers Were Right!

In February, I wrote about China MediaExpress Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:CCME) and several fraud allegations that had surfaced via researchers at Muddy Waters and Citron Research. After looking at the allegations and the support (or lack thereof), my conclusion was that there was something wrong at the company. I wrote that even if some of the allegations were false or exaggerated, there were just too many unanswered questions and too many red flags of fraud.

I was attacked here by supporters of CCME. No bit of logic or common sense could sway the fans. Their arguments did not hold water. The main arguments were that I hadn’t done any due diligence on CCME (I had only looked at the work of several others), that auditors from Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu had verified the numbers (At least someone out there knows how unreliable audits are when it comes to fraud, though.), that due diligence was performed by Global Hunter Securities, and that Hank Greenberg’s Starr Investments put many millions into CCME. Surely all of these things meant that the company and its reported revenues and profits were legitimate?

Read moreChina MediaExpress Holdings: Critics and Short Sellers Were Right!

Ex-Con Turned Fraudbuster Charged With Conspiracy

Cary Spivak – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ex-con Barry Minkow who in recent years billed himself as a fraud buster may be heading back to prison.

Minkow was charged with conspiracy today. Earlier the Wall Street Journal reported the one-time teenage entrepreneur had agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges.

Minkow was convicted in the 1988 when it was discovered that the company he launched as a teenager was a Ponzi scheme. After his release from prison in the 1990s Minkow became a minister and a self-described fraud buster.

Read moreEx-Con Turned Fraudbuster Charged With Conspiracy

Can MLM Be a Crime: Canadian Police Bring Criminal Fraud Charges Against Multi-Level Marketing Company Business in Motion

By Robert FitzPatrick of Pyramid Scheme Alert

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in the province of Manitoba in central Canada have brought criminal fraud charges against a multi-level marketing company that had been large, very visible and quite popular in Canada. The target of the fraud charges also include 12 consumers who had been active recruiters. The company, called Business in Motion (BIM), sold a package of travel discounts, and it offered each new salesperson the right to recruit other salespeople.

Like most MLMs, no payments were offered directly for recruiting, but only when a recruit “purchased” a product or sold one. As in some other MLMs, the salespeople were also purchasers of the product they sold. As others joined and “purchases,” were made, rewards accrued to those on the upper levels of the recruiting chain. As in all other MLMs, the recruitment chain was said to be endless and the opportunity “unlimited.”

Read moreCan MLM Be a Crime: Canadian Police Bring Criminal Fraud Charges Against Multi-Level Marketing Company Business in Motion

NOVA Benefit Plans: IRS Cracking Down on Welfare Benefit Plans

My original article on Nova Benefit Plans and the IRS’s actions relating to welfare benefit plans it believes are abusive was posted on March 14, 2011. On April 14, 2011, I was contacted by a lawyer representing Dan Carpenter in connection with NOVA Benefit Plans and Benistar. He asked for changes to the article to clarify that all allegations made by the IRS against Nova and others were only allegations, and criminal activity had not been proven in a court of law. Those changes were made immediately to avoid any confusion.

On June 1, 2011, I was again contacted by the attorney representing Daniel Carpenter, this time threatening to sue me if I did not remove the article from my site.

The article in question was not defamatory. It simply discussed the allegations made by the IRS and the potential problems NOVA was facing, and quoted and linked to other articles on Nova and Benestar.

Read moreNOVA Benefit Plans: IRS Cracking Down on Welfare Benefit Plans

More Evidence of Fraud at China MediaExpress Holdings

UPDATE: In March 2011, CFO Jacky Lam of China Media Express and the auditors (Deloitte) resigned. Deloitte said they could no longer rely on the representations of management, and they suggested an investigation was in order. Ping Luo, the analyst from Global Hunter who gave CCME rave reviews resigned. Maurice Greenberg’s Starr Investments sued CCME for fraudulently inducing it to invest $13.5 million. The stock was delisted from the NASDAQ in May 2011.

Deloitte raised the following issues: questionable authenticity of bank statements, supicioius bank confirmation procedures, existence of advertisers/customers, undisclosed bank accounts and bank loans, financial filings with the State Administration of Industry and Commerce differing from information provided to auditors, questionable authenticity of tax filing documents, cash payments to employees, and double counting of buses.

Last month, I wrote a piece on China MediaExpress Holdings (NASDAQ: CCME) and the allegations of fraud by researchers at Citron Research and Muddy Waters. The story grew quickly with the reaction of the company and its supporters. China Media Express Holdings responded to the allegations with a letter posted on their website, but the letter failed to definitively address several of the issues. The supporters of CCME were rabid, attacking anyone who would question the company.

Citron and Muddy Waters made many accusations, but the most concerning items included:

Read moreMore Evidence of Fraud at China MediaExpress Holdings

FCPA Books and Records Violations: The Government Will Always Win.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is aimed at preventing bribery of foreign officials. One key part of the FCPA is the books and records provision, which includes the following from 15 U.S.C. § 78m:

(2) Every issuer which has a class of securities registered pursuant to section 78l of this title and every issuer which is required to file reports pursuant to section 78o (d) of this title shall—

(A) make and keep books, records, and accounts, which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of the assets of the issuer;

Read moreFCPA Books and Records Violations: The Government Will Always Win.