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U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

SEC Steps Up Nationwide Crackdown Against Internet Fraud, Charging 26 Companies and Individuals for Bogus Securities Offerings

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

99-49

Vigilant Surveillance and Preemptive Strikes Help Prevent
Investor Losses

Washington, D.C., May 12, 1999 – In its third nationwide Internet fraud sweep, the Securities and Exchange Commission today announced 14 enforcement actions against 26 companies and individuals for using the Internet to defraud investors and potential investors.

These actions are the culmination of a sweep targeting the sale of bogus securities through the Internet. In some of today's actions, SEC Internet surveillance detected the alleged bogus investment offerings before the perpetrators could make any sales, stopping the alleged frauds before potential investors lost money.

SEC Director of Enforcement Richard H. Walker said, "These actions demonstrate the SEC's commitment to cleaning up the Internet, and prove that through vigilant surveillance and preemptive strikes, the SEC can catch Internet thieves in the early stages of their investment frauds, sometimes even before they have stolen from a single investor." Mr. Walker added, "While the Internet can make it easier for thieves to commit securities fraud, the Internet also puts the fraud in plain view, making it easier for the SEC to catch it."

Today's actions share two common themes: Each involved the sale or marketing of securities via the world wide web and each contained outrageous or baseless promises to investors, in some instances guaranteeing annual profits exceeding 100% or even 2000% of an investor's initial investment. In addition to the fraud claims asserted in the actions, the SEC also charged several individuals for acting as unregistered broker-dealers and for selling unregistered securities.

In two of the actions, each an alleged international pyramid scheme (SEC v. Roor, et al. and SEC v. Future Strategies Srl), a federal judge has granted emergency relief, including an order requiring the defendants to stop immediately all alleged fraudulent activities and to submit a detailed accounting of all investor funds; and, in the case of SEC v. Roor, et al., the judge ordered an asset freeze. Among the other actions filed today, the SEC charged alleged swindlers with using the Internet to peddle worthless investments ranging from gold mining interests (In re Pierce, et al.) and so-called "prime bank" notes (SEC v. Stahl, et al. and SEC v. Edwards) to "ground-floor opportunities" in high-tech software (SEC v. Rosenthal), the construction of pre-fabricated hospitals in Turkey (In re Artz, et al.) and a product providing a revolutionary gold processing technique (SEC v. Abramson).

Today's actions are part of the third nationwide sweep conducted by the SEC. Previous sweeps filed in October 1998 and February 1999 dealt with the unlawful touting of publicly-traded companies via the Internet. The SEC's Office of Internet Enforcement coordinates the sweeps; the CyberForce and the Office of Internet Enforcement conduct the surveillance; and attorneys within the SEC Division of Enforcement throughout the country lead the investigations. The CyberForce, now more than 200 strong, is a dedicated corps of SEC enforcement staff specially trained for Internet surveillance.

Two emergency actions, SEC v. Forex, et al. filed in February and SEC v. Lazarus Long filed in April, were originally part of this sweep, but the SEC filed these actions earlier to minimize investor losses.

The SEC also issued today a series of tips for avoiding online investment scams, encouraging investors to take three steps before they invest:

  • Call your state securities regulator or check the SEC's EDGAR database at www.sec.gov to determine whether an investment is legally registered.

  • Ask your state securities regulator whether the person or firm selling the investment is licensed to do business in your state and whether they have a record of complaints or fraud.

  • Assume investments offered through the Internet are scams until you've done your homework and proven otherwise.

"People spend more time choosing a computer than they spend researching Internet investments," said Nancy M. Smith, Director of the SEC's Office of Investor Education and Assistance. "Investors can take their own preemptive strikes against Internet fraud simply by checking out investments before they buy."

To report suspicious Internet activities pertaining to securities fraud, please use the Enforcement Complaint Center at or email the SEC at enforcement@sec.gov and for more tips on saving, investing, and avoiding fraud online, visit www.sec.gov/investor/online.shtml.

Case Summaries & SEC Contact List

1.SEC v. David Abramson (SEC Contact: Eric Schmidt 212-748-8046)

The SEC alleges that David Abramson, a resident of New York City, New York, raised $50,000 over the Internet by selling phony interests in a company called Brightstar, which purportedly had access to a more efficient process to extract gold from magnetite concentrate, a type of ore. The SEC alleges that Abramson's promise to investors that they could receive an annual return of 2600% for ten years was an outright lie.

2.SEC v. Abacus International Holding Corp and Arthur Agustin (SEC Contact: David Horowitz 215-597-2950)

The SEC alleges that the sole owner and employee of Abacus International Holding Corp., Arthur Agustin, a resident of Alameda, California, sold "prime bank" securities, and made false promises of extravagant returns with little risk; all for an investment that never existed. At least one person invested $250,000 in the securities offered by the defendant, at least $60,000 of which the SEC alleges Agustin misappropriated for his own use.

3.SEC v. Richard Briden, Empowerment Funding Group, LLC and Infopro Group, Ltd. (SEC Contact: James Adelman 617-424-5927)

The SEC alleges that Richard Briden, a resident of Ashland, Massachusetts, and two corporations he controlled offered fraudulent "prime bank" trading programs over the Internet. The SEC alleges that Briden convinced seven investors to invest $295,000, promising a return of 640% per 40-week trading period. The SEC alleges that, like all "prime bank" securities, the investment never existed.

4.SEC v. Future Strategies Srl (SEC Contact: Richard Murphy 404-842-7665)

The SEC alleges that Future Strategies, an Italian entity headquartered in Carpi, Modena, Italy promoted a bogus pyramid scheme over the Internet known as "Pentagano." The SEC alleges that Future Strategies sold "Pentagano Certificates," now called "Card Purchase Orders," to more than 400 investors in the United States making false promises that an investment of only $120 or so could earn up to $116,400. The SEC alleges that the entire program was a sham, a fraudulent pyramid scheme, designed only to bilk investors.

5.SEC v. HDG Investment Corp. and Paul Edwards (SEC Contact: Daniel Shea 303-844-1000)

The SEC alleges that HDG and Paul Edwards, a Canadian citizen living in Prague, Czech Republic, used the Internet to raise more than $300,000 from investors for a fictitious prime bank investment program promising to produce a 20-to-1 return in thirty days. The SEC alleges that Edwards continued to give investors false assurances that they would receive their promised returns months after diverting at least $100,000 of investor proceeds to his personal use. The SEC alleges that, like all "prime bank" securities, the investment never existed.

6.SEC v. Theodore Pollard (SEC Contact: Helane Morrison 415-705-2450)

The SEC alleges that Theodore Pollard, a resident of Palo Alto, California, maintained a website using the name "World Investment Network, Ltd." on which he solicited dubious investments, including the "Winsell $35K Lease $1M" program, a "prime bank" program. The SEC alleges that Pollard promised investors an 800% return ($3,000,000 on $35,000 in ten months) on a purportedly risk-free investment. During the course of the investigation, Pollard was ordered by a District Court Judge to comply with Commission administrative subpoenas. Pollard was then found in contempt of that order, daily fines were imposed, and the Judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest for his continued non-compliance. The SEC alleges that, like all "prime bank" securities, the investment never existed.

7.SEC v. Peter Roor, Ronald Templin and Laurie Weiss (SEC Contact: Mark Schonfeld: 212-748-8292)

The SEC alleges that Peter Roor, a Dutch citizen residing in Amsterdam, Ronald Templin, a resident of Kokomo, Indiana, and Laurie Weiss, a resident of Waynesville, Missouri, promoted at least five ongoing Internet-based fraudulent pyramid schemes, each of which promised investors risk-free returns between 10% and 400% per month, plus additional returns for recruiting new investors. The SEC alleges that the pyramid schemes were a complete sham based on a slew of empty promises. The SEC alleges that the defendants defrauded thousands of investors worldwide of more than one million dollars. On Monday, the SEC obtained emergency relief from a New York Federal Judge, including an immediate order to cease all fraudulent activities, to account for all investor funds, to freeze the assets of two of the defendants (Roor and Templin), and to further protect all investors by prohibiting the defendants from transferring any money offshore.

8.SEC v. Jason Rosenthal (SEC Contact: James Adelman 617-424-5927)

The SEC alleges that Jason Rosenthal, who resided in Gloucester, Massachusetts at the time, used the Internet to solicit purchasers of unregistered securities in entities formed to purchase and operate franchises, which would sell and support software for operating commercial websites. The SEC alleges that Rosenthal made false promises claiming returns for investors of 500% to 2000% within two years. The SEC also alleges that Rosenthal misled investors into believing that they had an opportunity to join the same venture capitalists who had provided initial capital for Microsoft and Intel, and further misled investors to believe that the entity in which they would be investing was planning an initial public offering. The SEC alleges that Rosenthal's solicitations yielded investments from three investors, totaling $50,000 and commissions to Rosenthal in the amount of $5,000.

9.In the Matter of Lawrence Artz, Neurotech Corp., Enhance Resources, Inc. and Bruce Lynch (SEC Contact: James Adelman 617-424-5927)

The Division of Enforcement alleges that Lawrence Artz, a resident of Roslyn, N.Y., Bruce Lynch, a resident of Brookline, Massachusetts, Neurotech Corp. and Enhance Resources, Inc., conducted a fraudulent offering over the Internet for an investment in notes in the nominal amount of $15 million, the proceeds of which were to be used to construct prefabricated hospitals in Turkey. The Division also alleges that the respondents claimed that three well-known Turkish banks had agreed to guarantee the notes, so that there would be no risk to investors. The Division also alleges that the entire investment was a sham no Turkish banks had ever made any such guarantees and the projections posted in the offering were nothing more than baseless and unfounded representations. The Division filed this action before anyone invested in this alleged fraud.

10.In the Matter of David Francis (SEC Contact: Antonia Chion 202-942-4567)

The Division of Enforcement alleges that David Francis, a resident of Bowling Green, Kentucky, marketed interests in "prime bank" investment programs, promising returns as high as 200% every ten banking days. These solicitations were made to an Arizona undercover investigator who was passed on to Francis after initially reading about "prime bank" investments on an Arizona-based website. The Division alleges that, like all "prime bank" securities, the investment never existed, and filed this action before anyone invested in this alleged fraud. Without admitting or denying the Division's allegations, Francis consented to an order requiring him to cease and desist from all current and future violations of the antifraud provision of the Securities Act of 1933.

11.In the Matter of Derrick Johnson (SEC Contact: Sheila O'Callaghan 415-705-2459)

The Division of Enforcement alleges that Derrick Johnson, a resident of Aloha, Oregon, used three different websites to sell "prime bank" instruments promising returns from 50% to 1600% in 3 to 120 plus days and promising that the "prime bank" instruments would be "100% insured" and "guaranteed in writing." The Division alleges that Johnson also falsely represented that he and his company, "Global Financial Group," had clients in more than twenty countries, even though Global and Johnson in fact had no clients at all, and no operations other than the three websites Johnson created. The Division alleges that, like all "prime bank" securities, the investment never existed. The Division filed this action before anyone invested in this alleged fraud.

12.In the Matter of Lila Keith (SEC Contact: Daniel Shea 303-844-1000)

The Division of Enforcement alleges that Lila Keith, a resident of Aurora, Colorado, operating under the name "Keith Financial Services," used the Internet to provide account receivable services, to broker commercial loans, and to offer "prime bank" investment interests. The Division alleges that Keith raised over $300,000 from at least three investors for the "prime bank" securities offered by Paul Edwards (See, SEC v. Edwards), promising a 20-to-1 return within thirty days of each investment. The Division alleges that, like all "prime bank" securities, the investment never existed.

13.In the Matter of Gary Pierce and C.S.I. Ag (SEC Contact: James Adelman 617-424-5927)

The Division of Enforcement alleges Gary Pierce, a resident of Studio City, California, and C.S.I. Ag., a Turks and Caicos company, solicited investments in a $500 million unregistered bond offering for the government of Free Vietnam, a political association, via its website and other vehicles. The Division alleges that the respondents promised an average annual return of 19.6% and that the bond offering was collateralized by $500 million of CSI's gold reserves. The Division alleges that there existed no basis for the valuation of the gold reserves. The Division also alleges that the respondents failed to disclose that 70% of the money invested would be used for activities that would generate no revenue, and that only 30% would be invested in an unspecified "yield rich trading program" (which would have to generate more than 56% annually for five years to pay investors the promised rates of return). The Division filed this action before anyone invested in this alleged fraud.

14.In the Matter of Robert Stahl, Elizabeth Boyd and Bobby Rodgers (SEC Contact: Antonia Chion 202-942-4567)

The Division of Enforcement alleges that Robert Stahl, a resident of Chandler, Arizona, Elizabeth Boyd, a citizen of Canada who resides in Oakville, Ontario and Fort Myers, Florida, and Bobby Rodgers, a resident of Germantown, Tennessee, offered to an Arizona Corporation Commission undercover investigator various "prime bank"-related investment programs. The Division further alleges that Stahl initially offered certain of these programs on a website he created entitled "Inve$tit Opportunities," then later, in personal solicitations, promising returns as high as 20% each 2-3 week trading "cycle." The Division alleges that the investigator was later passed on to Elizabeth Boyd and her associate David Francis, who ultimately offered him an interest in a program promoted by Bobby Rodgers that purported to generate returns as high as 200% every ten banking days through the trading of fictitious debt instruments on overseas markets. The Division alleges that none of the programs offered existed. The Arizona Corporation Commission and the Division of Enforcement filed actions before anyone invested in these allegedly bogus programs.

http://www.sec.gov/news/headlines/nets0599.htm

Modified:05/12/1999