SEC Charges Operators of Phoenixsurf.com Web Site With Conducting a Massive Internet Ponzi Scheme
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C., July 24, 2007 - The Securities and Exchange Commission today filed securities fraud charges against the operators of an Internet-based Ponzi scheme that raised $41.9 million in just four months from more than 20,000 investors worldwide.
The Commission's action, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges that from Feb. 22, 2006, through May 21, 2006, four defendants operated a Web site — Phoenixsurf.com — that offered investors a 120% return in just eight days on investments ranging from $8 to $6,000 in a purported "traffic exchange program."
Walter Ricciardi, Deputy Director of Enforcement, said, "Paid autosurf programs have become an enormous industry on the Internet. In this instance and other similar cases, however, a paid autosurf program has turned out to be a Ponzi scheme, which depends on attracting new members in order to pay returns to current members. In reviewing such programs, investors should bear in mind the age-old adage: 'If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.' Promises or guarantees of double-digit returns in a matter of days or weeks are highly suspicious and the investor should exercise extreme caution."
Andrew Petillon, Associate Regional Director of the Commission's Los Angeles Regional Office, said, "The Phoenixsurf.com program was destined to collapse because it depended on attracting new investors to pay existing investors. We again caution investors about 'get-rich quick' schemes offered on the Internet, especially when the companies have not filed disclosure documents with the Commission."
The Commission's complaint against Jonathan W. Mikula, 21, of Athens, Ga., Gabriel J. Frankewich, 29, of Byron, Ga., New Millenium Enterpreneurs, LLC, and Phoenixsurf.com alleges that under the purported program, to receive the promised return, investors had to purchase advertising and view at least 15 web pages of advertising per day during the eight-day period. Although the defendants represented that they would pay the promised returns with funds received from investors and other "businesses/programs within the NME/Phoenix network," they operated Phoenixsurf.com primarily as a pure Ponzi scheme — using for the most part only new investor funds to pay the promised returns to existing investors. The complaint alleges that the defendants paid investors $36.7 million, almost all of which came from advertising purchases from new investments in the scheme.
To settle the Commission's charges, the defendants consented, without admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint, to a judgment permanently enjoining them from future violations of the antifraud provisions of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder, and the securities registration provisions of Sections 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act. The judgment also ordered the defendants to pay disgorgement and prejudgment interest — for Mikula, a total of $106,671.08; Frankewich, a total of $96,345.79, and Phoenixsurf.com and New Millenium Entrepeneurs, LLC in amounts to be determined. Payment of the disgorgement and prejudgment interest by Mikula and Frankewich was waived and civil penalties were not assessed against them based on their sworn financial statements and other documents submitted to the Commission.
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See also SEC publications on Ponzi schemes (http://www.sec.gov/answers/ponzi.htm) and autosurfing (http://www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/autosurf.htm).
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For further information contact:
Associate Regional Director, Enforcement
Senior Assistant Regional Director, Enforcement
Senior Special Counsel
Los Angeles Regional Office
Additional materials: Litigation Release No. 20205