The Justice Department announced today the unsealing of an indictment charging 10 individuals in connection with a vending machine “business opportunity” that defrauded thousands of victims across the country.
The indictment alleges that managers, sales representatives and operators of “locating companies” associated with Multivend LLC, d/b/a Vendstar, made material misrepresentations about the profits customers would make from and the locations customers would receive for bulk candy vending machines. The indictment also alleges that, during these telemarketing calls, Vendstar’s sales representatives falsely claimed to operate their own profitable vending machine businesses.
According to the indictment, Vendstar advertised nationwide in newspapers and on the Internet. Vendstar sales representatives promised to provide consumers with everything they needed to operate a successful business, including vending machines, an initial supply of candy, assistance in finding locations for the vending machines, training and ongoing customer assistance. The locating companies who worked with Vendstar to close deals had no special skills, tools or expertise in finding locations and generally placed consumers’ machines wherever they could as quickly as they could, often in businesses that had not consented to housing the machines and that soon demanded that the machines be removed. The vending machines generated little business and Vendstar’s customers lost nearly all if not all of their investments. The typical customer paid about $10,000 for the business opportunity.
“Business opportunity fraud is a serious crime that insidiously targets Americans in search of a better future for their families. We will continue to work with the Postal Inspection Service and use our law enforcement resources to investigate and uncover business opportunity fraud,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, which includes the Consumer Protection Branch that handles criminal cases.
Tony Gomez, Acting Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service - Miami Division, stated: “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to ensure that the U.S. Postal Service isn’t used as a conduit to defrauding the American consumer. The protection of our citizens is at the cornerstone of our mission.”
“Business opportunity schemes, like this candy vending machine venture, take advantage of individuals through misrepresentations and outright fraud,” said Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “Instead of becoming successful entrepreneurs, the individual investors become victims of fraud, often losing their life’s savings. In this way, business opportunity schemes tarnish the American Dream of success through hard work. We will help protect the investing public by prosecuting these cases aggressively.”
Vendstar was incorporated in Indiana and operated until July 2010 from Deer Park, N.Y., according to the indictment. The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Miami. The charges are part of a continuing crackdown by federal authorities on business opportunity fraud that during the last several years has resulted in more than 100 convictions in the Southern District of Florida alone.
Named as defendants in the indictment were:
Each of the defendants is charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and an enhanced penalty for telemarketing , which together provide for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Weaver, Kaplan, Benowitz, Goldberg, Linick, Raia, Strauss and DiRenzo also are charged with mail fraud, and/or wire fraud, each of which carry a maximum of 20 years in prison.
The indictment contains only accusations against the defendants and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Delery commended the investigative efforts of the United States Postal Inspection Service. The case is being prosecuted by Patrick Jasperse and Adrienne Fowler, Trial Attorneys, U.S. Department of Justice, Consumer Protection Branch.