Former Customs Employee Pleads Guilty To Auctioning Online A Customs Declaration Form Signed By A Celebrity
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The president of ZeekRewards, Paul Burks, has been indicted on federal charges for operating an Internet Ponzi scheme that took in more than $850 million dollars, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. The criminal indictment was returned today by a federal grand jury sitting in Charlotte, charging Burks, 67, of Lexington, N.C., with wire and mail fraud conspiracy, wire and mail fraud, and tax fraud conspiracy.
Russell F. Nelson, 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 Tompkins in making today’s announcement.
According to allegations contained in the indictment, 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”). The indictment alleges that Burks and his conspirators induced 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. Indeed, the indictment alleges that Burks and others claimed, at one point, that investors would be guaranteed a 125% return on their investment.
The indictment alleges that 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. The indictment alleges that Burks and his conspirators did not keep books and records needed to calculate such daily figures, and that Burks simply made up the daily “profit” numbers. The indictment further alleges that, 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, the indictment alleges that the conspirators also used a number of ways to promote Zeek to current and potential investors. For example, according to the indictment, 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. The indictment further alleges that Burks also organized and attended “Red Carpet Events,” where victim investors came to hear details of the scheme in person. During these events, according to the indictment, Burks and his conspirators made false representations about the massive retail profits generated by Zeek. The conspirators 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.
The indictment alleges that as the Ponzi scheme grew in size and scope, it began to unravel as the outstanding liability resulting from the bogus 125% return on investment continued to rise beyond control. According to the indictment, by August 2012, the conspirators fraudulently represented to the collective victims that their investments were worth approximately $2.8 billion, but had no accurate books and records to even determine how much cash on hand was available to pay such liability. According to the indictment, by August 17, 2012, Burks and his conspirators had only $320 million (or approximately 11% of $2.8 billion) available to pay out investors. The indictment alleges that over the course of the scheme, Burks diverted approximately $10.1 million to himself.
Burks is also charged with tax fraud conspiracy for failing to file corporate tax returns or to make corporate tax payments for his companies, among other things. In addition, the indictment alleges, 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.
The court has issued a summons against Burks and he is expected to appear in federal court for his initial appearance in the coming days. 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.
The details contained in this indictment are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Two of Burks’ 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 await sentencing.
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Tompkins 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, Corey Ellis and Mark T. Odulio 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: www.justice.gov/usao/ncw/ncwvwa.html.