The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday announced that it filed charges in courts across the country against the operators of seven schemes that allegedly lured hundreds of consumers into spending millions of dollars on fraudulent business opportunities.
Dubbed "Operation Lost Opportunity," the DOJ's investigation into companies that it claims misled individuals about large profits they would receive from paying for business opportunities netted Houston-based Mark Five Inc.; Atascocita, Texas-based The Lauren Jewelry Collection; Colorado-based American Vending Systems; New York-based Multivend LLC; Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based The Zaken Corp.; Tualatin, Ore.-based Smart Tools LLC; and Christopher Sterling, who did business in California as Sterling Visa, Rebate Data Processors and Credit Card Workers.
The charges against Mark Five, The Lauren Jewelry Collection, American Vending Systems and Multivend are criminal. Their cases stem from allegations that they placed ads that claimed individuals could earn significant profits from purchasing vending machines or display racks for use in stores.
“In an attempt to lure wary consumers, fraudsters have crafted business opportunity schemes that promise what appear to be more realistic returns backed up by false success stories,” Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West said in a written statement. “But we are more determined than ever to bring to justice those who are defrauding Americans out of their time, money, and faith in our economic system – this law enforcement sweep represents a coordinated effort to combat business opportunity fraud on multiple fronts.”
The DOJ Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch is handling the cases with the U.S. Attorney’s offices for the Central District of California, Southern District of California, Southern District of Florida, District of Oregon, Western District of North Carolina, Western District of Pennsylvania and Southern District of Texas.
The cases stem from the efforts of President Barack Obama's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which he created in an attempt to bolster the prosecution of financial crimes.