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Entries in paul burks (2)

Monday
Aug202012

ZeekRewards Victims: What Happens Next


"“It's a process...We're going to try to gather as much money as we can and figure out who deserves what.”

Kenneth Bell, Court-appointed Receiver of ZeekRewards


The Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC")'s shutdown of ZeekRewards last Friday left many of the estimated one million victims shocked and confused, with many still refusing to believe that they had fallen victim to one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history. With the SEC alleging that Zeek's cash reserves were far insufficent to cover the nearly 3 billion "profit points" accumulated by members, it will be up to the court-appointed receiver to begin the arduous task of trying to recover assets for the benefits of victims. The Receiver has already indicated that the process will likely "take a long time." A court-ordered asset freeze on the $225 million currently held by Zeek in various financial institutions ensures that victims can be assured of at least some recovery.

The establishment of a receivership is common in the wake of an exposed Ponzi scheme. Usually simultaneously with the filing of charges, the SEC also requests the appointment of a receiver. In this case, the SEC chose Kenneth Bell, a North Carolina attorney with law firm McGuireWoods who is experienced in white collar fraud. According to Lexington newspaper The Dispatch, Bell visited Zeek headquarters for the first time today. There, Bell likely took possession of investor files and office computers, which he will try to use to piece together to fully understand the scheme. Bell also announced that he will be establising a website, www.zeekrewardsreceivership.com, where he will communicate with all concerned parties. At the time this article was published, the website was not yet live.

Likely due to the staggering amount of victims, Bell also stated that communications with investors would be through email only, and provided this address for victims: info@ZeekRewardsReceivership.com. Before any distribution process can be established, it is likely that Bell will first provide the court with a report on his investigation and findings. This process will likely take weeks or months.

In addition to any funds recovered by the Receiver, both the SEC and Department of Justice ("DOJ") allow for any funds forfeited or paid as penalties to be returned to investors. In the context of an SEC proceeding, this is known as a "Fair Fund", while the DOJ process to return funds to victims is known as remission. For those familiar with the AdSurfDaily Ponzi scheme, which was similar to ZeekRewards in that it purported to pay investors daily returns in exchange for visiting websites daily, those investors received approximately $55 million in funds seized by the Department of Justice from foreign bank accounts.

After the Receiver completes his initial investigation, he will then begin the process of recovering assets for the benefits of victims. These efforts may include securing or disposing of property owned by Zeek and/or Burks. Additionally, there is also the possibility that the Receiver could employ the use of "clawback" lawsuits, which target those investors that withdrew funds in excess of their initial investment. This will especially be important in the context of Zeek, where those that invested early in the scheme and grew their "downline" affiliates likely received exponential returns exceeding their original investment. Mr. Bell said that it was still unclear as to whether clawback lawsuits were likely. He may also look to financial institutions or other third parties who were involved with Zeek that ignored or should have noticed "red flags" relating to the scheme.

In the near future, many will simply be waiting for word from the Receiver as to his initial findings. Some investors have already begun to secure legal representation as well. Kevin Thompson, a well-known attorney in the direct sales industry who operates themlmattorney.com, indicated that he had already been contacted by 2,000 victims seeking help whose losses ranged from $500 to $70,000. Many of these stories, according to Thompson, were "heartbreaking", and involved many victims who had cashed out their retirement accounts to invest in Zeek. Thompson estimated that there could potentially be up to 1.2 million victims.

The North Carolina Attorney General's ("NCAG") office has also warned Zeek's victims to be wary of "reload scams", which purport to "help them replace the income they were receiving from Zeek Rewards." Some of these programs even refer to themselves as the "Zeek rescue program." The NCAG urged investors to cut their losses rather than lose even more.

The Receivership website will be established at www.zeekrewardsreceivership.com. All investors seeking to contact the Receiver should email info@zeekrewardsreceivership.com.

A statement released by the Receiver this evening is here.

Friday
Aug172012

SEC Shuts Down Zeek Rewards, Alleges It Was $600 Million "Massive Ponzi Scheme" On Verge Of Collapse

"Unbeknownst to its investors, ZeekRewards is, in reality, a massive Ponzi and pyramid scheme. "

-SEC

The Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") announced late Friday that it had filed suit against ZeekRewards, alleging it operated a $600 million Ponzi scheme that had gained a cult-like following for its seemingly consistent and above-average returns through the operation of a penny auction website. The company has been the focus of fervent speculation as of late by many who questioned the legitimacy of its operations.  According to the SEC, the payouts by ZeekRewards had no relation to the company's "profits", and in fact, the operation was on the verge of collapse, as its total investor cash payouts in July were nearly even with July infusions of investor funds.  The SEC's complaint charges the company's founder, Paul R. Burks, as well as Rex Venture Group, which does business as ZeekRewards.  Both are charged with multiple violations of federal securities laws, including the unregistered offering and fraudulent sale of securities.  Additionally, the SEC is seeking injunctive relief, disgorgement of all ill-gotten gains, and civil monetary penalties.  The SEC also announced that Burks had agreed to settle the charges against him, without admitting or denying guilt, by relinquishing his interests and assets in the company and paying $4 million in the form of a civil penalty.

According to the complaint, Burks has operated through Rex Venture since 1997.  In 2010, he formed zeekler.com, which operated as a penny auction website offering participants the ability to place incremental bids on merchandise in one-cent increments.  Individuals were required to purchase "bids" in lots, usually at a cost of $.65 per bid, in order to participate in the auctions.  Burks launched ZeekRewards in January 2011 as an "affiliate advertising division" of Zeekler.  Participants were then solicited to become investors, or affiliates, in ZeekRewards in the form of investment contracts called the "Retail Profit Pool" and the "Matrix."  None of these investments were registered with the SEC or any state regulatory authorities.

The Retail Profit Pool promised investors the chance to earn lucrative daily returns of "up to 50% of the daily net profits" after completing a process that involved enrolling in a monthly subscription plan, soliciting new customers, selling or purchasing ten Zeeker.com "bids", and placing one free ad daily for Zeeker.com.  According to the ZeekRewards website, a daily commitment of "no more than five minutes per day" was required to share in daily profits.  The daily "award" was usually 1.5% of the individual's 'investment'.  Due to the compounding nature of these "Profit Points", as they were called, the cumulative amount of outstanding Profit Points now numbers nearly $3 billion.  Assuming a 1.5% daily "award", this would require daily cash outflows of $45 million should all investors seek to receive their "award" in cash.  

In addition to the Retail Profit Pool, investors could also participate in the "Matrix", which was a form of multi-level marketing that rewarded investors for each "downline" investor within that investor's "Matrix".  The Matrix consisted of a 2x5 pyramid, and each person added to an investor's Matrix qualified that investor to receive a bonus.  

While ZeekRewards represented to investors that the operation was extremely profitable, in reality, the company's revenues and payments to investors were derived solely from funds contributed by new investors - a classic hallmark of Ponzi schemes.  Thus, the scheme could only stay afloat so long as new investor contributions were sufficient to satisfy the amount of outflows.  According to the SEC, ZeekRewards had paid out nearly $375 million to investors to date, and currently holds roughly $225 million in various domestic banking institutions.  With only $225 million on hand, the company would quickly be unable to satisfy investor redemptions if it was forced to make daily payouts of $45 million, which is the daily cash "award" value of the approximately 3 billion outstanding Profit Points.  To prevent the funds' rapid depletion until a receiver is appointed, the SEC is seeking an emergency asset freeze. 

Burk, as principal of Rex Ventures and Zeek Rewards, is alleged to have withdrawn approximately $11 million from the operation, of which only $4 million remains.  

The company's headquarters in Lexington, North Carolina was shut down this morning.  Visitors to the company's website were informed that "Zeek Rewards is currently unavailable. More information will be available shortly on this website."

The North Carolina Attorney General's office has set up a hotline for concerned investors at (919) 716-6046.

A copy of the SEC's complaint is here.