In light of all of the recent investments scams including the infamous Bernie Maddoff, whistleblowers and those with morals fear that the frauds they expose will result in unjust lawsuits filed against them by the companies they complain about. One such situation was that of the lawsuit filed by Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing against Fortune Social LLC and Joseph Isaacs in May 2010.
Joseph Isaacs and Fortune Social, LLC (collectively “Isaacs”) deny each and every claim brought by Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing, Inc. (“FHTM”) in a filing made today with the American Arbitration Association, who is overseeing this case. In addition, Isaacs fights back and asserts his own counterclaim for relief against FHTM, Paul C. Orberson (individually and in his capacity as President of FHTM), Jeff Orberson (individually and in his capacity as Chief Operating Officer of FHTM), and Thomas A. Mills (individually and in his capacity as Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer of FHTM) (collectively “FHTM”). Isaacs counterclaim claims Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Breach of Contract, Common Law Fraud, Unfair & Deceptive Business Practices, Failure to Register Securities, Fraudulent Practices Regarding the Sale of Securities, Civil Racketeering Conspiracy (violation of the Federal RICO statutes) and Defamation.
FHTM (fhtm.net) operates an unlawful product-based endless recruiting pyramid scheme that relies on untrue and misleading representations and unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices. While FHTM purports to be in the business of selling name-brand services like wireless, satellite television, home security, vitamins, nutritional products and travel services, its true business is using consumers to generate fee income for representing non-existent partnerships, major sports figures, and prominent businessmen. To entice consumers to participate, FHTM makes untrue or misleading claims regarding its relationship with Fortune 100 companies like Verizon Wireless, GE Security, Dish Networks and Travelocity to create the illusion that consumers can become millionaires in three to five years.
FHTM’s growth exploded when it began to lure consumers disenchanted with traditional jobs and the recession that began in 2007 to inspirational and high-pressure business opportunity seminars touting an innovative business model that promises huge financial rewards through multi-level network marketing. FHTM erring presenters claim to have proprietary tools, special relationships, and other support that allow consumers to grow their own business by partnering with FHTM’s “companies”.
It would not be long before Isaacs (and the world) made several troubling discoveries about FHTM’s business plan and practices that doused his enthusiasm: (1) Paul Orberson had not made any special arrangements with the companies mentioned at the business opportunity/presentation seminar or in the company produced videos; (2) the only way to earn a significant income and be promoted up the ranks was to recruit additional IRs; (3) FHTM had not received regulatory approval for its pyramiding scheme in every state; (4) only a handful of IRs had earned anywhere near the residuals projected; (5) the prominent businessmen, politicians, former attorney generals and sports figures to whom FHTM constantly alluded were in fact IRs actively promoting their own FHTM business; and (6) a growing number of state attorneys general had already begun investigating FHTM in response to numerous complaints.
It turns out that FHTM’s ‘innovative’ marketing plan is nothing more than a face lift to an age-old scheme. According to the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau:
Pyramid schemes now come in so many forms that they may be difficult to recognize immediately. However, they all share one overriding characteristic. They promise consumers or investors large profits based primarily on recruiting others to join their program, not based on profits from any real investment or real sale of goods to the public. Some schemes may purport to sell a product, but they often simply use the product to hide their pyramid structure. There are two tell-tale signs that a product is simply being used to disguise a pyramid scheme: inventory loading and a lack of retail sales. Inventory loading occurs when a company's incentive program forces recruits to buy more products than they could ever sell, often at inflated prices. If this occurs throughout the company's distribution system, the people at the top of the pyramid reap substantial profits, even though little or no product moves to market. The people at the bottom make excessive payments for inventory that simply accumulates in their basements. A lack of retail sales is also a red flag that a pyramid exists. Many pyramid schemes will claim that their product is selling like hot cakes. However, on closer examination, the sales occur only between people inside the pyramid structure or to new recruits joining the structure, not to consumers out in the general public.
Nonetheless, the truth is catching up with FHTM (fhtm.net). On December 10, 2009, The North Dakota Attorney General's Office filed a Cease and Desist Order for violation of the Consumer Fraud Law, the Transient Merchant Law, the Home Solicitation Sales Law, and the North Dakota Pyramid Schemes Act. On January 19, 2010, FHTM entered into a Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with the North Dakota Attorney General's Office. On March 16, 2010, the Montana State Auditor's Office filed a Temporary Cease and Desist Order against FHTM, Paul C. Orberson, Thomas A. Mills, and Dianne Graber (a Montana IR). According to the Montana State Auditor's Office, FHTM has engaged in acts or practices constituting violations of the Securities Act of Montana, Montana Code ANN.30-10-101 et seq. On April 22, 2010, FHTM agreed to pay nearly $1 million and to change its business practices to resolve the charge that it is operating a pyramid promotional scheme.
With each passing day, more states are jumping on FHTM’s bandwagon. The alarming rise in consumer complaints and governmental sanctions has prompted the Better Business Bureau of Central and Eastern Kentucky to downgrade FHTM’s rating from “B-” to “F”. At the same time, a proliferation of online bulletin boards and blogs, such as complaintsboard.com and scams.com criticize FHTM’s pyramid scheme confirms that Isaacs’ experience is not unique. Will those operations be the next target of Fortune’s high price legal team?