When Jack Arons retired from Hewlett Packard as a Master Technician he wanted to acquire a new hobby to keep himself busy. He wasn’t interested in assembling model airplanes or collecting baseball cards, instead he decided to become a consumer watchdog. Arons says it all began one day in July 2008 when his friend told him about a company that developed a great new way to make money.
Arons says his friend was eager to tell him how he and his mother had both invested $1,000 in ASD because they were told they could make a profit of up to $9,000 per month. The company was called Ad Surf Daily or ‘ASD’. Jack’s friend said ASD members make money by surfing the web and simply clicking on various sites.
The formula essentially works like this: ASD members are known as ‘advertisers’ who pay a membership fee to have their websites displayed to other viewers through ASD’s website. ASD pays these advertisers a "rebate" for viewing fellow advertisers' web pages and encourages advertisers to recruit new advertisers by paying existing ones a referral fee.
Arons decided to find out more about the company so he visited ASD’s website where he says he found promises that its members were basically guaranteed huge returns on their investments.
“You can’t offer 110% return on money and expect it to be legit,” says Arons.
Instead of buying into the ASD program, Arons began digging deeper into the company’s history. He researched ASD’s CEO Andy Bowdoin and uncovered a long list of complaints.
One was filed in Federal Court in Washington, D.C. On August 5th, 2008. US Department of Justice Senior Trial Attorney William R. Cowden filed a civil complaint against Bowdoin and two of his companies, 'Golden Panda' and 'Ad Surf Daily' claiming they were both ‘ponzi schemes‘.
The complaint also detailed past criminal charges filed against Bowdoin for security fraud. The following is an excerpt from the court file:
“Just prior to concocting ASD, Bowdoin was arrested in Alabama for one or more felony violations related to Fraud in Connection with the Offer and Sale of Securities by an Unregistered Agent. Bowdoin and several co-defendants were accused of having been promoters of a company called "Mobile International, Inc." The Alabama defendants said they had developed a mobile telephone system that was a cheaper alternative to the then-current cellular systems. That venture collapsed and Bowdoin and his co-defendants were charged with having sold unregistered securities to investors and with failing to state material facts to the investors that would have impacted the victims' decisions to invest.
In particular, Alabama officials asserted that Bowdoin instigated a scheme by which he took money from some victims to pay off prior investors. On October 6, 1997, in Montgomery County, Bowdoin resolved this criminal matter by agreeing to enter Pre-Trial Diversion with three years of supervised probation and pay restitution of $1 5,000. Bowdoin completed his Pre-Trial requirements and the charges were dismissed. Furthermore, on January 1 1, 1999, in Wilcox County, Bowdain plead guilty to one count of sale of unregistered securities and was sentenced to 1 year in prison, however the sentence was suspended and he was placed on 3 years supervised probation and ordered to pay restitution of $75,000.”
Arons says he contacted Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum’s office to see if they were also interested in investigating ASD and Bowdoin since the company was headquartered in Florida. Arons claims the AG never responded, “I made 2 phone calls and sent 2 emails and didn’t hear anything.”
Instead of waiting for answers, Arons decided to post his concerns on the website ‘scam.com’ where he warned people about doing business with ASD.
He says he also confronted Andy Bowdoin at his corporate offices in Quincy, Florida. While there, he says employees refused to let him inside the building so he began taking photos of the exterior. According to Arons, it didn’t take long for Bowdoin to go outside and confront him. Arons wasn’t afraid to tell the CEO what he thought “he wanted to know why I was on his case and I told him he was a crook.”
Arons claims Bowdoin was so upset that he personally went to the Attorney General’s office to lodge a complaint against him. According to Arons, that very action is what sparked the AG’s interest in the case, “the Attorney General finally called me in to their office to talk about ASD and I was there for 6 hours.”
The following is the email Arons sent to the Attorney General's office:
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Its in your hands
From: Selisa Beville (Selisa.Beville@myfloridalegal.com)
Date: Fri, August 01, 2008 2:38 pm
Hi Jack -
Thank you for the information provided to date. I look forward to meeting
Selisa Beville, AIC, CFE
Economic Crimes Division
Office of the Attorney General
Tallahassee, FL 32399
At that point the Florida Attorney General's office began its investigation. The AG quickly determined Bowdoin’s business model was indeed a 'ponzi scheme' and the US Attorney's Office soon seized $53M (fifty three million dollars) from several Bank of America accounts Bowdoin says were designated to maintain ASD funds.
In total the federal government seized $53M (fifty three million dollars) of assets from 'Ad Surf Daily' (ASD) and $14M from Golden Panda, another similar company they say was controlled by Bowdoin. In late July, 2009 the US Attorney General’s office completed its investigation and officials say they were able to convince Bowdoin to release Golden Panda’s assets to the government. US Department of Justice Senior Trial Attorney William R. Cowden maintains that Bowdoin voluntarily ‘walked away’ from his claim on the money after reviewing the Government’s evidence against him. Cowden asserts Bowdoin was never offered any deals and is still subject to criminal charges.
Cowden says the government will begin disbursement of the Golden Panda funds to members as soon as members are able to prove how much they actually lost. A website has been developed to help Golden Panda members to claim their funds, it is www.usdoj.gov/usao/dc/Victim_Witness_Assistance/adsurfdaily.html
or they can email information to the Department at firstname.lastname@example.org .
The feds say they will do the same for ASD members if and when they successfully obtain ownership of those funds.
Although ASD is still embroiled in legal issues, there are many supporters of the company. An estimated 125,000 members nationwide invested money in ASD and many are still hopeful the government will drop its case and allow business to continue.
Bruce Disner purchased $1,000 of advertising 'packs' during an ASD rally in Miami, Florida. His brother, Todd, bought $2,500 worth of ad space with the company. Disner says he began making money immediately, “our income was coming out to a 1% daily return based on the amount of AD Packs you have. $400.00 for me and $3800.00 daily for Todd.”
Unlike many ASD members, Todd Disner says he took some of his money out of his ASD account before the Feds seized it and was able to walk away with a hefty profit of $59,000. Disner says ASD readily paid its members and if Bowdoin was corrupt “he would have taken the money and ran.”
Susan Leiker lives in Denver, Colorado and also invested in ASD. She still doesn’t believe the company was doing anything illegal. “My interpretation of a ‘Ponzi’ is where new people paid the old members. There are hundreds of surfers on the internet today. Everyone gets paid, no matter when they join. The same was true for ASD. You buy your units, view ads, and get paid.”
Since the seizure of ASD’s assets, people like Leiker have been struggling to make ends meet, “Thousands of people are trying to make an honest living online. Many of which are disabled and can't work outside of the home, others are mothers or fathers who want to raise their kids and not let strangers raise them.”
At this point ASD members don’t know if or when they will get any of their money back. If the pending Federal case against ASD convinces Bowdoin to release ASD’s total assets of $53M (fifty three million dollars) the US Attorney General’s office promises to distribute them in the same manner as Giant Panda. The distribution process is expected to be lengthy and complicated, as members will have to provide clear documentation of how much money they spent. Those documents will then be reviewed by the government for authentication and approval.
As ASD members await the outcome of the US Attorney General’s investigation, Bowdoin remains silent. The deadline for the US Attorney General to produce evidence implicating ASD is August 28, 2009 and it will likely affect Bowdoin’s decision regarding what he will do with the assets.
It’s a decision that could trigger a devastating financial fallout for thousands of ASD members. Many like Susan Leiker lost their life savings when the Feds seized the company, “I am now fighting to save my home and I had to do a bankruptcy.”
Mike Mason – Investigative Reporter
Investigative Reporting Video Resume: http://bit.ly/Z512e