January 19, 2003

JANUARY 6, 2003


A judge ruled Friday that Theodore McLeod, Jr., of Hermon violated the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act by organizing a pyramid scheme with a car racing theme in the spring of 2001. In addition to awarding the State the costs of bringing the suit, Maine Superior Court Justice Kirk Studstrup ordered McLeod to file with the court a complete accounting of the funds McLeod received in connection with the pyramid scheme so that Studstrup may determine what amounts of restitution and disgorgement to order. Restitution focuses on making whole the victims of illegal activity, while disgorgement focuses on preventing the wrongdoer from profiting from his wrongdoing without a focus on individual victims.

The "NASCAR" or "Car Club" pyramid was organized as a "car racing team" with a driver, two crew chiefs, four pit crew members, and eight fans. The fans were at the lowest level and paid $5,000 each to the driver in order to participate. When the driver received the $40,000 total from the fans, the team split in two, and all participants advanced to the next level, with each of the crew chiefs poised to retire as drivers with $40,000 from newly recruited fans. When the stream of $5,000 fans dries up, the pyramid collapses and the last three recruited in to the clubs never recover their losses. Pyramid schemes are prohibited under Maine law.

The court found that McLeod was "active and prominent in the organization and promotion of the car clubs," and agreed with the Attorney General that the clubs were illegal pyramid schemes. The court also found that McLeod hosted recruiting gatherings at his garage and made promotional speeches falsely asserting that the clubs were not illegal pyramids, that an attorney had been retained to guarantee the legality, that members could get out any time they wished, and that he kept a fund to provide refunds to those who wished to leave.

While the State pursued the case as a civil matter, the court found that there was "more than a sufficient factual basis" to find "beyond a reasonable doubt" that McLeod violated the law prohibiting pyramid schemes.

Attorney General Steven Rowe said, "At long last, following a full and fair trial, we have a court definitively declaring these 'gifting clubs' to be illegal pyramids. The case proves what we have said all along — a deal that seems too good to be true probably is."

Assistant Attorney General Linda Conti, who handled the case for the State, said that two more pyramid trials are scheduled later this month, and another is pending but not scheduled. "We believe that the courts will continue to find these schemes illegal and make the organizers pay for what they have done."