The Bitcoin Ponzi scam that won’t go away

Lee Oakey, Kerry Stockton, Rodney Burton and Michael Faust were all associated with USI Tech, recruiting thousands of investors to part with their cash.

In one Facebook post, Oakey, from the United Kingdom, said that when you have an “amazing business” like USI Tech, “all you want to do is tell the world… so I did!”

Stockton, who is also a Brit and — according to her Facebook profile — is in a relationship with Oakey, boasted that the company was changing lives. In one Facebook status, she posted a link to a USI Tech video and claimed a man had paid for his daughter’s university education by investing in Bitcoin.

Oakey and Stockton now live together in Australia.

Meanwhile, Burton — also known as “Bitcoin Rodney” — flaunted how his success reportedly allowed him to buy a $350,000 Lamborghini with Bitcoin. Burton was released from jail in 2010 after serving five years for drug dealing, but claimed he, “has learned from my past mistakes and errors.”

In a YouTube clip of a USI Tech party on a Spanish island, Faust said he’d recruited at least 3,000 investors.

The level of involvement of these Ponzi pimps isn’t clear, and who ultimately owns USI Tech, Eyeline and, now, WealthBoss isn’t made immediately obvious to investors.

Both Eyeline’s old website and the newer WealthBoss iteration list R&D Global as the company’s true name. While the WealthBoss website has no named contact details, Lee Oakey, Kerry Stockton and Michael Faust are listed as admins for the company’s official Facebook group.

But the real person in charge of it all appears to be a man called Dan Putnam, who is helped along by these so-called Ponzi pimps.

In a number of promotional YouTube videos, the 45-year-old Putnam admits to being the CEO and founder of WealthBoss/ Eyeline Trading.

In one of the clips filmed by Burton, Putnam boasts that a mere $40 investment can grow to $10 million in just 18 months at Eyeline Trading. While his grandiose claims of money making are highly unlikely, it is likely that he is the man behind R&D Global — the parent company of WealthBoss, Eyeline Trading and USI Tech.

R&D Global is registered as a limited liability company in Putnam’s home state of Utah under the name of Richard Theodore Putnam. A background report on Dan Putnam conducted by a public records search service reveals that Richard Theodore Putnam is a 75-year-old probable relative of Dan Putnam. Furthermore, the agent address listed on the LLC registration matches a possible location of Dan Putnam highlighted in the background report.

R&D Global and Dan Putnam are nothing if not prolific. They specialize in multi-level marketing (MLM) businesses — industry speak for companies that use pyramid structures of commissions and bonuses to encourage existing customers and investors to refer new people to the business.

In addition to his Eyeline and WealthBoss dealings, Putnam is also the CEO of Modern Money Team, another company that claims to make money through cryptocurrency mining and trading. He’s a serial MLM founder — there are 118 website domains registered to Dan Putnam, but that list isn’t exhaustive because it doesn’t even include Eyeline Trading or WealthBoss.

Bitcoin inserts

Putnam wasn’t always a Bitcoin Ponzi specialist, he simply takes advantage of whatever is trendy at the time. For the moment, that’s Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, but R&D Global has also set up shop as O2 Worldwide and B-Epic, which present themselves as wellness companies.

O2 Worldwide has since rebranded as Lurra Life, which, along with B-Epic, also has a pyramid referral business plan like USI Tech, Eyeline Trading and WealthBoss. Both Lurra Life and B-Epic are on an MLM watchlist.

The fact that it takes such a large amount of digging to find out who really owns these companies is a major red flag, warned Joseph Rotunda, Director of the Enforcement Division at the Texas State Securities Board, which issued USI Tech with a cease and desist order in 2017.

“Investors were turning over their life savings and their retirement, essentially to a ghost.”

A normal, credible investment company would readily list its top employees and founders on the websites. They’d also include a mailing address and phone number.

“Because USI [didn’t] disclose the names of its principles, investors were turning over their life savings and their retirement, essentially to a ghost,” he said. “At the same time, the company was promising outrageous rates of return.”

The scammed security guard from Tel Aviv is not alone. He’s one of six former investors who Point and Engadget interviewed for this story. All told, they lost every cent of the money they handed over to USI Tech.

By the time the scheme collapsed in spring 2018, Rotunda estimates the organizers could have extracted hundreds of millions of dollars from the general public all over the world.

We spoke to a woman from northern England who was introduced to USI Tech by her daughter. She asked to remain anonymous for fear of what her friends and family would say if they knew she’d been conned. For the purpose of this article, we’ve called her Joy and refer to her daughter as Alice.

Joy and her husband initially invested £1,000 (around $1,300). “We monitored it and it seemed to be doing really well,” she said. “We then decided to invest [$26,000].”

“I can’t get my head around it that they could introduce it as a sort of family and friends scheme and then have it just be such a scam.”

“They did tell us at the beginning that you were more or less guaranteed to get your money back,” said Joy. “I feel so silly now I could cry.”

Alice, who invested and lost a total of £2,000 ($2,600) feels guilty that she introduced her mom to USI Tech to get the advertised referral boost to her investment. “It haunts me,” she said. “I can’t get my head around it that they could introduce it as a sort of family and friends scheme and then have it just be such a scam.”

Many others wouldn’t speak on the record for fear of social stigma. Alice said it’s a tough thing to talk about because the referral system naturally means most investors also introduced family and friends who also lost their savings.

Meanwhile, Rotunda says it’s important for law authorities around the world to keep on top of this whack-a-mole Ponzi problem. “The longer these things operate, the more victims they bring in and the more people who are going to be out of money at the end of the day.”

All the victims interviewed by Point and Engadget want to know if they’ll ever get justice. Rotunda is cautiously optimistic.

“These schemes can go on for a long time. There are a lot of very creative people out there who are very adept at covering their tracks and concealing their location, but at the end of the day things tend to catch up with them, so I’m confident that whoever is behind it will be brought to justice.”

We reached out to Dan Putnam and all of the USI Tech/Eyeline promoters named in this story, but none replied to us by the time of publishing.

Bitcoin Ill

Reporters: Benjamin Plackett, Jay McGregor, Aaron Souppouris, Marianne Lehnis
Editors: Aaron Souppouris, Jay McGregor
Copy editor: Lucy Cripps
Images: Eyeline Trading (business model diagram); Aaron Souppouris (illustrations)

Video by Point
Narrators: Jay McGregor, Benjamin Plackett
Producers: Aaron Souppouris, Jay McGregor
Editor: Anton Novoselov

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2019-05-23 15:00:00 –