When federal agents shut down the Internet advertising site AdSurfDaily earlier this month, calling the operation a Ponzi scheme and seizing $53-million of the Florida company's assets, the digital outcry from many of the site's 100,000-plus members was shrill.
Their comments flooded message boards. Several called and e-mailed reporters who wrote stories about the company. And the prosecuting attorney's office was flooded with inquiries.
The woman who answers phones at the U.S. District Attorney's office for Washington, D.C., laughed when asked whether she needs a case number to recall the AdSurfDaily litigation.
"We've been getting thousands of calls on this case," she said, "from the time we come in until the end of the day."
And while some members are in the dumps after hearing the news, feeling guilty or foolish for sending thousands of dollars to the company in the modest Florida town of Quincy, not far from Tallahassee, others are angry for different reasons.
They feel their livelihood, their hope for a better future and savior from the monotony of a 9-to-5 job, have been stolen away.
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When Ivy Camilo, 34, was introduced to AdSurfDaily by a friend a few months ago, she thought she'd found a way out of her humdrum working life. Camilo had spent 16 years working in South Florida restaurants and needed something more. The AdSurfDaily advertising program, with its promise of a $1.25 return on every $1 put in, plus bonuses, offered income, and something more important to a mother of five: time.
"I worked really hard for many, many, many years as a restaurant manager. It got to the point where it was difficult for me to work 60 hours a week and spend time with my sons," Camilo said.
With AdSurfDaily, she had to spend only about 10 minutes every day clicking through Web sites to earn "referral bonuses" on the few hundred she gave to the company. The promises of big payoffs were so good, and for her friends, and their friends, the money was actually flowing. Many of them were on track to rake in more than $100 a day.
Camilo even introduced her father, Ed Rubi, to ASD. He was one of 6,000 to attend the company's rally in Miami in July, which was one of several held across the country, including a June rally in Tampa.
Federal investigators say every one of them was tied to a multilevel, multistate wire scam, "a sophisticated Ponzi scheme that will, by its very nature, result in the loss of millions of dollars from its participants."
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For more than a month starting in early July, agents with an IRS-Secret Service task force operating out of St. Cloud kept close tabs on ASD, setting up accounts, interviewing members and running background checks on ASD's president, 74-year-old Thomas "Andy" Bowdoin Jr.
From undercover work, agents gathered evidence they felt fingered ASD as a Ponzi scheme — in which early participants are paid off only by the money contributed by later participants. Former music producer Lou Pearlman is serving 25 years in federal prison after pleading guilty this year to running a Ponzi scheme.
From the background search on Bowdoin, agents discovered he wasn't as open about his past with members as he claimed.
On his various Web sites and through statements from colleagues, Bowdoin represents himself as a captain of industry, a religious devotee and a selfless leader and champion to the masses. Helping people make money, he has said, was his primary goal.
Federal lawyers paint a different picture. In the federal complaint, attorneys list 12 defunct companies for which Bowdoin served as chief executive or registered agent since 1983. The feds also detail his past felony charges related to fraud and selling unregistered securities in Alabama.
Bowdoin and several co-defendants were accused of having been promoters of a company called Mobile International Inc. The Alabama defendants promised a mobile telephone system alternative cheaper than 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.
In particular, Alabama officials asserted Bowdoin instigated a scheme — in effect the same scheme now alleged against AdSurfDaily — by which he took money from some victims to pay off prior investors.
Some of the charges were eventually dropped after Bowdoin agreed to three years' probation and thousands in restitution. But he pleaded guilty to selling unregistered securities and was sentenced to a year in prison in 1999. He ended up spending three years on probation after a judge suspended the sentence.
Bowdoin's Web site also claims he received a medal from President George W. Bush. There is no record of Bowdoin ever receiving a commendation from any U.S. president.
But federal court documents point out that in June, the National Republican Congressional Committee awarded Bowdoin the "Medal of Distinction" as a "marketing tool" after Bowdoin made a "substantial monetary contribution" to the party.
Still, members like Rubi, Camilo and more than a dozen others who spoke with the Times feel loyal to the promise of ASD.
"Almost all ASD members want to surf again, be part of the movement, have hope," Rubi said. "They still have the hope of the possibility."
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