Victims of AdSurfDaily might get some of their money back, after all.
Six months after authorities accused it of running an online Ponzi scheme, the Florida company filed court papers this week giving up its claim to nearly $80-million in seized assets.
"This forfeiture case is over," said Jonathan Goodman, a Miami attorney for the company.
AdSurfDaily may be finished, too.
"I strongly doubt that (AdSurfDaily) will resume operations," Goodman said in an e-mail to the Times. "It's tough to stay in business with no assets and no money to pay employees."
Now the U.S. Department of Justice wants to identify and compensate victims for some of their losses.
Federal prosecutors have a Web site where victims can add their e-mail addresses to the government's list of contacts. Authorities plan to send a mass e-mail to AdSurfDaily members explaining how and when to file a claim.
"We're very excited that we were able to get this money before it disappeared," said Assistant U.S. Attorney William R. Cowden, the chief of the asset forfeiture unit for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C.
The company's surrender is an "incredible move," said a Dallas lawyer for more than 1,000 AdSurfDaily members.
"It cuts off three to four years of legal wrangling," attorney Larry Friedman said.
Some AdSurfDaily victims lost more than $100,000, he said. Some have been evicted because they can't pay for their homes. Some cannot buy groceries.
On the Web and at huge rallies in Tampa, Miami and other cities, AdSurfDaily attracted about 100,000 members who invested more than $100-million.
Members paid to put their Web pages into an "autosurf" rotation of sites viewed by other members. The cost was $1 per view.
The company told members they could earn 125 percent of the money they put in by viewing up to 24 other members' Web sites for 15 seconds every day.
They also earned commissions for bringing in new members.
In August, the Secret Service raided AdSurfDaily's offices in Quincy, outside of Tallahassee. Agents said the company was a Ponzi scheme.
In addition to cash, authorities seized a $695,000 waterfront home on Lake Talquin, south of Quincy, that company founder Andy Bowdoin bought with company funds.
Last month, authorities filed a second forfeiture case to seize other assets bought with AdSurfDaily funds: the historic Masonic temple in downtown Quincy, the Tallahassee home of Andy Bowdoin's stepson, a 2009 Lincoln MKS, a 2009 Acura TXS, a 2008 Honda CRV, a 20-foot Triton cabana boat and two personal watercraft.
Victims should not expect to get all of their money back, and they shouldn't expect to be compensated for gains they reinvested in their company account.
Cowden estimated the company paid out $30-million to $60-million before the government stepped in.
Noting that other companies have run similar scams, Cowden said people should be wary of any autosurf program that promises to pay back everything they invest and doesn't sell some legitimate product or service.
Two months ago, a federal judge concluded AdSurfDaily resembled a Ponzi scheme because it:
• Enticed members to put money into the company by promising them a return on their investment.
• Sold no legitimate product or service sufficient to sustain the promised payouts.
• Depended on money from a continuing flow of new members to pay off early members.
Neither Goodman nor Cowden would say whether a federal grand jury that subpoenaed AdSurfDaily records is still looking into the company.
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 269-5311.