It seems like a natural evolution of crime TV: a reality show featuring everyday folks solving murders at gruesome scenes.
No more watching CSI; you get to become the investigator.
Solve the murder. Win $10,000.
The idea is the brainchild of Randy Scott Lacey and James Dalton Weems. They've been seeking investors to get their Largo-based business, Crime Scene Reality TV LLC, off the ground. A $25,000 investment now, the company says, will become $125,000 in just one year.
But the money-raising effort has run into a legal problem.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Securities Commission ordered the company "to halt the offer and sale of unregistered securities in Pennsylvania" following a consumer complaint about a telemarketing call.
"They were soliciting investors, and they were not registered," said Larry Victum, counsel in the office of Pennsylvania Securities Commission. "We don't know all the details yet about Mr. Lacey, Crime Scene Reality TV or Mr. Weems. This is a continuing investigation."
Public records offer some detail about both men, whose dealings together go back two decades. In 1991, a Hillsborough Circuit judge noted in a $100,000-plus final judgment against them that their actions against two other businessmen "constitute a pattern of criminal activity."
Lacy, 52, of St. Pete Beach has had a felony conviction for driving under the influence, along with court orders to pay back child support and an $8,700 federal income tax lien.
But he says those cases did not involve his business dealings.
"I don't have any business arrests," Lacey said.
Weems, on the other hand, in 1999 was "permanently banned from selling business opportunities and engaging in telemarketing," according to a Federal Trade Commission news release at the time.
Weems, 77, of St. Petersburg said in an interview Tuesday that the ban was for just five years. Regardless, he added, others handle telemarketing for his businesses now. "I haven't done any telemarketing," Weems said.
Lacey told the Times on Tuesday he has stopped soliciting investments in the TV show since receiving the cease and desist order from Pennsylvania authorities.
"As far as the cease and desist, I have stopped marketing until I speak to my attorney," Lacey said. Later Tuesday, the company website, www.csireality.tv, was taken down "for maintenance."
Lacey and Weems had developed an elaborate presentation for the reality show that includes a YouTube video. The segment, which shows a crime scene with a body bloodied from a bullet hole, begins like this:
8 Contestants. One Crime. Who can solve it? And win the cash?
The song I've Got the Power begins playing with footage of gun-wielding police officers, a car explosion and yellow crime scene tape. One woman describes the crime scene as the contest begins: "When we first walked in, there was a female body on the floor. She appeared that she was shot."
"It was kind of creepy when we saw the body," a male contestant adds.
Crime Scene Reality's website described the show as "real people solving real crimes," but Weems said they're just re-enactments.
"These are cases that have already been solved," Weems said. "I don't even understand it. I don't understand how it's going to work."
The 1999 FTC order against Weems was part of a settlement that accused him of operating a "fraudulent Internet kiosk business opportunity scheme" that was to give consumers online access for a fee. The FTC said Weems' company, Hart Marketing, and two other businesses "used the allure of the Internet and high-tech products to peddle fraudulent business opportunity and pyramid scams."
On the website panamafilms.com, Lacey lists film credits that include being vice president of Panama Films. The film company made movies starring 1970s playmates in off-color tales such as Gator Bait and horror films Rocktober Blood and Bloody Friday.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.