Gas voucher company looks to step in while Pinellas one under investigation

As investigators continue their review of a Pinellas County company's free gas card program, another firm is looking to take its place — one run by a man with his own history of financial schemes, tax troubles and complaints.

Troy Warren, 49, of Mesa, Ariz., and his BBZ Resource Management company have been flooding e-mail boxes in Florida and elsewhere with offers for a gas and grocery program much like that of the Largo-Clearwater based Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants.

Tidewater is under state control and the subject of a criminal investigation for deceptive business practices. Today a state-appointed receiver is expected to issue his initial report about Tidewater, a company run by Seminole businesswoman Crystal M. Clark.

Tidewater has failed to deliver thousands of gas cards promised to consumers throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. BBZ says, unlike Tidewater, it delivers the promised product.

But Warren, vice president of BBZ, has made promises before that he had trouble delivering on from companies he ran in Arizona, Florida and Nevada. Some of his past business deals resulted in:

• A lawsuit by MasterCard International in 1991 that accused Warren and more than a dozen other defendants of taking millions from consumers through false offers of low-rate credit cards under a company they ran, called Listworld. The case was settled and dismissed.

Listworld filed bankruptcy and reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, which shut the operation down for deceptive practices.

• A bankruptcy filing that left Warren with a judgment for $1.9 million that he was declared responsible for in an order in 2006.

• An order by the Arizona Corporation Commission that Warren pay $20,000 in restitution to investors for selling stock he did not register for a charitable Internet business, FreeFundRaisingPrograms.com Inc.

• The Better Business Bureau gave Warren an "F" for his failed SearchBigDaddy.com Internet products and services business because of complaints, failure to respond to complaints and lack of business background.

Warren also has been sued at least five times for failing to pay state and federal taxes in the tens of thousands of dollars, from the early 1990s to 2005.

Through the office manager at BBZ, Warren declined to comment and referred all questions to his lawyer, Peter Gorski.

Gorski did not comment about Warren's past business dealings but said BBZ's gas program is different from Tidewater's and is legitimate.

"There are facial similarities," Gorski said, dismissing any comparison between Tidewater and BBZ. "We don't know what (Tidewater's) business plan is."

Gorski would not explain BBZ's business plan.

Tidewater sued Warren in U.S. District Court in Tampa in December. Tidewater accused Warren of unfair competition and counterfeiting, among other things, for "copying, distributing and misappropriating Tidewater's business information."

In a response filed Thursday, BBZ denied all of Tidewater's allegations.

BBZ's gas and grocery program is less than a year old, so it's unclear how well it works.

The strategy is the same as Tidewater's:

• Consumers receive a voucher from a retailer after a purchase or as an incentive for just visiting a store.

• Each consumers must register his voucher and send in $100 worth of receipts for gas or groceries each month. In turn, he receives a $25 gift card until the full value of the voucher is reached.

Salespeople for BBZ have been trying to coax brokers and marketing companies hurt by Tidewater's operations to switch to their vouchers.

One of BBZ's brokers e-mailed a press release about its program, stating, "Gas and Grocery Headquarters, the leading provider of gas and grocery certificates, is looking to help companies that fell victim to a now defunct gas rebate program based in Largo, Florida.

"It's an unfortunate situation … but we can help companies resolve the situation without having to come up with the full value of the certificates themselves and lose money," the release states.

The failure of Tidewater's gas voucher program could cost retailers millions of dollars if they must make up for the undelivered gas cards. Retailers from tire retailers and travel agencies to car dealerships and electronics stores used the program.

Hymie Orlin, one of BBZ's representatives through fuelandgroceryincentives.com, said his company is picking up Tidewater's clients.

"We've taken over a lot of their accounts because of their issues," Orlin said. "We have a very solid program."

Orlin has been trying to sell BBZ's gas and grocery vouchers to Don Dominguez, who as a tire and tire incentive broker bought Tidewater's vouchers only to discover the company was not paying customers what they were owed. Dominguez has been pressing retailers to beware the gas voucher programs and complained to the state Attorney General's Office to take action against Tidewater.

"Several of the dealers that I'm associated with were approached by representatives of BBZ," Dominguez said. "And then I went on to investigate who BBZ was and what program they intended to replace (Tidewater's) program with, and it appears to me to be a very similar program."

Dominguez has refused to participate in BBZ's program.

Kevin Jackson of the Hillsborough Consumer Protection Agency said retailers and consumers should carefully consider getting involved in any program without understanding what is being offered and by whom.

"Someone has to look at it and say, 'Man, this doesn't look right' or wait for some successful history," Jackson said. "Someone has got to ask some questions."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332.

Gas voucher company looks to step in while Pinellas one under investigation 03/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 6, 2009 12:09am]

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