Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Teach Me to Trade Indicted - Victims come forward to KSL, By Robert Paisola

Infomercial stars charged in stock trading seminar scheme- Teach Me To Trade, A division of The Whitney Information Network-

Watch the live video on NBC

Two people from Utah are being indicted selling an illegal get-rich-quick stock trading system that made them millions of dollars. This is the latest in a series of high profile white collar crimes connected to Utah.

Experts say, over the years Utah has established a reputation, and it appears the schemes continue to evolve. One thing that hasn't changed is criminals are still able to find plenty of victims.

The offer sounds almost too good to ignore. "Would you like to be your own boss and have the freedom to travel, to set your own schedule?" It's that message the Securities and Exchange Commission says made Utah natives Linda Woolf and David Gengler millions of dollars.

Woolf, 48, of Sandy, Utah, and Gengler, 34, of Draper, Utah, passed themselves off as successful investors and persuaded consumers to pay anywhere from $3,000 to $40,000 to learn the "Teach Me to Trade" stock picking system, according to an indictment in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

Ken Israel, Regional Director of the Securities & Exchange Commission says, "These people are just very good salesmen."

Prosecutors say Woolf and Gengler lied or omitted pertinent information about their profits in the stock market and their annual gains and losses during presentations given at hotel seminars across the country. One of Teach Me to Trade's supposed stock trading experts was actually recruited by Woolf from a nail salon, according to the indictment.

In one infomercial, Gengler says, "I got involved at a young age, and I knew right away that these guys had the answer for me."

Gengler and Woolf are now being indicted on several fraud charges, and despite their claims, like, "and in less than nine weeks, I replaced my entire income," the commission says the pair lied about the success of the system.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Woolf and Gengler are unsuccessful traders -- Woolf never declared a trading profit on her federal tax returns, and Gengler typically declared losses or no profits. But Woolf pulled in $4 million in commissions for selling Teach Me to Trade products, while Gengler made about $2.25 million, according to the SEC, which filed separate civil fraud charges against the two.

Woolf's civil attorney, Mark Pugsley, said Woolf never recommended specific stocks to students at her seminars, and that the information she provided is unrelated to individual investment choices and therefore not a crime under federal securities laws. "The SEC's complaint contains a novel theory of securities fraud, and we look forward to challenging it in the courts," Pugsley said. "Linda Woolf is an educator; she does not sell securities."

Gengler's attorney did not return a call seeking comment.

Woolf and Gengler worked as independent contractors, according to the indictment, and received sales commissions of 10 percent to 15 percent from Teach Me to Trade, which is a part of the Whitney Information Network, a publicly traded company based in Cape Coral, Fla.

Whitney itself is not charged, though the indictment says Woolf and Gengler relied on the company's "fraudulent marketing efforts" to entice the public to their seminars.

The charges against Woolf and Gengler, which include wire fraud and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, carry maximum penalties of 30 years in prison.

A spokeswoman for Whitney declined comment. In its 2007 annual report, Whitney said it was notified in late 2006 of investigations by the SEC and federal prosecutors.

At the seminars, Woolf and Gengler allegedly helped consumers talk their credit card companies into increasing their spending limits so they could purchase expensive Teach Me to Trade training materials.

The seminars also employed "success coaches" who would review an individual's financial portfolio to target wealthier individuals for more expensive sales, according to the indictment. Whitney estimates about 28 percent of the people who attend its various free introductory workshops -- which also include topics on real estate investing and managing cash flow -- end up purchasing some type of training course.

At a Teach Me to Trade seminar Tuesday at a Hilton hotel in Alexandria, about two dozen people of all ages listened to a presentation urging them to spend $200 to attend a more intensive, three-day session. A welcome screen warned that "testimonial results are not typical. Each student's success depends upon the unique skills, time commitment and individual effort of each student."

Several people stayed for the presentation even after overhearing discussions about the indictment. A few walked out in the middle of the presentation. One man who declined to give his name said he saw an infomercial about the seminar a few days ago but was disappointed that the session focused more on selling classes and software than providing investment strategies. "I thought they would talk about stocks, but they didn't," he said.

In 2006, the company had earnings of $1.8 million on revenue of $225 million. Whitney stock, which trades over the counter, rose 24 cents, or 14 percent, to $2 per share in afternoon trading Tuesday.

Israel said, "I think most promoters are perfectly willing to prey upon anyone anywhere." And, according to him, that anywhere is here.

Since the 80's, Utah has been known for fraudulent activity. Recently Eyewitness News investigations have exposed the public to the devastating effects of "Ponzi Schemes."

Investor Jerry Gomez told us, "I wanted to fall down. It's like, ‘Oh no, it's gone, it's lost. What am I going to do now?'"

The pitch is low risk, high returns. In the VesCorp case, owner Val Southwick is accused of using this method to solicit investors, including numerous members of the LDS church.

Israel said, "We see this in other places too. Here it's LDS, other places it's Evangelicals."

In light of these fraud schemes, the First Presidency of the LDS Church recently passed along a message, which in part reads, "We are concerned that some Church members ignore the oft-repeated direction to prepare and live within a budget, avoid consumer debt, and to save against a time of need." It goes on to recommend members invest with responsible and established financial institutions.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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