FROM: U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
SEC Charges Woman and Stepson for Involvement in Zeekrewards Pyramid and Ponzi Scheme; Parallel Criminal Charges and Plea Agreements Also Announced
On December 20, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina against Dawn Wright-Olivares and Daniel Olivares for their roles in perpetrating the fraudulent unregistered offer and sale of securities through Rex Venture Group LLC d/b/a ZeekRewards.com, an internet-based combined Ponzi and pyramid scheme. According to the Complaint, from approximately January 2011 until August 2012 when the ZeekRewards website was shut down, Rex Venture Group raised more than $850 million from approximately one million internet customers nationwide and overseas through the website. Both defendants have agreed to settle the Commission’s allegations against them, and their settlement papers were submitted to the Court for its consideration.
The Complaint alleged that defendants solicited investors through the internet and other means to participate in the ZeekRewards program, a self-described “affiliate advertising division” for the companion website, Zeekler.com, through which the defendants operated penny auctions. The ZeekRewards program offered customers several ways to earn money, two of which — the “Retail Profit Pool” and the “Matrix” — involved purchasing securities in the form of investment contracts. These securities offerings were not registered with the SEC as required under the federal securities laws.
According to the Complaint, Wright-Olivares and others lured investors to ZeekRewards by promising investors a share of the company’s daily net profits in the form of daily profit share awards. The company’s purported calculations consistently resulted in daily award averaging approximately 1.5 percent per day, fraudulently conveying the false impression that the company was extremely profitable. In fact, the daily award percentage was fabricated and investor payouts bore no relation to the company’s net profits. Approximately 98% of ZeekRewards’ total revenues and the “net profits” paid to investors were comprised of funds received from new investors in classic Ponzi scheme fashion. When the company was shut down in August 2012, it was teetering on collapse.
The Complaint further alleged that Wright-Olivares conceived of the idea for operating penny auctions, helped develop the technical specifications for the Zeekler.com program and its key features, marketed ZeekRewards to investors, managed some of RVG’s operations, and helped design and implement features that concealed the fraud. She was a principal spokesperson for ZeekRewards, and she also served as chief operating officer from September 2011 to June 2012. For the duration of the company’s existence, Olivares was the chief architect of the company’s computer databases that tracked all investments (including subscription and bid purchases), managed the electronic operations, and perpetuated the illusion of a successful retail business.
The Commission alleged that Wright-Olivares offered and sold securities in violation of the registration provisions of Section 5 of the Securities Act, and both defendants violated the antifraud provisions of the Section 17 of the Securities Act and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. The Complaint requested permanent injunctions, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest, and civil penalties against the defendants. Without denying the allegations—and while also admitting the facts set forth in the Factual Summary filed contemporaneously with their respective plea agreements in the parallel criminal case — both defendants have agreed to settle the Commission’s charges against them, and their settlement papers were submitted to the Court for its consideration. In particular, both consented to permanent injunctions against future violations of the respective registration and antifraud provisions with which they were each charged. Wright-Olivares also agreed to disgorge at least $8,184,064.94 and Olivares agreed to disgorge at least $3,272,934.58 — amounts that represent the entirety of their ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest. In light of their anticipated incarceration, no civil penalty will be imposed. The settlements are subject to approval by the court. In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina simultaneously announced criminal charges against, and plea agreements by, the pair.
The SEC acknowledges the assistance of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina and the United States Secret