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2 Salt Lake men indicted in vending-machine fraud scheme

Published: Friday, Oct. 24 2008 1:00 a.m. MDT

Two Salt Lake men, along with two Florida suspects, are facing federal conspiracy charges in connection with a fraud scheme that pledged to make investors big profits.

Robert Nicol and Andrew Vogen, both of Salt Lake City, were indicted Tuesday in Florida. They are accused of selling tabletop vending machines called shooters to independent businesses, such as restaurants, while erroneously promising the owners substantial profits, according to court documents. Nicol also faces three counts of wire fraud.

Michele Benitez of Titusville, Fla., and George Hustus of Miami also were arrested and indicted for investigation of involvement in the scheme.

According to the indictment, Nicol was the owner, operator and a salesman for Midvale-based Gold Star Vending Inc. Vogen, Benitez and Hustus are accused of serving as references for Nicol when he needed someone to recommend the business "opportunity" he was offering. The three are accused of using false names and cell phones to disguise their true identities and locations. Each defendant was charged with committing their crimes through telemarketing.

Both Benitez and Hustus were arrested following their indictment by a Miami federal grand jury on Tuesday.

Charles Miller, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, told the Deseret News that Vogen is scheduled to turn himself into authorities in Salt Lake City today, but Nicol is still at large.

"We have no idea where he is," Miller said. "We're looking for him."

Vogen could not be reached for comment Thursday.

From May 2005 to January 2007, Gold Star Vending purported to sell tabletop shooter machines, along with assistance in establishing, maintaining and operating the machines. The business opportunity sold for a minimum price of about $8,000. According to the indictment, Gold Star Vending told potential clients that they would earn substantial profits when members of the public fed quarters into the tabletop machines that would be strategically located inside restaurants or other retail businesses.

Gold Star Vending was a continuation of a scheme Nicol and Vogen operated in connection with another Utah business called Table Top Vending Inc., the Justice Department said.

If convicted, Nicol, Vogen, Benitez and Hustus could serve up to 10 years in prison and pay a possible fine and mandatory restitution. Nicol also faces up to 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count, the release said.


E-mail: jlee@desnews.com

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