Authorities are sifting through 101 boxes of evidence and taking inventory of $100,000 worth of seized property this week in what they term "the biggest boiler-room raid ever conducted in Utah."
The investment scheme was operated by two Salt Lake businessmen and, according to David Buhler, Utah Department of Commerce executive director, involved victims all over the country.Details of the raid and related arrests were disclosed Thursday at a press conference, with securities officials taking the opportunity to warn consumers of new telemarketing scams sweeping the country.
Buhler said the boiler room at the offices of Intermountain Energy and Exploration, 6925 S. Union Park Center, Midvale, was raided April 23 by securities agents and uniformed officers acting on an out-of-state complaint. A boiler room is a telephone marketing operation that peddles phony investment or sales opportunities.
Jeffrey J. Norman and Larry D. Sidwell, both of Salt Lake City, were arrested on warrants issued by Texas and North Dakota for alleged violations of those states' securities laws. Both men are being held in the Salt Lake County Jail pending extradition proceedings. They currently face no charges in Utah.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard hinted that the raid may have been connected to a major Wasatch Front gambling operation that was raided April 16. He declined to elaborate, other than to say the same law enforcement units were involved in both investigations.
He and Buhler also indicated that the scheme involved "money laundering." Energy resource leases were being marketed for up to $13,000 each, Buhler said.
Despite their characterization of the raid as the "biggest," none of the officials at the press conference could say how many victims or how much money was involved.
"We think it was a pretty significant operation," Buhler said, adding that more will be known and additional charges may be filed once investigators comb through the thousands of seized documents.
Investigators said a "branch office" of the Utah boiler room was raided in Dallas this week and a similar scam was broken up in Los Angeles. Ten individuals were arrested in those cities.
Earl Maeser, director of the Utah Division of Securities, said the pieces of the boiler room operation began to come together "like a puzzle" when investigators from several states compared notes.
Telemarketing fraud costs consumers an estimated $10 billion each year, Buhler said. "We want them to know that Utah is not the place for these swindles," he said.
Horizontal drilling - Positive news coverage of this type of oil drilling is being used by con artists as a "cloak of legitimacy" for investment swindles.
Wireless cable lottery - Application mills solicit investors in "pools" that purport to finance efforts to obtain wireless cable TV licenses from an ongoing FCC lottery.
Loan brokers - Promoters charge an upfront fee for the promise of a loan that never materializes.
Pyramid schemes - Gold coins are currently the hottest item in this tried-and-true (but false) scam that encourages people to enlist others in the activity for a share of the newcomers' investments.
International investment deals - Some telemarketers are promising investors big returns on phony certificates of deposit, bond markets and currency trading in faraway places.