Orem attorney Mark K. Stringer and former state Rep. Merrill Harward have been convicted of conspiring in a telemarketing scam based in Utah County.
Stringer, 49, and Harward, 61, of Salt Lake City, were indicted with five others after federal agents shut down the Professional Excellence Institute and related companies in 1995.Federal prosecutors alleged the companies offered a variety of professional services, demanding large advance payments while assuring clients of a money-back guarantee. The promised service - often business coaching or patient referrals for doctors and dentists - would then prove difficult or impossible to get and refunds were routinely denied, according to the indictment.
Thousands of customers across the country - including hundreds of dentists - contracted for services and the companies collected about $2 million, prosecutors alleged.
During a 12-day trial that ended Tuesday, Harward and Stringer testified they believed the companies were legitimate and said they were unaware of any scheme to cheat customers. Jurors deliberated more than five hours Tuesday night and found both men guilty of conspiracy.
Harward, who handled demands for refunds, also was convicted of 23 counts of mail fraud and 19 counts of wire fraud. Harward served in the Utah House between 1977 and 1982 as a Republican from Salt Lake City.
Stringer, who managed a trust account and handled some financial transactions for PEI, also was convicted of conspiring to launder money, 24 counts of mail fraud and 19 counts of wire fraud.
Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 9. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Stringer could face seven to nine years in prison and Harward could face three to four years, said Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the Utah U.S. Attorney's Office.
Other company insiders - Michael D. Smith, Richard A. Allen and brothers Matthew J. Pentelute and Thomas M. Pentelute - have pleaded guilty to reduced charges and are awaiting sentencing. Charges against Smith's daughter, Kimberly S. Proctor, are on hold and could be dismissed.
The government's demand that the defendants forfeit proceeds from the scheme is pending.
The companies operated in Provo, Orem and Fort Collins, Colo., under names that included American Research and Educational Systems Inc., American Carnegie Group, International Carnegie Institute and Lincoln Consulting Group.