Businessman stays step ahead of law
Telemarketing fraud case includes shifting cash, a dead witness and a vanishing suspect.
By Bill Coats, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008
TAMPA - Ira Rubin sat behind a locked door at his offices on N Dale Mabry Highway, stubbornly refusing to admit a host of federal agents demanding to get in.
"They were 15 seconds from smashing a window and opening that door" when Rubin relented, said James Davis, a Federal Trade Commission attorney, recalling the Dec. 13, 2006, confrontation.
The FTC had sued Rubin two days before, and a federal judge ordered the takeover of his 24 businesses and a freeze of his bank accounts.
Still pending today, the suit accuses Rubin and his companies of helping nine Canadian telemarketers scam thousands of Americans with the false promise of credit cards.
In the office, Rubin answered questions for a while.
Then he left. "He said he had to go to the airport to pick up someone," Davis said. "He said he would be back within a matter of minutes or hours."
Instead, he didn't come back for months.
He raced to beat the freeze on his bank accounts. At Regions Bank alone, he cleaned out $320,000. At three other banks, another $250,000.
Then, despite court orders to limit his personal expenses to $7,000 a month, Rubin went on a party spree that would make Hugh Hefner proud:
High-stakes gambling in Las Vegas. Trips to Costa Rica, London, Amsterdam, Toronto, Aspen, New York, some with female companions.
Last May 28, Rubin and a friend walked into Cartier Jewelers at the Wynn Las Vegas and dropped $9,525 for a bracelet and other items.
In a deposition in October, Rubin admitted he lost $36,000 at two Las Vegas casinos alone.
Davis asked Rubin to explain a half-dozen flights to Costa Rica.
"De-stress," he replied.
"And?" Davis asked.
"Colombian girls," Rubin said.
"Poker," Rubin said.
Minutes later, "Why did you go to Panama?"
"Panamanian girls," Rubin answered.
"He's really just an extraordinary individual," said Davis. "I've never had a defendant do as much violence to a court order as he has."
The Chicago-based Davis also has never experienced an outcome like what happened with Phoelicia Daniels, Rubin's wife.
Just before the feds moved in on Rubin, he moved out on Daniels. Rubin paid $625,000 for a condo at Indian Rocks Beach.
Daniels, 45, stayed behind in her $273,000 house in Pebble Creek, north of Tampa. She continued to run New Tampa Tan on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
Daniels also was a target of the FTC lawsuit. It didn't accuse her of violating the law, but of receiving some of the money Rubin made in the schemes.
Last Friday, Davis came to Tampa to question Daniels under oath. She said she paid $500,000 for New Tampa Tan in 2005, and now it's worth about $14,000. They discussed an audit.
Daniels, a diabetic, was found in her house the next day - collapsed, attorneys say. She died Tuesday at Tampa General Hospital. The cause of her death hasn't been disclosed.
Rubin, 49, has a criminal record dating to 1984, when an Arkansas judge sent him to federal prison for interstate transportation of stolen securities. He returned to the federal pen from western Missouri in 1995, serving 37 months for wire fraud.
In Tampa he assembled a raft of companies, led by Global Marketing Group Inc., that dealt with customers once telemarketers signed them up. Rubin's companies could extract money from customers' bank accounts and could answer their phone calls.
Davis said Rubin's businesses also served online gambling enterprises, untaxed cigarette sellers and online pharmaceutical sellers.
"He was not a risk-averse person," Davis said.
The Canadian telemarketers targeted consumers with poor credit, promising credit cards in exchange for up-front payments. With the victims' bank account information in hand, Rubin's companies obtained their money.
The victims never got credit cards. Their losses are "in the tens of millions of dollars," Davis said. He's trying to recover some of that.
The FTC is authorized to sue violators of its laws, not send them to prison. But as investigators dug up Rubin's financial records, Davis began thinking of incarceration.
The money Rubin swept from local banks the day he was raided included $124,000 that was wired two days later to Chennai, India. The company appointed to run Rubin's enterprises now is trying to retrieve funds from the Philippines, Belize, Great Britain and Israel.
Rubin used a new American Express card to rack up $95,000 in purchases during the first 10 months of last year. On one day, Rubin told Davis under oath that he didn't have the card. Records later showed Rubin charged $800 to it that day.
Rubin's attorney, Hector Lora of Hollywood, Fla., did not return a telephone call from the St. Petersburg Times Thursday.
But in a court filing in October, he said Rubin acknowledges the spending "was not a wise thing to do."
"His actions can only be explained as the irrational and desperate acts of a desperate man undergoing tremendous duress and mental anguish ...and reluctant to let go of a standard of living and way of life to which he had become accustomed," Lora wrote.
On Jan. 30, U.S. District Judge James Moody decided Rubin should be arrested for contempt of court.
But Davis thinks Rubin took yet another flight to Costa Rica.
"He has friends and business associates in San Jose, and the surrounding area," Davis said.
Phoelicia Daniels' attorney said she "looked great" in Friday's deposition, but was stressed by the lawsuit.
"I think any person would be affected by that, just in terms of the gravity of it," said the attorney, Lansing Scriven of Tampa.
Her brother Jason Daniels of Leominster, Mass., was in Tampa Thursday to collect his sister's body.
"She was beautiful," Daniels said. "She was full of energy. She loved everybody. She talked to everybody. She was full of life."
Times staff writer Mike Camunas contributed to this report. Bill Coats can be reached at 813 269-5309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.