Two Tampa men charged in multimillion-dollar fraud
By GRAHAM BRINK
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2001
TAMPA -- Two men in Tampa are among the dozens charged this week in a nationwide investigation into boiler-room operations that bilked 56,000 victims out of more than $117-million, federal authorities said Wednesday.
Robert Harry Shields and Robert Terrance Hart are accused of setting up a boiler room in the Rocky Point area that took in $17-million by offering phony partnership shares in non-existent Internet and telecommunications companies, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Four other men, Mark Darren McClafferty, Rodney Scott Shehyn, Marc D. Levine and James Michael Leonard are charged with helping facilitate the Tampa operation.
The six men were part of a scam dubbed "The Enterprise," which had headquarters in California and boiler rooms in San Diego and Las Vegas, among other cities. The headquarters of the Florida operation was Capital Link, later known as Twenty First Century Connection, which operated out of Tampa, Clearwater, Maitland, Fort Myers and Boca Grande.
The defendants took the money raised and spent it, according to prosecutors, and it's not expected that much is left to return to investors. The arrests resulted from a series of investigations, code-named "Operation Cyber Loss," conducted by the FBI and several other law enforcement agencies including the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Florida. Like others charged in the investigation, the six men involved with the Tampa operation face multiple charges, ranging from wire fraud to money laundering. If convicted, they face prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Runyon, the head of the Security Fraud Task Force in Tampa, called the charges serious and thought the arrests took a bite out of an increasingly popular criminal activity.
"It's a nice ding," he said. "But believe me, this is a huge problem that is still going on."
The investigations were initiated through information gathered at the year-old Internet Fraud Complaint Center, a joint operation of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.
The center takes in complaints from consumers and companies on its Web site, analyzes the information to find common threads and distributes the leads to law enforcement agencies.
The center has received 36,000 complaints in the last year. More than 30,000 were found to be valid and were referred to police. A study by the center has Florida ranked second nationally according to the number of individual complaints of Internet fraud and in the number of individual perpetrators that reside in the state.
The Tampa area in particular makes a good target, Runyon said, because of the high number of people with substantial liquid assests, especially retirees. In the latest cases, the telemarketers offered huge payoffs, sometimes 300 percent.
"If someone promises a high rate of return with no risk to your principal investment, you can be assured something isn't right," Runyon said.
Two years ago, nine men linked to Twenty First Century Connection pleaded guilty to criminal charges for operating a boiler room out of Rocky Point. Those defendants received sentences ranging from probation to five years in prison and millions of dollars in restitution.
- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Contact Graham Brink at (813) 226-3365.
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