Catholic Church committing bankruptcy fraud to protect assets from abuse victims.

The Catholic Church likes to promote itself as a beacon of morality in a fallen world. Shame the reality isn’t anything close to what they’d like you to believe:

‘Dan Rather Reports’ Exposes Coordinated Effort by the Catholic Church to Protect Assets From Abuse Victims

From the Vatican on down, the church has vowed to make peace with hundreds of victims of a decades-long epidemic of sex abuse by its priests. But “Dan Rather Reports” found evidence that the church has done just the opposite: Wealthy U.S. Dioceses from California to Delaware have claimed to be broke and have filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying damages; Bishops have exploited arcane corporate laws to shield church assets from liability; and, in San Diego, parish priests have been caught literally hiding money in safes, according to court records.

“If you or I did what the Diocese of San Diego did in that bankruptcy, we’d be charged with bankruptcy fraud, and we’d probably be in prison,” said attorney John Manly, who has represented dozens of priest abuse victims in lawsuits across the country.

“Dan Rather Reports” found evidence that some high in the church hierarchy have provided guidance.

“One of the comments that came from one of the bankruptcy attorneys is that, ‘These guys make Enron look like altar boys.’ Pardon the pun,” said Don McLean, who was abused as a 10-year-old altar boy, and sought damages from the San Diego diocese.

“Dan Rather Reports: Spiritually Bankrupt” premieres on HDNet, Tuesday, June 29 at 8:00 p.m. ET with an encore at 11:00 p.m. ET.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t understand how anyone can call themselves a Catholic without being filled with shame and self-loathing. If I were to ever meet the Pope I’d have no other choice, in good conscious, other than to slap the shit out of him as soon as he started to make some bullshit moral proclamation.

Probably best the likelihood of me ever meeting the Pope is even less than the chances that God actually exists.

Trying to track down “Setsune” who once wrote about WinFixer 2005.

OK this is going to seem a bit odd, but I’ve been asked if I can track down someone who wrote an entry about the WinFixer 2005 Malware over at the B.I.S.S. Forums circa September of 2005 who posted it under the user name “Setsune.” In case you’re wondering why I’ve been asked if I can track them down it’s because Setsune had listed SEB as his favorite blog in his signature file so he may be a regular lurker around these parts.

I’ve been asked to do this by Joseph Bochner, a lawyer out of Menlo Park California, who’s been trying to bring the makers of WinFixer 2005 to justice for almost four years now. Jospeh hasn’t said what he wants to talk to Setsune about, but I’m assuming it’s to find out how he managed to come by some of the information he had in that old forum posting. The folks at the Mercury News just did an article on Joseph’s ongoing quest which gives some background on what he’s been through:

Bochner, a Menlo Park lawyer who handled mostly real estate cases at the time, soon discovered that the PC was infected by malware, malicious software that attacks computers. The program had apparently infected the machine despite anti-virus protection and the latest virus definitions. It piqued Bochner’s interest. He sought to track down those responsible and stop the scam.

But over the past four years, Bochner has discovered that despite the enormous economic and social costs of online crime, there is no simple way to disrupt these schemes. His experience provides further evidence, on a personal level, of a key finding of the November Mercury News series “Ghosts in the Browser”: Shadowy con men, responsible for an explosion of illicit online activity, often find it all too easy to evade uninterested law enforcement agencies and out-staffed security experts.

Bochner tried federal agencies and state task force officials. He called on security software companies. He even filed his own class-action lawsuit, which he abandoned because, Bochner said, he lacked the resources and expertise to handle the case on his own.

“I am astounded at the inaction,” said Bochner, who has continued to search for help in reviving the case.

Filings in the lawsuit, as well as interviews and other public documents, provide details of what Bochner uncovered about “WinFixer,” the alleged conspiracy named for a variant of the malware that has gone by many names, including WinAntiVirus, Errorsafe and SystemDoctor.

WinFixer, as you can probably already tell, is one of the many fake anti-virus apps out there that deliberately infect your PC and then tell you it’s infected as if the problem had been there all along. If you want to get rid of the viruses you have to purchase the program except that the program doesn’t actually remove the viruses because it’s what put them there in the first place. Joseph’s saga is illustrative of how hard it is to get law authorities to do anything about these scammers in part because they don’t see it as a big problem, in part because they lack the manpower, and in part because they don’t really understand what the problem is. This is one of the reasons you have to be very careful about what you install on your PC and consider carefully any pop up warnings from software you’ve never installed from companies you’ve never heard of. There’s a good chance that even if you do complain to someone nothing will be done:

Bochner became convinced that the operators of the system should be prosecuted, and turned to the FBI. Agents from both Silicon Valley and southern Florida, where one potential defendant lived, investigated before deciding against seeking criminal charges.

“There was a lot of hoopla and there were complaints made, and (the WinFixer operation) was shady and backward,” San Francisco FBI Special Agent Joseph Schadler said in an interview.

But FBI agents, like officials from a series of other agencies, decided against pursuing a criminal case. Some questioned whether a crime had occurred; others said it would be too difficult to prove. One agent who turned Bochner down, Sacramento Valley High Tech Crimes Task Force commander Capt. Glenn Powell, told the Mercury News his unit didn’t have the personnel to pursue such computer fraud cases.

Joseph hasn’t given up the fight, however, and he’s tracking down every lead he comes across. Which is how he came to send me an email. His last reply which just arrived in my inbox explains what he’s hoping to accomplish:

Les,

Thanks much for the prompt reply.

The poster referred to your blog as his favorite…perhaps a request for help to your reader community might attract a response? Setsune said he had complained to Big Pipe; I’m looking for people who have submitted a complaint regarding WinFixer…to anyone!

Regarding “lack of concern or manpower,” I would add lack of understanding. Hence my efforts.

Thanks again and best wishes,

Joseph Bochner

So Setsune, if you’re still reading SEB some three years later, Joseph would really appreciate it if he could contact you. Or if any of you regulars have had experiences with WinFixer 2005 and tried to complain to someone about it then Joseph would like to hear about that as well. Leave a comment here or drop me an email and I’ll get you in contact with Joseph and maybe he’ll be able to win at least one victory in the war against the scammers.

 

Maybe this will wipe that grin off “Smilin’ Bob’s” smarmy face.

The verdict is in on the Enzyte fraud case I wrote about awhile back. Owner Steve Warshak has been found guilty:

Steve Warshak, whose conviction was reported Friday by The Cincinnati Enquirer, is founder and president of Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, which distributes Enzyte and a number of products alleged to boost energy, manage weight, reduce memory loss and aid restful sleep.

[…] Warshak, 40, could face more than 20 years in prison and his company could have to forfeit tens of millions of dollars.

[…] Prosecutors claimed customers were bilked out of $100 million through a series of deceptive ads, manipulated credit card transactions and the company’s refusal to accept returns or cancel orders. They said unauthorized credit card charges generated thousands of complaints over unordered products.

Warshak’s mother, Harriett Warshak, also was convicted of conspiracy, bank fraud and money laundering.

The government also alleged the defendants obstructed investigations by two federal agencies.

Some former employees, including relatives of Warshak, pleaded guilty to other charges and cooperated with prosecutors. They testified that the company created fictitious doctors to endorse the pills, fabricated a customer-satisfaction survey and made up numbers to back claims about Enzyte’s effectiveness.

Ooo, they got Steve and his mom too! There’s still an appeal process to go through and it’s possible that the case could be overturned, but at least the public now knows that the only thing Enzyte inflates are the claims of its effectiveness. Not that that’ll stop the tons of apparently insecure morons who made these people fabulously wealthy from spending their hard earned cash on other equally as (in)effective products such as “ExtenZe”, but at least this should remove any lingering doubts for guys who have half a brain and the ability to think with it.

Bush administration pays lip service to cracking down on fraud.

Every now and then the Bush Administration tries to pretend that it actually gives a shit about the common taxpayer and goes through the motions of doing something to clean up the government corruption which it is largely responsible for in the first place. We have just such a situation with the recent announcement that the Justice Department is going to crack down on contract fraud:

For decades, contractors have been asked to report internal fraud or overpayment on government-funded projects. Compliance has been voluntary, and over the past 15 years the number of company-reported fraud cases has declined steadily.

Imagine that. Make reporting of fraud a voluntary thing and suddenly fraud is very hard to find. The idea that our government thought they could get companies to report fraud out of the goodness of their hearts is laughable to begin with, but they’re going to fix that problem!

Now, the Justice Department wants to force companies to notify the government if they find evidence of contract abuse of more than $5 million. Failure to comply could make a company ineligible for future government work.

OK, that’s a start. Though I’d think that fraud of any scale should be reported. Why the arbitrary $5 million minimum? I can only guess that it has something to do with anything less than that costing more to prosecute than what they’d gain from doing so. Still $4.9 million is a tidy sum to be able to get away with.

There’s a problem with this new-found enthusiasm for cleaning up corruption, though. A loop-hole if you will:

The proposed rules, which are in the final approval stages, specifically exempt “contracts to be performed outside the United States,” according to a notice published last month in the Federal Register.

What the fuck?! The no-bid contracts awarded to various companies, most notably Halliburton, in Iraq and Afghanistan are rife with some of the worst cases of fraud and over-payments to be found and the Justice Department says they don’t count? How the hell does that make any damned sense at all?

For its part the Justice Department is saying that loophole is a “mistake” that it’ll fix real soon now. Really. They promise.

The Justice Department, which pushed for the self-reporting requirement, called the overseas exemption a mistake that should be fixed before the plan becomes final.

“We do not agree with also excluding contracts performed entirely outside the United States,” Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher wrote Jan. 14 in a letter otherwise supporting the new rules.

“These types of contracts, which in many cases support our efforts to fight the global war on terror, need greater contractor vigilance because they are performed overseas where U.S. government resources and remedies are more limited,” Fisher wrote.

A spokeswoman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, which oversees federal procurement policy, declined to answer questions about the planned exemption of overseas contractors from the beefed-up requirements for reporting fraud.

“This is a proposed rule,” OMB spokeswoman Jane Lee said. “We are currently reviewing the public comments that were submitted.”

Here’s a public comment for you: No fucking way in hell does that loophole stay in.

The article goes on to point out some of the more notorious cases of fraud that have come to light providing ample reason for the change from a voluntary reporting system to a mandatory one.

Here’s a shocker: Those Enzyte ads are pure bullshit.

I’ve written about Enzyte before after a man had the balls to admit the product didn’t help his undersized manhood become super-sized, something the company was hoping would never happen. I’ve not kept up with what the company has been up to since then, but it turns out that the Feds have gone after them as well. The resulting trial is revealing that the only thing being inflated by the makers of Enzyte are the claims of its effectiveness:

James Teegarden Jr., the former vice president of operations at Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, explained Tuesday in U.S. District Court how he and others at the company made up much of the content that appeared in Enzyte ads.

He said employees of the Forest Park company created fictitious doctors to endorse the pills, fabricated a customer satisfaction survey and made up numbers to back up claims about Enzyte’s effectiveness.

“So all this is a fiction?” Judge S. Arthur Spiegel asked about some of the claims.

“That’s correct, your honor,” Teegarden said.

The Feds are accusing the company founder, Steve Warshak, of a $100 million conspiracy to defraud customers and Teegarden is their star witness. The plan was simple: Make up some bullshit claims, whip up some completely fictional numbers and testimonials, then, once a customer took the bait, keep charging their credit card for as long as possible while make it as difficult as possible to drop out of the automatic shipments.

He said first-time customers were automatically enrolled in a “continuity program” that sent Enzyte to their homes every month and charged their credit cards without authorization.

“Without continuity, the company wouldn’t exist,” Teegarden said. “It was the sole profit of the business.”

If customers complained, he said, employees were instructed to “make it as difficult as possible” for them to get their money back. In some cases, Teegarden said, Warshak required customers to produce a notarized statement from a doctor certifying Enzyte did not work.

“He said it was extremely unlikely someone would get anything notarized saying they had a small penis,” Teegarden said.

Well, we know that at least one man was willing to admit it in court. I wonder if he won that case or not.

It’s interesting to note that while this trial has been ongoing so have the commercials for Enzyte, particularly on channels aimed at young men such as Spike TV and G4 TV. A host of imitators have shown up as well with similar claims and (more than likely) similar actual results. All because some guys are insecure about the size of their dick. On the one hand I’m of the opinion that anyone dumb enough to fall for that kind of sales pitch probably deserves what he gets, but when you add in the fact that the company went to great lengths to keep these suckers paying long after they realized what fools they’d been, then I’m inclined to be a tad more sympathetic.

“Psychic” fraud Sylvia Browne is coming to Detroit.

Well, to Novi Michigan at least. I pass by the Rock Financial Showplace, an annoying name for a convention hall, on the way to and from work and I noticed that they’re advertising An Afternoon with Sylvia Browne on the marquee. She’ll be in town for one day on July 21st to suck up as much money as she can before packing away her bullshit and heading to Cincinnati Ohio to scam more folks down there. She’s not coming alone, though, she’s also bringing Colette Baron-Reid with her! Colette’s official title is “Intuitive Counselor” as opposed to Sylvia’s title of Psychic and that was a new one on me so I did some searching to find out what the hell an “Intuitive Counselor” happens to be. Here’s the definition provided by the folks at Holistic Junction:

    What is INTUITIVE COUNSELING? Intuitive counseling is a combined technique of counseling skills and intuitive abilities. Through intuitive counseling, a counseler uses his or her intuitive abilities to access information that may nor be known by the conscious mind.

    By accessing hidden past lives or past experiences, intuitive counselors enable a client to find resolve and move past situations that are blocking energy in their spiritual pathways.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering how that’s in any way different from “Psychics” then you’re not alone. A more honest definition can be found at About.com’s Holistic Healing site:

    Why do so many healers refer to themselves as intuitive rather than psychic?

    Although there is nothing wrong with being referred to as a psychic, the term itself has gotten a bit of a bad rap. I personally don’t like to be associated with the label psychic. I think the change in labeling may be to create a distinction between those of us who are interested in helping others with our intuitive tools from the stigma attached from the scamming fortune tellers who call themselves psychic. Because we are all psychic on some level this ability need not be looked at as if it is a gift or talent. It is a muscle that can be flexed or lay dormant. Everyone doesn’t use their intuitive natures professionally to help others…. some of us that do are more comfortable referred to ourselves as intuitive counselors/healers.

Translation: “Psychic” has lost some of it’s credibility among the overly credulous so we’ve invented a whole NEW word that means the same thing but sounds kinda professional and scientific like!

I’d be inclined to actually attend this event just for the laughs, but tickets cost a minimum of $50 for the Green Section and $75 for the Blue Section, the latter of which is already sold out proving once again that you can’t put too high a price on stupid. So if you are one of the millions of people who have cheezewhiz for brains and are desperate to find out that your dead wife/husband/son/daughter/dog/chipmunk/ant colony still loves you and is very happy in the afterlife then you’d better hurry up before all the Green tickets are sold out.