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TheStreet Open House

Authorities: $600M Scheme Incubated In NC Town

"It's why we need a full hearing on what happened in a court of law â¿¿ whether that be our civil case or a criminal proceeding. A lot of people were hurt," he said.

____

Burks started Zeekler in early 2010 as an online penny auction site. His business experience included nearly four decades in multilevel marketing programs â¿¿ such as Amway â¿¿ including failed attempts to launch similar businesses of his own.

In penny auctions, consumers compete to pay pennies on the dollar for name brand products such as iPads. Each bid costs as much as $1, so participating can become expensive and the sites can earn nice profits when multiple users bid against each other.

In January 2011, he incorporated aspects of multilevel marketing into the business when he launched ZeekRewards. The program offered a share of the penny auction's profits to people who invested money, promoted the company on other websites and recruited other participants. Under a complicated formula, investors were issued "profit points" that grew every day.

Investments were capped at $10,000, but people could invest on behalf of their spouses, children or other relatives. Some mortgaged homes to raise their investment.

At first, ZeekRewards complied when investors sought to cash out. And that became the best ad of all: happy investors with their checks in Facebook photos.

People who didn't trust the mail traveled long distances to drop off checks at the cramped office building where security guards allowed only seven inside at a time. Employees collected money and wrote out receipts at the office cluttered with dozens of plastic mail bins stuffed with check-filled envelopes. To withdraw money, investors filed an online request â¿¿ or called â¿¿ and then had to wait for a check.

By the end of 2011, it seemed like everybody in Lexington was talking about ZeekRewards. Many saw it as a way to make extra cash to pay bills or help family.

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