"No one was in it to get rich," said Mary Bell, a 75-year-old seamstress from Lexington who scraped together money to invest.

Sarah Chavez wanted extra money for her daughter's frequent hospital visits for leukemia. Her husband worked in a factory, and they invested $7,000.

"It's hard to believe in something like that. But everyone told us it was a sure thing," she said.

Burks mostly kept to himself, and few locals knew anything about the quiet, balding man with thick glasses.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Shreveport, La., native toured nursing homes in the South as a magician with country singer David Houston. Burks moved to Lexington in the early 1990s because his wife was from the area.

In 2000, Burks ran for the state House as a Libertarian, but he collected only 330 votes.

Then he became a local celebrity.

Most afternoons, he ate lunch at the same downtown restaurant with an entourage of managers. Conference calls with investors were posted on YouTube. He produced glossy brochures touting the company.

"In addition to the mind-blowing savings, you can create more wealth than you have ever thought possible with ZeekRewards' geometrically progressive matric compensation plan," the brochure said.

Burks also hired some of the industry's top attorneys and analysts to promote his company.

The publicity paid off. When the Association of Network Marketing Professionals held its annual convention in March 2012, it called ZeekRewards the model of legal compliance.

___

But behind the scenes, there were troubling signs, according to documents, company emails and consumer complaints reviewed by the AP.

In early June, the state of Montana gave ZeekRewards the boot. Montana requires multilevel marketing companies to register. But ZeekRewards didn't submit any paperwork â¿¿ even after warnings, said Luke Hamilton, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

If you liked this article you might like

What's Behind the Surge in Energy Stocks

Hillary Clinton Says Prosecuting Individuals is Key to Wall Street Reform