The hammer finally came down this week on a scamster who fled the country 15 years ago when the FBI started investigating his Newport Beach company, which used telemarketers to reach investors into a supposed family-oriented entertainment website whose spokesman was "Mr. C.," the late actor Tom Bosley.
Just to be clear, Bosley had no knowledge of the scheme. After a distinguished acting career--which included a Tony Award, voicing the title character in the animated Wait Til Your Father Gets Home and joining Henry Winkler and Marion Ross in being one of the only actors to appear in every episode of Happy Days--Bosley died in Rancho Mirage in 2010. He was 83.
He had been the celebrity spokesman for YES Entertainment Network Inc., which raised nearly $13 million from investors who in the late 1990s were told that the company was creating an 18-channel, multimedia, family-oriented entertainment website that would generate profits through online advertising sales.
Owners James Eberhart and Eugene M. Carriere told these investors that the Newport Beach company planned an initial public offering of its stock for the fall of 1999, which would potentially make early investments worth $3 million.
However, only 1 percent of the investor money was used to build the website, which was little more than a façade to reassure investors. About 45 percent went to sales commissions for boiler room telemarketers. The rest was sent to bank accounts in Hong Kong and Singapore in the names of offshore corporations Eberhart had formed with the help of an attorney.
With the FBI closing in on Eberhart with search warrants and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigating him for an earlier investment fraud scheme, he, Carriere and another YES employee began destroying company documents. Eberhart fled the country in November 1999.
Carriere also fled, eluding authorities for six years before he was caught in Thailand in April 2005. He pleaded guilty in 2007 to two counts of mail fraud and was sentenced to three years in federal prison and ordered to pay $12.8 million in restitution.
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Eberhart was arrested in Malaysia, where he was living on a custom-built, 58-foot yacht, in 2012. He pleaded guilty this week to two counts of mail fraud and the 73-year-old faces up to 10 years in custody when federal Judge Cormac J. Carney is scheduled to impose his sentence on Dec. 8.
Bill Lewis, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office, says in a statement the prosecution "delivers justice to many victims who waited years while Mr. Eberhart remained a fugitive, living life abroad after stealing their money. This case, which culminated in Mr. Eberhart's arrest overseas more than a decade after he was charged, is a perfect example of the global and persistent arm of the law."
Five other defendants--including the owners of telemarketing operations used by YES-- were indicted, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to as much as 142 months in federal prison.