Monday, January 14, 2008

More from

Renaissance trial to beginFormer CEO faces 148 counts of fraud, money laundering
By Steve Fry
The Capital-Journal
Published Monday, January 14, 2008
Marcy Szarama, a Los Angeles businesswoman, was looking for reliable tax advice in July 2000 when some acquaintances raved about Renaissance, The Tax People, saying the Topeka-based firm gave good tax advice.

Today, the three-week jury trial begins for Michael Craig Cooper, former Renaissance chief executive officer and founder, who is charged with 148 counts alleging he and others "agreed to cheat clients out of money through false or fraudulent representations about their program," generating about $84 million from investors, court records said.

OAS_AD("Middle1");ord=Math.random()*10000000000000000;document.write('');var ACE_AR = {Site: '720880', Size: '300250'};Dim adsVB,poadsVB=0If ScriptEngineMajorVersion >=2 then adsVB=1Function adsAX(aX)on error resume nextIf adsVB=1 thenadsAX=Falseset po=CreateObject(aX)adsAX=IsObject(po)If (err) then adsAX=FalseElseadsAX=FalseEnd IfEnd Function

Michael Cooper has been incarcerated since 2004


• One count of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and to commit mail fraud and wire fraud

• 56 counts of assisting in the preparation of false federal income tax returns

• 36 counts of mail fraud

• 11 counts of wire fraud

• One count of conspiracy to commit money laundering

• 41 counts of engaging in monetary transactions of criminally derived property worth more than $10,000

• Two counts of money laundering

The trial will be conducted by U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia in the Robert J. Dole U.S. Courthouse in Kansas City, Kan.

Szarama said she joined Renaissance, but when she called the company for tax advice, she was put on hold and heard only recordings about how to sell Renaissance products.

At meetings, company officials tried to sell marketing materials and coached members on how to sell more Renaissance products to more people, she said last week.

There was a "lot of fluff" and not much substance, she said.

"They gave me really bad tax advice," said Szarama, who had to pay about $2,000 in back taxes because she underpaid her taxes based on Renaissance advice.

About six months after she joined Renaissance, Szarama said she got out because she found it to be a waste of time and money and she "detected a cult vibe." Overall, she lost about $4,000, she said.

After about five years, Szarama said, she got back about $2,000 in restitution for what she spent on Renaissance but no money for the tax penalties she paid.

Renaissance, The Tax People, billed itself as a multilevel marketing agency aimed at helping its clients avoid taxes. The company sold a "tax-relief system" instructing home-based business owners on how to take tax deductions on their businesses, which usually was selling the Renaissance tax-relief system.

But by May 15, 2001, a Shawnee County District Court judge had shut down Renaissance, pegging the business as an illegal pyramid scheme, and froze the assets of the company and defendants.

About 125 prosecution witnesses have been called to testify against Cooper, including seven co-defendants who were Renaissance executives or employees and who made plea agreements.

Cooper is the only defendant left in the case.

Cooper has remained incarcerated since Oct. 25, 2004, when he was arrested near Laredo, Texas, while crossing the border from Mexico. Cooper had failed to return to the United States 17 months after a Shawnee County District Court judge allowed him to travel to Mexico to recover $2 million in company assets. When he didn't return as ordered, Cooper forfeited a $1 million bond.

Once Cooper was apprehended, a federal magistrate judge denied him bond, saying Cooper didn't face his problems in state court like an adult when he chose to remain in Mexico.

Cooper's Renaissance began to unwind publically on Oct. 11, 2000, when federal agents wearing raid gear descended on company headquarters in the old Fleming Mansion at S.W. 10th and Gage. While surprised shoppers in the nearby shopping center gaped, officers from the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and other agencies executed search warrants.

In the days following the raid, people loyal to Renaissance sent "pep rally e-mails" assuring one another that Cooper was being persecuted, Szarama said.

The May 15, 2001, order by Shawnee County District Judge Richard Anderson followed a lengthy hearing.

In his ruling, Anderson wrote, "Defendants have seduced consumers into joining their illegal pyramid scheme through the use of specious guarantees of tax deductions and savings, false assurances of legality and misleading promises of unlimited income opportunity."

During the hearing, Cooper took the witness stand, gave his name and a few other details but invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at least 55 times in 40 minutes of testimony.

Anderson issued a final judgment of more than $29 million against the defendants and on behalf of Kansans, according to court records. That included more than $13 million in civil penalties under the Kansas Consumer Protection Act and more than $13 million in consumer damages.

Federal investigators confiscated $9 million during the probe.

A federal grand jury returned an initial indictment against Cooper on Aug. 13, 2004. A follow-up indictment was filed Dec. 6, 2006.

Steve Fry can be reached

at (785) 295-1206 or steve.fry@cjonline com.

� �
You may delay, but time will not.~Ben Franklin

Hoping to be banded soon!

Reply to Message Mark Message Unread

(Msg Id: 340300:743155)

No comments: