*E-Mail Pyramid Scheme Defendants Settle With FTC

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Two defendants in an Internet pyramid scheme who used e-mail to market a work-at-home program have settled Federal Trade Commission charges that their scheme violated federal laws and have been ordered to pay more than $72,000 in restitution.

The FTC said defendants David Martinelli Jr. and Deana Plourde, doing business as DP Marketing, Thomaston, CT, sent spam messages to consumers on July 7, 1999, that led them to believe they could work at home and make $13.50 per hour processing "credit, loan or employment applications."

The FTC said consumers responding to the pitch by telephone or through DP Marketing's Web site were told that no experience was necessary and that the work could be conducted from home. They also were told that for a "registration fee" ranging from $9.95 to $28.72, they would be sent everything necessary to get started in the business, including telephone scripts, product and time sheets and an identification number.

However, what they actually received, the FTC said, was a kit instructing them first to place an advertisement identical to the one they had responded to. Instead of earning $13.50 an hour, the FTC said the money consumers could earn was "based on the number of new victims" they could recruit.

The FTC charged the defendants with violating federal law by misrepresenting to consumers that DP Marketing offers jobs at a specified salary; failing to disclose that they were operating a pyramid work-at-home scheme; and providing the "means and instrumentalities" to others to "commit deceptive acts that violate federal law."

The FTC said Martinelli and Plourde are barred from participating in pyramid schemes and from misrepresenting earnings and income potential. If they make earnings claims in connection with a multilevel marketing program, they must "clearly and conspicuously" disclose the actual profits made by participants.

The order also imposes a judgment of $72,312, based on the defendants' financial situations. The FTC said that if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial situations, $430,140, the total amount paid to DP Marketing by consumers, would become due.

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