SEC halts 800America, notorious con man CEO arrested

2002-11-14 11:02 PT - Street Wire
by Brent Mudry

In the latest Howe Street-linked fraudulent U.S. penny stock promotion shut down by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, the regulator has abruptly halted trading in shares of 800America.com Inc., which concocted millions of dollars of phantom financials and forgot to tell shareholders its chief executive officer was a multiple past felon previously jailed four years for securities fraud and his co-conspirator girlfriend was previously sentenced to six years for smuggling cocaine to her then-husband in prison, which led to his death.

In a co-ordinated criminal action Wednesday, 800America.com CEO and chief financial officer David Elie Rabi, a man of many aliases, was arrested in New York, and his co-conspirator girlfriend Tillie Ruth Steeples was arrested in Nashville. "The defendants here essentially engaged in a scheme to artificially inflate the value of the stock of an Internet company and then reap the benefits of the scheme," states James Comey, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Mr. Rabi, 64, of New York, has used at least 13 aliases and four dates of birth. "At various times, Rabi has indicated his place of origin as Israel, Iraq, Uruguay and Canada," states a criminal affidavit unsealed Wednesday. According to a U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigator, Mr. Rabi has an "extensive history" of fraud and theft offences in the state of New York, Kentucky, Ontario, Israel and Italy, dating back to 1953, when he threatened to use force to gain control of a company.

The SEC also won a broad temporary restraining order Wednesday against 800America.com, Mr. Rabi and Ms. Steeples, who serves as the company's secretary under her real name and the alias Ruth Walley. The injunction came in an emergency civil action filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan.

800America.com shares last traded at $1.76 on the OTC Bulletin Board before the halt, down from a year high of $4.06 in early January. (All figures are in U.S. dollars.) The stock briefly began trading at $4 in November, 1999, peaked at $5.62 in February, 2000, and bottomed out at 37 cents in April, 2001.

While 800America.com and its executives are based in New York, the fraudulent company had at least a modest following on Howe Street, the centre of dealings for the former Vancouver Stock Exchange.

In the past 15 months, six private placement investors have filed to sell modest portions of their stakes through Canadian brokerages Pacific International Securities, Yorkton Securities, Research Capital, RBC Dominion Securities, BMO Nesbitt Burns and Scotia Capital. In addition, Valor Invest Ltd., an offshore Swiss company registered in Ireland and controlled by controversial Vancouver penny stock promoter Altaf Nazerali, filed to sell 800America.com shares held at U.S. brokerage Woodstone Capital, which also serviced two other unrelated offshore accounts: Marbet Establishment and Sicor Holding Societe Anonyme.

There is no suggestion that any of these Howe Streetish investors knowingly invested in a fraud; nor is there any suggestion that any of them are connected with this fraud, other than as unwitting investors.

Besides Valor Invest, several 800America.com early backers are familiar Howe Street faces: Bunnaton Ltd., a Hong Kong-based associate of newsletter writer, Doug Casey, and EH & P Investments AG, which stands for Erwin Haas & Partners, have both invested in private placements of scores of Vancouver deals in the past decade. Woodstone client and 800America.com backer Linda Hadala previously invested in one Vancouver deal, while Ben Hadala, presumably her husband, invested in at least three Howe Street promotions.

While the SEC has imposed just 10 other halts this year, two last year and 11 in 2000, the regulator has a long-distance knack for sniffing out promotions linked to Howe Street. The SEC has halted numerous Howe Street promotions in the past seven years, including eConnect, anthrax exploiter 2DoTrade Inc., mob plays WAMEX Holdings Inc. and U.N. Dollars Corp., Moll alumni Randall Andrus's Ikar Mineral Corp., VSE graduate Solucorp Industries Ltd., Rachfall-Patterson deals Orlando Super Card Inc. and Legend Sports Inc., Amquest International Inc. and Garcis USA Inc.

Mr. Rabi had established an impressive resume years before he founded 800America.com in 1996. It evidently took federal officials quite some effort to connect the dots, as the career criminal has used numerous aliases, including David Rabie, David E. Rabie, Elie Rabie, Elie Rabi, Edward Rabie, Elias Rabie, Eduardo Rabie, Euardo Rabie, Edwardo Rabi, Robert Alesi, Walter Arbib and Jack Bender.

According to records of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Tel Aviv District Court, Mr. Rabi's criminal career began in 1953, when he was convicted, using the name Eliahu Ben Shlomo Rabiya, of conspiring to force another person by the use of threat of bodily harm to sign documents transferring shares and his victim's position as manager of a company to Mr. Rabi's brother. Mr. Rabi, then 20 years old, was sentenced to six weeks imprisonment.

A few years later, he popped up in Italy using the name Elie Rabie and committed fraud relating to the purchase and sale of merchandise on credit in 1958. Mr. Rabi was also accused of keeping the books and records of his company in such a "confused" and "chaotic" manner that they could not be reconstructed. He was convicted and sentenced to 7-1/2 years in prison.

After getting out of jail in Italy, Mr. Rabi popped up in Ontario, where he slipped out of a fraud trial in the 1960s. At trial, he feigned paralysis, was transferred to a hospital, slipped out and ended up later in New York.

The incorrigible con man also popped up in Monaco, where he was using the name Rabbiah Elias. He was convicted in the offshore enclave in 1969 of making false statements regarding his identity, calling himself "Jack Bender," providing a false birthdate in 1927 (he was actually born in 1938) and fraudulently uttering cheques.

Moving on to New York, Mr. Rabi, using the name Edwardo Rabi, was convicted in 1981 of two felony counts of grand larceny in the third degree, and one misdemeanour count of using fraud in the sale of securities. He was sentenced to a total term of imprisonment of 2-1/3 to seven years.

Mr. Rabi's most recent career highlight was in Kentucky. According to a criminal affidavit, he pled guilty on Dec. 30, 1996, to 33 counts of securities fraud and sentenced to four years in jail. His guilty pleas included his conduct in claiming his company, OneCard, had total liabilities of $148,500, while the true number was more than $600,000. The indictment alleges he falsely presented himself as a "successful businessman and president of OneCard when, in fact, the defendant was an international conman who had been convicted of securities type fraud previously."

Although not part of his guilty plea, the Kentucky grand jury that indicted Mr. Rabi also charged him as a "persistent felony offender" because he had allegedly been convicted of financial fraud in Israel, Italy, Monaco and New York, using various aliases.

The SEC has a slightly different Kentucky version, although this is likely the same case. The regulator notes Mr. Rabi pled guilty in Kentucky on Jan. 3, 1997, to state felony charges of securities fraud, acting as an unregistered broker-dealer and selling unregistered securities. "Rabi was sentenced to four years imprisonment, which was commuted, based on the four years Rabi had already served in Tennessee state prison fighting extradition to Kentucky on these charges," states the SEC.

Ms. Steeples was no innocent dupe. Her sole known criminal claim to fame was on Nov. 14, 1996, when she pleaded guilty in Nashville to delivering cocaine into a prison. She was sentenced to six years in jail, and was incarcerated from Jan. 31, 1997, to Nov. 24, 1999.

Mr. Rabi was not her cokehead recipient, although the timing and locale suggests the pair might have met through prison somehow.

After the Tennessee appeals court considered Ms. Steeples's case on June 12, 1998, it upheld a decision denying her bail. "(Steeples) illegally sent cocaine to her husband in prison, apparently with the intentions of allowing her husband to overdose on the drug so he would not have to stand trial. Also, since her husband's insurance policy apparently did not have a 'suicide clause,' (Steeples) was able to collect more than a half-million dollars as a result of her husband's death," stated the appeal court.

After getting out of jail at the end of 1999, Ms. Steeples began working as 800America.com's secretary and serving as an undisclosed control person, both in her own name and using the identity of Ruth Walley, which she had assumed. The real Ms. Walley died on July 23, 1997.

Although the company's stock traded at the $2 level recently, virtually all its other directors have vanished in recent months amid a broad SEC investigation. In a Sept. 12 letter, 800America.com counsel told the SEC that secretary and director Bobby Walley left the company to become a missionary in the Ukraine. Darvin Pierce resigned as a director in early March by sending an E-mail to Mr. Rabi. Company counsel claim they have been unable to locate three other executives: Richard Sullivan, Jerry Kavoun and Vincent Ren.

"In addition, Rabi claims to suffer from a debilitating disease that has forced him to forego appearing for testimony at the commission three times. 800America has not (publicly) disclosed that most of its officers and directors are either not with the company or otherwise available," states the SEC in its complaint.

Among numerous irregularities, Mr. Rabi and Ms. Steeples filed bogus financials in 800America's annual 10-KSB report, fooling its auditor by providing a fake Citibank statement showing $12.67-million of cash in the kitty. The Citibank account actually never had more than $640.66 during the one-month statement period.

The pair also accumulated large blocks of stock through a purported S-8 registration statement and through a reverse takeover of World House Entertainment, a shell. After issuing the stock, the pair placed it in nominee Internet brokerage accounts, and to date have sold at least 1.18 million shares for proceeds of $2.7-million.

In addition, 800America has issued at least 1,145,000 shares to at least 13 purported individuals under a July 18, 2001, S-8 registration statement. The SEC claims that to date, at least 980,000 of these shares were in fact issued to nine nominee accounts controlled by Mr. Rabi or Ms. Steeples. Of these, at least 813,400 shares have been sold to the public for total proceeds of at least $1.98-million. These nominees, using accounts at Datek, E-Trade and Ameritrade, are in the names of Stacey Chester, Myrna Garvin, Yangdong Qiao, Haiyun Bai, Daisy Nissani, Tillie Steeples, Morris Goldsmith, Denise Eanniello and Edward Cahill.

The SEC claims 800America is falsely reporting millions of dollars in fictitious sales, expenses and assets. "800America accomplished the fraud by submitting fictitious bank statements and a falsified general ledger to its auditor. Some of the falsified bank statements also include bogus checks and deposit slips. The actual bank statements, however, do not support any of the fictitious sales or expenses. The scope of the fraud is massive relative to the size of the company," states the regulator.

In its accounting investigation, the SEC has determined that 800America's general ledger contained at least $22.22-million in fictitious sales in the 2001 calendar year, more than the entire $21.4-million in revenues the company reported in its audited financials in its 2001 Form 10-KSB. Mr. Rabi is believed to be the first CEO arrested for false certified financials since passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. In August, he falsely certified 800America's quarterly report as true and accurate.

The SEC also claims Mr. Rabi and Ms. Steeples have misappropriated company assets, including stock sale proceeds sent to an account he controls in the name of American Deductible, which is his holding company and 800America's controlling shareholder. Although 800America filings claim American Deductible is a trust for Mr. Rabi's children, it is actually a regular chequing account in which he deposits his paycheques. Mr. Rabi uses the account as a personal bank account to pay his expenses and those of Ms. Steeples and her children.

"The evidence indicates that Rabi and Steeples are looting large sums of 800America assets. For example, on September 7, 2001, Rabi caused a transfer of approximately $4-million from 800America's bank account to three funds managed by Renaissance Capital Growth & Income Fund III Inc. This withdrawal does not appear on 800America's 2001 general ledger provided to the commission staff by 800America's current auditor," states the SEC in its complaint.

"The fraud is ongoing. Rabi has switched transfer agents, opened new nominee accounts, and is liquidating his 800America holdings as soon as he puts stock into nominee accounts," states the SEC in its complaint. The SEC also claims Mr. Rabi has repeatedly obstructed commission investigators by providing false information.

Mr. Rabi is expected to appear in Manhattan federal court on Thursday on the criminal charges, while Ms. Steeples was expected to appear before U.S. magistrate judge in Nashville Wednesday evening.

 

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