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OUTTAKES

Air Turbulance

March 15, 1987|David T. Friendly and David Pecchia

The latest hustle in Hollywood isn't based on points and the back end. Known as the Airplane Game, it's a new wrinkle on the old (illegal) pyramid game with its own lingo: pilots , co-pilots , crews , stalls and takeoffs and landings .

Here's what our sources tell us: For $1,500 per person, participants sign on to become part of an eight-person "airplane." Those who make it to the top position--known as "pilot"--cash in for $12,000 collected from new passengers at the bottom of the plane. (New members must bring in at least one new person or the game collapses.)

Game meetings are being held all over town--with "pre-meetings" at some top eateries. One studio exec came home exhausted one night to find a surprise from his wife: $9,500 under the pillow in $20s, $50s and $100s. Said an agent who cashed in for $12,000 (including his down payment of $1,500) and asked for anonymity, "It's really catching on because people see they really can make money."

According to the LAPD consumer fraud folks, pyramid schemes are classified as "endless chain-investment scams" and classified under Penal Code 327 as misdemeanors, punishable by a fine, imprisonment or both. Arrests are infrequent, however, because few participants are inclined to speak of their involvement. The authorities said they are aware of the Westside pyramid but refused to comment on any ongoing investigations.

It's not just happening in La La Land: The Washington Post reported that a similar scheme called the "pilot game" has cropped up at the U of Maryland, where students are reportedly using book money to buy in for $125 in the hopes of cashing out for $1,800. Catholic U, American U and Georgetown campuses have also been infiltrated by "pilot" hopefuls, according to the Post. Some aspirants move from school to school in an effort to recruit "crew members."

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