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Brothers forfeit wheels over get-rich sites

August 22, 2008|Jim Puzzanghera | Times Staff Writer

If you've ever thought about jumping on one of those pitches that offers to make you gobs of money with your computer from home (or maybe making gobs of money by creating one of those pitches yourself), consider the case of the Louie brothers of California.

Eric G. Louie of Corona and Calvin G. Louie of Lake Elsinore apparently earned quite a nice living running websites such as Fastcashathome.com and Realcashprograms.com, according to the Federal Trade Commission and court records. Eric Louie owned a 2004 Lamborghini Gallardo, while brother Calvin opted for a 2005 Ferrari F430.

Now the brothers must sell those cars as part of a settlement announced Thursday with the FTC over charges they misled consumers about money that could be made from things such as free government grants, data entry and online surveys.

The case was part of a 2006 initiative led by the FTC called Project Fal$e Hope$, which "targeted bogus business opportunities and work-at-home scams." The FTC offers tips for identifying those scams, as does the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The FTC said the Louie brothers charged people between $47 and $129 to see "money-making secrets" on their members-only websites.

"Their advertised programs either did not exist as represented or did not offer quick and easy money with little time or effort as promised," the FTC said in a release. The Louies agreed to pay $4.9 million to settle the case, but that figure will be suspended if they sell their two sports cars and turn over the money to the government, along with assets frozen by the court in 2006 and any tax refunds they received in 2005 and 2006. The FTC estimates that money would total $800,000 to $900,000, spokesman Frank Dorman said.

As part of the settlement, the Louies are "banned from selling work at home opportunities" in the future.

Joseph M. Kar, the attorney for the Louies, said his clients "will do whatever is required from them in the settlement and have personally sacrificed significantly in order to comply with the law." He said the Louies "should be viewed as innocent participants" in the websites because a third party Kar wouldn't name also was involved and gave approval for the products they offered.

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jim.puzzanghera @latimes.com

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