UPDATED 1:22 P.M. EST (U.S.A.) Earlier this month a photo of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps holding a bong sparked a firestorm, which ultimately led to a public apology from the celebrated gold medalist. Phelps subsequently was fired by Kellogg Co. because it cherished its brand and didn’t want the cereal- and snack-eating children of America to believe it endorsed smoking marijuana.
Phelps is one of the most important athletes in the world. He can help companies sell products by the truckload and further instill their brands in the consciousness of buyers. Despite Phelps’ extraordinary accomplishments (eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics), his apology, his youth (he’s 23) and his magnetic drawing power, Kellogg’s said goodbye, issuing a special statement to do so.
A photo of an Olympian smoking pot is “not consistent with the image of Kellogg,” the company said.
Phelps was not charged with a crime and will not be. USA Swimming, the governing body for the sport in the United States, however, suspended him for three months.
“This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero,” the organization said. “Michael has voluntarily accepted this reprimand and has committed to earn back our trust.”
Some Phelps’ sponsors stood by his side, while not marginalizing his conduct or making excuses for it.Â No company will risk its reputation by running interference for Phelps.
A Study In Contrast
Now, compare the actions of USA Swimming and Kellogg’s to the actions of the Pro-AdSurfDaily “Surf’s Up” forum. (It may seem like a stretch, but it’s not: The Surf’s Up forum says it is comprised of professional business people with professional advertising needs, and ASD says is is a professional advertising company.)
In August, ASD was accused of operating a wire-fraud and money-laundering operation whose central component was a $100 million Ponzi scheme that had money on deposit in at least three countries. Surf’s Up’s raison d’Ãªtre — it’s reason for being — was to advocate for ASD and ASD President Andy Bowdoin, a convicted felon. Indeed, the site’s formal name is the ASD Member Advocates forum.
Rarely in U.S. business does a professional entity make unrestrained cheerleading for a convicted felon involved in possible new felonies its signature calling. Most entities would be afraid of the stain spilling over or perhaps being drawn into a criminal investigation themselves. As a practical matter, there is little upside for an entity that associates itself with felons.
Since its inception, Surf’s Up has been famous for deleting posts that painted ASD in an unflattering light. It also is famous for heckling and even banning posters who asked tough questions.
But the site’s strangest act to date was to accept ASD’s official endorsement, which the embattled company issued publicly Nov. 27 on its Breaking News site. While most entities on earth would repudiateÂ the endorsement of a felon who has other felony charges possibly waiting in the wings, Surf’s Up embraced it. The endorsement came only days after a federal judge ruled that ASD had not demonstrated at an evidentiary hearing last fall that it was a legal business and not a Ponzi scheme.
Unlike Kellogg’s and USA Swimming — both of which issued special statements to distance themselves from a bong — Surf’s Up issued no such statement to distance itself from an alleged $100 million Ponzi scheme.
Within a couple of weeks of the endorsement, some of the Surf’s Up Mods were promoting AdViewGlobal (AVG), a new surf that shares an executive with ASD and a customer-service employee who testified for ASD at the Sept. 30-Oct. 1 evidentiary hearing.
One of AVG’s first formal acts was to claim it had no ties to ASD, despite the executive it shared with ASD and despite the shared customer-service rep, who also doubled as a spokesman for AVG.
And AVG made the “no ties” claim despite the appearance of AVG graphics on an ASD-controlled webroom, including a graphic that listed AVG’s address as 13 S Calhoun Street, Quincy, FL 32351, which also happens to be the street address for ASD.
Most entities shy away even from the appearance of impropriety. Surf’s Up didn’t even do that. In fact, it cheered anew for another controversial surf: AVG.
Could ASD’s endorsement of Surf’s Up been quid pro quo for its months-long loyal cheerleading and a reward for helping build a customer base for AVG?
It sure looks that way, especially when Surf’s Up embraced the endorsement instead of repudiating it. And it really looks that way, considering the fact that some Surf’s Up Mods and members created a site to cheerlead for AVG shortly after receiving ASD’s endorsement.
But it especially looks that way when Surf’s Up deletes posts such as this one (below) that appeared yesterday. The post was on the topic of a second forfeiture complaint that had been filed against assets tied to ASD (December) and Bowdoin’s decision (January) to give up his fight for assets seized in the first complaint in August (italics added):
Anyone else think the “kids” Barb believes Andy may have been nobly protecting when he gave the members money to the government refers to the adult son and daughter-in-law of Faye Bowdoin? The government “went after” the property (homes and cars) of Mrs. Bowdoin’s adult son and daughter-in-law because the Harris’ home mortgage was paid off, and a car and boat were purchased, with ASD funds and funds withdrawn from AdSurfDaily’s Bank of America accounts and deposited into newly established accounts at Capital City National Bank in the name of a business named Bowdoin/Harris Enterprises. Bowdoin/Harris Enterprises was incorporated in Florida in June of 2008.
Just in case Barb’s right, and she seems to have a close connection to the Bowdoin’s, if Andy was motivated to give up all claims to the members funds in order to protect George and Judy Harris, let’s see what the kids were up to, that caught the eye of the government:
June l0, 2008
George Harris and Faye Bowdoin opened a Bowdoin/Harris Enterprises bank account at Capital City National Bank (CCNB) using $l77,900.l2 withdrawn from AdSurfDailyâ€™s Bank of America accounts.
June ll, 2008
Judy and George Harris purchase new car for $28,607.67 with funds in an ASD bank account at BOA; the vehicle owners are the Harrisâ€™s.
June 23, 2008
George Harris transferred $l57,2l6.79 from CCNB account to Citi Mortgage, to pay off the mortgage on the home he and Judy were buying.
“Kids” George and Judy took money that had been “paid to the order of AdSurfDaily” by the members and used it as if it was their own. They didn’t have to use what was left of their personal income after they paid federal income taxes and FICA, like you and I would have to do.
Andy may have been worried about those kids, but I’m saving my sympathy for the kids whose college funds were raided, or whose homes were foreclosed on.
None of these actions — the establishment of an ASD cheerleading site, the acceptance of ASD’s endorsement, the establishment of a cheerleading site for AVG — is consistent with the actions of a professional business entity.
All of the actions, however, are consistent with a pattern of misinforming and deceiving — of running interference for a criminal enterprise.
It is beyond loathsome, but it’s business-as-usual at Surf’s Up.