UPDATED 2:03 A.M. EDT (July 4, U.S.A.) In the past few days, the AdViewGlobal (AVG) forum has closed, reopened, and closed again. The actions occurred in the wake of complaints from members who have been pleading with the company to provide understandable explanations and to stop blaming participants for AVG’s seeming inability to explain itself.
In a bizarre communication, AVG advised members that the initial forum closure had occurred because posts by some members were contributing to the confusion of other members. Nearly 50 posts were deleted, members said.
The forum later reopened briefly, with a disclaimer that suggested the company would ban members who misbehaved and contact their Internet Service Providers to report them. The act led to questions about whether AVG was trying to chill legitimate criticism and manage the operation by instilling fear within the rank-and-file, which never has been provided an audited financial statement by the firm and yet was told the company was healthy even as it was suspending payouts. The forum closed again a short time later, amid an announcement that Donna Rougeau, who defined herself as an AVG subcontractor and had emerged as the face of the company, had left the beleaguered surf firm.
Previously, AVG had threatened media outlets with copyright-infringement lawsuits if they published information that originated inside the confines of the AVG “private association.” By implication, the threat also extended to members who shared information outside association walls, putting members in the strange position of not being able to share news — good or bad — unless they were willing to risk getting sued.
Some members viewed the threats as a strong-arm tactic. AVG’s name recently appeared in a racketeering lawsuit filed against AdSurfDaily President Andy Bowdoin, although the company has not been named a defendant in the case.
AVG, which earlier had announced a new payout plan and then withdrew it when members said it left more questions unanswered than answered, advised members that it would re-release the plan in bite-sized chunks over an unspecified time period.
Members immediately complained that the company had implied they were too stupid to understand a plan that was published all at one time, suggesting that the company’s real problem was that it had sent one mixed message after another.
Mixing Politics And Business
AVG purports to be a professional advertising and communications firm that, although based in Uruguay, derives its authority from the U.S. Constitution and the Florida Constitution. The AVG “Articles of Association” reads like a political document, not a business document.Â AVG, for instance, appoints an association “Protector.”
Among other things, AVG declares, “We proclaim the freedom to choose and perform for ourselves the types of advertising and marketing enterprises.” (Sic.)
One interpretation of the document is that AVG has declared its own American subcountry and will pick and choose the laws it intends to follow.
Such incongruities are part and parcel to AVG’s corner of the autosurfing universe. The firm has close ties to AdSurfDaily, whose own universe is dominated by equally inexplicable behavior.
At least one member of ASD declared himself a “sovereign” in court documents not related to the ASD case, purporting that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity and answered only to Jesus Christ.
The ASD member, Curtis Richmond, has a history that includes being charged and convicted of contempt of court for threatening federal judges. Richmond also has been ordered to pay damages to victims in a RICO case in which several individuals declared themselves members of a sovereign “Indian” tribe and filed claims for astronomical damages against public officials in the performance of their duties.
Members of the tribe placed financial judgments — one in excess of $200 million — against the public officials. The officials successfully sued the tribe members under racketeering and mail-fraud statutes, and a federal judge ruled that the tribe was a “complete sham.”
When Richmond began to file pro se pleadings in the ASD case, an AVG forum operated by some of the Mods and members of the Pro-AdSurfDaily Surf’s Up forum declared him a “hero.” Federal prosecutors, however, argued that Richmond’s pleadings — and others that streamed in using a Richmond litigation blueprint — were delaying refunds for victims of Andy Bowdoin and ASD.
Dissing The Doubters
AVG’s loyalists long have compounded the company’s problems by dissing doubters on AVG’s forum and on a now-closed AVG forum once operated by some of the Mods and members of the ProAdSurfDaily Surf’s Up forum, casting doubters as simpletons, “plants” or turncoats. Members did not take kindly to scoldings from representatives of a company that was holding onto their money and not revealing the names of its “Management Team.”
AVG now concedes it is owned by George and Judy Harris. The surf firm still has not identified managers. AVG purportedly has 30 founding members, and it is widely believed that most — if not all — of the founders came from AdSurfDaily, which is in trouble for wire fraud, money-laundering, selling unregistered securities and operating a Ponzi scheme.
It is believed — though it has not been confirmed in public records — that the U.S. government has seized several bank accounts of AVG members who also belonged to ASD.
At the same time, other AVG loyalists have taken the PR fight to Blogs and websites that raise questions about AVG, but only have managed to add to the company’s mounting PR problems.
While AVG was announcing an apparent shift in business models as it apparently was holding onto vast sums of members’ cash collected under an earlier business model, one AVG advocate said a person who questioned the firm could benefit from “penis enlargement.”
We used “apparently” above because AVG publishes no audited financials and expects members to accept its assertions as an article of faith. It’s the same thing that got ASD President Andy Bowdoin in trouble.
Two days ago — in what we believe was an accidental forwarding by an AVG supporter who put our email address in a database after contacting us through our Contact form — this Blog was copied with an email message from an AVG member who reported to another member that he had posted here and called us “chickenshit.”
The other member responded by calling us a “spineless coward” — and happens to be a promoter who once pitched Noobing, a surf program that had positioned itself as an excellent choice for people with hearing impairments.
AVG’s message is impossibly tangled, and the resulting confusion is not exclusively about how the company is addressing Ponzi concerns. The core incongruity is that the company purports to be a professional advertising and communications firm, but butchers one message after another, re-plumbs the message after being criticized by members — and then butchers the re-plumbed message.
AVG’s inability to settle on a message and explain its business model without ambiguity — as well as its awkward bids to maintain secrecy and suppress criticism — have angered some members and managed to keep the company in the news for weeks. Some of the messages simply cannot be reconciled because of the firm’s obvious ties to ASD.
Why AVG’s Ties To ASD Matter
AVG previously listed George and Judy Harris on the website as “Trustees” of the AVG offshore “private association,” but now says the Harrises own the company.
George Harris is the stepson of AdSurfDaily President Andy Bowdoin. George Harris is the son of Bowdoin’s wife, Edna Faye Bowdoin. Judy Harris is the wife of George Harris. George and Judy Harris, Andy Bowdoin and Edna Faye BowdoinÂ are named in a federal forfeiture complaint filed in December as people who organized illegal conduct and benefited from it.
Andy Bowdoin and Edna Faye Bowdoin also are named in a lawsuit in Florida as the parties responsible for operating a massive pyramid scheme that fleeced investors, including senior citizens. Andy Bowdoin also is named a defendant in a racketeering lawsuit filed by ASD members who seek class-action certification.
Andy Bowdoin has not responded to the RICO complaint, which was filed in January. Earlier this week, the plaintiffs in the RICO case described AVG in court filings as a new iteration of ASD and autosurf schemes, listing employees and staff ASD and AVG had in common, including George Harris.
Andy Bowdoin identified George Harris last year as head of ASD’s “real estate division” in front of an audience of hundreds of people.
Federal prosecutors say Andy Bowdoin signed a proffer letter in the forfeiture case and acknowledged ASD was operating illegally when the U.S. Secret Service seized tens of millions of dollars from the company last year.
Bowdoin initially contested the forfeiture. In November, a federal judge issued a devastating ruling, saying ASD had not demonstrated it was a legal business and not a Ponzi scheme at an evidentiary hearing in the early fall.
ASD had specifically requested the hearing. The judge granted its petition to conduct the hearing in the interests of justice — of making absolutely certain that the ASD side of the Ponzi story would be told in court and considered on the merits — and federal prosecutors did not object.
About a month after the judge’s ruling, prosecutors filed a second forfeiture complaint against assets tied to ASD. This complaint named George and Judy Harris as beneficiaries of ASD’s illegal conduct, alleging that George Harris and Edna Faye Bowdoin had opened a bank account and funded it with illegal proceeds from ASD, and that George Harris later used more than $157,000 of the opening deposit to pay off the mortgage on the Tallahassee home he shares with Judy Harris.
Illegal proceeds from ASD also were used by George and Judy Harris to purchase an automobile, prosecutors said. The complaint also alleged that Andy Bowdoin had a history of collecting money through surfing schemes and that large sums of the money later would disappear.
To explain ASD’s inability to pay, Bowdoin said that Russian “hackers” had stolen $1 million from ASD and that an unspecified amount of other money also had gone missing because of script problems, prosecutors said.
But Bowdoin never reported the thefts because he did not want the scrutiny, prosecutors said. They added that he paid an employee of ASD to surf for Bowdoin’s son, so the son could benefit from ASD “rebates” while performing no actual work.
Prosecutors alleged that Bowdoin started a new iteration of ASD, moving members’ holdings from one venture to the next, while paying off his obligations to his initial investors with money that came from new participants: a textbook Ponzi scheme.
The same types of concerns now are being raised about AVG.