"Business Opportunity" Scam Ends With Federal Prosecution

July 5, 2011

According to federal prosecutors, beginning in approximately January 2003, Robert Nicol and his accomplices promoted business opportunities to consumers across the country under the business name Table Top Vending Inc. and, later, Gold Star Vending Inc. If you were unlucky to come across this scam, you were told that you were being presented with everything necessary to operate a profitable business - and all for a somewhat modest fee that you would easily make back amidst your windfall of profits.

In hindsight, when you have the luxury of sitting at your desk with a nice cup of coffee and a fresh donut reading about this, you will likely wince and shake your head. However, to be fair, in the eye of the storm of high pressure sales and far too many desperate, unemployed folks just trying to make an honest buck, well, sometimes, what's too good to be true just doesn't ring the alarm bells. The business that Nicol and associates were touting was one that promised you the opportunity to place table top games into restaurant and other locations. Your income would come from all the coins deposited into those devices. And the con artists behind this scam would tell you that this wasn't just chump change - this was highly profitable.

Hey, I just report this stuff so don't ask me why anyone would invest in a table-top game. Maybe there's money in such things. I dunno. However, if you were diligent enough to want to check out the references on this deal, Nicol and other salesmen would give you the contact information for supposedly highly-successful investors. The only problem with these reference is that they were fakes - phony names, bogus stories.

What was the tab for the defrauded investors from this one? Would you believe over $5 million?

Following the execution of a search warrant in February 2007 on the office of Gold Star Vending by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Nicol fled the U.S. About three years later in March 2010, he was apprehended in the Philippines, which deported him back to the U.S.

On October 21, 2008, Robert Nicol, Andrew Vogen, Michele Benitez and George Hustus were charged by federal criminal indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Robert Nicol also was charged with three counts of wire fraud. The charges were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami.

  • On February 25, 2009, Michelle Benitez was sentenced to five years probation with 6 months home confinement with electronic monitoring and $38,790 in restitution;
  • On February 25, 2009, George Hustus was sentenced to three months imprisonment, three years supervised release, and $51,998 in restitution;
  • Melissa Brewster was sentenced to fifteen days imprisonment followed by four months house arrest with electronic monitoring and $101,760 restitution
  • On June 4, 2009, Andrew Vogen was sentenced to 24 months' imprisonment, 3 years' supervised release and $203,379.50 in restitution.
  • November 15, 2010, Seth Lehrenbaum was sentenced to 78 months' imprisonment and three years of supervised release for his role as the owner-operator of the Global Brands Corporation business opportunity scheme and as the chief locator, phony reference, and provider of phony references at the Gold Star Vending, Inc. business opportunity scheme.  Lehrenbaum was ordered to pay over $950,000 in restitution to victims of the two schemes.  His sentence is to be served consecutively to a term of imprisonment that he is currently serving for his involvement in an unrelated business opportunity scheme;
  • Charles Nicol (Nicol's son), who served as a Table Top Vending and Gold Star Vending salesmen, was sentenced to 41 months in prison; and
  • Nicol was sentenced on June 28, 2011,  to 125 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay more than $5.2 million in restitution to his victims.

Summer Reading

To learn more about Business Opportunity scams, shams, and frauds, read about these recent federal cases:

Business Opportunity Fraud