The Grift of Gab

Stephen Tashman made a small fortune launching Telecard Dispensing Corporation. If only his investors had been so lucky.

In 1995 Tashman's business practices earned him a place in Fred Schulte's Fleeced!: Telemarketing Rip-Offs and How to Avoid Them. The book provides meaty accounts of cons and techniques utilized by less-than-scrupulous telemarketers. Two companies run by Tashman merited a full chapter.

The first involved Atlantex Associates, a North Miami Beach-based firm that sold oil and gas partnerships to investors. Similar to TDC with its pitches, Atlantex dangled declarations about low risks and big returns. According to Fleeced! Tashman and Atlantex netted more than $8 million in sales to consumers, whose returns didn't come close to what telemarketers proposed. In January 1987 the FTC sued Atlantex for misrepresentation and fraud. The agency alleged that Tashman ran the show at Atlantex, and the court fined Tashman and fellow officers more that $12 million and entered a judgment against Tashman that prohibited him from netting future income through deceptive or false representations.

A bad connection: Investor Daryl Joiner trusted TDC with thousands of his dollars
Chuck Bigger
A bad connection: Investor Daryl Joiner trusted TDC with thousands of his dollars

Unfazed, Tashman trucked on, and in the early '90s, he started Junction Financial Corporation, a Hallandale-based business that sold partnerships in an ostrich breeding and farming business.

Federal agencies claim that Junction bilked more than 1000 customers around the nation out of a cool $3 million. None of these investors ever received a slim dime of return. Junction didn't bother registering the interests they sold in the bird farm with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the company continued selling unlicensed partnerships even though the birds failed to breed. Fleeced! recounts that, when a federal auditor arrived at the end of 1993, he discovered that only a fraction of the $3.2 million invested by customers went toward the buying of birds. But the money didn't simply vanish. Fleeced! cites an SEC affidavit that hundreds of thousands of dollars flowed from Junction's accounts in the form of loans to Tashman and others.

Court documents reveal that in December 1993 the SEC charged the company with civil fraud. In its complaint the agency accuses Tashman of misusing investor funds, deceiving buyers, and failing to disclose past judgments. As he did with TDC, Tashman never listed himself as a principal in any of Junction's corporate document or filings. Still, the SEC's case was strong enough to result in yet another judgment that barred Tashman from employing any "device, scheme, or artifice" to defraud consumers. Despite the injunctions against him, the FTC alleges that Tashman surged on with his latest venture: TDC.

"You know he was really proud of it, of the fact that he's done all these securities scams and oil well scams and ostrich farm scams," says Vita Roquet, a former TDC employee who worked for Tashman for three years. "That was his thing," she remembers, then chants the mantra she says she heard numerous times from Tashman's lips: No one's ever been able to get me, and they never will.

Roquet shakes her head with disbelief as she remembers her time at TDC. As part of her duties as a payroll clerk, she frequently met with many of TDC's employees and officers and got a close look at the company's machinations.

Her and other coworkers' descriptions of Tashman befit a self-imposed lord wielding his power over an ill-gained kingdom. Bedecked in his daily attire of custom-made silk shirts and expensive Italian loafers, Tashman relished yanking employees from their duties in order to fetch him cigars or to take his mother to the grocery store. Roquet and other workers recall how Tashman's regular screaming fits filled TDC's offices; many of his employees feared his wrath. Tashman's cross hairs could settle on anyone, from his sales crew to his managers.

"Nothing ever made him happy. He would scream and yell all the time, and he would be angry with whoever, for whatever reason or no reason," recalls Roquet. "Of course, catch your umbrella, because when he starts screaming, he just spits all over everyone," she adds. Roquet refers to herself as a New York Italian who's unaccustomed to taking crap from anybody. But the job paid well, and she learned to avoid Tashman's rampages. "He would do it basically to make a scene. For attention. Like, 'I'm the boss, and I want everyone to know it, and I want everyone to remember it,'" she says.

Maybe Tashman wanted TDC employees to be aware of his rank, but he sure didn't want anyone else to be. Former workers say they were instructed never to mention his name to customers. If Tashman fielded a call, he often used the name Stephen Stone to mask his presence at TDC. "He'd tell you that he wasn't supposed to be there as an owner, because he had the injunctions against him and all the other charges," says Roquet.

She and other employees state that Tashman's legal past was familiar knowledge around the office, as was the high volume of customer complaints about machine locations and inoperable phone cards. The FTC and employee testimonies claim that Tashman controlled virtually all aspects of the company's pressure cooker environment: He hired and fired employees, wrote and revised sales scripts, governed sales meetings, and monitored phone calls and sales figures. Yet stress alone didn't drive Roquet to quit. Her decision to leave crystallized when she saw the crush of dollars that rolled like a river through Tashman's hands.

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