The Grift of Gab

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

One of Roquet's responsibilities was counting cash payments sent by customers through overnight delivery services. She says she was then required to take the money downstairs to the First Union branch that operated within the same building as TDC. Under Tashman's instructions Roquet made sure that deposits were bundled in no more than $9000 increments. "Anything $10,000 and over, you'd have to register with the government. So he'd make sure that I'd split it up. I'd make a few trips during the day," she says.

Roquet also brought money back from the bank and delivered customers' payments on a weekly basis to Tashman, who she says divided large wads of cash among himself and other TDC executives. Sometimes Tashman simply took the money and locked it in his credenza. When enough money accumulated, Tashman notified his assistant. "She usually would grab me and say, come on, we have to go downstairs. And we'd go down in the elevator, and she would put the cash in safe-deposit boxes, probably $200,000 to $300,000 at a time," says Roquet. She says she witnessed at least five trips with similar amounts in the last six months that she worked at TDC. The FTC bolsters Roquet's account and claims in court documents that much of TDC's business was conducted by cash transactions, with large amounts of cash placed in safe-deposit boxes.

Although Roquet cut paychecks to Tashman for the meager amount of $500 per week, she also processed paychecks for Mariland Tashman -- Steve Tashman's ex-wife -- for $9000 a week. According to Roquet and other ex-employees, Mariland Tashman was rarely seen at TDC offices and had no role in the company's daily operations. New Times was unable to reach her for comment.

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

Shortly before Roquet left her job in the summer of 1998, she counted the biggest chunk of change she'd seen since she began working at TDC. Roquet says that at seven o'clock one morning, Tashman strolled in with a briefcase filled with rolls of large bills. Roquet claims she counted every last one. The final sum was $2,000,000.

She had seen enough. Roquet quit her job without having another one lined up and proceeded to contact the FBI.

"I called because of the goings-on, because of the complaints, the people getting ripped off, because of the cash flow that was going through there that wasn't being reported," she says. "Something was very, very wrong."

Roquet says she gave the FBI an earful, and they subsequently asked her if she would wear a wire while speaking with a TDC reference person. Roquet complied. She says that the reference was taped admitting that the machines about which she raved to potential TDC investors were still in her closet. The FBI would not comment on the case.

Roquet says that what bothers her most about her time at TDC is the number of customers misled, ripped off, and ultimately discarded. Roquet personally answered hundreds of desperate calls from investors. She vividly recalls one woman who used her husband's life insurance money to buy dispensing machines. "They told her how much money she'd make and how she'd be fine for the rest of her life. And the machines were still in her garage. They were never placed, and no one would talk to her," she recalls.

"How do you do that to someone? How do you close your eyes at night?" Roquet asks.

Malek Brouri, a former locator for TDC, offers an answer. "They do what they want. They don't care about anybody; they don't have a heart. The only thing they want is money -- who has more money and who has the biggest scam," says Brouri, who worked with Roquet at TDC from 1996 through the spring of 1997.

The "they" to whom Brouri refers are Tashman and his codefendants. During his tenure with the company, Brouri also observed TDC's procedures and says that much of the information provided to customers was misleading. "I did more than my job. [But] whatever they were promising them was too much," recounts Brouri, who confirms customers' accounts of hyped profits. He states that the exclusive territories promised to investors were lies. "They sell to anybody who wants to buy," he remembers.

Because Brouri worked with the company's closers, at times he even heard them harassing references if they were too accurate about their sales numbers. Brouri also witnessed closers cursing and hanging up on indecisive customers as well as loaders dumping their last minute "bargains" on the unsuspecting.

"It became stressful. The more machines they sold, the more customers they'd get," says Brouri and adds that once locations became scarce and customers discovered they weren't making the money they were promised, the office was inundated with phone calls from irate investors.

Brouri became disgusted and left TDC in April 1997.

Then he contacted the FBI. Brouri says the agency didn't respond to him until a full year later. When agents finally arrived, he informed them of what transpired at TDC. Eventually the FTC contacted him at the end of 1998 and asked him to testify against Tashman and TDC. Brouri gladly agreed. "I'm not afraid. I don't have a problem talking; that's my nature," he says.

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