The Grift of Gab

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

Court documents allege that Rock Sound purchased all of TDC's assets and none of its liabilities. Bankruptcy court filings claim that the transfer was nothing more than a ruse to defraud creditors and insulate TDC's assets from adverse judgments in its current battle with the FTC.

Based on Tashman's past maneuvers with Atlantex and Junction Financial, the court might be onto something. Both companies filed for bankruptcy shortly after federal agencies commenced litigation. By the time Junction made its way through bankruptcy court, only 2.4 percent of the secured claims filed against the company were paid to 812 claimants for a modest total of $53,212.46. Fleeced! states that Atlantex managed to avoid paying its investors and its $12 million court-ordered fine because regulators were unable to find the company's assets after it filed.

And the beat goes on. Former TDC staffers told New Times that even as Tashman's fate unfolds in federal court, he runs Prepaid Technologies at 6100 Hollywood Blvd. The company sells phone cards and point-of-sale machines that activate the cards with long-distance minutes. On several separate occasions, New Times observed Tashman's black convertible Mercedes parked steps away from Prepaid's offices and even heard employees speaking of him as they broke for lunch. The FTC says that it's aware of Tashman's presence at Prepaid, but the federal agency refused to comment any further because of its pending legal actions against him.

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

At the present time, the trial's postponed because of scheduling conflicts, and the defense has yet to present its case. Although Tashman and his attorneys refuse to answer questions about the trial, federal court filings show the defense is attempting to negate many of the FTC's allegations. The defendants deny that they enticed customers to buy their business ventures through misrepresentations about earnings potential. They also deny offering exclusive territories and claim they accurately disclosed the legal histories of TDC executives.

The defense does name Tashman as the general manger of TDC, and it does state that "consumer complaints have been satisfied." The defense responds to the FTC's allegations that TDC didn't help customers find locations for their machines as promised by stating that the company offered only a secretarial service charged solely with scheduling appointments for customers, who would then place their machines themselves. The defendants also claim that the permanent injunction sought by the FTC against them was "inappropriate" because the defendants are no longer selling business opportunities and are unlikely "to continue to injure consumers and harm the public interest."

The FTC says that the trial might resume again in June or even later. In the interim Tashman's luck might evaporate. Codefendants Cohen and Mishkin have switched allegiances and agreed to testify on behalf of the FTC. Since both men have worked with Tashman for years, their accounts of Tashman's modus operandi could prove convincing. And damning.

Regardless Tashman's survival instincts remain intact. Nothing escapes his attention. During a TDC investor's testimony, his scrutiny switches from the stand to the back of the courtroom. Someone he's never seen before has ducked in while his back was turned. That someone, a New Times reporter, now scrawls in her notebook. Tashman stares. Hard. During a recess he loiters by the elevator until she approaches, then he jumps in just as the doors shut.

"Who are you?" he asks. He's not aggressive, but he's determined. During the brief three-floor ride down to the lobby, names and introductions are exchanged. Once the elevator opens, one of Tashman's bevy of attorneys materializes and instructs him not to speak to the press. But at this moment, Tashman can't help but spout a quick bit of self-promotion.

"TDC pioneered telemarketing. Before us there was nothing," he boasts. Keeping vigil nearby, the attorney adds to Tashman's shtick.

"This man's a pioneer!" he booms, and leads Tashman away to the parking lot, where the defense's contingent of dark suits and cell phones churns about. Tashman whips his phone out as well, dials a number, then lights a thin cigar he's popped into his mouth. He strolls about laughing and blowing smoke, seemingly undaunted by the press or the possible outcome of the trial.

Contact Emma Trelles at her e-mail address:

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