By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
"I enjoy cocaine because it's a fun thing to do," Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler said in an interview last week with Comedy Central's Steven Colbert, who reminded Wexler that he could speak freely because he faces no opposition in his fall reelection bid. Was Wexler joshing, jonesing, or just giving a shoutout to one of the commodities that helped to build his home district, which covers parts of north Broward and south Palm Beach counties?
"Obviously, it is a joke and not to be taken seriously, obviously," Wexler spokesperson Lale Mamaux blurted redundantly the day after the segment aired. "In terms of friends and colleagues on the Hill, everyone thought it was absolutely hysterical."
Apparently, though, the Palm Beach Post didn't appreciate the jest; two days after the piece aired, it whacked Wexler for falling "into a comedic interviewer's trap." Damn you and your brilliant participatory satire, Colbert!
The 'Pipe, frankly, has to side with the plurality of readers of the Post's political blog who were glad to see that "the Congressman is a great sport." No wonder he's running unopposed! Apparently no Republican has the plums to run against a guy who says on national television: "I enjoy the company of prostitutes for the following reasons: Because it's a fun thing to do. Much like cocaine. If you combine the two together, it's probably even more fun."
Oh, yeah. Let's not forget to mention that Wexler was prompted, word for word, by mock-anchor Colbert. To see it yourself, go to YouTube.com and search for "Wexler Colbert." The only serious question the clip raises is just how deep Wexler is in South Florida's powerful Hos 'n' Blow lobby.
Like everybody else in this country, Tailpipe wants to get rich. And like everybody else, he wants it to come fast and effortlessly. So the 'Pipe squirmed with anticipation when he found a card from a rep for Advantage Conferences (it was perched on a gas pump in West Palm Beach), promising that he could make "$7,000 Over & Over & Over Again." How could Tailpipe resist!
The almost-clincher for the 'Pipe was the hint of divine protection the program offers. After receiving promotional materials from Mike Melvin, an Advantage Conferences emissary, the 'Pipe learned that it was a "Christ-centered business." This battered auto part wouldn't be dealing with just the hurly-burly of capitalist schemers but with an enterprise bathed in a warm, heavenly glow. All Tailpipe needed to do was ante up $10,059.90.
Based in Allen, Texas, Advantage Conferences recruits "pro reps" across the country to sell its $10,000 product, a ticket to a two-day "Millionaire Mindset Conference." That's a golden ticket. With each one you sell, you get a $7,000 commission.
You don't even have to buy the first ticket yourself, the company's promotional materials say; the only cost to participate and represent the company is a $59.95 "enrollment fee." Of course, you don't get the full $7,000 commission unless you cough up ten grand of your own money. But, hey, it's a breeze. There are already pro reps all over Florida, from Loxahatchee to Tampa to Boca Raton, who are so eager to add you to their ranks that they're leaving business cards in odd public places.
"Nobody knows about this company," says Melvin, Tailpipe's own pro rep, who declined to answer questions about his income, saying that success depends entirely on personal effort and marketing skill. The company has grown from 220 people last November to 500 today, he says.
"As it grows out, it's going to go faster," Melvin says.
You betcha. The promotional materials talk about the "infinite width" and "infinite depth" of its potential to make money, guaranteeing that it is "legal" and "federally trademarked." The visual aid the company uses is a diagram of a pyramid.
Wait a minute. This sounds familiar.
The money really starts to roll in when the folks you recruit start to recruit some candidates of their own. Advantage Conferences is run by Tim Darnell, who writes on the company's website: "You get 100% of 70% of the two training sales of everyone who comes into your business, ad infinitum." Could this be a Jesus Christ-endorsed pyramid scheme?
Darnell apparently learned the ropes of this kind of financing at Liberty League International (formerly called Big Ass Britches Holdings, LLC, according to Arizona corporation records), which sells conferences and a "multimedia personal development program" for huge fees.
Darnell left Liberty League in 2003, got Jesus' backing, and started Advantage Conferences. In May of this year, Arizona's attorney general fined Liberty League $115,000 for "tricking" consumers. Though Liberty League suggests that associates who hawk its products will earn sizable commissions, the attorney general's office found that a "majority of participants did not earn enough to cover the amount they paid to buy the products sold to them."
When the Dallas Better Business Bureau suggested last fall that Advantage Conferences might be a pyramid scheme, Darnell sued them for "defamation and business disparagement." A year later, the suit is still under way. The Florida attorney general's office hasn't received any complaints about Advantage, though if things proceed as such endeavors do, it may be only a matter of time. Consumer affairs experts say that, as would-be investors get wise to what's going on, pyramids inevitably collapse, with the pro reps at the bottom losing their own $10,000 investment.