By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
"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.
Become a Christian entrepreneur today Tim Darnell and Mike Melvin will thank you. The 'Pipe said thanks, JC, but no thanks.
He's sitting on a mod, red couch in the hotel's lobby, wearing a Phat Farm T-shirt and texting himself reminders on his Treo. Def Jam Records founder and rap mega-impresario Russell Simmons blends in seamlessly with the 305-chic atmosphere of the Standard, South Beach, where even the housekeeping staff wears Adidas and minibars come stocked with Mr. Bubble and condoms. Simmons is here tonight to take a yoga class, and the yoga class is here to listen to him speak. What's he going to say? Damned if he knows.
"What do you tell a class of yogis that they don't already know?" Simmons says to Loren Russo, his friend and longtime yoga guru while an extremely pliable crowd begins trickling into the studio.
"Why don't you talk about the benefits?" she suggests.
"Benefits! What? That you get a yoga butt?"
At the back of the room, a dreadlocked DJ in oversized headphones begins selecting MP3s from his laptop.
"Oh! I love this song!" Simmons shouts. "I play it at home all the time! Did you know [co-Def Jam founder] Rick Rubin produced this? Thanks, DJ!" He nods along with the music not a dance jam by Timbaland but a peaceful tune by Krishna Das as though he were down the street at a Collins Avenue nightclub.
As Loren guides the class through sung prayers, accompanied by a harmonium and drums, Simmons sits lotus in the center of the now-packed studio. Now it's his moment to inspire the group, which is beginning to resemble a kindergarten class listening to a prenap story. He decides to focus his speech on distraction and how it could stop them from reaching nirvana.
"Just think," begins Simmons, "if we could keep our minds on God and think 'God in, God out' with every breath we could get in sync/operate in order. But then there's this girl in front of you with a great butt! She's in Downward Dog; I'm in Downward Dog. And you're supposed to be keeping your mind on God!"
The DJ chimes in with the Eric B & Rakim hit "Paid in Full," and the class enters a cheerful, high-energy session of asana positions, balance, and handstands.
The sweaty class scatters to the Turkish-style hammam for a little decadence and detox. Past the communal tubs and cold-water showers, the cedar-lined sauna is packed. Simmons, wearing a monk-like Standard-issue robe, is graciously regaling his bendy new entourage with stories, explaining his metamorphosis from a thug who built his fortune "promoting the anger, style, aggression, and attitude of urban America" to his current Zenned-out, vegan, yoga-addicted life.
He recalls his first yoga class in L.A. "There was lots of jewelry and fake boobs. It was all models and actresses and me." He laughs. "I said 'Yeah! Now this is yoga!' From then on, I started going every day."
The room erupts with steamy laughter. A topless girl seated across from Simmons suggests they all do some chanting. Nodding at her breasts, Simmons agrees. "All right! I'll lead it! Come on everybody." He begins a chant that's slightly more familiar than the Hindi lyrics. "You can find me in da club/Bottle full a bub..." As told to Edmund Newton