In May, Options Media Group Holdings Inc., a tiny Boca Raton tech company, scored a major endorsement: Justin Bieber came out in support of the company's app that shuts down phones while you're driving, preventing someone from texting behind the wheel. The app is called PhoneGuard, and Bieber was quoted in a news release in support of it and called texting and driving "tragic."
But the Pulp has learned that the company Bieber partnered with doesn't share his rosy public persona. The man who created the software has a criminal record that includes being part of a stolen-car ring, according to documents. And analysts have questioned the finances of Options Media, which had almost no money in the bank and a reported $10 million in losses.
Anthony Sasso, creator of PhoneGuard, said his racketeering conviction is in the past, and he downplayed his role in the car-theft ring. "I'm a convicted felon," he
said from the company's Boca office. "What else?"
Sasso said he owned a home and car audio installation company in 2004 and was approached by a former customer who needed a bill of sale from a past purchase after his car had been stolen. "All of a sudden, the feds swoop in and say I'm part of this ring," Sasso said.
That account differs from the one told by a task force of investigators from around South Florida and the state of Indiana. Investigators who worked on "Operation Money Car" claim Sasso was part of a conspiracy to sell stolen and "insurance give-up" cars on used-car lots using bogus vehicle identification numbers and forged documents.
Sasso says his limited involvement in the case meant he was given just two years' probation while the others convicted in the deal received jail time. The detailed court records were not available from the Broward County courthouse.
As of Monday, Sasso was listed in PhoneGuard's annual report as the company's president, and a man who answered the phone at the company and identified himself as a spokesman confirmed that.
However, when Options Media CEO Scott Frohman learned from the Pulp on Monday about Sasso's criminal record, he said he asked Sasso to resign. Sasso will also no longer have voting rights as a stockholder and will have no relationship with the company, Frohman said.
"Anthony brought a lot to the table as far as being a visionary," Frohman said. "And as far as being a humanitarian, he's brought a lot to the world by seeing the problem with texting and driving."
In addition to Sasso's past, financial analysts have questioned whether Bieber teamed up with a company with little chance to succeed. Option Media's latest Securities and Exchange Commission report says the company had enough cash to survive 45 more days and a stock value of about 2 cents per share (the value has since risen to 3 1/2 cents per share).
Penny stocks blogger Timothy Sykes also questioned OPMG's ability to compete against other, better-funded apps that do the same thing. Worse, the company has only licensed the technology from another company. Sykes wrote: "I HAD to expose this joke of a company, to help the many thousands of bagholders who are too incompetent and illiterate to do this kind of research, inevitably putting their meager life savings into this 'Justin Bieber stock.'"
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Bieber's publicist, Melissa Victor, didn't return an email and phone call to her New York office. In May, Options Media sent out a news release to announce the deal with Bieber that quoted the pop star as saying: "Every night we perform we have a banner that goes up that says 'Don't Text and Drive' so it really means a lot to me. We are planning to continue to give $1 from every ticket sold to this cause and the addition of PhoneGuard to this team will help us expand our efforts even further."
It's not clear if that $1 per ticket is going straight to PhoneGuard, but the company might need it.