Scams and shams — December 2017

The founder of a multinational church network is suspected of running a shady fundraising program, while an investigation is expected to reveal the dark side of college basketball.


Cher wants her share of drug op

Cher might like her men short, but not so her stocks; especially when they’re shorted prematurely. The singer is suing Los Angeles billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong because, she says, he tricked her into selling shares in a biopharmaceutical company, Altor, for far less than the stocks were worth, because he had inside dope that suggested the price was about to skyrocket; and he wanted them all for himself. The lawsuit alleges fraudulent concealment and breach of fiduciary duty and Cher wants to be remunerated for damages, attorney fees and costs. She bought her stake in the company in 2013. The lawsuit did not say how much she paid for her minority stake. Soon-Shiong is a major stockholder of media company Tronc Inc., which owns the Los Angeles Times.


Cheating for heaven’s sake

Jane Whaley

While Word of Faith Fellowship Church founder Jane Whaley calls her fundraising program “God’s Plan,” law-enforcement agencies call it worth investigating. Several former church members have told local law-enforcement officials that, under threat of corporal punishment, they were forced to make hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of fake EI claims and the money went to the church. The whistleblowers also say Whaley imported illegal workers from Brazil to work “like slaves” around the church’s rural North Carolina headquarters. Whaley, 77, and her husband, Sam, founded the church in 1979. They have about 750 congregants in the US and about 2,000 more in Brazil, Ghana and other countries. Charges are yet to be laid.


Put me in coach

“The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one — coaches at some of the nation’s top programs taking cash bribes, managers and advisers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes and employees of a global sportswear company funneling cash to families of high school recruits.” That’s how Manhattan US Attorney Joon H. Kim described an FBI case that has led to multiple charges against four university basketball coaches, two Adidas marketing reps, a clothing company founder and three athletic advisers, following a “wide-ranging” investigation. Among the scams: bribing star high-school athletes to attend colleges affiliated with Adidas products. The expected investigation will reveal, according to one source, “the dark belly of college basketball.”


Diagnosis: ill-gotten gains

Without admitting of any wrongdoing or apologizing, a Massachusetts-based company has agreed to “disgorgement of ill-gotten gains;” i.e., it’ll give US$3.3 million plus US$500K in interest back to customers and pay a US$9.2-million fine to the US securities commission. The company, Alere Inc., which describes itself as a “global manufacturer of rapid point-of-care diagnostic tests,” was accused of accounting fraud and bribery. “Our securities laws give investors the right to a fair picture of public companies’ finances,” said Paul Levenson of the SEC’s Boston regional office. “For Alere, that picture was distorted by multiple accounting failures and by outright fraud.” Days after the payout was announced, Alere was purchased by the global medical giant Abbott Labs for about US$5 billion.