Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Crooks targeted legions of people with bad credit - - 04 Oct 2010

TAMPA — Peter Porcelli's $6.7 million mansion, perched three stories high on the sands of Belleair Beach, was called Millenium Sunset. Kyle Kimoto's ranch, set on 10 acres in St. George, Utah, featured 11 bedrooms, nine bathrooms and 6,000 square feet of air-conditioned horse stables.

Both magnificent homes have different owners now, and Porcelli and Kimoto have moved into new quarters: 8- by 12-foot federal prison cells with bunk beds and steel commodes.

Porcelli and Kimoto built fortunes with an international army of cold-callers who targeted consumers struggling with shaky credit and mortgage debt. They kept federal investigators at bay with a maze of companies where the names of corporate officers sometimes belonged to homeless people.

They thumbed their noses at regulators, calculating nominal risk in stealing $159.95 at a time — even if their victims numbered more than a half-million.

They hatched new schemes to defraud those at the end of their rope even after the Federal Trade Commission filed complaints against them. It took 15 years for the government to put them away.

Kimoto, 35, is doing 29 years in federal prison. Porcelli, 58, got 13 years and had five knocked off for testifying against Kimoto. He faces as many as 20 years more when he is sentenced in Tampa on Thursday for a foreclosure relief scam that wrecked the dreams of dozens of down-on-their-luck Floridians.

"These are two pretty bad guys that caused a lot of hurt to a lot of people,'' said David O'Toole, an FTC attorney. "They preyed on people who were facing financial distress, and they knew they were going after people who were desperate."

Amid their crimes, Porcelli and Kimoto basked in the glow of civic and sports success.

Porcelli parlayed deceptive direct-mail sales pitches — "Pack your bags'' for a free vacation that wasn't so free — into annual revenue of $42 million. His Marketing Response Group was nominated for the Tampa Chamber of Commerce small business of the year. He poured his profits into his Tampa Bay Smokers, a fast-pitch softball team stocked with recruits he put on his company payroll. The Smokers won world championships in 1996 and 1998.

Kimoto was a record-setting college pitcher with the Southern Utah T-Birds who ended his professional baseball career with a Frontier League team called "the Steal." His wife, Juliette, was crowned Mrs. Nevada in 2006, and Kimoto, a father of six who generously supported churches and charity, was named "Husband of the Year."

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