Pyramid scheme busted

THE Federal Court has imposed penalties totalling $200,000 on three individuals for their illegal participation in the pyramid selling scheme TVI Express.

"Pyramid selling schemes are not legitimate businesses but scams promising the rewards of easy money that never arrives," Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said.

"People who are tempted to take part in pyramid selling should note the serious penalties they could face."

The Federal Court's decision marks the end of the ACCC's action against Lualhati Jutsen (also known as Teddi Jutsen), Tina Brownlee and David Scanlon for participating in a pyramid selling scheme.

The court ordered that Ms Jutsen pay a penalty of $90,000. Ms Brownlee was ordered to pay $80,000 and Mr Scanlon $30,000.

Justice Nicholas found that Ms Jutsen's contravention was serious and a substantial penalty was warranted.

In relation to both Ms Jutsen and Ms Brownlee, Justice Nicholas found it difficult to accept Ms Jutsen's submission that she should be regarded as a victim of the scheme.

He also did not give any weight to Ms Brownlee's submission that she blamed the ACCC for not warning her that participation in the scheme was unlawful.

The court made declarations, granted injunctions for five years restraining all three from engaging in similar conduct and ordered that they pay the ACCC's legal costs.

In November 2011, Justice Nicholas found that the respondents breached the law by participating in the TVI Express scheme. The TVI Express scheme was promoted through various websites including the site and the TVI Express Oz group on The TVI Express scheme extended throughout Australia and internationally.

People who wished to participate in the scheme were required to pay a membership fee of $330. Once an individual had paid the $330, they received a 'travel certificate' and the opportunity to receive commission payments for recruiting other people into the scheme.

The court found that the vouchers were of little to no value and that the only way a person could earn income from their participation in the scheme was from recruiting new members.

Pyramid schemes may be identified, in part, by the extent to which the membership fee, or participant payment, bears a reasonable relationship to the value of goods or services that participants are entitled to be supplied under the scheme.

The ACCC's case commenced in May 2010, at a time when Ms Jutsen, Ms Brownlee and Mr Scanlon were actively and heavily promoting the scheme in Australia and planning to travel to New Zealand to recruit more members.

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