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Clarksville Ponzi Schemer Sentenced to 90 Months

2 min read

Federal prosecutors in North Carolina are winding up the case of ZeekRewards, an online Ponzi scheme that collected $850 million from 900,000 in-vestors in two and a half years, and two Clarksville residents were sentenced in the case last week.

Dawn deBrantes, 48, was sentenced to 90 months in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution, although the amount has not yet been fixed. DeBrantes was charged in December 2013 and pleaded guilty to one count of investment fraud conspiracy and one count of tax fraud conspiracy.

Her 34-year-old stepson, Daniel C. Olivares, was sentenced to 24 months in prison. He had pleaded guilty to one count of investment fraud conspiracy.

Paul Burks, who owned the North Carolina business that operated ZeekRewards, was convicted in July of four counts — wire and mail fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, and tax fraud conspiracy — after a three-week trial. He has not yet been sentenced.

ZeekRewards was the advertising division of a penny auction website called Zeekler.

According to federal prosecutors, investors were told that Zeekler was “generating massive retail profits” from penny auctions, and that investors could share in the profits by investing in ZeekRewards. Some investors were guaranteed a 125 percent return.

“Instead, approximately 98 percent of all incoming funds came from victim-investors, which were then used to make Ponzi-style payments to earlier victim investors,” according to a press release issued by Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.

DeBrantes, then known as Dawn Wright Olivares, was the chief operating officer of ZeekRewards, and Daniel Olivares was its senior technology officer.

DeBrantes and a company in her name received approximately $7.2 million from the scheme’s victims, while Olivares received approximately $3.1 million, according to court documents.

Dozens of letters to U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn Jr. described deBrantes as a kind and loving friend, mother, wife, businesswoman and mentor. In Clarksville, she operated a sort of combination health food store and vape shop called the Healthy Hog.

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