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Pyramid scheme operators banned from doing business in North Carolina

By David Bracken, Rick Rothacker and Ely Portillo
dbracken@newsobserver.com

The employees of a Kentucky-based marketing company have been banned from all multi-level marketing activities in North Carolina and ordered to repay consumers $7.75 million, Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office announced Tuesday.

Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing operated a pyramid scheme that recruited more than 350,000 participants between 2009 and 2012, including about 20,000 in North Carolina.

The company told participants they could earn tens of thousands of dollars a year by buying into an operation to sell satellite television services, home security services, beauty products and other goods, according to the AG’s office. Most made little if any money from the scheme.

Some prominent Charlotteans were caught up in the company. Longtime Charlotte television host Barbara McKay told the Observer last year she had once been a sales representative for Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing. And Donna Lewis, wife of former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, also bought into the company.

McKay said Tuesday that she hadn’t heard about the settlement and had ended her involvement with the company years before it was shut down. “I’m so far removed from that,” she said. “I left that company years ago.”

Reached by the Observer on Tuesday, Ken Lewis said his wife was no longer involved with the company.

“She was involved because of Barbara,” Lewis said. “I know Barbara did a lot of due diligence and thought they were above board.”

The ban and refund are part of a settlement approved Tuesday by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

Any North Carolina consumer who may be eligible for a refund should call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or fill out a form at www.ncdoj.gov.

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