Unsavory Internet marketers, like Bonner Publishing, work hard to stay under the radar, lest their questionable claims and practices become known to an unsuspecting public. One of SDCAN’s prime directives is to direct the sanitizing spotlights on these unscrupulous marketers. Towards that end, in 2016 we became aware of a marketing empire built by Bill Bonner and began to examine his many publications and newsletters directed towards investors. Our concern: many of these investors were unsophisticated seniors who got sucked in by Bonner’s exaggerated hype. Bonner’s marketing has apparently made him a lot of money and he decided to throw it at SDCAN in the form of a bogus lawsuit filed in Florida (SDCAN is based in California). It was quite apparent that he and his attorneys knew they had no legal case, but they were probably more interested in trying to intimidate SDCAN rather than in winning. It didn’t work. Below, is the tale of a shady Internet marketing conglomerate who sought to use its money advantage over this Internet watchdog group. It is a cautionary tale for those marketers who think they can use intimidation to bury the truth about their tactics. But this story is not yet complete; we fully expect Bonner’s lawyers to try other legal tactics to silence us. Note to Bonner: it won’t work.
In or around September 2016, an SDCAN member contacted us and inquired into the legitimacy of investment claims made by Paul Mampilly who is one of the many investment publishers associated with Bonner. Others in his empire include: Agora Financial, Common Sense Publishing, Insiders Strategy Group, Laissez Faire Books, Money Map Press, NewMarket Health, OmniVista Health, Opportunity Travel, Institute for Natural Healing, Oxford Club, Stansberry & Associates Investment Research, The Daily Reckoning, Banyan Hill. SDCAN investigated the claims and practices of Plaintiffs as well as Bonner Publications, which is the publishing house owned and/or affiliated with plaintiffs. We found the fear-based marketing strategies used by these publishers to be overstated and targeted towards unsophisticated or vulnerable consumers. We were particularly concerned about how San Diego-based seniors might be impacted by plaintiffs’ representations and I sought to share my concerns with SDCAN members as well as San Diegans who might have received marketing materials by plaintiffs.
We commissioned a legal analysis of the articles by an independent attorney (and instructor at California Western School of Law). Attorney Coleen Cusack conducted an independent review of the articles as well as plaintiff’s marketing practices and concurred that the SDCAN articles were accurate and, if anything, understated. Attorney Cusack wrote: “My review finds much to affirm your professional assessment that Bonner-sponsored publications, such as Sovereign State engage in marketing strategies targeting persons susceptible to fear-mongering politics.” Ms. Cusack found that “…..Bonner has created a network of sites designed to exploit the gullibility of those who are less than diligent than I was in assessing their veracity. Each one claims to be independent of the other yet they are nothing more than different fingers of the same hand: the hand poised to take the money of people who are afraid and naïve. ”
In February 2017, SDCAN was contacted by a legal representative for plaintiffs, Sherry Flax. She asserted that the articles were defamatory and demanded that SDCAN remove them from its website. (See excerpts from our non-privileged email correspondence) However, when pressed for specifics about inaccurate facts or misstatements of law, plaintiffs’ counsel was vague. Plaintiff’s counsel asked that our communications be confidential and SDCAN declined. SDCAN voluntarily made clarifications to some of the factual assertions made in the articles so that they could not be misconstrued by any reasonable reader. However, plaintiffs’ counsel insisted that SDCAN had to remove the articles in question that referenced not only the Plaintiff’s marketing practices, but also to remove any and all articles that referenced any of the Bonner Publication newsletters. SDCAN declined and invited them to resolve the matters through litigation in California.
Bonner’s attorneys brought a complaint in Florida Federal Court. SDCAN opposed with a motion to dismiss the Bonner complaint. We added attachments that showed how Bonner’s attorneys attempted to intimidate SDCAN and how SDCAN told Bonner’s attorneys that they would lose in Florida and had no legal basis to sue anywhere but in California. Ah, but there was method to Bonner’s madness; California has established law that prohibits lawsuits targeted against consumer groups who publish true facts about unscrupulous companies. Florida has no such free speech protection. So Bonner’s attorneys wanted to avoid California law.
SDCAN stood up to Bonner’s threats and legal tactics because of our concern about older investors, many of whom are often more vulnerable to fear-messaging, or what some experts call “fright mail. Studies indicate that those over 65 are 34 percent more likely to have lost money on a financial scam than people in their 40s, according to research by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Investor Education Foundation. This joint study project finds that financial fraud, ranging from Ponzi schemes to online phishing scams and work from home schemes, swindles Americans out of billions of dollars each year to the tune of up to $40 billion to $50 billion each year. And almost 1 in 20 elderly respondents in a large 2014 study of New York residents reported being financially exploited at some point in their later lifetime. In addition, one estimate says only 1 in 44 financial fraud victims report what has happened, often out of embarrassment or fear that their children will want to take control of their finances. Financial and online fraud against aging adults are now considered the “crimes of the century” by the National Council on Aging.
On August 3rd, Federal Judge Donald Middlebrooks threw out Bonner’s case. In a strongly worded decision, the Judge found that Bonner had no legal basis to pursue SDCAN in Florida courts. In order to further harass SDCAN, Bonner will have to file a suit in California — which his attorneys may do. However, SDCAN will have the protection of anti-SLAPP laws that will further frustrate Bonner’s attorneys.