LEXINGTON, N.C. (AP) — KEY PLAYERS:
Paul Burks: Former country music disc jockey, nursing home magician and multilevel marketer. He created several online companies before Zeekler.com, a penny auction site based in Lexington, N.C.
Dawn Wright-Olivares: Burks' longtime friend, multilevel marketer with blog called Hippie Diva Memoirs. Appointed Zeekler's chief operating officer, she was the company's public face at meetings. She currently hosts a weekly internet radio show on multilevel marketing.
A multibillion dollar industry where people sell products directly to consumers. Marketers receive a commission on their sales — and a portion of the sales generated by people they recruit to sell the product. The more people they recruit, the more money they make.
Zeekler: A penny auction site. Unlike auction sites like eBay where bidding is free, penny auctions make bidders pay to play. Each bid costs up to a $1 — and increases the price of the product by a penny. Consumer groups warn that customers could place hundreds of bids — spend more than the value of the product itself - and walk away empty-handed.
ZeekRewards: Investment arm of Zeekler. People bought bids that could only be used on Zeekler — and had to give them away to promote the penny auction site. In return, they were promised a portion of Zeekler's daily profits.
At $600 million, ZeekRewards is one of the biggest investment scams in U.S. history. That list includes Bernard Madoff, who was sentenced to a 150-year prison term after revealing that he used his investment advisory business to cheat thousands of investors of roughly $20 billion in a multi-decade fraud.
Investigators are trying to recover hundreds of millions of dollars. That includes recouping money from people who received ZeekRewards checks.