America, being the land of opportunity and all that, certainly generates more than its share of brilliant scammers, but Eric Stein may be a candidate for the con-man hall of fame, pets division–not so much for the amount of money he stole, but for the sheer perversion of the idea itself.
Stein pleaded guilty this week to cheating investors in a company he created that claimed to find lost animals to the tune of $500,000. He was already on parole after a prison stint for an unrelated $30 million investment scheme in Nevada when he was caught.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan say Stein formed a company called Return-a-Pet LLC, which claimed to provide pet owners with access to a toll-free number staffed 24 hours a day that was included on the pet’s identification tag. Between 2007 and 2010, using the name, Robert Phillips, he sold fake franchises to people around the U.S. And overseas, including Texas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and even South Africa. He also set up fake references, people who claimed that Return-a-Pet had done a great job for them.
On at least one internet ad, the company was touted as: “a recession proof business, and a proven, reliable, low cost and non-invasive pet recovery system.” “If your pet ever goes missing, Return-a-Pet will be there,” another ad stated.
Here was Stein’s mistake: he never sent these investors the promised materials. He kept their money and simply refused to return it. That must have sent up some red flags.
Stein faces 40 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. He is scheduled for sentencing in June.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 16, 2012