San Diego David Bendah, San Diego's mail fraudster extraordinaire, is out of prison and back at it again. Better Business Bureaus across the country are warning consumers that if they get mail from Bendah, they should turn it over to postal inspectors. "We are aware of what's going on," says Hilary Smith, postal inspector in the San Diego field office. "We know he is a recidivist, and we know what he is doing. We're interested in any type of fraud scheme he is perpetrating." But there is no formal investigation yet. The postal inspectors hope that some victims who read the Better Business Bureau reports will come forward.
In November 1999, U.S. District Judge Judith N. Keep sentenced Bendah to 41 months in prison. He had pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one of money laundering. He had been working one of his favorite old scams: the envelope-stuffing caper, in which victims believed they would get paid a tidy sum for putting pieces of paper in an envelope. But Bendah charged them an up-front fee and then, as was his wont, didn't deliver the money he had promised. He moved the proceeds to the Turks and Caicos Islands tax haven and back to a local brokerage account.
He was sprung from Lompoc federal prison in August 2001. Now he is mailing out pitches again. Letters ask consumers for permission to use their names and home addresses on a couple of business brochures. If consumers want to join this money machine, they simply have to forward the information to others. If you agree, you get a check from Bendah. But to get in on the scheme, you must pay an up-front fee of $19.90. In the past, Bendah has secretly piled other fees on top of the original up-front fee.
For example, he once had a "Venture Capital Trusts" program in which people were told they could make $5 million. But first they had to send in the $19.95 up-front fee. Bendah didn't tell them that they had to pay $138 to $5200 for brochures.
Bendah, who ran afoul of the district attorney's office in 1988, is a flamboyant character. He was featured on TV's Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. In one pitch, he said, "A few years ago, I was dead broke. I was about $50,000 in debt and worked for minimum wage.... Today, I am worth millions of dollars. I live in a 6000-square-foot home...I drive a Mercedes convertible coupe and a Cadillac." Investigators agreed that he in fact lived the high life. In a magazine article, Bendah identified his targets as "the moron market" but then denied having made the statement.
He is a prolific author of get-rich-quick books with such names as Making Five Hundred Thousand Dollars a Year in Mail Order, Cashing in on Government Auctions, Free Grant Money, Free Refunds from the U.S. Government, How to Use Your Hidden Potential to Get Rich, Hundreds of Ways to Get the Money You Need, and 25 Billion Dollar Treasure: Get Your Share of Unclaimed Government Money.