• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

You can buy a "Brain Machine" at the online store O2Planet.com. According to the site's promotional material, the machine uses light and sound to "induce a range of altered states of consciousness," "quickly achieve states of deep relaxation," "enhance creativity," and "improve focus and concentration." Retail price for the brain machine: $199.95.

But most of O2Planet's business comes from sales of recreational oxygen products. If you own a health club, you can lease a four-station oxygen bar from the company for $266.20 a month. After installation, charge customers a dollar a minute to inhale a "safe" mixture of pure oxygen and air. An "O2 water cooler" costs $1250 plus $150 for shipping. O2Planet promises the cooler will produce "constant saturation." Unlike porous plastic bottles that can't contain oxygen molecules very long, it says "the...generator inside the cooler keeps saturating the water with oxygen."

O2Planet's online business operates out of its Las Vegas walk-in store and is the brainchild of former San Diegans Patte and Len Purcell. After some entrepreneurial success in San Diego television and tabloid publication, the Purcells fell on hard times. They came to town from Omaha in the early 1980s. By the end of the decade, they had fallen victim to a real estate frenzy that eventually undid them. The Reader chronicled their demise in a 1995 cover story.

It was a friend who convinced the Purcells in 1988 that real estate was the path to quick riches. At first, their decisions were promising enough. They bought two La Jolla condominiums at below-market value and fixed them up largely with their own labor. The results were gains in valuation of $50,000 and $68,000.

The Purcells used the paper gains as collateral to purchase a third condominium, this one in Del Mar. Then they found the "house of their dreams," a $950,000 La Jolla property with views of the Pacific Ocean. American Savings gave them a $1 million loan, and with help from Patte Purcell's brother Greg Albracht, the couple bought the house in January 1990. They lived in it for 20 months, despite making only one of its $7829 mortgage payments. But the property was appreciating in the meantime. So the Purcells used its new $1.8 million valuation as collateral to refinance the Del Mar condominium in June 1990.

Such were the habits of many borrowers and lenders in the heyday of the late-1980s San Diego real estate boom. Drive-by appraisals were not uncommon, and lenders paid little attention to income statements. But the federal government had been getting worried that things were getting out of hand. In 1989, Congress passed the Financial Institutions Reform Recovery and Enforcement Act, which required lending institutions demand more evidence from clients that they could fulfill their credit obligations.

By this time, the Purcells' business ventures were floundering, and they put their dream house up for sale. But the now-tougher borrowing conditions kept buyers away. The Purcells also had to provide detailed statements of income and assets on several loan applications.

U.S. Justice Department attorney Corey Smith eventually noticed numerous discrepancies in 13 of the Purcells' loan applications. One application listed their monthly income as $15,000, while another said it was $150,000.

Eventually, the Purcells filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and moved to Colorado. The banks repossessed all four of their properties. In September 1993, FBI agents found Patte and Len Purcell at his brother's home in Las Vegas and arrested them on charges of conspiracy, bank fraud, and false statements on loan applications. A federal jury convicted the Purcells a year later of making the false loan statements and conspiracy to make them. They were sentenced to 37 months in federal prison.

Patte Purcell complained at the time that the government singled her out for the same thing thousands of other people were doing in the late-1980s real estate market. The government would never have brought charges against her, she said, if she had been able to keep paying for her properties. She was especially astounded at the charge of conspiracy, noting that the Purcells' so-called "plan to defraud" led them not to riches but to bankruptcy.

Last week I phoned Purcell. With her small business selling to customers all over the country, she was not eager to say much about the San Diego debacle. "I warn people now," she tells me, "to be very careful when you sit at loan officers' desks and quote them figures they copy onto an application you will sign."

Purcell also believes that a federal-court ruling subsequent to her case would have saved her from prosecution. Without being able to name it, she says the ruling declares that "business income statements on loan applications can only be considered estimates, not facts." As such, she believes, inaccuracies discovered later cannot be deemed lies.

"How did you and your husband get back on your feet after San Diego?"

"We first worked detailing cars," she says of the time the courts allowed them to live in a halfway house for good behavior in prison. Then she got back into broadcasting work, doing a metaphysical radio show from Las Vegas for Talk America called Quest for the Best.

In 1998, the Purcells entered the recreational oxygen business with O2Planet and, several years later, a licensing company called the Oxygen Experience. By acquiring a license, a customer gets discounts on O2Planet products. "Licensees can then start their own oxygen business or sell products to nightclubs, salons, and even to individuals for their homes," says Purcell. "You can do anything you want to with them." An initial investment of $10,000 is required to become licensed.

Take the Bliss Machine, for example, a unit that comes in dimensions of 9´´ by 9´´ by 9´´ or 9´´ by 14´´ by 14´´. O2Planet calls it an atmospheric conditioner for large spaces and says that it "uses vibrational cleansing to lift the energy fields of your space and being, while removing stress and blocked energy from your physical, emotional, and mental levels." The machine's retail prices range from $4199 to $9099, but a licensee gets discounts of $840 to $1820.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!