WOODLAND HILLS, Calif.—As the news that Sex.com is once again headed to the auction block gets its accustomed share of media attention, an embezzlement case involving parent company Escom LLC has received far less publicity. But the story of how almost $500,000 was stolen from a group of domain owners—including Escom—leading to a years-long lawsuit against a bank they say allowed the embezzlement, aligns perfectly with the felony-riddled history of the most notorious (and potentially valuable) domain in the world.
According to an April 20 article by Wes Perkins on dnCrunch.com, the alleged thefts took place in 2007-8, allegedly committed by a bookkeeper named Christopher Britt, who had been hired as controller in February 2007 by the Internet Real Estate Group (IREG), which was founded by Andrew Miller. Britt left the company in December 2007 but continued to provide bookkeeping services to IREG and associated companies through his firm, Priviley LLC, said Perkins. It was during this period that Britt apparently stole the money. Britt was eventually terminated in May 2008.
“In total,” wrote Perkins, “six different companies in some way connected to IREG or its principals initially claimed losses, including IREG, Phone.com LLC (formed with Mike Mann), Consultants.com LLC, Love Tactics LLC, Relationship.com LLC, and an outfit called Escom LLC.”
In October 2008, the domain owners filed a lawsuit in federal court in Massachusetts against Sovereign Bank, blaming it for allowing Britt to steal the money. According to the plaintiffs, the bookkeeper used surreptitious methods to transfer funds from their accounts into his own Priviley account.
“He deposited a number of checks made out to the plaintiffs into Priviley’s accounts and wrote checks to Priviley using forged signatures,” wrote Perkins. “He also completely closed out Escom, LLC’s accounts and managed to deposit the resulting check into his account.
“The suit alleged that Britt went into a Sovereign branch on March 4, 2008 and closed out Escom’s checking account, transferring all of the money to Escom’s money market account,” adds Perkins. “On the same day, Britt closed out the money market account and was presented with a Sovereign ‘Official Check’ in the amount of $304,849.62 made out to Escom.”
Britt was able to close out the Escom account because, according to Sovereign’s trial brief, he had been given the authority to do so by IREG President Andrew Miller and CEO Peter Hubshman, who wanted “to hide their involvement [in] a business some might find unseemly.”
Despite the claim by Sovereign that Britt had the authority to conduct the bank transactions that accounted for the theft of more than $460,000—$304,849 from Escom and $155,612 from Phone.com—the plaintiffs contend Sovereign should not have allowed Britt to deposit the $304,849 he had withdrawn from the Escom account into the Priviley account because it had not been properly endorsed and some signatures had been forged by Britt. In addition to the abovementioned losses, Consultants.com, LLC also claimed losses totaling $40,500, bringing the grand total allegedly stolen by Britt to about half a million dollars.
The lawsuit was settled in early 2010 between Sovereign and the two remaining plaintiffs, Escom and Phone.com. While the details of the settlement were not released by the court, they were made public as part of the Escom bankruptcy proceeding.
“A written consent of the non-founder members of Escom, LLC—signed by a representative of I-95 Investment Group, LLC—discloses that Sovereign Bank agreed to pay $300,000 to the plaintiffs. $60,000 of it will be used to pay legal bills, $158,400 will be paid to Escom’s President Del Anthony Polikretis in his personal capacity, and $81,600 will be paid to Phone.com,” wrote Perkins.
Britt was arrested Feb. 22 in Wolfeboro, N.H., on unrelated felonies involving theft by unauthorized taking and passing bad checks that totaled amounts far less than those in the Sovereign case. According to granitestatenews.com, “Britt was required to produce $35,000 cash or a corporate surety bond, must wear an electronic monitoring device and remain in New Hampshire.”
The GraniteStateNews article mentioned the fact that Britt also was a party in Phone.com v. Sovereign Bank, stating, “Sovereign Bank does not dispute the theft; in fact, it claims in its brief that ‘the issue in this case is whether Sovereign should bear any responsibility for the losses caused by the Plaintiffs' bad bookkeeper. While that matter comes to the federal court in Massachusetts, Britt has waived a probable cause hearing and his case is expected to go before a grand jury for indictment at the end of June.”
Phone.com v. Sovereign Bank has since been settled, of course, leaving unclear for the moment whether Sovereign Bank will go after Britt for his alleged embezzlement of half a million dollars.
Of far greater curiosity to the domain industry is the amount Sex.com will go for as the interminable saga of Sex.com nears its next chapter.