Albion Monitor /Features
 Fortuna: Part 2 of 3
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The Cloud in the Silver Lining

by Paul deArmond

Bridging the gap between Christian Patriot and New Age believers

Fortuna's Common Law Connections At least two aspects of The Fortuna Alliance showed influence of the white supremacist Christian Patriot movement. Membership applications included "common law" provisions, similar to Freemen and Sovereign Citizen documents. And upper-level members were promised "specialized knowledge" in ways to protect assets through means such as "pure trusts," the name for a Christian Patriot tax dodge that believers hope will protect them from the IRS seizures.

As explained in an earlier Albion Monitor series on the Freemen, tax resistance through pseudo-legal "common law" documents are keystones in the growing Christian Patriot movement -- and often used to lure newcomers into the fold.

Without exception, every Fortuna member contacted by this writer expressed disbelief that it would be using tricks learned from Christian Patriot white supremacy. But not all Christian Patriots are hillbillies carrying Bibles and assault rifles, as painted by the media during the "Justus Township" standoff in Montana.

According to University of Idaho sociologist James Aho, Christian Patriots tend to have slightly higher educational and financial status than their neighbors. And nor did the New Age aspect of Fortuna Alliance didn't conflict with the Christian Patriot pseudo-legal philosophy. In Whatcom County, the two best known Christian Patriot tax resisters are a right-wing veterinarian -- and a New Age used bookstore owner.

Fortuna promoters could encourage prospective investors to call any of the consumer protection groups without the slightest fear of exposure

Many doubts about Fortuna existed from the beginning in Bellingham's New Age subculture, although it wasn't considered polite to "be negative" about what made other people happy. At the same time, friends and acquaintances of people being solicited by Fortuna were suspicious, but there wasn't much anyone could do. Washington state law provides penalties for defaming a business.

At the same time, authorities are restricted from making any comment -- either positive or negative -- about a "business opportunity" without an official finding. In particular, employees of Washington Attorney General's Office of Consumer Protection are subject to criminal sanctions should they offer an opinion about a "business opportunity" without a formal finding. As of this writing, no such finding has been issued by the Attorney General's office.

One result is that Fortuna promoters could encourage prospective investors to call any of the consumer protection groups without the slightest fear of exposure. Absent any legal action by the authorities, none of these groups could make any statement about Fortuna without assuming both civil and criminal liability should Fortuna be operating in a legal manner.

Consumers calling the Better Business Bureau's toll-free number reach an automated voice-mail system which demands a credit card number for billing purposes. The voice mail system announces a four dollar charge when an operator is summoned and a three dollar charge when a report on a company is selected. Unlike the National Fraud Information Center's toll free hotline, the Better Business number was never busy when it was called. In order to serve the public better, the Better Business Bureau has also installed a "900" number which generates a flat four dollar charge -- for those who do not have a credit card.

The lack of adequate consumer protection services resulted in the local Chamber of Commerce fielding roughly ten calls a week about Fortuna. "Doug Brooks was their fireman," said Robert Janyk, development director for the Chamber. "Doug was hired by Augie to handle P.R."

Janyk described a single visit by Brooks to the Chamber of Commerce, where he arrived with promotional materials in response to repeated calls from the Chamber asking about Fortuna's lack of local and state tax registration. Brooks appeared at the Chamber of Commerce after Fortuna registered to pay Bellingham Business and Occupation tax on March 29. According to the form, Fortuna wasn't yet a working business, and wouldn't start for two more days -- on April Fool's Day.

"The reason he came in to see us was that we were telling people that they weren't registered with the city, and that that's all we knew about them," Robert Janyk said. Janyk repeatedly asked that Fortuna meet the requirements for joining the Chamber of Commerce. Fortuna never agreed to join the Chamber, which requires members to have a valid business registration and to work 20 hours a week to in order to qualify for the Chamber's medical plan.

"I'd tell them [potential investors] that if it sounded too good to be true, it probably was," said Janyk.

The Chamber of Commerce referred people to the Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General's office and the Bellingham Police for more information about Fortuna. According to Janyk and others at the Chamber, this lead to several call from Brooks, threatening legal action against the Chamber. These calls only heightened the feelings of Janyk and others that there was something not right about Fortuna -- but because of the legal situation, there was little that they could do except wait for the authorities to act.

Fortuna also charged ahead on the Internet

Meanwhile, Fortuna continued its booming business. While in December 1995, they had approximately 1,500 "profit centers" (shares), just five months later there were reportedly around 26,000 -- and this number should be taken as a lower limit, since Fortuna had fallen seriously behind in their record keeping. (After the FTC action, statements on the Internet attributed to Fortuna claimed over 40,000 members, but like many of the other statements this seems unlikely, and won't be clarified until after the receiver submits his reports to federal court.)

Fortuna catalog But by the end of May, not all were happy in paradise, however. The launch date had been pushed up several times, finally to mid-July -- five months after the date promised to pioneer members. There were also grumblings about the Fortuna catalog of product and services; where the company was supposed to be selling useful, everyday stuff, the catalog had $19 t-shirts and $20 pens emblazoned with the Fortuna logo, vitamins, gee-gaws, and magic devices guaranteed to double your gas milage.

It didn't really matter that a few were unhappy; there were lots of new members coming in, and always, there were the piles and piles of money. No matter how hard they tried -- and they tried very hard -- the volunteers just couldn't keep up.

Fortuna also charged ahead on the Internet. The 30 Fortuna pages found in March on the World Wide Web became 100 in April, and about 200 by May. The Fortuna Alliance was attracting lots of attention.

And it also attracted the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which obtained a temporary restraining order from the U.S. District Court on May 28. In the eyes of the FTC, there was no question: Fortuna was an illegal pyramid scam.

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Albion Monitor July 22, 1996 (

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