Life of luxury continued after government shut company down - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

For former CEO, life of luxury continued after government shut company down

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found the former CEO of a company shut down by the Federal Trade Commission for scamming the sick and uninsured is now accused by his new business associates for improperly billing thousands of customers' credit cards.

Those business associates have now gone to the FBI with their concerns.

Our investigation found even though Tim Thomas, the former CEO of United Benefits of America, was ordered in 2011 by the FTC to liquidate more than $1 million of his assets to pay back his former customers, he later returned to a life of luxury, including living in a home in the Brentwood Country Club and posing with women in front of a private plane.

The Channel 4 I-Team began to investigate UBA in 2009, when we worked with current and former employees to record hidden camera video of Thomas' employees training workers to lie to uninsured customers by using the so-called "TAFT method."

One employee can be heard describing TAFT as "Tell them [customers] any f------ thing."

UBA's customers, many of whom were suffering from cancer or AIDS, needed health insurance and thought that's what they were buying, but instead they were getting medical discount cards that barely paid expenses.

After our investigations aired, the FTC and the Tennessee Attorney General's Office shut down UBA and sued, stating in the lawsuit that Thomas' company deceived consumers and bilked them out of millions of dollars.

"What makes this especially appalling is that it put people's lives in danger," said Olha Rybakoff, senior counsel for the state attorney general's office, in 2010.

Thomas' former customers, employees and even government investigators thought the public dismantling of UBA would teach a lesson to the man who once lived in a mansion in the Governor's Club.

But, at some point, Thomas went back to the good life. Photographs obtained by the Channel 4 I-Team show Thomas posing with beautiful women in front of a private plane and throwing an extravagant children's party outside his home in the Brentwood Country Club.

After UBA's demise, businessmen and investors told the Channel 4 I-Team that Thomas encouraged them to open up membership companies, with Thomas serving as their consultant and billing manager.

But several months after those companies opened, the businessmen said Thomas was improperly billing their customers, repeatedly running their credit cards.

"He [Thomas] made us believe he was a changed man. And he played on our emotions," said J.D. Holt, who invested in one of the new companies.

Both businessman Steve Dickerson and Holt's boyfriend, who asked not to be identified, said Thomas came to them with the idea of opening membership companies, through which customers would be billed once a month for access to services like ID theft protection and computer repair.

Thomas was familiar with the membership world. In its lawsuit against Thomas, the FTC wrote that UBA ultimately sold memberships to benefits associations that offered medical discounts of little to no value.

Like UBA, the new membership companies would also use call centers to find customers.

But then the business associates said customers started canceling by the thousands, and an independent audit shows Thomas was repeatedly billing customers several times in one month.

One of the associates showed the Channel 4 I-Team a contract showing that Thomas was in charge of billing.

"I went to him and said, 'I'm not a thief, and my company's not going to steal from people. We're not doing this.' And he assured me he would get it taken care of," the associate said.

When customers continued to cancel, the associates hired a data analyst out of Texas.

"I'll never forget because he said, 'I hope you are sitting down because you're gonna need a chair when I tell you this,'" said Holt.

The analyst confirmed to the Channel 4 I-Team what he told the associates that Thomas and one his employees were charging customers repeatedly. In one case, a customer was billed 17 times, according to the analyst.

"If you're a customer paying $29.95, and then all of a sudden you're billed $29.95 today, $29.95 tomorrow, the next day, you're gonna call the bank and you're gonna scream fraud," said Dickerson.

One of the associates received a letter from the attorney general in Minnesota, stating a customer there had been billed four times in one month.

"It was fear when you get a letter from the attorney general's office," the associate said.

"That's why we went straight to the FBI," Dickerson said.

Holt even got a letter from the FBI identifying her as a potential victim because she invested in the company and lost substantial money.

"There are so many victims out there," Holt said.

The Channel 4 I-Team went to Thomas' last known address in the Brentwood Country Club and found most of the furniture had been removed.

We also called one of his phone numbers. A man identifying himself as Tim Thomas answered, and when we explained what we were investigating, he hung up.

Both former associates, along with the data analyst out of Dallas, confirmed to the Channel 4 I-Team that they have spoken to the FBI.

A spokesman for the FBI could not confirm nor deny if they were investigating.

A few weeks ago, the U.S. attorney's office in Nashville requested all of the stories the Channel 4 I-Team has done on Thomas.

Thomas has not been charged with any crime, and it's unclear if the FBI will take any action.

The associates closed their companies and said all of the customers were paid back when they were charged improperly. But because there were so many cancellations, the banks charged the associates substantially with fees.

Dickerson said the entire debacle cost him more than $1 million.

Copyright 2014 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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