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FundAmerica’s Founder Ordered to Give Up Passport

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Florida judge presiding over a criminal case against FundAmerica founder Robert T. Edwards ordered the Newport Beach resident to surrender his passport Wednesday but denied the prosecution’s request to increase his $1-million bail.

Edwards is facing charges of organized fraud, securities fraud and running an illegal lottery or pyramid scheme in Florida. Authorities claim that FundAmerica bilked consumers out of $8.2 million. If convicted, Edwards could receive 65 years in jail.

Florida’s statewide prosecutor sought to increase Edward’s bail because of concern he might flee the United States. In seeking the increase, authorities noted that he had wired more than $11 million to foreign entities before his arrest last month and that he had a prior record of trouble with authorities on three continents.

But Circuit Court Judge Robert Conrad decided the $1-million bail was sufficient.

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The judge, however, placed a few additional restrictions on Edwards, who is living in a rented home near Balboa Island. For instance, Edwards, 49, had to surrender his passport and must provide the court with an itinerary at least 72 hours in advance before returning to his native Canada.

Edwards’ appearance in court in Orlando marked his first public appearance since his arrest July 19.

FundAmerica is under investigation in several states, including California, for allegedly operating illegal pyramid schemes. Florida is the only jurisdiction which has filed formal charges against the company.

The company--which recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors--has tried to distance itself from its former president, including cutting off all communications with him.

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FundAmerica’s new management has steadfastly maintained that the company is a legitimate business. Company officials describe it as a consumer club offering members discounts on services such as travel and long-distance phone calls.

Besides the criminal charges, Edwards is facing the prospect of paying a $20.4 million fine sought earlier this week by Florida Atty. Gen. Bob Butterworth.

He has until Sept. 4 to contest the attorney general’s administrative action judgment. Edwards has said they will fight Butterworth’s action and seek to litigate the matter in court.

Edwards is scheduled to be arraigned today on the criminal charges, and a trial date is expected to be set.

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“Mr. Edwards intends to stay and vigorously fight these serious charges,” his attorney, Neal Sonnett, said in a statement. “We look forward to the trial of this case, and total vindication.”


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