Fraud and Public Companies and Share prices and Criminal Charges and Law

Dan Laikin on sidelines as others admit guilt in stock-manipulation scheme

April 27, 2009
Carmel businessman Dan Laikin finds himself in the awkward spot of denying wrongdoing at the same time the three men accused of conspiring with him in a stock-manipulation scheme are admitting guilt.

Laikin, 46, stepped down as CEO of National Lampoon Inc. in December after federal prosecutors accused him, a Las Vegas-based consultant and two East Coast stock promoters of conspiring to artificially pump up the Los Angeles-based company's paltry stock price.

Laikin—who moved to L.A. several years ago to lead the entertainment company but now is back in Carmel—pleaded not guilty during his initial court appearance April 14. A jury trial is scheduled for June 10. If convicted on all charges, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

If he sticks with his plea and the case goes to trial, he won't have the benefit of a united front. The first defendant to cave was Eduardo Rodriguez, a 49-year-old stock promoter in Livingston, N.J. In January, he pleaded guilty to participating in schemes to create fake demand for shares of National Lampoon as well as West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Advatech Corp. and Arcadia, Calif.-based Swedish Vegas Inc.

The next month, Tim Dougherty, a 29-year-old stock promoter in Webster, N.Y., admitted guilt. And now the final defendant, company consultant Dennis Barsky, a 60-year-old Las Vegas resident, is signaling in court papers that he plans to plead guilty.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Cohen wouldn't comment on whether defendants admitting guilt would be testifying against Laikin. Via e-mail, Laikin declined to discuss the case. His attorney and attorneys for other defendants either declined to comment or could not be reached.

The case against Laikin—the brother of Brightpoint CEO Bob Laikin—looked potent even before his co-defendants threw in the towel. Court records say the FBI nabbed the four as part of a sting operation that included a stock promoter who secretly was working for the government. The records quote from conversations investigators say Laikin and other defendants had with the confidential witness.

Investigators say the scheme began in March 2008, when Laikin and Barsky paid Rodriguez $60,000 to orchestrate trading activity in National Lampoon that would create the false impression of increased market activity and demand for the shares.

According to investigators, Rodriguez was to use most of the money to pay bribes to others to spur purchases of the shares, while keeping a portion as his fee. They say he provided $40,000 to Dougherty, the other stock promoter charged. The purchases were coordinated with company announcements to provide a false pretext for the increased trading volume, court records allege.

But investigators say Laikin was not satisfied with the amount of trading Rodriguez and Dougherty were generating, telling Rodriguez in an e-mail that he would "have to get some buyers in here ASAP."

As a result of that e-mail, court records say, Rodriguez contacted the confidential witness, whom he knew from previous business deals, to try to drum up more trading. In an April meeting, investigators say, Laikin told the witness he needed two things: "revenue for my business" and "a stock that actually trades and at a value I'm happy with."

Those discussions spurred a 25,000-share purchase on May 20 that Laikin and Barsky believed had been generated by the witness but actually was executed by the FBI, court records say.

Two days later, Barsky wired an $8,333 kickback to Rodriguez, who then funneled $6,625 into an account he thought belonged to the informant but in fact was the FBI's, according to court records.

None of those efforts ultimately succeeded in kindling investor enthusiasm for the company's stock, which hasn't traded above $2.07 in the past year and now fetches a mere 7 cents.

Since Laikin's departure, the company has been led by another Hoosier businessman, Tim Durham, a National Lampoon board member since 2002. Durham is interim CEO.

Alley joins bank board

One of the biggest names in Indiana banking in the 1990s is back in the game.

Mike Alley served as CEO of Fifth Third Bank of Central Indiana from 1989 to 2002, a span in which the Cincinnati-based banking company swelled its Hoosier presence. He went on to launch his own investment firm and purchase Electronic Evolutions Inc., a home-entertainment-installation company.

This month, shareholders of Evansville-based Integra Bank Corp. elected Alley, 52, to their board. The bank has $3.4 billion in assets and 75 offices, though none in central Indiana.
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