First day of Burks trial sees new attorney & four witnesses testify
After publishing over one-hundred and fifty articles covering Zeek Rewards intimately over just under five years, it feels odd not to have first-hand information to report on.
Unfortunately I don’t have direct access to the North Carolina courtroom Paul Burks’ trial is taking place in, so over the next few weeks we’ll be relying heavily on local news coverage.
The second day of Burks’ trial saw a seated jury hear opening statements from both the DOJ and Paul Burks’ attorneys.
Four witnesses for the prosecution were heard from and a new attorney joined Paul Burks’ defense team.
On July 6th Paul Burks filed a motion requesting permission for Isham Reavis to appear as a defense attorney. The motion was granted shortly after it was filed.
Reavis is from Aoki Law and has ‘represented clients facing charges of white-collar crimes, reckless endangerment, and assault.‘
For more on the opening statements of the trial, we turn to The Dispatch.
The prosecution began the opening statements. Corey Ellis, First Assistant United States Attorney, spoke and began his address by simply stating how the prosecution viewed this case.
“This case is about the defendant telling lies in order to get money, it is as simple as that,” Ellis said. “Every fraud has a fairy tale, and this one started with a penny auction site.”
Though there was no fraudulent or illegal behavior with Zeekler, the penny auction portion of Burks’ business, it only accumulated two percent of all the business’ total profits.
The prosecution alleged that the rest of the money came from those affiliates who invested their money or “bought bids” from ZeekRewards.
Burks’ defense lawyer, Noell Tin, led the defense’s approximately 45-minute opening statement. Tin used his time to strip the history of Burks and his company to what he referred to as “the bare bones.”
Tin explained Burks created the ZeekRewards website as a way to generate traffic for Zeekler. He said ZeekRewards acted as a multi-level marketing branch of the business, allowing anyone to buy bids and post ads to bring more people to the auctions.
The defense repeatedly contested the use of the word “investor” during the trial, and said those who paid money in were buying nonrefundable bids that had no monetary value on their own.
Tin also explained Burks and his company always planned to “make good on their promise.”
“Even on the day (ZeekRewards) closed it had enough money to fill its obligations,” Tin said.
“Paul Burks’ dream was that everyone wins …” Tin said. “Everyone has things clearly explained to them and were not lied to.”
Witnesses called by the DOJ included two Zeek Rewards victim affiliates and a former NewBridge Bank employee.
Wilma Gray and Thomas Harding, were affiliates who had put in $10,000 and approximately $8,000, respectively, into ZeekRewards and saw none of their promised returns.
Lisa Christensen, a former NewBridge Bank employee who filed three separate suspicious activity reports, or SARS, regarding Burks after he began depositing substantial sums into his account.
“We didn’t know where the money was coming from,” Christensen said. “… We like for our customers to have money, but we have to make sure there is no illegal or suspect activity.”
The Fourth witness for the day was Dan Olivares. Olivares was part of Burks’ Zeek Rewards management team and has already plead guilty to one count of securities fraud.
The SEC claim Olivares was “chief architect of (Zeek’s) computer databases”.
(Olivares gave) a brief history of how ZeekRewards was created as an advertising avenue for Zeekler because the site, according to Olivares, was not doing well at the end of 2010.
Court will resume Thursday morning with the rest of Olivares’ testimony and cross examination by the defense.