A federal grand jury in Wisconsin returned an indictment that was unsealed yesterday charging an Illinois woman and man with running illegal multimillion-dollar pyramid schemes in at least four different states.

According to court documents, Candice V. Cunningham, 35, and Joseph E. Johnson Jr., 50, both of Chicago, allegedly operated a series of pyramid schemes that were advertised to potential victim-participants under various names, including Wealth Partners Publishing, Wealth Wise, Zero to Profit, 30 Day Success Formula, Lav Label, Beckett Group, and DTR Group. Marketing materials for the pyramid schemes allegedly misrepresented that if a victim-participant invested money in one of the schemes, that victim-participant would receive payments from other participants he or she recruited. The materials also are alleged to have falsely promised that if a victim-participant did not receive payments from other participants, the victim-participant was guaranteed that his or her initial investment would be fully refunded. Most victim-participants allegedly did not receive any payments from other participants and were denied the return of their initial investment. Cunningham, Johnson, and others obtained millions of dollars as a result of their alleged scheme.  

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Cunningham and Johnson are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and seven counts of mail fraud. If convicted, they each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each count.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Gregory J. Haanstad for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Special Agent in Charge Michael E. Hensle of the FBI Milwaukee Field Office, and Inspector in Charge Ruth Mendonca of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Chicago Division made the announcement.

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The FBI and USPIS are investigating the case.