A Rockville business owner who promised investors tens of thousands of dollars in monthly revenue through televisions advertising at convenience stores and gas pumps was sentenced Tuesday to six-and-a-half years in federal prison for what prosecutors said was a $6.2 million scheme.
Edward J. Lawson, 67, was sentenced to 78 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for wire fraud, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore. U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus also ordered Lawson to pay more than $4.8 million in restitution.
According a plea agreement, Lawson was president of Automated Revenue Creation LLC and Guaranteed Results Advertising, LLC, known collectively as GRA.
The company told investors it provided advertising through “Narrow Cast television commercials” that ran on LCD TVs at convenience stores and gas station pumps, the release said.
From May 2006 to September 2008, Lawson pitched potential investors during presentations at hotels in the Washington metropolitan area and a GRA office in Rockville, the release said.
GRA’s promises to investors changed over time, the release said. The first investors, who purchased a screen for $15,800, were promised a monthly return over 10 years that began at $3,000 and escalated to about $30,000 after 15 months, the release said. The last of the investors purchased a screen for $89,800 and were promised a monthly return of $13,950 over a five- or 10-year period, the release said.
Prosecutors said Lawson’s misrepresentations to investors included claims that:
- He had 30 years experience as an entrepreneur.
- He had invested about $1.5 million of his own money into GRA.
- GRA screens were, at all times, generating enough revenue to meet projections promised to investors.
- The screens were generating so much revenue that investors should reinvest their earnings rather than cash out.
- Advertisers had paid via checks that Lawson distributed at investor meetings.
- Checks issued by Lawson to investors bounced due to conditions beyond Lawson’s control.
In all, GRA collected $6.2 million in investments from more than 60 investors, prosecutors said.
“Edward J. Lawson’s promises of ‘automatic revenue’ and ‘guaranteed results’ were entirely fraudulent,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in the release. “Investors should be wary of investment opportunities that seem too good to be true.”
Lawson’s conviction is the result of work by an interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force launched in 2009 by President Barack Obama, the release said. The task force joins federal agencies, regulators and inspectors general with state and local law enforcement “to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes” and recover proceeds for victims, the release said.