Founder of wealth program sentenced to 51 months

Polk falsely promised money for joint real estate ventures

July 16, 1999|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

The founder of a Hagerstown-based company that sold "Inside Secrets" of wealth and falsely promised money for real estate joint ventures was sentenced yesterday to 51 months in federal prison, nine months less than the maximum 60 months allowed in sentencing guidelines.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz also fined John Thomas Polk a maximum $250,000 and ordered him to pay $2 million in restitution in the mail-fraud case against Peak Performance and its successor company, Success Achievement Systems.

"The government has made an overwhelming showing of fraud from the inception of the whole business," Motz said at the conclusion of a four-day sentencing hearing in Baltimore.

Polk, 39, who lives in Dallas, and two other men pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud. Those admissions made them subject to sentences of up to five years in prison and fines as high as $250,000.

Motz ruled yesterday that Polk played a leading role in the enterprise and that the amount of the fraud exceeded $10 million from 1991 to 1995, putting the range of his sentence between 51 and 60 months.

The judge sentenced David C. Bowen, 37, also of Dallas, to 18 months and ordered him to pay $250,000 restitution. Matt Foulger, 32, of Arizona, who testified against Polk at the sentencing hearing, was sentenced to 30 months.

Polk pleaded with Motz to be lenient, saying he started the company with the best of intentions,.

He also apologized to victims of Peak Performance. "Whoever came into contact with me and didn't get their money's worth, I'm sorry," Polk said.

"The man I am today is not the man I was when I owned Peak Performance," he told the judge.

"I made some very poor decisions that I'm not proud of."

Polk, who founded Peak Performance in 1991 and sold it to Foulger in 1995, rented hotel conference rooms for free seminars that served as sales pitches for a program called "Inside Secrets," which included instruction in real estate, government auctions, credit and other areas.

Peak Performance also included "Elite Performer," a program portrayed as a chance for consumers to use money from Polk and nonexistent investors to finance real estate deals of more than $150,000. Polk financed one project, and it was never completed.

Michael Lam of Baltimore testified at the hearing Monday that he lost about $5,000 trying to follow Peak Performance's program. "It went from bad to worse and never got better," he said.

Prosecutor Joyce McDonald asked the judge for the maximum 60-month sentence to deter Polk and others in the growing wealth-seminar industry.

"There are more and more operators," she said.

McDonald said Polk had extraordinary ability and the skills to build a company with 150 employees. "He's a very bright guy and a very good salesman," she said.

John Kotelly, Polk's defense lawyer, urged leniency, saying it wouldn't be fair to make an example of Polk, the father of three young children.

"This is not an evil man," Kotelly said.

Motz said the 51 months would act as a deterrent to others. He called the case "more about strength and weakness" than "about good and evil."

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