Key player in $850M Ponzi scheme pleads guilty

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 5, 2014 at 12:11 pm •  Published: February 5, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A key player in a North Carolina online company that promised big returns on a small investment pleaded guilty Wednesday for her role in a massive Ponzi scheme.

Dawn Olivares, 45, of Clarksville, Ark., showed little emotion during a plea hearing before Judge David Cayer in U.S. District Court in Charlotte.

When the judge asked her questions, Olivares answered in a whisper — unlike the days when she'd tout ZeekRewards in public events and interviews. She was the company's chief operating officer.

After pleading guilty to securities fraud conspiracy and tax evasion stemming from the $850 million scam, Olivares ignored questions about her role and the scheme's impact on victims.

Her attorney, Brian Cromwell, said this wasn't the "right time" for Olivares to answer question because of the ongoing investigation.

"But there's a lot more to this story," he said, adding that his client was cooperating with authorities.

She faces a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Her stepson, Daniel Olivares, 31, also of Clarksville, was the company's senior technology officer. He also pleaded guilty Wednesday to securities fraud conspiracy.

He faces a possible five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

As part of their plea agreements, Dawn Olivares and her stepson will pay full restitution to their victims, the amount to be determined by the court at sentencing.

Both were released on $25,000 bond. A sentencing date is pending.

After the hearing, Daniel Olivares declined to comment. Prosecutors say he helped design the databases for, a penny auction site, and ZeekRewards, a business designed to drive traffic to the penny auction.

But his attorney, S. Frederick Winiker III, said his client was sorry.

Dawn Olivares and her stepson are the first to plead guilty to criminal charges in the scam that promised investors a 125 percent return on their investment.

Victims say there are still questions that haven't been answered, including whether the company's founder, Paul Burks of Lexington, N.C., will face charges.

Authorities say Burks — a former nursing home magician and country music disc jockey — was the mastermind of the scam, which attracted 1 million investors, including nearly 50,000 in North Carolina.

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