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Infomercial guru to face federal judge for real estate investment scheme

August 31, 1998: 1:31 p.m. ET

NEW YORK (CNNfn) - How can a one-time exotic dancer make you rich through a too-good-to-be-true real estate offer? According to thousands of investors and the government, he can't.

Attorneys for the government and an infomercial guru accused of defrauding investors of at least $28 million met in a status conference hearing in a federal court Monday.

The trial of William J. McCorkle, the self-described real estate millionaire, could begin as early as Tuesday in Federal District Court in Orlando, Fla.

The U.S. Attorney's Office charged McCorkle, along with his wife, Chantal, with 90 counts of fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and other charges over an alleged scam he pulled on his nationally televised infomercials, seminars and telemarketing calls.

Customers paid as much as $2,500 for packages of videotapes and pamphlets McCorkle offered on late-night television, promising to make potential investors as rich as he supposedly was through real-estate deals. Federal prosecutors said McCorkle's Orlando-based business earned as much as $6 million a month selling the packages.

Part of McCorkle's pitch was he promised to put up his own money for customers who bought pre-foreclosed property on sale at half its equity. He also promised to split any of the profits when the property was sold.

The problem, the government says, is that McCorkle did neither. He also allegedly suckered some customers into buying a package that was missing a key piece of information, then charged as much as an additional $1,000 to receive the package with the proper documents.

"The basis of the case is he made promises to people he knew he couldn't keep," said Jacqueline Dowd, an assistant district attorney for the state of Florida. "I won't say he didn't make any deals. He may have done a couple while selling tens of thousands of videotapes. But he's not in the business of selling real estate; he's in the business of selling videos."

The investigation began more than two years ago as a joint effort with the Florida attorney general's office, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Postal Inspector.

Dowd said the false image McCorkle presented to potential investors is what initially tipped off the Florida attorney general's office. "In his infomercials, you see his name on a plane that doesn't belong to him, cars, a helicopter, a yacht -- none of it was true," she said.

"McCorkle was going on TV saying he was a self-made millionaire, yet he reported less than $10,000 in taxes. That led us to contact the IRS. We later traced money (wired to bank accounts) in the Cayman Islands and other offshore money laundering."

McCorkle's attorney, F. Lee Bailey, couldn't be reached for immediate comment.

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