A woman who ran an email scheme through a Bellevue-based company is facing about three years in prison after pleading guilty to bankruptcy fraud.
The 38-year-old Marina Bondarenko and her partner, Volodimyr Pigida ran an email scam that spanned over a course of five years.
The couple established the Bellevue-based company, Trend Sound Promoter (TSP) on Nov. 28, 2012. TSP became incorporated in Florida by December of that year. By July 2013, Bondarenko had become vice president and owned 50% of the company.
Trend Sound Promoter was portrayed as an online advertising and marketing company with a purpose of promoting music, as well as other goods and services.
Bondarenko and Pigida were able to obtain $22 million from about 6,750 individuals around the world in just over one year.
Trend Sound Promoter sold ad-promoting packages containing musical recordings and daily promotional email marketing messages. Clients, or independent promoter distributors (IPDs) were required to make upfront payments for the packages (ranging from $150-$12,350) in addition to an upfront “administrative fee” of $120. The ad-promoting packages had a one year duration time.
IPDs were to send email marketing messages and were promised a profit of $0.40 cents per email. Trend Sound Promoter earned 94% of its income from the sale of the packages. Bondarenko and Pigida would take some of the earnings to pay off IPDs.
TSP was claimed to be backed by wealthy investors and sponsors. On the company’s website, there were icons for retailers such as Costco and Nordstrom. When a viewer clicked on the icon, they would be redirected to the retail websites. TSP falsely misled viewers to believing the companies were advertising partners.
Prior to forming Trend Sound Promoter, Bondarenka and Pigida had already begun creating corporate entities. At least five were formed from 2010 to 2014 and were used to unlawfully transfer money from TSP to themselves.
The entities are Interway LLC (established in 2010), SoundTrack Studio LLC (2012, then renamed SoundT Studios LLC in 2013), GSVP LLC (2012), Advertisement Promoters Marketing LLC (2012 then renamed Advertisement PR and Management LLC in 2014), and Admarket & Admarket List Inc. (2013 then renamed Avo AdMarket List Inc later that year).
By November 2013 TSP rewrote its terms and conditions stating that IPDs had an “expectation of a minimum of 3% music resale from the IPDs Mini Music Store and/or other methods of resale, which are calculated based on the total price of purchased Ad-Promoting Package(s).”
Independent promoter distributors had one year from the moment they purchased the ad-promoting package to meet the new requirements, and they were not informed until February 2014.
Trend Sound Promoter continued to sell ad-promoting packages to new clients. Over 3,300 clients lost some to all of the money paid to TSP to purchase ad packages. Total losses equated to about $11.5 million.
When funds used to pay IPDs began to run out, Bondarenko and her counterpart formed about 10 trusts between Jan. 8 to Jan. 30, 2014 — each owning 50% of the trusts.
The trusts were Lakeshore Enterprises Trust, Villa Property Company Trust, BelRed Property Trust, Beach Palace Enterprises, Deep Water Motor Trust, Fast Sports Ride Enterprises, and Reliable Tracks Trust.
“When they wanted to buy the lakefront home, they bought it in the trust called Lakeshore Enterprises; they bought it directly in the name of the trust. They just signed the paperwork buying the house as trustees for the trust and put the title in the name of the trust, instead of putting it in their own name,” said Justin W. Arnold, Assistant United States Attorney who worked on Bondarenko’s case.
Bondarenko and her partner used these trusts to conceal their assets which included a variety of cars, houses, a yacht, and a total of more than $3.3 million.
By April 2014, the couple filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, which was then converted by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to bankruptcy protection under Chapter 7. Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows the debtor and creditor to agree on a new loan without having the debtor liquidate all assets. In Chapter 7 of bankruptcy the debtor must liquidate their assets in order to pay off creditors.
“The first is just business reorganization. So that lets you get debts off of your book and start anew. But during the course of that bankruptcy proceeding, the U.S. trustee who’s appointed to oversee what’s going on noticed there was the misappropriation of assets and the transfer of assets into trusts, and they converted it to a Chapter 7 which is the liquidation bank,” explained Arnold.
The bankruptcy was concluded in December 2017.
On Nov. 29, 2018, the federal grand jury charged both Marina Bondarenko and Volodimyr Pigida with conspiracy as well as numerous acts of mail, wire, and bankruptcy fraud.
On Nov. 11, 2019, Bondarenko plead guilty to a Count 22 violation of Title 18 U.S. Code Section 157 of bankruptcy fraud. Title 18 states Bondarenko devised a scheme to defraud, she acted with intent to defraud, the fraudulent act was capable of influencing the acts of identifiable persons, and she made false claims under the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding in attempts to carry out the scheme.
As a result Marina Bondarenko will face 38 months in prison with 3 years of supervised release. Bondarenko will also pay about $2.3 million as restitution for bankruptcy fraud. The restitution will be paid in scheduled payments proposed by the U.S. Probation Office, and ordered by the court.
Bondarenko’s partner in crime, Volodimyr Pigida is set to go to trial on the indictment during September 2020.
Defense attorneys Cooper Offenbecher and Todd Maybrow of Allen, Hansen, Maybrown & Offenbecher PS declined to comment.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service continues to investigate the case.