Hearing delayed in pyramid-scheme case against Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing

The first federal court hearing in the case against a Lexington company accused of operating an illegal pyramid scheme has been delayed until March.

Judge John Darrah of the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois granted a continuance to Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing, which recently hired the law firm of Perkins Coie of Chicago. The next hearing will be held March 13 in Chicago.

The Federal Trade Commission and the attorneys general of Kentucky, Illinois and North Carolina have accused Fortune Hi-Tech of operating an illegal pyramid scheme that involves as many as 100,000 people. On Jan. 28, federal and state officials shut down Fortune Hi-Tech's headquarters in Lexington and put all the company's assets into receivership.

Company officials contend that they operate a legal multi-level marketing organization that sells goods and services, while recruiting new members to sell those products.

On Thursday, Fortune Hi-Tech officials issued a statement through Reputation Partners, a Chicago-based public relations firm that bills itself as "enhancing, protecting and rebuilding corporate reputations."

"We deny any wrongdoing and will vigorously contest the allegations and efforts to close our business," said the statement by Fortune Hi-Tech founder Paul Orberson and CEO Thomas Mills. "The claims made by the FTC and attorneys general do not accurately describe how we manage Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing, and fail to acknowledge that we manage the business well within both the spirit and the letter of the applicable law."

Orberson and Mills said they were cooperating with federal and state authorities. They said the judge had allowed them more time to prepare their case and that on March 13, they will ask the court to allow them to resume business operations.

They also expressed gratitude for the "tremendous show of support" from Fortune Hi-Tech members, who have held numerous prayer circles and meetings about the company.

The case is under seal, but court officials said they expect the seal to be lifted in the next few days.

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