FTC Action Leads to Sweepstakes Ban For Three Individuals Who Ran Massive Scheme That Cost Consumers Millions

As a result of a Federal Trade Commission case, the operators of a sweepstakes scam that cost consumers millions have agreed to settlements that permanently ban them from operating sweepstakes or making claims to consumers about prizes they have won or may win.

The FTC first filed its complaint against Matthew Pisoni, Marcus Pradel and John Leon in 2015, alleging that they helped operate a sprawling sweepstakes operation that took more than $28 million from consumers throughout the United States and other countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

“While these settlements will keep these defendants from harming more consumers with bogus prize claims, they will unfortunately not return money to consumers,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Since the case was first filed, the Supreme Court’s decision in the AMG Capital Management case removed our ability to put the money defendants took back in consumers’ pockets. It is urgent that Congress restore the Commission’s ability to make consumers whole when they are targeted by scammers.”

The FTC’s complaint charged that the defendants mailed personalized letters falsely telling consumers that they had won large cash prizes, typically more than $2 million. To collect the “guaranteed” money, consumers had to mail the defendants a $20-$30 fee by cash, check or money order typically within 10 days, and the letters warned consumers they would forfeit their winnings if they didn’t pay on time. In reality, consumers had not won anything. The defendants had no connection to any sweepstakes and could not award or pay anyone the promised prizes.

Under the terms of the settlements, Pisoni, Pradel and Leon are permanently banned from any involvement in any sweepstakes or other form of prize promotion that tells consumers that they either have won or could be eligible to win a prize. In addition, the settlements prohibit the three defendants from any further deception related to any product or service and also prohibit them from making use of any consumer information they acquired through running the sweepstakes scam.

The Commission vote approving stipulated final orders was 5-0. The FTC filed the proposed orders in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The orders were approved and entered on June 21, 2024.

NOTE: Stipulated final orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

The staff attorney on this matter is William J. Hodor of the FTC’s Midwest Region.

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