Court OKs charges for World Plus scam

State can take case to court as feds did

Posted: Monday, June 25, 2001

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Court of Appeals has decided a Fairbanks woman convicted in federal court of running a scheme that bilked investors out of millions of dollars can be tried on state charges.

RaeJean Bonham pleaded guilty to federal charges of mail fraud and money laundering in 1998 in connection with her World Plus investment scheme.

The state also sought to try Bonham on charges of perjury and filing misleading securities statements with state regulators. But a state Superior Court judge dismissed the charges last year, saying Bonham was protected under the rules of double jeopardy, which prevent a person from being tried twice for the same crime.

An Appeals Court decision handed down Friday reverses the lower court's ruling. Bonham's lawyer says she will appeal that ruling.

Bonham promised investors her World Plus operation could pay huge returns on their money by buying and selling large blocks of airline frequent flyer miles. But law enforcement officials determined she was actually operating a pyramid scheme in which earlier investors were paid with money put in by those who invested later.

After World Plus collapsed in December 1995, about 1,200 investors from around the country filed claims totaling $60 million against Bonham's estate.

Bonham was sentenced in January 1999 to five years in prison on the federal charges. One month after her federal sentencing she was indicted by a state grand jury on one count of perjury and six counts of filing false and misleading statements with the Alaska Division of Securities related to the World Plus scheme.

Sue Ellen Tatter, Bonham's lawyer, argued in state Superior Court that Bonham was protected under the rules of double jeopardy. Judge Michael Wolverton agreed, finding that Bonham's false affidavit and misleading securities filings with the state were all connected to the mail fraud for which she had been convicted in federal court. He dismissed the state charges against Bonham in January 2000.

But in its ruling Friday, the state Court of Appeals said Bonham's plea to the federal charges focused only on the false representation she made to her investors. According to the Appeals Court, Bonham's plea agreement didn't mention the allegedly misleading filings made with the Alaska Division of Securities.

Bonham has 15 days to file a petition for rehearing with the Alaska Supreme Court. Tatter said Bonham will appeal. The federal indictment that led to Bonham's guilty plea covered a very broad scheme, including defrauding state securities officials, Tatter said.

Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Cooper said the state has 15 days to respond if Bonham files a petition for rehearing.



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