Friday, June 01, 2007

Grand Jury Investigates Mirabilis


Grand jury investigates Mirabilis
A federal probe targets the Orlando private-equity group's tax collections, sources say.
Jim Leusner
Sentinel Staff Writer

March 3, 2007

Mirabilis Ventures Inc., a private-equity group based in Orlando, is under investigation by a federal grand jury, authorities confirmed Friday.

The once-obscure company was forging grandiose plans to build a global empire. But now it is the subject of a wide-ranging probe focusing on millions of dollars in employment taxes collected from businesses but not turned over to the government, several sources said.

Former company officials said they have been interviewed in recent months by the Internal Revenue Service about the finances of Mirabilis and several payroll and human-resource-company subsidiaries that have operated under the investment fund's umbrella.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa, after being told the Orlando Sentinel had interviewed government witnesses and had obtained a grand-jury subpoena for records, acknowledged there was a probe of Mirabilis and its units. One unit, Presidion Solutions, is among the firms hired by businesses to handle their human-resource and payroll needs, including the collection of taxes such as Social Security.

"There are no charges that have been filed, but we are conducting an investigation into a number of entities under one umbrella," spokesman Steve Cole said. He would not elaborate.

News of the probe surfaced after the company laid off workers amid a reorganization, according to former employees. The Mirabilis Web site says it is being modified "to reflect our reorganized business model."

'A shell of its former self'

One former Orlando employee, who was an executive of the company but did not want to be quoted by name, said this week that he had not been paid since January and that he does not know who is running Mirabilis.

"It's a shell of its former self," he said, adding he heard 120 employees recently were cut. A company spokesman said in January that there were about 400 employees in Orlando.

Dan Cence, a Boston-based public-relations specialist acting as Mirabilis' spokesman, acknowledged Friday that there is an investigation into Presidion Solutions that is "being dealt with by Mirabilis and other related companies. They are fully complying with all requests for documentation and information."

"This is a company that acquires distressed companies," Cence said. "It takes all of the warts that come with distressed companies. You attempt to root out what's wrong and bad with companies, then identify and foster and grow the good companies."

Mirabilis, he said, is healthy, fully funded, holds no debt and is at the stage where it is selling or closing underperforming firms and nurturing the profitable ones. He would not comment further on Mirabilis, which had more than 70 companies and revenues nearing $1 billion, officials said last summer.

Mirabilis was a shell company in 2005 when Orlando investor Frank L. Amodeo provided financial backing to build it. He specialized in acquiring distressed firms such as Presidion Corp. and Presidion Solutions and bringing them under the Mirabilis umbrella.

Through a receptionist at his SunTrust tower offices Friday, Amodeo declined to talk to a Sentinel reporter. He remains a consultant to Mirabilis but is not an officer or employee of the company.

In an interview with the Sentinel in June, Amodeo said he helped arrange Mirabilis' purchase of $25 million in Presidion Corp. preferred stock with 32,500 pounds of "precious-metal concentrate" -- gold- and platinum-mining residue. He said he helped provide seed money to form the fund and served as its chief strategist through his privately owned AQMI Strategy Corp. consulting company.

Amodeo said he was building a global empire with businesses ranging from worldwide economic forecasting to fraud and money-laundering detection, while also engaging in philanthropic ventures. He said he had reformed since being disbarred as a bankruptcy lawyer in the Atlanta area in 1994. He was sentenced to two years in prison in 1998 for defrauding a client.

Amodeo later moved to Orlando and began buying or investing in distressed companies, raising his profile about a year ago, mingling with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer at charitable events, donating $25,000 to CrimeLine and being on the organizing committee for a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Mirabilis also has funded charitable events and become a major sponsor of the Orlando Magic.

More than 100 subpoenas

Harrison "Butch" Slaughter, Amodeo's lawyer, said Friday that he has turned over hundreds of thousands of corporate documents subpoenaed by federal prosecutors. He said he also is turning over an additional 32 pallets of records.

Slaughter, however, would not elaborate because of the ongoing probe.

Former Presidion managers said they and others have been questioned by IRS investigators about Mirabilis and Presidion's financial relationships. Questions centered on Presidion's collection of payroll taxes on behalf of other companies. Two former company officials said more than $100 million in payroll taxes collected from thousands of employees at client businesses nationwide was not turned over to the government.

They also said IRS investigators have questioned former Presidion managers and workers to determine who wrote an anonymous letter, apparently by a corporate insider, to the agency in April alleging employment-tax fraud.

A grand-jury subpoena, issued to a Volusia County business and obtained by the Sentinel, requests that the company turn over all records since January 2004 involving "employee and payroll services" provided by Mirabilis and eight of its units, including Mirabilis HR, Presidion Corp. and Presidion Solutions. It is signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Gold, the No. 2 man in the agency's Orlando office, and is one of more than 100 subpoenas in the case.

The business owner, who insisted on anonymity, confirmed that Mirabilis and Presidion entities serviced her company. She confirmed the probe but said she did not fully understand it.

Jerry W. Jackson of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Jim Leusner can be reached at 407-420-5411 or [email][/email].

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