We were all in on the scheme and didn't even know it
James M. Berklan
The recent past came rushing up other day, and it wound up whisking all of us onto the set of some fast-paced, financial mayhem-filled movie. Yes, you were there, too — though like me, you might not have realized it.
It was the name that evoked the first stirrings: Samarion. Then the details of the deal, as reported in Friday's McKnight's Daily Update.
In hindsight, it all fit. And yet we didn't see it coming, did we?
It's the tale of would-be executives, bursting onto the eldercare scene with grandiose plans for a resident-monitoring system that was to be making profits of $350 million per year in nearly no time at all. With $16 million of investor money, they got right to work.
You might recall the high-flyers from Samarion Solutions. At least once they hosted a raucous, music-filled party with hired D.J.s and dancers at an American Health Care Association convention. People flocked to it and let loose. Memory also clearly recalls boastful plans to shake up long-term care and bring it more vibrancy.
Big talk, flashy walk. Huge banners, with the enormous letters: S-A-M-A-R-I-O-N.
In the end, it wound up a sham. As the Department of Justice noted last week, Mark E. Rodgers, now 52, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud investors. He and Samer N'Ser, 53, who pled guilty in January, were indicted for collecting the millions and then producing virtually nothing that provided income. Rodgers was Samarion's CEO and N'Ser the chief technology officer. As if.
The feds busted them after they allegedly loaned each other money from the company coffers; Rodgers bought himself a new $91,000 Land Rover; Rodgers loaned $500,000 to another company he had a stake in; they spent money on personal extravagances. And so on.
Gambling debts, spa trips, Swiss bank accounts — they're all alleged to be part of this Hollywood-esque flim-flam.
From about 2006 to 2009, Samarion made loud noises in long-term care circles. By 2011, the company was in bankruptcy proceedings. They were completed in February of 2014.
It wasn't too long after that a website based not far from the company's former headquarters in Ridgeland, MS, had a field day with this gutsy duo. There are more than a few lessons-to-be-learned in here. Some of the nuggets the Jackson Jambalaya blog reported finding in the bankruptcy filing:
• The Samarion Solution was never made to work, yet alone earn anything near the projected $350 million per year.
• The company's board apparently never required a budget or annual financial plan.
• Virtually no income was produced and no assets remained for creditors.
• “Samarion's Board recklessly retained untrustworthy incompetent people to run Samarion.” Anybody familiar? You have to wonder.
• The complaint also says Rodgers and N'Ser had neither the technical background nor expertise to develop or oversee the product they were pitching. N'Ser subsequently wound up working in a liquor store, while Rodgers, who has reportedly had other flashpoints with investors, applied to be licensed as a securities broker.
According to a 2008 McKnight's report, the Samarion product was supposed to use ultrasound-based tracking technology. Detectors and tags would be linked through an existing wireless network to a digital file that contained information about whatever or whoever was being monitored.
The routine also is reported to have included phony exhibits and fake demonstrations at trade shows. We knew it when we saw them, didn't we? Sure we did.
The Samarion guys seemed too good to be true: Big plans, big bucks and big promises. As it turned out, they were just that: too good to be true.
What a wild ride, and many of us were a part of it.
The final — or perhaps we better just call it “next” — chapter in this high-priced adventure comes June 15.
That's when Rodgers and N'Ser will be sentenced at the federal courthouse in Jackson, MS. The conspiracy charge could bring each up to five years in prison and a fine of as much as $250,000.
We'll let you now how it turns out.
James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @JimBerklan.