A tangled web at ZOSOZ

The appearance of a new "club subscription" online poker site with a strange name two months ago (see previous InfoPowa report) had everyone guessing. Widespread publicity efforts by the new arrival identified one Tim Belisle of White Bear Lake, Minnesota as co-founder and president of the owner company of the same name, Zosoz LLC, which was apparently named after a pagan goddess of good fortune. Little more was known about the background of the owners or their experience in the field, other than that they were U.S. based and claimed that their operation was "U.S. legal".

Membership was priced at $19.99, with the promise that major cash prizes and tournaments would be available, funded by substantial investor cash backing the company. Belisle was clearly the main spokesman for the group, cropping up on poker forums and in online media articles that included a double page spread in a leading poker magazine.

However, despite all this publicity and extravagant promises, worrying reports of bouncing checks soon started to appear on major message boards like http://www.drcheckraise.com/phorum/read.php?62,4473 and 2+2.

This developed into a full scale investigation, where aggrieved poker players proved yet again that this is an expert sleuthing community not to be trifled with. And an interesting second co-founder was unearthed, one Michael Ogren, an individual alleged to be a club owner with an interesting background dating back to 2003 that featured the FBI and illegal gambling.

In short order, a wealth of details on banking, backgrounds, a PR firm, domain registrations, physical addresses and names started to emerge as annoyed players did their own digging before involving the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI, local police forces and banking institutions.

Despite assurances that it would make good on the rubber checks, which the owners claimed had been sent in error rather than with malice aforethought, the Zosoz.com website then displayed the following notice:

"We regret to inform you that due to circumstances beyond our control, ZOSOZ will cease operations at 11:59PM EST on December 14, 2008.

"All subscription membership fees have been refunded in full.

"NO CASH OUT REQUIRED - All Sweepstakes winners will be paid via cashier's check.

"Only winners of $600 or more must be validated to receive full payment (http://www.zosoz.com/account-validation.php).

"All documents supplied to us are stored on our secured servers. This information will be used to send 1099 forms to both the IRS and to you. This will occur in January of 2009. Once we have processed your 1099 form, we will then delete the files from our system.

"It will take up to six weeks to process winnings.

"We would like to thank you for your participation in ZOSOZ over the past two months and apologize for any inconvenience this causes you."

Operations actually ceased two days before the announced December 14 deadline, players claimed.

Speaking to a variety of player-detectives who had secured his personal contact details, Belisle and other company representatives provided various explanations for the company's rapid failure...and those bouncing checks.

Claims were made that the checks had been sent from the wrong (underfunded) account; that the investors behind the site refused to plough any more money into it after the original backing was exhausted and that new cashiers checks would be issued to what seemed to be a substantial number of aggrieved and frustrated players. Some players said Belisle had denied he was the boss, instead claiming he was just an employee. Others reported they were told that the president and co-founder had resigned but was trying to make things right.

The bottom line, however, is that all the indicators point to an insufficiently funded company that failed quickly and was less than candid with its customers. The player community is yet to see whether "the goddess of winnings'" promise to make whole all prejudiced players - and some of them are owed five-figure sums of money - has any credibility.

One thing is absolutely certain, and is worth noting by operators; the incident has again illustrated that online poker players collaborating at websites like DrCheckRaise.com have an extraordinary ability to sense when they are being misled...and the wherewithal to expose anyone who tries to pull the wool over their collective eyes.

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