Connect-a-Jet was going to do for private aircraft what Expedia.com and its competitors did for commercial air travel. No longer would luxury-minded fliers be forced to dispatch their indentured servants to personally charter that flight to the Caymans — which, we're told, is how private jet reservations typically work. Instead, they could simply have said indentured servants log on to Connect-a-Jet to book the flights in real-time.
There was just one hitch: Connect-a-Jet was a top-to-bottom scam.
It didn't start out that way. According to federal prosecutors, Denton County resident Jason Wynn, a penny-stock promoter and used car salesman, set out to create an actual business. Soon, though, he teamed up with Round Rock attorney Martin T. Cantu — the "T." is for "Tricky," the nickname his grandmother gave him at birth — and all pretense of legitimacy faded. Connect-a-Jet instead became a means of gaming investors on the poorly regulated penny stock market.
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The scheme was brazen, if not terribly sophisticated. First, in the spring of 2007, Wynn and Cantu issued 10 million shares of Connect-a-Jet stock to themselves for a penny a share. The stock began trading publicly in August, at which point Wynn and Cantu launched an aggressive sales blitz. Their bread-and-butter was spamming hundreds of thousands of fax machines with fliers containing hyperbolic and/or wholly concocted claims about the company (i.e. that it was real) and its financial prospects, though they also printed thousands of full-color fliers ("Got Money?" one read. "The sky's the limit with this stock!"). Wynn and Cantu then trumpeted their spurious claims about Connect-a-Jet in ad buys on CNBC and in <em>USA Today</em>.
The aggressive promotional campaign, combined with a shell game of stock transfers between themselves and entities they controlled, was remarkably effective. Connect-a-Jet stock shot up from a penny to as much as $3 per share. By January 2008 Wynn had offloaded millions of shares at a profit of $2.6 million. Cantu made $548,881.
Wynn pleaded guilty in April to a conspiracy to commit securities fraud. Cantu was convicted this week of the same charge and an additional count of just plain securities fraud following a six-day trial. Both men face a maximum five years in prison and $250,000 on the conspiracy charge. Cantu faces an additional 20 years and $250,000 fine for the securities fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced in September.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.