This curious and cautionary tale should be better known. A young entrepreneur named Keisha L. Williams from Ashburn, Virginia had an attractive proposition. She needed immediate funding to bring to the US an Austrian telehealth system described as “software that would allow doctors to remotely examine and talk with patients.” Ms. Williams had degrees in both law and electrical engineering, so credibility. She also had a story. The software was in ‘escrow’ in Austria. There were taxes and fees that had to be paid immediately. And she had family situations, financial and medical emergencies. In other words, she had a ‘great line of ‘stuff’ on the technology, urgency, and personally, a few tugs on the heartstrings.
Ms. Williams told this story enough times over four years, and to enough people who believed her–more than 50, who invested over $5.4 million.
What happened? 95% of the money was spent on over the top vacations to Bora Bora, Italy, the Bahamas, and Jamaica, plus the occasional yacht with ‘hand and foot services’ and shopping at top-end retail such as Bottega Veneta and Vuitton. $500,000 alone was spent on her girlfriend. About $300,000 was spent on the software.
The rest of the story involves 14 Federal fraud charges, four accomplices, and unwitting, likely vulnerable people who were talked into giving over their savings. Late in January, she was sentenced to 15.5 years in Federal prison.
Many of our Readers have started companies or worked with entrepreneurs who have a great story and need money. The stories touch our hearts–and sometimes our checkbooks. Apparently, Ms. Williams raised the money without exposing herself to anyone in the industry or private investors who would ask remotely leading questions. To us, this technology sounds hardly sexy–it’s telemedicine virtual visit software with maybe some remote patient monitoring thrown in. Yet to 50 people, who are now poorer or who were involved with the fraudulent scheme — it sounded really special. (The name is also common–there are quite a few people on LinkedIn with the same name, which may make life difficult for them.)
With the rising tide of telehealth, if your cousin or uncle has heard of a great way to visit your doctor over the phone and asks you if you’ve heard about it, you might want to ask Uncle to pass the pie as you switch the conversation to being on guard for fraudulent schemes. Washington Post (read the comments), Daily Mail, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, press releases 17 Oct and 18 Jan from the US Attorney’s office, Eastern District of Virginia