IM this article to a friend!

July 28, 2004

Pyramid Scheme Targets The Deaf

From: KGO, CA - Jul 28, 2004

I-Team Uncovers New Evidence

July 28 — Two months ago, we told you about an East Bay college professor involved in a scam that's costing an elderly couple their home. Now, the I-Team has uncovered new evidence of the professor's shady business deals targeting the deaf community. ABC7's Dan Noyes reports on the latest twist in our investigation.

It looks like that husband and wife about to lose their San Jose home are not alone. We have information there may be dozens of deaf people who've lost money in scams, because of the professor.

It took us weeks of e-mails, phone calls and stake-outs, but the I-Team finally caught up with Brian Malzkuhn, a professor in the Deaf Studies program at Fremont's Ohlone College. He doesn't want to answer questions about his role in scams that have cost deaf people across the country hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Victim: "That money just went so fast, and I didn't realize I was in danger of losing the house."

We used a sign language interpreter to speak with this man who doesn't want to be identified. He is losing the home he's owned since 1970, because Brian Malzkuhn convinced him to take out more than $700,000 in loans and send the money to a Nigerian e-mail scam.

Victim: "Let me die broke."

After we first reported that story in May, Santa Clara County's Economic Crimes Unit launched an investigation into Malzkuhn. But now, the head of the unit says they can't prove the professor profited from the scam and that it appears Malzkuhn himself believed the Nigerians.

Stephen Gibbons, Economic Crimes Unit: "It appeared to us in looking at the evidence that the guy, he thought initially it was real. You know, you have to show criminal intent."

Gibbons says he's had a hard time making a case against Malzkuhn because the victims, the man and his wife, will not cooperate in the investigation they're too embarrassed. So, case closed, unless new evidence surfaces against Malzkuhn and new victims come forward. That may happen.

In the two months since we first told you the couple's story, deaf people from across the country have contacted the I-Team, saying they've been the victims of pyramid schemes run by Brian Malzkuhn. And, we received a very interesting sales tape.

Malzkuhn speaking on sales tape: "Look at this beautiful home. Are you ever going to earn enough at your job to afford this? This beautiful dream home."

It's Brian Malzkuhn's sales pitch ..

Malzkuhn speaking on sales tape: "A beautiful new car. It feels great on my head, this convertible."

... promising deaf people the good life.

Malzkuhn speaking on sales tape: "Well, Pentagono is working for me, I'm finally able to go to the beach with this beautiful woman and enjoy this beautiful day. So, I welcome you to join us."

Pentagono is one of several pyramid schemes Malzkuhn's sold to deaf people across the country in recent years.

Malzkuhn speaking on sales tape: "You don't have to look for any other program, this is it. I found it. Eureka!"

Sharon Berlowitz: "I thought I could trust Brian, but I was wrong."

This woman from Knoxville, Tennessee lost $4,000. Even worse, she says the professor convinced her to drag her friends into the pyramid scheme.

Berlowitz: "I'm very upset, I hurt people, I've lost my friends from it."

These two men from San Jose say there are dozens of deaf people in the Bay Area who've lost money to pyramid schemes Malzkuhn promoted.

Bahram Showghi: "He's a thief, plain and simple. I call him 'lord of the deaf suckers.'"

Bahram Showghi got taken for $17,000. Tibor Urban lost $4,000. Now, he says Malzkuhn won't answer his e-mails or phone calls.

Tibor Urban: "And of course, he won't meet any of us in person, you know, he'll avoid everyone he's already scammed into it. And, there's all these people in line waiting to get to Brian to talk to him."

Malzkuhn even tried to sell a pyramid scheme to the CEO of the largest deaf referral and counseling service in Northern California.

Robert Roth, DCARA CEO: "I declined the offer, I felt as a non-profit organization, I didn't want to be thinking about trying a get rich quick scheme."

It is especially troubling for all these people that Professor Malzkuhn, a prominent member of the deaf community, would take advantage of another deaf person.

Roth: "It's a feeling of betrayal because deaf culture we help each other. It's not that you turned your back against me, you turned your back against everyone in the community, and that hurts a lot."

Malzkuhn speaking on sales tape: "Welcome aboard, great to see you."

In the near future, Malzkuhn may be facing some heat from his employer. On that sales tape obtained by the I-Team, the professor gives out his Ohlone College e-mail address, and he may have shot part of the presentation on campus. The president of Ohlone tells us those two points -- and the rest of what we've uncovered -- are serious issues.

More Information:

The head of the Economic Crimes Unit says he would like anyone who has lost money in one of these pyramid schemes to file a police report and contact his office. To file a complaint, send an email to (the webmaster will forward these emails to the Crimes Unit).

Copyright ©2004 ABC Inc., KGO-TV Inc.