What’s the Difference Between a Ponzi Scheme or Pyramid Scheme and MLM?

Ponzi schemes, also called pyramid schemes, are on the rise. In fact, state and federal authorities uncovered 60 alleged types of Ponzi schemes in 2020, totaling more than $3.25 billion in investor funds. This constitutes the largest amount of money unearthed in these scams since 2010 and more than double the amount from 2018, according to data from the website Ponzitracker.

It seems like it should be obvious when something is a Ponzi scheme, but often companies operate under the disguise of a multi-level marketing company, or MLM, to entice and trap victims. Through these schemes, it is possible for victims to become recruiters, and become part of federal investigations and lawsuits.

In this brief article, our team at The Rickman Law Firm, including a Tampa fraud defense attorney, shares a few important distinctions between a Ponzi scheme and an MLM and what to do if you find yourself involved in a fraud investigation.

Definition of a Ponzi Scheme

The technical definition of a Ponzi scheme is “a form of fraud in which belief in the success of a nonexistent enterprise is fostered by the payment of quick returns to the first investors from money invested by later investors.”

This form of fraud lures investors and pays profits to earlier investors with funds from more recent investors. The scheme leads victims to believe that profits are coming from product sales or other means, and they remain unaware that other investors are the source of funds. In many instances, these schemes are veiled as legitimate businesses or multi-level marketing companies. At each level of these schemes, the number of investors increases with a small group of promoters at the top who require investments from more and more people to pay back the initial investors. If you were to write this out, you would find the shape of a pyramid, which is where the term pyramid scheme comes from.

Running a Ponzi scheme, and even becoming an active or knowing participant in one, is a federal crime and is investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

What’s the Difference Between an MLM and a Ponzi Scheme?

Just because some Ponzi schemes masquerade as a MLM does not mean that all MLMs are actually Ponzi schemes. The key distinction is that a Ponzi scheme does not offer a tangible product or real service, whereas traditional MLM programs are legal because there is a real product that is being sold through the channel.

For example, companies like Avon, Lularoe, Herbalife, and others are fully legal because although they do rely on a network of consultants who recruit other consultants, they are selling tangible products. These companies may rely on an investment made by each consultant to purchase the products for sale, but they are not participating in a Ponzi scheme and generally don’t need to worry about being indicted as consultants or recruiters in any type of fraud investigation.

What if I am Being Charged with Ponzi-Related Fraud?

If you’ve found yourself involved in a Ponzi scheme, whether initially as a victim who in-turn recruited others or involved in the company since its inception, it’s important to get an experienced Tampa fraud defense lawyer to protect yourself. You may be facing both federal and state charges, which can be difficult to defend on your own. Contact our team at The Rickman Law Firm to help you understand all of your options.

For a free consultation with a Tampa fraud defense lawyer, please contact The Rickman Law Firm today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.

Tips to De-Escalate Before an Assault or Battery Charge

Assault and battery are serious charges that can come with jail time and steep fines. Although it might not seem like a big deal, threatening or physically harming someone can impact your job prospects and family for years to come. If you find yourself in a situation where you are facing a physical or verbal altercation, learning methods to de-escalate the situation can be your biggest help in avoiding assault and battery charges.

In this brief article, we spoke with an experienced assault and battery lawyer in Tampa from our team at The Rickman Law Firm to learn tips to de-escalate a stressful situation, as well as common defenses if you were charged with assault or battery.

Definitions of Assault and Battery Charges

Before we can talk about how to de-escalate or defend against assault or battery charges, we have to first talk about what they are.

An assault is a threat in the form of words, a gesture, or an intimidating act of harm to a person. A case of assault is established when it is confirmed that there was intent to commit a violent act, there was ample opportunity to commit the act at the time of the threat, and the threat of the act caused the victim to fear imminent harm. Types of assault include simple, aggravated, and felony, and the severity of penalties are determined by a number of factors including whether there was an intent to kill or if the act was against a minor or police officer. Penalties for assault can be anywhere from 60 days to five years in prison, six months to five years of probation, and anywhere from $500 to $5000 in fines.

Battery on the other hand is defined as the unlawful physical harming of another person against their will or consent. A battery case can be established if it is proven that a victim was intentionally touched or struck in an attempt to cause serious bodily harm. Types of battery include simple/misdemeanor battery, aggravated battery, and felony battery. Penalties range from one to 15 years in prison, one to 15 years of probation, and between $1000-$10,000 in fines depending on the severity of the crime.

Think of it this way: assault is often a threat, while battery is a physical act.

Tips to De-Escalate a Situation

The best way to defend yourself against an assault or battery is to not be involved in one to begin with. Of course, that’s far easier said than done, especially when another person is attacking you, your family, or your property.

A few tips to help de-escalate assault and battery situations while protecting yourself include:

  • Exiting the area or walking away
  • Attempting to film or have someone else film the situation, even if you can’t see anything in the video but can hear it. Sometimes assault charges are a matter of “he-said she-said” and a recording may help your case (but only video per Florida law).

If the person is still agitated and you are unable to walk away, it’s important to keep yourself safe. If you’re not in imminent danger, you may also want to try to deploy the LOWLINE system:

  • Listen to what the issue is and the person’s concerns.
  • Offer reflective comments to show that you have heard what their concerns are.
  • Wait until the person has released their frustration and explained how they are feeling.
  • Look and maintain appropriate eye contact to connect with the person.
  • Incline your head slightly, to show you are listening and give you a non-threatening posture.
  • Nod to confirm that you are listening and have understood.
  • Express empathy to show you have understood.

Common Defenses for Assault and Battery

The most common defense against an assault or battery charge is mutual consent. This defense establishes that both parties acted violently in the situation and that the attack was not one-sided. Self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property are other common defenses that can help reduce your punishment or eliminate it all together.

If you’ve been charged with assault and/or battery, you shouldn’t have to handle it alone. A Tampa assault and battery attorney with The Rickman Law Firm can help you navigate your rights during an assault and battery charge, and will help you understand the best defense for your specific case.

For a free consultation with a Tampa assault and battery attorney, please contact The Rickman Law Firm today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.

Difference between Stalking & Harassment

If you stand accused of stalking or harassment, you may feel incredibly frustrated. These terms are often used interchangeably and are sometimes difficult to separate because of their similarities. People often jokingly call former friends or romantic partners a stalker, but this accusation can carry some important weight in the eyes of the law, which is why it’s so crucial to understand the differences in these terms.

One of our stalking lawyers in Tampa with The Rickman Law Firm shares some of the key differences between stalking and general harassment and what to do if you are accused of, or charged with, either.

Stalking Definition

Stalking is often associated with mental feelings of obsession, but in the eyes of the law the definition is a little different.

Florida Statute Chapter 784 defines stalking as: “A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person…”

For example, a person might be charged with stalking if they continually and maliciously track a former romantic partner or friend’s whereabouts, or if they are caught stalking them extensively online (cyberstalking).

You may also stand accused of aggravated stalking if there is an element of a threat of violence. The same statute referenced above defines aggravated stalking as: “A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking…”

This is usually seen as the more extreme form of stalking, where someone might, for example, send threatening messages to their victim online or commit an act of violence against them. Further, if the person being stalked is under 16 years old, it also becomes aggravated stalking.

Are Harassment and Stalking the Same?

Harassment and stalking share many similarities, but they are ultimately not the same. The difference lies in the time spent and the intent. For example, if you bump into someone on the street and begin an argument with them, you might be harassing them, but you did not stalk them to find out their whereabouts. Therefore, this might fall more in the category of harassment. If the conflict escalates in a physical way or seriously threatening way, it may result in other charges like assault and battery, or aggravated assault.

However, if you seek someone out with malicious intent or obsessive intent, you might be facing more serious stalking charges.

Digital Stalking

The term “cyberstalking” refers to activity that’s much more than a quick Facebook search to find basic information about a potential or former partner or friend. It refers to actions that are actually punishable by law. This goes beyond simple research and occurs when someone repeatedly follows a person’s digital presence, making the victim feel threatened or unsafe in any way. Although this is still relatively new in the eyes of the law, it is still important to mention.

If you have been accused of stalking or harassment it’s important to speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. A Tampa stalking defense lawyer can help you navigate your rights during a stalking charge and will help you understand the best defense for your specific case.

For a free consultation with a Tampa stalking defense lawyer, please contact The Rickman Law Firm today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.

How to Avoid Aggravated Assault in Self-Defense Situations

When someone else has thrown the first punch, the natural reaction is to defend yourself. However, there are instances when this can create additional trouble for you. In this brief article, we spoke with an aggravated assault lawyer in St. Petersburg who is on our team with The Rickman Law Firm to learn a few tips to help you avoid an aggravated assault charge, even if you weren’t the one who threw the first punch.

Can You Be Charged with Assault in Self Defense?

Before we dive into whether or not you can be charged with aggravated assault in situations of self-defense, let’s refresh on what this term means. An aggravated assault is defined by Florida Statutes as “an assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill; or with intent to commit a felony.” Aggravated assault is a felony of the third degree with penalties including:

  1. 5 years imprisonment
  2. 5 years probation
  3. $5,000 fine

It’s important to note here that a deadly weapon doesn’t necessarily mean a gun or knife. It can be a broken bottle, a shard of glass, or any device that can inflict serious bodily harm. Additionally, you don’t have to actually touch another person to be charged with aggravated assault. Rather, you can simply make a credible threat of deadly force with a weapon and be charged with aggravated assault.

If someone is threatening you, however, or if they make a move to harm you, aggravated assault may no longer apply (depending on the situation). For example, if someone has repeatedly punched you and you make a threat that you will shoot them if they do it again, that may fall under a different rule because of Florida statute 776.012.

Florida statute 776.012, titled “Use or threatened use of force in defense of person” states:

  1. A person is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against        another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. A person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force.
  2. A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.

Tips to Avoid Aggravated Assault Charges (Even if You Didn’t Throw the First Punch)

The best way to avoid an aggravated assault charge is to remove yourself from the situation. This can be difficult if you are engaged in a domestic violence scenario or fighting with someone at home, but it is the single best way to keep yourself safe and stop the situation from escalating to aggravated assaults.

Other tips include:

  • Avoiding alcohol or other substances that can create volatile situations
  • Taking deep breaths (especially important in road rage scenarios)
  • Avoiding social situations with people with whom you often fight

What to do if Charged with Aggravated Assault

If you or a loved one are facing aggravated assault charges when you were simply defending yourself, you don’t have to face it alone. Contact an aggravated assault attorney in St. Petersburg with our team at The Rickman Law Firm. We have years of experience working with cases just like yours and will be able to pursue all necessary avenues to obtain a favorable outcome.

For a free consultation with a St. Petersburg aggravated assault attorney, please contact The Rickman Law Firm today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.

Types of Vehicular Homicide

Fatal car crashes are, unfortunately, anything but rare. According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) and the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA), there were 33,244 fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2019 resulting in 36,096 deaths. This resulted in 11.0 deaths per 100,000 people and 1.11 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. In Florida, the number was staggering, with 2,950 fatal accidents and 3,183 deaths in 2019 alone.

When these deaths occur, people often try to make sense of something that simply doesn’t always have rhyme or reason, and might try to blame one of the surviving drivers. These accidents are just that, accidents, yet the drivers may face criminal charges in addition to lifelong trauma. To help you understand when charges of vehicular homicide might be made and what you should do if you find yourself in this situation, a manslaughter defense lawyer in Tampa with our team at The Rickman Law Firm shares a few important details to know.

What Constitutes Vehicular Homicide?

Under Florida law, vehicular homicide is defined as “the killing of a human being, or the killing of an unborn child by any injury to the mother, caused by the operation of a motor vehicle by another in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another.”

You might also hear vehicular homicide referred to as “vehicular manslaughter” as the terms are often used interchangeably. The key in these charges is that the at-fault driver must have been driving recklessly or with negligence or malice.

There are a few types of vehicular homicide:

  •  Negligent or reckless driving
  • DUI/DWI-related
  • Traffic violation related (for example, running a red light or passing a school bus with stop signs up)

Possible Punishment for Vehicular Homicide

In Florida, vehicular homicide is a second degree felony and punishable by up to fifteen (15) years in prison, fifteen (15) years of probation, and a $10,000 fine. Furthemore, vehicular homicide (manslaughter) is assigned a Level 7 offense severity ranking under Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code, and the court may order the person to serve 120 community service hours in a trauma center or hospital that regularly receives victims of vehicle accidents, under the supervision of a registered nurse, an emergency room physician, or an emergency medical technician pursuant to a voluntary community service program operated by the trauma center or hospital.

Defenses Against Vehicular Homicide Charges

A few defenses may be available to you if you’ve been charged with vehicular homicide. These include:

  • Proving a suppression of evidence (like a wrongful DUI arrest)
  • Finding supervening circumstances (such as a faulty engine or other factors contributing to the crash)
  • Disproving reckless behavior

To understand the best legal strategy for your case, it’s important to contact an experienced manslaughter defense attorney in Tampa with The Rickman Law Firm. Our attorneys have experience handling cases like yours and can help you find the best legal defense.

For a free consultation with a Tampa manslaughter defense attorney, please contact The Rickman Law Firm today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.

How to Avoid Self-Incrimination

During an investigation of any kind, but especially a homicide in which you may be a suspect, you may have concerns about how you can cooperate with police without putting yourself at risk. In fact, Miranda Rights specifically state that “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” You may be dealing with grief and frustration during this time, and that can make you feel even more unsure of how to protect yourself and respond to questions if you’re a suspect in a homicide investigation.

If you’re involved in an investigation, a Tampa homicide defense lawyer with our team at The Rickman Law Firm has a few tips to help you cooperate without incriminating yourself during an investigation.

Tip 1: Utilize the Fifth Amendment

You are protected from self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Amendment provides that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” That means that if, by answering the investigator’s question, the witness could provide evidence that might aid the government in prosecuting him, then he has the right to refuse.

For many people, invoking the Fifth Amendment might be seen as taboo. After all, isn’t that an admission that something is illegal or wrong, even if it isn’t necessarily related to the homicide? The fact is that pleading the Fifth Amendment is sometimes your best protection until you have an attorney to help you navigate the investigation.

Tip 2: Contact a Tampa Homicide Defense Attorney

Arguably the most important way to protect yourself from accidental self-incrimination is to contact a Tampa homicide defense lawyer. Again, this isn’t an admission of guilt in any way. It is more of a protection for yourself.

The attorney will help you provide necessary information that may help the investigation to the police, and will help you understand how best to cooperate with law enforcement officers. Sometimes this might mean helping you locate documents that are requested or helping you understand what the investigators are asking.

Tip 3: Do Not Speak to Police Without an Attorney Present

When you’re involved in any type of investigation, be it homicide to a routine traffic violation, an attorney should be present any time you are being questioned by police. This can ensure that you understand what is being asked. Often we are feeling frazzled when being questioned — even if you are guilty of nothing, the environment you are being questioned in (or simply the act of being questioned at all) can create intense stress that might lead you to say something you don’t mean. Your attorney will be seasoned in interrogations and questioning, however, and can help keep you calm so that you understand fully each question being asked, while advising you on when you should invoke the Fifth Amendment.

To understand the best legal strategy for your case, it’s important to contact an experienced homicide defense attorney in Tampa with The Rickman Law Firm. Our attorneys have experience handling cases like yours and can help you find the best legal defense.

For a free consultation with a Tampa homicide defense attorney, please contact The Rickman Law Firm today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.

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