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Is Tampa man a true millionaire or fraudulent pretender?

TAMPA - On his dating introduction tape for "Millionaire Matchmaker," Michael A. Prozer III told America, "I would estimate, modestly, my net worth to be about $400 million." Appearing on the Bravo channel show where purportedly rich singles search for true love under the tutelage of a brash matchmaker, the Tampa resident showed off what he said were his private plane and his 33,000-square foot mansion; he talked about globe hopping, meeting with foreign presidents and captains of industry. He was chief executive officer, he said, of a company that facilitated Internet credit payments for people in South America, a kind of Latin Pay Pal. He portrayed himself as a successful online entrepreneur looking for a beautiful, dark-haired life partner who would mesh with his high-flying lifestyle and help him parent his two young sons. But federal prosecutors say the Tampa man is a fraud – a scam artist adept at separating people and institutions from their money.
Whether Prozer is an actual millionaire or someone who wildly overestimates his own worth and somehow just makes the wrong enemies remains to be seen. Prozer's role as CEO of the company Xchange Agent was "essential to the operation of (a) fraud scheme," according to a federal indictment handed up in April charging Prozer with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. The federal indictment describes a plot that prosecutors say unfolded in the months before his Millionaire Matchmaker episode was broadcast in April 2009. The indictment says Prozer paid Fedor Stanley Salinas, an employee of Wachovia bank, $25,000 to make it appear Prozer had $21 million on deposit to be used as collateral for a $3 million loan from another bank, Park Avenue Bank in Georgia. The $3 million loan was never repaid. In April, Park Avenue Bank was shut down by the federal government. As part of the scheme, the indictment says Prozer and an unnamed coconspirator met with a Park Avenue Bank representative in November 2008 at an airport in Trinidad and Tobago. The coconspirator posed as "Gaston," a representative of First Caribbean International Bank, who could verify that Prozer had $145 million on deposit there. Prozer said there's more to this case than meets the eye. "I think you would be insanely shocked and surprised at what the real story is," he said. "Nothing about the indictment expresses the truth." The indictment was handed up by a federal grand jury in Tampa in April, but Prozer has struggled to find the money to hire a lawyer. He has insisted he could afford to pay for his own defense, and federal judges have repeatedly ordered him to get an attorney so the case could proceed. As of Friday, told U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Jenkins he was having money wired to the high-profile law firm of Barry Cohen. For now, Jenkins told Prozer he would be his own attorney. "Either you're the most unlucky person in the world or you don't have a good grip on reality or it's just unfortunate economic times," the exasperated judge said. Cohen's partner, Todd Foster, said said people should wait for the facts to come out before forming any opinions about Prozer. "From the little I have seen so far, there is a tremendous amount more to the picture than has been revealed to date," he said. Asked outside the courthouse whether he's really a millionaire, Prozer said that question would be answered by Foster. In an email, when asked that question, Foster said, "Can't say." Prozer initially seemed shocked when approached by a reporter wanting to interview him . "Am I really that relevant?" he asked. But before he was indicted, Prozer described himself in court filings as "an Internet mogul, internationally known businessman and television show participant." He said then that he "regularly works with and is sought out by government officials and celebrity entrepreneurs, which include major recording artists and movie stars, among others." A developer who evicted Prozer twice from a multi-million dollar house says he wonders if the "Millionaire Matchmaker" screens its contestants to see if they really are worth millions. "Do they not check anything?" asked the developer, Don Hughes. A lawyer who sued Prozer in Georgia went further. He suggested the show helped Prozer create an appearance of legitimacy, helping him take money from would-be investors. "Some people who invested after the airing of the show… may have actually drawn comfort from the fact that Bravo had double checked this multimillionaire and he was a good risk," said the lawyer, Joel Wadsworth. A spokeswoman for the show declined to comment for this story. On the show, matchmaker Patti Stanger described Prozer as "trailer park trash." Stanger pleaded with Prozer to let her change his bowl haircut, put him in nice clothes or get a plastic surgeon to give him a chin implant. But Prozer said no. His one concession was to lose some of his jewelry. But then he showed up at a dating mixer wearing what Stanger described as a "hick outfit" looking like a "doofus clown." For his date, he selected Elana, a sultry commercial broker. He whisked her off in a private jet to a spacious house in Florida. From there, the date went downhill. At the mansion, he offered Elana microwaved potato skins while he drank Coke and Gatorade. Then, while they were hitting golf balls, Prozer told Elana he had to go to the bathroom. He stepped behind some bushes and took care of business. To top it all off, he took his date jet skiing, something she said she'd never done before. He gunned his motor, blasting water all over her. For Elana, that was it. Prozer, she decided, was an egotistical jerk. Prozer's legal troubles aren't just in federal criminal court. Weeks before his Millionaire Matchmaker appearance, he was sued in Georgia accused of fraud. Allegations in that lawsuit closely parallel charges now contained in the federal criminal indictment. John E. Hosch, Centre Equities Inc. and Cherokee Investments accused Prozer and his companies of soliciting $82,500 for stock that was never issued. As part of the alleged scheme, Prozer is accused of making it appear he had $21 million deposited in a Wachovia account. Hosch says he personally guaranteed the $3 million loan and another for $300,000, both of which Prozer never repaid. Wadsworth, the lawyer who filed the complaint for Hosch, said the Millionaire Matchmaker show was "scripted, a lie unchecked by anybody." Another lawyer, William "Bo" Gray, later took over the case and dismissed that lawsuit, but filed a new one, this time without the stock fraud claim. Prozer, Gray said, "must be an amazingly convincing person, someone who could sell bark to trees." In a separate, related case, a Georgia judge last year entered a default judgment against Prozer, ordering him to pay the now-defunct Park Avenue Bank more than $3.1 million for the loan he signed for in 2008. Months after Prozer's television appearance, his companies sued him in Hillsborough Circuit Court. According to the complaint, which was recently scheduled to be dismissed , the businesses were "development stage companies with no assets and no revenues that have never been worth $400 million." The lawsuit accused Prozer of soliciting investors with false, altered or forged documents to create the appearance that the companies had more than $145 million on deposit. The complaint says Prozer used investor funds for his own personal expenses, including $33,000 a month to lease a home and other money for shoes, clothes, food, transportation and other items. In July 2009, company shareholders voted to remove Prozer from the board of directors, according to the lawsuit. In a response, Prozer accused the new CEO, Jason Donald, of lying to shareholders. The television show, he said, was "highly edited" and "merely for entertainment purposes." His $400 million worth, Prozer wrote, "is based on forecast and was not represented to be an actual cash asset description or 'cash on hand' as plaintiffs allege." Prozer's financial troubles extended to his homes. In late 2009, he wanted to buy an 8,000-square-foot house on the water on Davis Islands. Prozer wanted to rent at first, and Hughes said he let Prozer move in, but the first and last-months' checks for the $31,000 monthly rent were no good. So Hughes evicted Prozer and filed a complaint with the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office. Hughes said Prozer paid the money to the prosecutor and the money was forwarded to Hughes, so Hughes dropped the charge. Hughes said he let Prozer back into the house when Prozer gave him a cashier's check for $150,000 as a non-refundable down payment on a $4.2 million purchase contract. But Prozer never came up with the rest of the money to close, and he evicted him again. Hughes said Prozer was constantly talking about big business deals he was working on with a big payoff just around the corner. He continually said he expected to be getting $2 billion in two weeks. But he never had money. Hughes was unsure what to make of Prozer. "It just became such an avalanche of half truths, lies and suspiciousness." esilvestrini@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7837
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