South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Feb, 28, 2003
By Robert Nolin
A Fort Lauderdale businessman with a history of forgery and theft convictions was sentenced to eight years in federal prison Tuesday for bilking millions from Christian fundamentalists and spending the money on exotic vacations, flashy vehicles and sex toys.
U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley of West Palm Beach imposed the sentence on Mark Cecil Thurman, 43, who was also ordered to pay $4,193,599 in restitution to his victims, numbering more than 400.
Thurman founded a “family values” Internet service company, Families on Line, that would filter out risqué material for his Christian subscribers and their children. He also sold stock in the company to Christian investors.
To push his stock, Thurman falsely claimed his company was connected to some of the best-known religious groups in the country. He produced a letter, later proved a forgery, from the Trinity Broadcasting Network endorsing his company. Thurman claimed, also falsely, that TBN had invested $500,000 in Families on Line.
Thurman orchestrated an additional fraud by selling 119,000 Sony PlayStation 2 video games through his Web site. At the time, around Christmas 2000, the game had just been released and was in high demand. Prosecutors said Thurman never delivered the units and his customers lost money, as did the banks that financed credit card purchases for the games.
“This was an outrageous fraud on investors,” David Nelson, the Securities and Exchange Commission regional director in Miami, said at the time of Thurman’s March 2001 arrest.
Prosecutors said Thurman used his profits to pay for a Hawaiian vacation, $40,000 custom motorcycle, a BMW and jewelry. He also spent about $5,000 at a store that specializes in adult novelties.
Thurman, who founded several religious-oriented corporations in South Florida, had previously been convicted of grand theft, and has forgery and theft convictions dating to 1976.
Apart from the eight-year sentence, Thurman is serving 30 months for tax fraud and 18 months for being a felon in possession of firearms. His eight-year term will begin after he completes the other prison terms, and he must serve three years on probation upon his eventual release.