The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Within the past year or so, one of the biggest and most public asset protection scams ever to hit the country flamed out in a flurry of federal lawsuits and administrative accusations, including what appears to be arguable criminal fraud. Asset Protection Group, a Las Vegas-based company run by disbarred lawyer Bill Reed and his right-hand henchman, convicted felon Rick Neiswonger, advertised heavily on talk radio, solicited “representatives” who would pay almost $10,000 each for the privilege of selling Reed’s “bulletproof asset protection” program throughout the nation, and made a ton of money in the process. Almost 2,000 such “representatives” paid their money and bought Reed’s baloney, which was founded on a combination of Nevada “bearer share” corporations, offshore companies, nominee officers (usually Reed and cohorts), “friendly liens,” and a host of other shady dealings. The scam took full advantage of a video cut by none other than Robert Wagner, the “Hart to Hart” actor who was once married to Natalie Wood. The video, which featured Reed, warned of the “litigation explosion” which could be used as a hook for selling Reed’s services.

Reed wasn’t shy at all about pushing his “program” onto the public. In fact, in a book he humbly titled “BULLET PROOF A$$ET PROTECTION,” he outlined the gist of his scam – essentially “hide the ball.” Take a look at these excerpts from Reed’s magnum opus:

“Camouflaging your assets is the first step in implementing any asset protection plan. Remember, if a federal judge can find an asset, he can seize it. Conversely, what he can’t find, or doesn’t know about, he can’t touch. Although I enjoy advertising bulletproof asset protection, the prescription for making an asset bulletproof is first to make it invisible.

“The second possible response to the question on the location of your assets [“Where are your assets?”] goes like this: “I don’t have any assets.” This is the response I prefer. Short, clean, and direct. Like a perfect murder, the questioner may have a dead body, but in no way is it connected to you.

“Only with bearer shares can a corporate officer or its nominee answer honestly and truthfully, “I have no idea who owns the company.” Bearer shares are just like cash and can change hands just as quickly. As a nominee officer for hundreds of Nevada corporations, I’ve been asked this question many times under oath, and my answer is always the same, “I don’t know who the owners of the company are and I can prove it.” When we form a corporation and issue bearer shares, I specifically ask my client in writing not to tell me what he intends to do with the share certificates. What I don’t know I can’t tell anyone.

“In Nevada, however, with bearer shares, the identities of the owners of any shares are completely protected. In fact, as a nominee officer for hundreds of Nevada corporations, I have been subpoenaed on numerous occasions by collection attorneys, divorce lawyers, and branches of the federal government in their attempt to learn the actual owners of the corporation that I serve as an officer. Forget the attorney-client privilege or asserting your Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. A judge can set these aside with a wave of his hand, and if you still refuse to talk, you can end up in jail. Your best and only true protection from a prying question is to be able to answer honestly and truthfully that you don’t have the answer. When I’m asked for the names of the owners of any corporation, I can answer cleanly and quickly that bearer shares were issued and I have no idea who has them. It would be like asking me who has the $100 bill that I spent at the grocery store. I gave it to the checkout girl, but I have no idea what happened to it after that. Bearer shares are the key to privacy. You can’t disclose what you don’t know.”

In July, 2006, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asked a federal court in Missouri to appoint a receiver to take over APG’s business because of Reed and Neiswonger’s exaggerated income claims to the APG “representatives.” The Missouri court issued an order that put the company under federal jurisdiction and has been overseeing the APG mess ever since.

As of mid-August, 2007, a new player emerged in the APG/ Reed/ Neiswonger saga: The U.S. Justice Department, which announced that it was also suing APG and its principals for helping his customers evade payment of their taxes to the IRS. hide their income and evade taxes. The Justice Department complaint provided examples of six sham liens totaling more than $2 million that Reed and APG allegedly filed for customers who owed nearly $900,000 in federal taxes. According to the complaint, the IRS had discovered at least 75 APG customers who had used nominee bank accounts to evade collection of federal taxes.

Of course, it goes without saying that if APG, Reed and Neiswonger didn’t like the way they were going to look after the FTC was after them, they’re going to like it even less when the Justice Department and the IRS are through with them. Meanwhile, the fate of the hundreds of “representatives” scammed by APG’s baloney is as yet unknown. The Missouri court has refused all efforts to allow individual claims against APG, Reed and Neiswonger – at least for the time being – and in any case, any claimant will have to stand in line behind the FTC, the IRS and any other interested federal entity.

There’s a reason I’m reporting on the sad tale of APG’s crash and burn other than to simply watch with a sort of morbid fascination. It’s to offer a word of warning. Just because Reed and Neiswonger plowed their APG airplane into the ground doesn’t mean that the world is now safe from asset protection rip-offs. In fact, quite the opposite is true. There are plenty of vultures out there who are more than willing to jump into the void left by APG’s absence. In fact, despite the fact that Nevada’s legislature outlawed “bearer shares” in its 2007 session, one needs only do a Google search under the key words “Nevada corporations bearer shares” or “Nevada nominee services” to realize that not only are there still companies out there hawking “bearer shares” in Nevada, but offering to throw in “nominee services” in the bargain.

So be careful. The fact that APG got taken down won’t stand as a deterrent to any of the other hustlers who can still make a few bucks singing the same song that APG sang.

If you’re serious about asset protection and estate planning, find a licensed professional who knows what he’s talking about – not some guy you heard on talk radio.