A Long Island beverage consultant who authorities claim is part Willy Loman and part Nigerian e-mail schemer was arrested today by federal agents and charged with defrauding several midsize U.S. advertising agencies out of more than $400,000.
“Gilbert Solnin has defrauded numerous marketing and advertising agencies located throughout the United States,” U.S. Postal Inspector Eric Oram stated in an arrest warrant unsealed today in Central Islip, N.Y.
Solnin allegedly traveled the country preying on advertising agencies—many desperate to do business in lean economic times—promising a “unique opportunity” involving the promotion of three types of beverages: an energy drink, a vodka drink and a bottled water.
The self-proclaimed adman, who says he worked at Seagrams for 12 years and takes credit for revitalizing Crown Royal whiskey, allegedly approached more than a dozen agencies via e-mail between 2006 and late 2010, offering to cut them in exclusively on the business in exchange for a $3,500 to $8,000 monthly retainer.
With promises of financial backing from a private investment group, Solnin urged the agencies in person, by phone and e-mail to act quickly to get in on the deal, according to shops he contacted.
“The promised venture never in fact comes to pass,” said Oram in court papers. Two to three months after initially contacting them, Solnin stopped returning the agencies' phone calls and e-mails and often claimed to have been involved in a car accident, according to Oram.
Twice he also claimed to have multiple sclerosis, suffered from dizzy spells or lost his cell phone, the feds allege.
After investigating the claims Solnin made to the agencies, authorities found that he never had the backing of an investment group nor any ongoing relationship with the beverage companies as he claimed, according to the arrest warrant.
Confronted with his alleged fraud by several companies, he refused to return his fees and threatened several of the agencies with legal or criminal action, records show.
Solnin voluntarily surrendered himself to authorities this morning at the federal court house in Central Islip, Long Island. He was released on $250,000 bond.
“We are still reviewing the charges,” said his lawyer Joseph Conway. “We will respond in a couple of days.”