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In April 1997, Universal Express Inc., a New York-based package-shipping company and postal store operator, was offered an unconventional financing plan by Select Capital Advisors, a Miami-based investment banking firm. Select’s principals, Ronald Williams and William Kolker, offered Universal up to $14 million in conventional financing, plus $4 million in short-term money to be supported by convertible debentures — a type of bond — that Universal would sell to off-shore investors. The investors would have the right, after 30 days, to demand either payment or conversion of the bonds to Universal stock. Universal was assured, however, that conventional long-term financing would be in place before the investors could demand the stock. Universal issued the bonds but, said its attorney, Arthur W. Tifford, “Williams and Kolker never intended to have the conventional financing in place.” Further, the investors were not off-shore; instead, they were “a group of New Yorkers working in collusion with Williams.” At the end of the 30 days, when Universal could not pay, it was forced to issue 2 million extra shares. Then, Tifford said, the investors began manipulating the stock — initially hyping it to drive up the price, and then, after selling high, placing massive short-sell orders (bets that a stock will drop in price) and driving down the stock price by selling it back and forth to themselves. The price dropped from $2 to 0.02 cents per share and cost Universal almost $90 million. Universal sued Select and Williams and Kolker, charging fraud, conversion and breach of fiduciary duty. Prior to trial, Judge Eleanor Schockett issued a default judgment against them; the Miami jury considered only damages. On July 25, it awarded $87.62 million in compensatory damages, $275 million in punitives and $26.29 million in interest. While Select Capital is moribund, the plaintiff expects to collect some of the judgment, said Tifford, who has sued the defendants in other matters and uncovered and collected assets. Plaintiffs’ attorney is Arthur W. Tifford, a sole practitioner in Miami. The defense was conducted pro se.

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