Two days after a report cast doubt on Zer01 Mobile's business, its parent company has stripped its Web site down to only basic information.
New details have also come to light suggesting a past connection between two of the involved companies, despite claims to the contrary.
Earlier this week IDG News Service reported that it's unlikely that Zer01 could be technically able to offer the unlimited mobile voice and data service that it is advertising. The service, originally targeted for a July 1 launch, does not appear to be available yet. In addition, it's being marketed through a multilevel marketing program run by a company called Global Verge whose founder, Mark Petschel, in 2005 pleaded guilty to securities fraud. Petschel is currently on probation.
Ben Piilani, CEO of Zer01 and its parent company Unified Technologies Group (UTG), said that he first met Petschel in May and only recently found out about his criminal record. As a result, Piilani said that Petschel was stepping down from his role at the head of Global Verge.
However, documents online suggest that their companies were connected in the past.
Several Global Verge marketers have Web sites that include links to a Global Verge program for selling PC equipment. Prior to Wednesday, the URL for that program, nextdaypc.com, opened a Web site for Piilani Computers, described as a division of UTG. One of the marketer's Web sites includes that link on a page dated Dec. 17, 2008. Piilani's biography said that one of his former companies, I-Net, also sold the Piilani Computers line.
But by Wednesday, the "Piilani Computers" headline on the top of the nextdaypc.com page was replaced by the words "Your Smart Choice." In some areas of the country, the Piilani Computers banner is still visible.
UTG's press spokesman Ron Dresner was unable to provide on-the-record verifiable information about any past connection between Petschel and Piilani.
It's not the only related Web site that has changed since the original report on Monday. The Web site for UTG no longer features executive bios, company addresses, some previously provided telephone numbers or links to related companies such as Yorkshire Investments or the Yorkshire Foundation.
The Web site for Yorkshire Bancorp, which claims that the group has regulatory approval to offer banking service, but according to regulatory agency records does not, is still live. The foundation Web site, which mimics information from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation site, is also still accessible.
The UTG site had listed several addresses for offices, including one that was a mailbox rental store and another in Creve Coeur, Missouri, whose leasing agent has no record of UTG at the address. In an interview late last week, Piilani said that UTG is a large holding company without much infrastructure and that it rents an executive office at the Creve Coeur address. Now no physical addresses are listed on the company Web site.
It also included executive biographies that raised questions. For instance, CFO Rick Parker says he graduated from Georgetown in 1973. Georgetown University has no record of anyone with a similar name for that year. Georgetown College, a small institution in Georgia, did not find a reference to Parker in its directory.
Biographies for executives, including Lance Dascotte, chief operating officer, and O.K. Van Slett, chief communications officer, say they successfully started companies, without naming the companies.
None of those biographies are currently on the site and Piilani's has been shortened.
Dresner did not provide on-the-record verifiable information about why UTG's Web site was changed this week. He also did not provide on-the-record verifiable information about a patent UTG says it has filed for technology that enables the Zer01 service. IDG first requested information about the patent on Friday and Dresner said that he would provide a patent number.