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Originally published Saturday, September 1, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Get Motivated Seminars close, lawsuits complain of unpaid bills

Motivational seminars signed up big names, such as Colin Powell and Rudy Giuliani, to speak at large arenas around the country as way to attract people to investment firms.

Bloomberg News

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A Florida company that hired celebrities including Rudy Giuliani and Colin Powell for motivational events that filled arenas around the U.S. has closed, leaving lawsuits complaining of unpaid bills.

Get Motivated Seminars drew as many as 400,000 people a year, selling tickets starting at $1.95 to daylong pageants featuring fireworks and confetti.

The seminars were actually vehicles for investment firms to sell courses in stock options and other trading tactics from the same stage where luminaries held forth.

Commercial presenters promoted annual returns of as much as 25 percent.

A Michigan pastor claimed he lost $11,500 trading options after paying for $12,000 of classes advertised at a Get Motivated seminar.

The Tampa, Fla.-based company shut down July 2, said Rick Nash, a spokesman. A sister firm that sold financial courses, WealthRock of Draper, Utah, also terminated most of its staff, Nash said. The companies employed more than 250.

"It's a hard business to make a profit," said John LaRosa, research director at Marketdata Enterprises in Tampa.

The Washington Speakers Bureau was owed $1.7 million for speeches made between November 2011 and February 2012, according to claims in legal documents.

The bureau represents well-known people who spoke at the events, including Giuliani, a former New York mayor, Powell, a former U.S. secretary of state, and former first lady Laura Bush, who made their last Get Motivated appearances on Feb. 16.

Michael Menchel, the bureau's senior vice president, declined to comment.

Until February, Get Motivated had a partnership with Investools, a unit of discount broker TD Ameritrade Holding that offered options training costing as much as $20,000.

The Buffalo courses were to be taught by WealthRock, which is owned by Joseph Johnson, a resident of Apollo Beach, Fla., who bought Get Motivated in January.

Johnson is named in a lawsuit in Hillsborough County, Fla., alleging he defaulted on a $12 million loan from an investor that he used to buy and operate Get Motivated.

Laurence Pino, a lawyer representing the investor, said he couldn't comment on the case.

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