Income Store owner found guilty on fraud charges after investors lose more than $100 million in alleged website development scheme
A southwest suburban man was found guilty on seven counts of wire fraud Friday for bilking investors out of more than $100 million through his website development business, The Income Store, which federal prosecutors alleged was a Ponzi scheme.
Kenneth Courtright, a polished pitchman who operated The Income Store out of his Minooka home, lured more than 500 investors with promises of high annual returns in perpetuity if they paid a six-figure upfront fee used to build and operate websites, according to the February 2020 indictment.
The jury verdict followed a seven-day criminal trial in Chicago federal court. A separate civil complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission against Courtright and The Income Store is ongoing.
The scheme began in January 2017, with The Income Store marketing its website investment offering through radio and online ads, according to the criminal complaint. Investors paid $100,000 or more in upfront fees for buying, developing and running an assortment of commercial websites, with guaranteed annual returns of 13% to 20% in a revenue-sharing agreement.
But instead of website revenue, the complaint alleged, the returns were funded by upfront fees from new investors until the business model unraveled and the SEC froze the company’s assets in December 2019. The criminal complaint revolved around the upfront wire transfers from seven investors.
The Income Store created and operated more than 3,100 mostly obscure websites, ranging from KeepingCarsClean.com, a waterless car washing e-commerce site, to HoneyBeeStings.com, an ad-supported site for beekeepers.
Website revenues were “insufficient to make guaranteed investor payouts,” generating about $9 million in advertising and product sales revenue through October 2019 — far less than The Income Store paid to investors over the same time, according to the federal complaints.
In December 2019, Courtright’s scheme became unsustainable and he notified