Ready for Towing

— For most people, charity begins at home. For William Robert Bradley, a cofounder of Metabolife International and onetime tow-truck operator, charity begins in the tax and secrecy haven Switzerland and winds through another hot-money haven, Anguilla in the British West Indies.

Last year, Bradley pleaded guilty to evading millions of dollars in taxes. Metabolife, the herbal medicine peddler now liquidating in bankruptcy, confessed to the same sin. Bradley's sentencing, which was supposed to be in April, has been extended several times and is now slated for August 31. He is expected to get at least 18 to 24 months, but the probation officer wants to shave some time off that. This month, the U.S. attorney's office strenuously objected; if anything, Bradley deserves more time, not less, said assistant U.S. attorneys Phillip Halpern and Kyle W. Hoffman in a filing with the court.

In mid 1997, Bradley set up the Bradley Foundation, supposedly a charity. Until he came under investigation, it was used "exclusively...as a means of evading the payment of taxes," says the Department of Justice. Only later did Bradley actually direct significant money to legitimate charities, the prosecutors say. The filing details some of Bradley's alleged tricks. He plunked down $6.4 million in the foundation. Then he used it as a piggybank to fund his deals. Thus, he took a tax break and took the money, too. Under the law, there is to be no extraordinary self-dealing in charitable foundations. The most egregious caper was in 2000; Bradley tapped his foundation for $4.3 million, which was used as a swing loan to finance his purchase of a Mission Valley office building. Bradley's attorney, Nathan J. Hochman, admits the loan should not have been made. Bradley "has paid taxes, penalties, and interest related to these loans," says Hochman, who denies that the Bradley Foundation was used only to evade taxes until the investigation began. "The foundation has given away over $17 million to 15 charities, including Father Joe Carroll."

In addition, Bradley pulled out $63,000 to pay for "lavish" parties at his house. He claimed that amount as a foundation expense. The foundation's accountant wouldn't put her name on such a claim, the filing says. He brushed her off and filed it. The foundation boasted that it was awarding scholarships. But almost without exception, the scholarships went to friends -- for example, to the boyfriend of his daughter and to the boyfriend of his second wife's daughter.

With such moves, Bradley drained 90 percent of the foundation's assets, according to the government. By year-end 1999, the foundation was down to $212,550. Bradley then figured another way to route the money, in effect, to his own pocket. Using funds from the Bradley Foundation, the prosecution says, he set up a Byzantine pathway to snake the loot through the International Community Foundation, a tax-exempt organization in Las Vegas, to its affiliate in Switzerland; then to another foundation and then to another, which had been incorporated in Anguilla. So, says the government, Bradley had two alternatives: 1) Give the money away as required by law; or, 2) "Launder the funds through a series of domestic and foreign entities" so he could evade taxes. He allegedly chose the latter.

When he sold Bradley Towing, he facilitated it through two more Caribbean tax and secrecy havens, the Cayman Islands and Nevis, the government says. In 2002, Bradley bought 10 percent of a small venture-capital firm, Virtual Capital of California. The person who had been named president only two months earlier was Jerry Sanders, now mayor of San Diego. Sanders also had a 10 percent interest. Banker Tom Stickel, a close friend of Sanders and founder of Virtual, says the firm was shut down at the end of last year when it couldn't raise any additional capital. All the investors lost their money, says Stickel. Bradley lost the most. He had put in $1.8 million worth of Las Vegas real estate.

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