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`Golden rings' show some tarnish

Court judgments of $65,000 put Team Americana in hotter water

Team Americana founder Todd Surgeon is walking on ever shakier financial ground, but he remains confident.

So confident that he offered to bounce on a trampoline for a photographer Wednesday afternoon while answering questions about the company's debts.

Any debts or outstanding judgments that I have will be repaid, he says. I'm still Mr. Americana, bearer of the five golden rings.

The five golden rings are the centerpiece of Surgeon's personal passion course, which he says increases effectiveness tenfold by teaching people to embrace their dreams. He plans to deliver the motivational speeches nationwide to repay his company's debts.

One such speech was scheduled for tonight, but Surgeon canceled it, saying he won't deliver the talk here until Medford is ready.

It remains to be seen whether Surgeon's company will last that long.

With an eviction pending against it, Team Americana moved from its Main Street offices over the weekend and turned over the keys Wednesday morning, according to Capital Property Management. Eviction proceedings filed in March cited unpaid rent of $2,000 a month since January.

The company is also the target of two money judgments awarded in Jackson County Court last month for more than $65,000.

Rene Pare of Grants Pass was awarded $45,333 plus interest. The April 19 judgment cites a $30,000 promissory note signed by Surgeon to Pare that has not been paid, and $15,333 in unpaid wages.

Police were called to Team Americana's showroom on Jacksonville Highway on Wednesday afternoon after Pare showed up there and he and Surgeon began arguing. Surgeon was cited for harassment after allegedly smashing an egg on Pare.

Surgeon says he has no problem with the judgment but has grown tired of Pare's attempts to undermine his business.

He's trying to do what he can to steal my dream, Surgeon says.

The bottom line is there is no dream, counters Pare.

Pare says he goes to the showroom three or four times a week to make sure people know about Surgeon before they do business with him.

I will be here until he's shut down, he says.

Gandee Printing Center of Medford was awarded the second judgment, $19,719.54 for printing services that weren't paid for.

At least one manufacturer says it has severed ties with Team Americana, despite Surgeon's claims to the contrary and his continued display of the product at the showroom.

Sofpool informed Surgeon in a February letter that it will no longer supply Team Americana with any product and requested that Surgeon not represent himself as a dealer or agent for Sofpool. The company says Team Americana owes $1,960 for a pool that was never paid for.

Those associated with Surgeon and his ventures say his troubled financial past goes well beyond the back rent and bad checks that surfaced last month when he unveiled a plan to raise $20 million for 25 local charities.

In the four weeks since Surgeon unveiled the plan to grow to 777 outdoor showcases nationwide, the number of showcases has dropped from two to one, and 12 of the charities have withdrawn.

Still, Surgeon says, the dream remains strong.

But some team players, the people recruited to sell the products, apparently want out. The state attorney general's office has received five consumer complaints from team players who paid $485 to get into the program and haven't been able to get their money back. Jan Margosian of the consumer complaints division says the state is investigating.

Nevada state securities investigators won't say whether they are investigating Surgeon, but say they have been contacted by disgruntled investors there.

Before returning to his hometown of Medford in 1997, Surgeon operated a Las Vegas company called Americana Inc. that sold spas and other leisure products.

Numerous people invested in the company but have yet to see any returns.

The couple that appears to have lost the most is Bill and Susie Schaefer. Bill Schaefer, an elevator repairman from Henderson, Nev., says he's had to come out of retirement because of money he lost with Americana Inc.

I've lost my life savings and $60,000 against my house, he says. We were offered an opportunity to invest and it looked like a good investment. From all appearances, everything was grand.

But $220,000 later, Schaefer says he has next to nothing to show for it. Though he was promised more than half ownership of the company, he has no stock certificates -- only promissory notes signed by Surgeon and one of his partners.

Schaefer returned to work just weeks before losing his house so he could repay a second mortgage he took out to invest.

I've been sentenced to five to eight years (of work) just to set myself back to even keel, and I'm 60, he says.

Trent Harrison, a chiropractor from Taylorsville, Utah, says he, too, was promised part ownership in the company but has only a contract signed by Surgeon and a partner, no stock certificate. His losses are also high.

Mine's in six-digit figures and that was out of my pocket, says Harrison, who pegs his investment at about $105,000.

Surgeon says Harrison and the Schaefers are still shareholders in Americana Inc. -- though Surgeon was not aware that the company's active incorporation status in Nevada had expired. He also says he disclosed everything to them along the way.

Even the man Surgeon regularly touts as his mentor, former Arizona State University business professor Sherman Tingey, says he's lost tens of thousands in his dealings with Surgeon.

Surgeon claims Tingey was Americana's chief executive, but Tingey says he never worked for Surgeon and was not his mentor. He invested some money in the company but says most of his losses came from misuse of his credit card.

Has he seen any of the money back? No, and I probably never will, he says.

Surgeon insists Tingey did work for him and that he and others launched a hostile takeover bid for his company. He says their failed attempt is motivating their attacks on him now.

Surgeon says a similar push for control is motivating Pare and others to stir things up against Team Americana.

Former employees Terry Howell of Rogue River and Guy Jenkins of Medford say they each lost more than $45,000, some in unpaid wages and some in investment.

I'll never see it, Howell says. I've written that off.

Jenkins and the other jilted investors say they just want to alert others before Surgeon lures them in with his slick presentation and fast-talking mannerisms.

He could sell ice boxes to Eskimos, Jenkins says.

Harrison says his advice to others is simple: Avoid this man.

Todd Surgeon, jumping on a trampoline Wednesday, remains confident in his American dream despite financial problems.