Clarion woman sentenced in vending machine fraud

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A Clarion woman whose ice cream truck business once won huzzahs from Oprah was sentenced to a year and a day in prison today for her role in a caffeine-focused fraud scheme.

Pearl Pastilock, 50, a woman with a 7th grade education, was featured in a 1999 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in a segment called “The Best Money I Ever Spent.” Her investment of hundreds of dollars bought a used postal truck that she turned into a soft serve ice cream vendor.

That led her next to a business placing electronic games in businesses, and then into fraud.

A company known as American Vending Systems in Centennial, Colo., recruited her into a scheme involving “vending machines that dispensed highly caffeinated energy balls, energy chews and energy shots,” according to the charges against Pastilock. The company charged people $10,000 for a business opportunity package including machines and assistance.

People asking for references were given Pastilock’s contact information. She then used fake names and lies to convince some 250 people to send money to American Vending Systems, which provided little of value in return, according to prosecutors.

Pastilock was paid around $25,000 over three years for her references, according to assistant federal public defender Marketa Sims. Five “masterminds” made much more in the scheme, she said.

“She thought it was legitimate,” said Ms. Sims. She became caught up in “a network of fraud throughout the country, but [because her phone number was provided] it all came back to a little trailer in Clarion.”

“She used aliases and lied to people,” said Department of Justice trial attorney Patrick Runkle, of the consumer protections unit. He added that some people sent their life’s savings to American Vending and lost it all. The principals in Colorado and Texas have been prosecuted, he said.

“I just want to say that I’m sorry, and I’ll never let it happen again,” said Pastilock, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy.

In addition to the prison term, she faces three years of probation and must join the other defendants in paying $215,033 total in restitution, representing a fraction of the losses by victims.

Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord.

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