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Feds probe Miami gay adult video producer

MIAMI – The owner of a Miami-based company that produces gay adult videos and lifestyle magazines is the target of a federal investigation for allegedly defrauding public schools out of millions in a scheme involving a nonprofit student organization.

Flava Life, a gay entertainment magazine for black and Latino men, is owned by Phillip Bleicher. Bleicher’s company, the Student Leadership Network, is under federal investigation for allegedly defrauding schools out of millions. Phillip Bleicher, who founded the Student Leadership Network, allegedly cashed bogus checks after persuading school officials to sign up for his program, which was promoted as offering conferences and leadership programs for student council members, according to Harpreet Khera, assistant attorney general in the special litigation bureau of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

In an interview, Bleicher adamantly denied any wrongdoing and said a competitor in the adult video business was spreading lies about him and his company.

“The allegations against me are absolutely false,” he said.

Bleicher is also the publisher of Flava Life, a travel and entertainment magazine for gay black men and Latinos. He also owns Cocostore.com, which produces gay black and Latino porn videos.

Bleicher relocated his company, Flavaworks, from Chicago to Miami in May. The company’s office is located at 2610 N. Miami Ave. in Miami.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office filed a civil suit against Bleicher in January. But in March, the suit was dropped when officials decided to pursue federal criminal charges against Bleicher instead.

“We dismissed the civil suit because we felt the case should be handled criminally,” Khera said. “We are cooperating with federal authorities in their ongoing investigation.”

According to Khera, Bleicher’s company contacted schools and persuaded them to sign up for the leadership program. Once a school sent a check, Bleicher or a member of his staff allegedly “cloned” the check, she said.

“They would create a bogus check with the same check number and increase the amount of money,” Khera explained. They then wrote “signature not required” on the check, Khera said. She said some banks cashed the checks without a signature.

“Hundreds of schools nationwide were allegedly defrauded by Mr. Bleicher,” Khera said. She said the case is being handled at the federal level because it involves schools in many states.

Khera described the evidence in the case as “blatant.” She said the attorney general’s office had copies of the original checks that the school officials wrote and the bogus “cloned” checks that Student Leadership Network allegedly cashed.

Bleicher denied creating or cashing any bogus checks. He said a “third-party” auditor found no misappropriation of funds by the Student Leadership Network. The company that Bleicher said did the audit, Aronson Gelman & Posner, declined to comment on the audit or the investigation.

Bleicher said he founded the Student Leadership Network in 1992 when he was a student activist. He said he was executive director of the organization until 2001. The organization closed in July 2005, he said.

Bleicher said part of the Student Leadership Network’s mission was to advocate for student representation on school boards and to produce promotional material.

Bleicher said one of his competitors was slandering him. He said the attorney general’s office acted on “anonymous complaints” when it filed suit against him.

But Khera said the case “was brought to the attention of the attorney general’s office by the state board of education in Illinois.” She said she was “not at liberty” to disclose what federal agency was handling the case.

Randy Sanborn, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago, did not return two phone messages seeking comment.

Meanwhile, Bleicher is also facing allegations that his adult video business paid models more to engage in unsafe sex after his operations were shut down by the health department in Chicago. Chris Brown, assistant commissioner for the Chicago Department of Health, told the Chicago Free Press that he had received reports that Bleicher’s models were being paid more to engage in unsafe sex.

Bleicher denied those allegations, but he confirmed his video business in Chicago was shut down. He said the operation was shut down because he didn’t have a Chicago business license. He said he had tried unsuccessfully to obtain one.

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