A Bootleg Fortune

The CIS Development Foundation (CISDF), a nonprofit corporation ostensibly dedicated to collecting tax-deductible donations for the technologically strapped economies of the member nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), is located in Old Bridge, New Jersey. The foundation solicits only nonmonetary donations and claims it sent more than $22 million in humanitarian aid to Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Estonia, and Georgia in 1998 alone. Among its outside directors are a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, the executive director of the International Partnership for Human Development, a senior vice president of Morris Knudsen Corp., and the Rector of the Holy Virgin Protection Russian Orthodox Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The foundation’s goal is “to assist in the economic development of the CIS, which is temporarily in dire straits, by donating humanitarian and technical aid (medical supplies and tools, pharmaceutical supplies and provisions, food, clothes and household items, office equipment, food processing machinery, etc.). All aid is shipped to CIS nonprofit organizations, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, homes for the disabled, orphanages, churches, etc.”

Storage and shipping of the donated material were provided by Express Shipping Service in Linden, the firm named by the Justice Department as a Russian organized crime front in the McCormick Distilling smuggling case. Prosecutors declined to comment on the possibility that the foundation’s charitable shipments might have included bootleg vodka. The Most Reverend George Kallaur, the Russian Orthodox priest who serves on the foundation’s board of directors and is described on the CISDF Web site as “director of public relations” and “spiritual advisor,” also declined to comment.

But the foundation has a history of bootlegging. In 1997, CISDF president Alexander Bondarev, Express Shipping Service CEO Leonid Ivanutenko, and several other individuals established a company called Networking Dimension Corporation. A 1998 Dun & Bradstreet report describes Networking Dimension as a seller of wholesale computers, peripherals, and software, but according to a 1997 lawsuit filed by Califon Productions (the parent company of Merv Griffin Productions) and Columbia Tri-Star Interactive, the company’s real function was to operate a pirated online version of the game show Wheel of Fortune. The game, which was called “Fortune Wheel,” was located at www.fortune-wheel.com, and the registered domain owner was the CIS Development Foundation.

In May 1997, attorneys for Califon and Columbia Tri-Star Interactive (which owns the rights to the authorized online version of Wheel of Fortune) demanded that Networking Dimension and CISDF cease their online operation. Ivanutenko, whose multiple titles included CEO of Networking Dimension, promised to discontinue “Fortune Wheel,” but the game remained online until August, when the company’s Internet service provider (ISP), responding to complaints from Califon and Columbia Tri-Star Interactive, terminated service to the Web site. Three days later, according to the lawsuit, Networking Dimension moved the site to another ISP; two months after that, the company registered a second domain name and moved the game there. In November 1997, the company’s ISP terminated service to both Web sites.

Fearing that Networking Dimension would revive the game at another location, Califon and Columbia Tri-Star Interactive filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The defendants made no effort to defend themselves, failed to appear in court, and in January 1998 were permanently enjoined from further infringement of the Wheel of Fortune copyright.

Categories: News