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Salesmen sentenced to prison, millions in restitution in Deer Park vending-machine fraud scheme

Two salesmen for a Deer Park vending machine company, including one from Jericho, were sentenced to at least 2 years in prison in connection with a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Howard S. Strauss, 66, of Jericho, and Mark Benowitz, 68, of Midlothian, Virginia, both pleaded guilty last year to charges related to their sales work for Multivend LLC, doing business as Vendstar -- a candy vending machine manufacturer.

Authorities said the two men "misrepresented the business opportunity's likely profits, the amount of money that Vendstar's prior customers were earning" and "how quickly customers were likely to recover their investment."

The quality of business locations for vending use and the level of assistance from locating companies recommended also were misrepresented by the two salesman, according to the Justice Department.

The machines are set to vend individual bulk candies and nuts, such as M & M's, Skittles, Mike and Ike candies and peanuts and cashews, for a quarter. The company sold the machines throughout the United States until 2010, the department said.

Authorities said Strauss was sentenced to 28 months in prison Thursday by U.S. District Judge Joan M. Azrack.

Strauss also was ordered to make restitution of $2,291,844 to 230 victims, authorities said.

Benowitz was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison and ordered to repay $997,210 to 101 victims.

Authorities said 22 individuals have been charged with fraud in connection with Vendstar, including Vendstar managers and sales representatives, and the operators of locating companies recommended by Vendstar.

Three have been sentenced. Thirteen are awaiting sentencing, while six are scheduled to stand trial in September.

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