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February 16, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, February 16, 2005

How to be a millionaire How to be a millionaire (February 16, 2005)

Hundreds attend "get rich" conference at Crowne Plaza

by Bill D'Agostino

"How many of you want to stay home and make money in your underwear?" Bob Kittell asked a standing-room-only crowd at the ballroom inside Palo Alto's Crowne Plaza Cabana last Wednesday.

As he spoke, the affable and boyish Kittell roamed the stage in front. Flanked by United States and California flags, Kittell stood in front of a table draped with a green banner reading, "The Millionaire Conference."

More than 600 people sat (or stood against the wall) through much of the nine-and-a-half-hour conference, which has raised its own flags with Better Business Bureaus in other cities. The crowd seemed to represent the vast array of the human experience -- no gender or race or income bracket appeared to dominate.

But the group was united by one thing: they had dollar signs in their eyes. Many had been stung by the dot-com bust and were now entranced by the secrets of effortless riches supposedly revealed before them.

Kittell's 90-minute talk, entitled "Turn Wall Street into Your Own Personal Gold Mine," concluded with a personal account about how he was teaching his sons -- like him, champion pole-vaulters -- to invest wisely.

"How many of you want your children to be successful?" he asked.

The key to that success, Kittell explained, is a Web site, INVESTools, that compiles data drawn from insider trading and other tips. To get access to the prophesizing Web site, customers need to sit through another two-day conference later in the month, also at the hotel, he told them.

The cost for the second conference, which also includes six months of access to the Web site and five instructional DVDs, was $2,999.

To dispel any doubts, Kittell's talk was peppered with customer testimonials in the form of e-mails which were displayed on large screens. One man, "Calvin W.," wrote he made $37,000 in stocks from March 2000 to May 2000, when most technology stocks were plummeting.

"The Millionaire Conference" came to Palo Alto peddling promises of "financial independence," "endless cash flow," and "immediate cash flow in 7 days NOW!" The free tickets, which arrived by mail, claimed a "$149 value."

When the same conference came to Roanoke, W. Va., the local Better Business Bureau advised consumers to "be careful about purchasing investment materials" since it'd gotten reports of the company not honoring its money-back promises. "Some things really are too good to be true," it warned.

As Kittell finished speaking, long lines formed in front of the tables outside the ballroom where the packages were sold. "You owe it to yourself to come to this workshop," one salesman, dressed in a snappy black suit, told the frantic crowd. "They're going to supercharge your ability there."

One man discussed the venture on his cell phone with his seemingly incredulous wife.

After having her credit card swiped, another woman admitted: "I feel like a major sucker," but added, "I can't afford real estate in the bay."

Dave Anderson from Sunnyvale, who took the day off work to attend, explained his purchase by saying he had lost money in the stock market in recent years. "If I had these tools, I might have done better," he said, clutching a black tote bag, a free gift.

At times, the day seemed like a long college seminar, albeit one attempting to tap into the success of books like "Rich Dad, Poor Dad," which has spent 226 weeks on the New York Times' bestseller list.

Don Pendleton, a lawyer with parent company National Training Conference, insisted the conference had no unresolved complaints and promised it honors all money-back guarantees.

"We're not out to hurt anybody," he said. "We're not one of those companies that target the elderly."

So who are its target audience?

"We want people who are interesting in moving forward in life," Pendleton said. "We want people who are interested in educational ideas and looking for ways to improve themselves."

The day's five talks were also sprinkled with jokes about nagging wives and skeptical husbands, personal yarns and references to famous millionaires. Warren Buffet was a favorite dropped name, as was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Attorney Robert Bluhm, who was greeted with a standing ovation, promised to help participants stop paying capital gains and income taxes -- just like the Kennedy clan and Theresa Heinz Kerry.

Buffet's first rule of investing, Bluhm explained, is not to lose money. He described paying taxes as throwing money away, rather than as an investment in social services and public safety.

"Money isn't made by working," another motivator, James Smith, explained. "Money is made by finding deals."

The day's keynote speaker was David Bach, the author of "The Automatic Millionaire." He concluded his talk with an anecdote about his grandmother, who once told him that the only thing she regretted in her life was not taking more chances.

As a finale, Bach taught the crowd the "Millionaire Karate Chop," a quick swipe of the right hand combined with a staccato shout: "Automatic!"

Then most of the crowd stood up, at his instruction. Either out of peer pressure or a genuine desire to be pushed to take a financial risk, they awkwardly waved their hands and meekly chanted, "Automatic."

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at bdagostino@paweekly.com.


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