JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Dan Carzoli knows what it's like to be an addict.
"I basically called myself a garbage can. If it was anything - alcohol, cocaine, marijuana pills ... it was all of the above."
And he remembers all too well what it's like to be desperate for help.
But even he is amazed that so many addicts were taken in by the promises of an online business based in Jacksonville
"How can you give somebody the right to charge your credit card forever? That was one of the things in the contract -- if you were successful by their definition of success, they could charge your credit card forever."
First For You: Jacksonville Treatment Centers
The Alcoholism Cure Foundation, owned and managed solely by Jacksonville resident Robert Douglas Krotzer, claimed to cure alcoholism forever. What's more, it claimed the cost of treatment was "virtually free."
According to the Federal Trade Commission, however, the site was little more than a scam, charging desperate alcoholics as much as $20,000 and merely recommending large doses of commonly available supplements, like St. Johns Wort.
Even worse, the FTC said, Krotzer threatened those who tried to stop paying with exposure.
First For You: Guide to local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings
In one email exchange, he warned a customer to "think carefully" before challenging the payment, hinting that "everyone involved in your case (including the local media should this become a lawsuit)" would learn about his alcoholism.
Another email -- to the wife of a client who was also a pilot -- was titled "Please do not put your husband's job in further jeopardy." In it, Krotzer suggested any legal action would quickly come to the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration.
In several cases, Krotzer's threat became painful reality. In 2007 and 2008, Krotzer filed a dozen cases in Jacksonville small claims court - a venue that offers no privacy protections - and included deeply personal information in his filings. One case file included detailed information about a customer's psychiatric medications, his grief over his wife's death, and his fears that his alcoholism might leave his children orphans.
First For You: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
We sat down last week for an exclusive interview with the man behind the website. Robert Krotzer denies that he deceived anyone, and said the costs and conditions of his treatments were clearly disclosed.
"If you prove that we didn't cure you, you don't owe us $20,000. Unless you prove that you do, that's what you agreed to when you signed up."
Krotzer required his customers prove they were still drinking to even entertain the option of cancelling their contract. The proof he required ranged from bar receipts and notarized letters from friends to blood tests and even pubic hair samples. The fact that so few customers attempted to provide this proof, Krotzer said, is proof they were "cured."
Krotzer doesn't apologize for his bare knuckle tactics, including the threats.
"The only threat I ever made was to take them to court"
We challenged Krotzer on this point.
Anne Schindler: "If you tell somebody 'If you don't pay your name will be in open court and media might find out' -- you don't think that's a threat?"
Krotzer:"No. I understand why people can take that as a threat. I'm not naïve. At the same time if I didn't tell them that, to me that would have been the bigger crime."
The FTC said there is no science or even anecdotal evidence that Krotzer's methods worked, and they recently won a $732,000 judgment against him. But Krotzer, who plans to appeal, said he doesn't have the money.
Although he lives in the exclusive community of Queen's Harbor, he said the home is in foreclosure, and he has no source of income. The judge in the case barred him from engaging in anything business resembling what she called his "deceptive scheme."
Carzoli said that's good news. Now 29 years clean and an addiction counselor, he said the fact that so many people fell for Krotzer's website is evidence of the desperation of addicts.
"Thank goodness this program was stopped. To the people who the damage was already done, please don't give up hope. Please continue to look or a program. And buyer beware."
First Coast News