The company that publishes those SkyMall airplane catalogs filed for bankruptcy last week. That's perhaps not a surprise, considering the kind of junk they sell. But there might be even more to the story, because it turns out that in 2013, SkyMall merged with a company called Xhibit Corp. that had some interesting characters behind it.
The story is full of so many weird twists and turns that it is almost impossible to untangle. But let's take a walk down the digital paper trail.
That alone was strange enough, because only five months prior to this, Xhibit had been called out as a pump-and-dump scheme in an article on Seeking Alpha, a financial news site. The headline bashed Xhibit for its "Management's Shady Ties, Millions of Shares Issued for Pennies and Absurd Valuation."
Why would SkyMall merge with such an outfit? Why would any company, for that matter?
Weirder still, according to a later story in The Atlantic, SkyMall seems to have been generating about $130 million a year in revenue. Xhibit was doing about $9 million a year in revenue. Yet when the merger happened, Xhibit got 60 percent of the merged company, and SkyMall got 40 percent.
This seems to make no sense.
According to Isaac Silbermann, who wrote the Seeking Alpha story, Xhibit had been formed in 2011 through a reverse take-over. That's when a private company buys a publicly listed shell company and thus become a publicly traded company.
That tactic sometimes raises eyebrows. But at Xhibit there were other red flags, including that some of its managers had "direct associations to multiple dubious and defunct penny stocks," Silbermann wrote.
The people who created the reverse takeover bought the shell company for $350,000, but by Jan. 2013 when the article appeared, the market value of Xhibit had climbed to nearly $300 million, even though the company hadn't done very much and wasn't generating much revenue.
Seeking Alpha listed some of the people involved and claimed they were tied to some other penny stock disasters — companies with names like Defi Global, Opexa Therapeutics, Clear Choice Financial and Big Bear Mining.
It gets better. There was a guy named Bobby D. Perry, and a thing called the Beaux Beaux Partnership. There was a company called Azul Dia and a woman named Fabia Daniele, whose LinkedIn page lists her as an attorney and former president of Azul Dia, but now a retail sales rep for a company called CieAura, which makes holographic chips that supposedly help with weight loss, allergies, libido, and other stuff. Seriously, click on that link and see the CieAura site, because there's an amazing video where a woman talks about the chips protecting you from electromagnetic fields.
I'm not making that up.
Another person involved, according to Seeking Alpha, was Larry Eiteljorg. LinkedIn lists a person by the name who claims to be associated with "biotechnology," as well as with Reliance Capitol (sic) Inc., which turns out to be a seller of replacement windows. Bloomberg lists a Larry Eiteljorg being involved with some window and building companies in the Southwest.
Another person named in the Seeking Alpha story was Michael Schifsky, whose LinkedIn page lists only one one job, as CFO of Xhibit Corp. Forbes has a Michael Schifsky profiled as a CFO for Xhibit, with a background in energy, gas, helicopters and other things.
And yes, this whole thing is starting to sound like a Coen brothers movie.
Xhibit claimed to be in the business of "cloud-based marketing and technology," although, as The Atlantic pointed out, Xhibit was an "entity which looks to be more of a parody of a tech company than a real company at all."
The Atlantic story was published in June, 2013, one month after SkyMall merged with Xhibit. The Atlantic picked up where Seeking Alpha left off, taking a deeper dive into the business of Xhibit. Turns out the "tech" company was actually making money by selling "nutraceuticals," stuff like coffee cleanse supplements and weight loss products.
In other documents, Xhibit was listed as acquiring a few other companies, like SpyFire Interactive and Stacked Digital. Xhibit also claimed to have acquired a social network called TwitYap. Crunchbase lists a company called Twityap in Incline Village, Nev., with a slogan, "The most exclusive social network." But when you click on the URL for the company, Twityap.com, you zip to a site called The Bag Store, where you can buy Louis Vuitton bags at discount.
Kevin Weiss, who was CEO of SkyMall and then became CEO of Xhibit, has also left the building and now is CEO of Unitrends, a tech company in Burlington, Mass. (That's him in the weird blurry photo to the left.)
A glance at Weiss's LinkedIn page shows a background in sales at IBM, BMC Software, Ariba, and McAfee, where he was president. Those are real companies! He also lists seven years of working at Bertram Capital, a private equity firm.
How did a guy like Weiss end up running SkyMall, and then end up getting into bed with the nice people at Xhibit? I reached out to Unitrends, and got this back from their PR: "As a rule, we don't comment on other companies' business affairs."
Anyway, somehow this guy with a background from IBM ended up doing business with the cast of characters up above — and now he is the CEO of a company that is supposedly doing $100 million a year in sales and is owned by a venture capital firm and even has ties to an investment company, Paladin Capital Group, run by people from the NSA, CIA and Department of Defense.
In case you're interested, you can see the homepage of Xhibit Corp. here. Or check out the Yahoo chart for shares in Xhibit Corp. (XBTC) from late 2011 to the present. Note the huge sudden run up to $7 a share in May, 2013, right after the SkyMall merger. Then comes a sudden, sharp drop, and then the stock treads water, and then everything just fizzles out.
Someone out there knows what happened. If you're one of them, and want to dish, get in touch. We'd love to hear from you.