The company claims the juice has astounding health benefits, none of which have been proved. Yet thousands of people in several countries have bought the stuff, spreading the word through a chain of adherents rather than public advertising.
With an "MLM" like XanGo, it's all about being "upline." That's when you get into the business early and persuade other people to sell cases of the product for you. When they do, you get a cut. The majority of sales recruits down the line buy books and CDs on how to sell the stuff, accumulate cases of the product in their garages and never get close to big payoffs.
Unkefer and his wife "started making some big money — $90,000 to $100,000 a month," says one of Sharon's three sons, Mark Davidson, a former construction worker now employed at a Costco in Southern California. "Everything was put in my mom's name. [Unkefer] knew he was always on the hook for this [$7.5 million] restitution."
In 2005, Sharon asked Mark to move to their North Scottsdale property temporarily to help renovate the home. He lived out of an Airstream trailer and flew back to his wife and children in San Diego on weekends.
Harley Davidson, another brother, also moved in. He lives in Phoenix and plays in Deadbolt, a San Diego surf rock/psychobilly band he co-founded in 1988.
Sharon put her sons on "her" XanGo company's payroll and paid them extremely well, Mark Davidson says. There were family trips to Hawaii and Alaska. He even helped Unkefer buy a racehorse for $125,000, filling out paperwork with the Arizona Racing Commission for him and forming a bogus corporation in Davidson's name; Unkefer couldn't own a racehorse because of his felony conviction.
Unkefer is the "love of my life," Sharon wrote in a class-reunion bio in 2008 — the couple were "enjoying every minute" of their work with XanGo.
"My husband traveled approximately 380,000 miles last year," she wrote. "We will be going to Paris the last week in June and then off to the Grand Caymans."
Later that summer, however, Sharon grew gravely ill.
Harley contends she didn't get quality medical help early but believed XanGo juice would cure her.
"That snake oil killed my mom," Harley grumbles. "[Unkefer and others in the company are] just a bunch of scumbags and scam artists."
Of course, Harley and Mark Davidson profited from the XanGo scam, too, albeit indirectly. But Unkefer wasn't about to let them in all his plans.
The Davidsons didn't know it, but Unkefer and Clark were having meetings at the hospital where Sharon was being treated, discussing Clark's plan to open a gold-selling business. Clark had been banned from the business until his probation ended in 2006, but now he was raring to go.
Unkefer wrote a $50,000 check to Clark the week before Sharon died. Another $150,000 came a few weeks later.
Unkefer and Clark were back in the gold business together.
The Davidson family received a large life insurance payment after Sharon's death, but Unkefer's assistant and girlfriend, Laundy Unkefer — the ex-wife of Sherman Unkefer's oldest son — told them that Sharon did not have a will, Mark Davidson says. They had no reason to disagree with that. But they knew that Sharon had created a trust fund to protect the XanGo assets and income and that they were beneficiaries. They figured Unkefer would take care of them.
"Sherman said, 'When I die, you guys will get what's left of the trust,'" Davidson says.
To this day, Unkefer's website (www.shermanunkefer.com) brags that the XanGo juice distributorship he operates, X-1 LLC, "earns a 6-figure income MONTHLY and millions per year!"
That may or may not be accurate. Unkefer takes his salary, travel, and other expenses from X-1, which he doesn't own himself. X-1's owner, Mango Trust, was set up by Unkefer and Sharon.
The trust is in the Cook Islands, long a favorite of those who want to avoid transparency, because under the islands' legal system frequently ignores foreign court orders.
The trust, which records show could be worth several million dollars, is managed by Todd Hall of the San Diego law firm Teeple Hall. But there's also a co-trustee, Asia Trust Limited, which itself is managed by a trustee based in the Cook Islands.
Unkefer is the primary beneficiary of the trust. The document and Sharon Unkefer's will show that Sharon wanted Unkefer to use what he needed of the trust to maintain his lifestyle. But, in theory, he doesn't have complete control of it. He has to make requests for money from the trust from Todd Hall.
The Davidsons allege Unkefer "dictates" to Hall what he needs and that Unkefer has committed fraud in his accounting records to perpetuate the idea that he owns almost nothing. They want to strip Unkefer of the ability to use the trust, force him to pay back the aging fraud victims — and maybe put some of the dough in their own pockets, if possible.