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    School's Out At Video Professor

    'Transitioning to a new business plan,' company says

    By Mark Huffman
    ConsumerAffairs.com

    June 30, 2010

    Chances are, you won't be seeing those commercials for Video Professor, which once dominated cable-TV, anytime soon.

    The Colorado firm, which offered free samples of its computer tutorial CDs and was a source of numerous consumer complaints about its negative option marketing, has drastically reduced operations.

    "It seems as though Video Professor is now out of business," Joanne, of Vineland, N.J., told ConsumerAffairs.com.

    Joanne came to that conclusion, she said, because she tried to return some merchandise to the company in late April but was told by UPS that it was unable to deliver it.

    The Denver Post reported earlier this month that the company had slashed its operations and was giving away its products. It said the parking lot was nearly empty and the building lobby was closed and dark.

    When a reporter called the offices, she heard a recording that said Video Professor "is currently transitioning to a new business plan."

    The old business plan drew plenty of complaints. Video Professor commercials promised a free CD, with company president John Scherer explaining, "We're so sure you'll like this product you'll turn to us for all your computer learning needs."

    But consumers who got the free CD's often found they were enrolled in a negative option subscription plan unless they cancelled it within a very short time. The additional CDs were anything but free.

    "I ordered Video Professor with the impression that I was only to try it for the shipping and handling charges," Caroline, of Sacramento, Calif., told ConsumerAffairs.com "I changed my mind about it. I called to cancel but it was too late. I sent it back at the post office. In a few days a large amount of $189.95 appeared on my credit card. Thirty days later new charge appeared on my card for another video professor that I did not order of $389.95."

    Recess

    Unfortunately for Caroline and other consumers, finding someone at Video Professor to talk with is going to be tough. The company's website says the customer service department has been closed, it is no longer processing credit card transactions, and can't make refunds.

    Joanne from New Jersey advises those who paid by credit card to report it as an unauthorized charge and demand a charge-back.

    "Do not take no for an answer," she told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I just got off the phone with my credit card company and had no trouble whatsoever."

    On its website, Video Professor promised customers they would get a refund at some point, but didn't say when. As recently as four years ago, the company was one of Colorado's success stories, with 300 employees and more than $100 million in annual revenue.

    The Colorado firm, which offered free samples of its computer tutorial CDs and was a source of numerous consumer complaints about its negative option marke...
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    Second Timeshare Repurchaser Settles With Vermont

    Customers of Timeshare Relief, Inc., to receive $91,000 in refunds

    June 30, 2010
    A Torrance, California, company will offer over $91,000 in consumer refunds and pay $50,000 to the State of Vermont to settle claims that it violated Vermont law in three different ways in arranging for the repurchase of timeshares.

    Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell used word of the settlement, the second of its kind in the past eight months, to warn out-of-state companies offering a financial benefit to Vermonters not to violate the State's consumer laws, or "they will find that doing so is an expensive proposition."

    On eight occasions between 2007 and 2010, representatives of Timeshare Relief, Inc., solicited consumers in Burlington to transfer ownership of their unused timeshares and thus relieve the owners of timeshare maintenance fees, taxes and other costs. The company advertised these meetings with a mailing that invited Vermonters to find out about the "Guaranteed Timeshare Relief Solution."

    Consumers in the lurch

    A number of consumers who met with Timeshare Relief understood the invitation to mean that the company would offer to pay them for their timeshares; in fact, they had to pay several hundred to several thousand dollars to transfer ownership of their timeshares. The AG's office considered this to be a deceptive trade practice.

    In addition, many of the consumers were also given a "Financial Benefits Worksheet" that indicated that they might be eligible for a tax deduction as an offset against their payment to Timeshare Relief, when in fact such a deduction is available only in those rare cases where the primary reason for buying the timeshare was for investment. The attorney general claimed this to be a deceptive trade practice as well.

    In addition, through June 2008, Timeshare Relief did not comply with the requirement of Vermont law that whenever goods or services are sold at a transient location like a hotel, the buyer must be given specified notice of his or her right to cancel the transaction.

    Restitution

    Under the settlement, Timeshare Relief will:

    • Offer those 28 of its customers who did not receive proper notice of their right to cancel an opportunity to cancel the transaction within ten business days and get all of their money back. Letters to this effect will be sent out in the next month, and Timeshare Relief will pay up to $84,000 under this provision.

    • Send to another 28 customers a check in the amount of $250 to compensate them for the time and money they spent traveling to attend the company's presentation.

    • Pay the State of Vermont $50,000 in civil penalties and costs.



    Second Timeshare Repurchaser Settles With Vermont...
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    Illinois Charges Countrywide Discriminated Against Minority Borrowers

    African-American, Latino homebuyers were steered into risky subprime loans, suit charges

    Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed a lawsuit against Countrywide, a subsidiary of Bank of America, for unlawfully discriminating against African American and Latino borrowers in home mortgage sales, in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act and the Illinois Fairness in Lending Act.

    Countrywides illegal discriminatory lending practices destroyed the wealth and dreams of thousands of African American and Latino homeowners, Madigan said. Bank of America needs to be held accountable by taking financial responsibility for cleaning up the devastation of the predatory company that it chose to take over.

    Madigans complaint alleges that the former mortgage giant steered African American and Latino borrowers into risky subprime mortgages more often than similarly-situated white borrowers. The complaint also alleges that minority borrowers paid more for mortgages across Countrywides product line, including its prime loans.

    Significantly, Madigans analysis of Countrywide loan data found that the racial disparities could not be explained by objective factors, such as borrowers credit scores or debt-to-income ratios.

    At the height of the housing bubble, Countrywide was the largest mortgage lender in the country and in Illinois. Countrywide was also the states top seller of subprime loans. Bank of America bought Countrywide in 2008.

    The failure of millions of higher-cost, or subprime, mortgages nationwide is largely responsible for triggering the ongoing foreclosure crisis and resulting economic recession.

    Madigans lawsuit is the result of a two-year investigation of Countrywides lending policies and practices that were in place during the years directly preceding the collapse of the housing market. The Attorney General issued a fair lending subpoena to Countrywide in March 2008, after a Chicago Reporter study of federally collected mortgage lending data for the Chicago area found that, in 2006, Countrywide Financial Corporation sold higher-cost loans to 50.9 percent of its African American borrowers and 33.8 percent of its Latino borrowers, while only 19.5 percent of the companys white borrowers received high-cost loans.

    The Attorney General's investigation included a statistical analysis of data from over 83,000 Countrywide mortgages originated in Illinois from 2005 through 2007. Madigans office also interviewed former Countrywide employees and mortgage brokers, and spoke with Countrywide borrowers about their home loans.

    Bad odds

    As outlined in the complaint, Madigans analysis of Countrywides loan data found that the odds that African American and Latino borrowers would receive a higher-cost subprime mortgage from Countrywide were three times greater than those of white borrowers. In addition, Madigans investigation found that Countrywide charged African American and Latino borrowers higher interest rates and fees on loans spanning the companys range of products, including its prime products, as compared with similarly-situated white borrowers.

    Madigans investigation further found that the disparities in Countrywides subprime sales and loan pricing were the result of Countrywide policies that gave employees and mortgage brokers almost unlimited discretion in the selection and pricing of loans.

    Its disturbingly clear that if you were an African American or Latino borrower who walked into a Countrywide store, you likely paid more for your mortgage than a white borrower, Madigan said. Countrywide effectively imposed a surcharge on mortgage loans based on race and ethnicity.

    The Attorney Generals lawsuit asks the court to find that Countrywide engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination, enter an injunction against Countrywide to permanently prohibit the company from discriminatory acts as described in the complaint, make restitution to all victims of Countrywides discrimination, pay civil penalties of $25,000 for each violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act, and order any other relief that the court deems equitable.

    The filing is the second lawsuit Madigan has brought against Countrywide. In 2008, she filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against the lender for its major role in driving the foreclosure crisis, and in November 2008, she led negotiations that resulted in an $8.7 billion settlement of that lawsuit with Bank of America.

    It is also the second fair lending lawsuit Madigan has brought against a major mortgage lender. In July 2009, Madigan filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo for violating the states fair lending and civil rights laws, becoming the first state attorney general in the nation to sue a federally-chartered lender for its role in creating the foreclosure crisis. The Wells Fargo litigation is ongoing.

    Steered minority borrowers

    Specifically, Madigans complaint alleges that Countrywides retail employees and mortgage brokers had the discretion to choose the type of products offered to borrowers and to manipulate borrowers financial information that was entered into the companys automated underwriting system. As a result of this discretion, the complaint alleges, minority borrowers were steered into subprime mortgages when they qualified for prime loans.

    The Attorney General further alleges that Countrywide failed to institute an adequate system for automatically referring eligible borrowers from subprime to prime. Although the company added an Uplift protocol to its underwriting system in 2002 to supposedly prevent prime-eligible borrowers from being placed into subprime loans, Madigan alleges that the Uplift program failed as a safeguard because it depended on a combination of automated underwriting and human discretion. When interviewed by Madigans office, former Countrywide employees and brokers reported that they had rarely or never seen subprime loans uplifted to prime.

    Minority borrowers paid more

    Madigans complaint alleges similar abuses of discretion in the pricing of Countrywides loans. As outlined in the lawsuit, Countrywide provided employees and brokers with rate sheets that spelled out the mortgage interest rates borrowers qualified for, based on certain credit factors. However, Madigan found that Countrywide gave employees and brokers discretion to sell borrowers loans with higher interest rates than those indicated by the rate sheets.

    The complaint also alleges that Countrywides broad discretionary pricing policies allowed employees and brokers to use a number of devices to increase the interest rates on loans. These included manipulating the amount of cash a borrower took out on a refinance, which would increase the loan-to-value ratio, and adding features to the loan such as a prepayment penalty or an adjustable interest rate.

    Illinois Charges Countrywide Discriminated Against Minority Borrowers...
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      Court Halts International Identity Theft Scheme

      More than $10 million in unauthorized charges on consumers' credit and debit cards

      June 30, 2010
      A federal court has put a halt to an elaborate international scheme that used identity theft to place more than $10 million in bogus charges on consumers' credit and debit cards.

      The court order, which is in effect pending a trial, came at the request of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

      As part of the scam, more than a million consumers were hit with one-time charges of $10 or less, and their payments were routed through dummy corporations in the United States to bank accounts in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

      Elaborate scheme

      The defendants, using phony company names resembling real companies, and information taken from identity theft victims in the United States, opened more than 100 merchant accounts with companies that process charges to consumers' credit and debit card accounts, according to the FTC complaint.

      The FTC believes the defendants may have run credit checks on the identity theft victims first, to be sure they were creditworthy. They also cloaked each fake merchant with a virtual office address near a real merchant's location, a phone number, a home phone number for the "owner," a Web site pretending to sell products, a toll-free number consumers could call, and a real company's tax number found on the Internet.

      'Money mules'

      The FTC says that with spam e-mail, the defendants recruited at least 14 "money mules" -- people in the United States they paid to form 16 dummy corporations, open associated bank accounts to receive the card payments, and transfer the money overseas. The defendants used debit cards linked to these bank accounts to set up telephone service, virtual addresses, and websites that helped deceive the card processors, according to the complaint.

      The "money mules" responded to spam e-mail pretending to seek a U.S. finance manager for an international financial services company. The FTC has not figured out how the defendants obtained the stolen identities or consumers' credit and debit account numbers. Consumers' payments were sent to bank accounts in Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Kyrgyzstan.

      None of the consumers affected by the scam had contact with any of the defendants. Most consumers either didn't notice the charges on their bills or didn't seek chargebacks because of the small amounts -- charges ranged from 20 cents to $10. Those who called the toll-free numbers that appeared on their bills either found them disconnected or heard recorded messages instructing them to leave a message, but no calls were returned.

      Charges filed

      The defendants are the 16 sham companies: API Trade LLC, ARA Auto Parts Trading LLC, Bend Transfer Services LLC, B-Texas European LLC, CBTC LLC, CMG Global LLC, Confident Incorporation, HDPL Trade LLC, Hometown Homebuyers LLC, IAS Group LLC, IHC Trade LLC, MZ Services LLC, New World Enterprizes LLC, Parts Imports LLC, SMI Imports LLC, SVT Services LLC -- and one or more persons who are unknown to the agency at this time.

      The FTC charged them with making unauthorized charges to consumers' credit cards in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. The court froze the defendants' assets and ordered them to stop operating, pending final resolution of the case.

      Court Halts International Identity Theft Scheme...
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      New York Expands Probe of Foreclosure Rescue Firms

      Attorney general warns 31 companies to cease and desist

      June 30, 2010
      New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is sending over 30 cease-and-desist letters to mortgage rescue companies warning them to end immediately all misleading and illegal conduct. A total of 213 companies have now been put on notice.

      Cuomo says his investigation into the mortgage rescue industry, which is continuing, revealed many companies routinely collect illegal up-front fees from homeowners on the brink of foreclosure and then fail to help them lower their mortgage payments or save their home as promised.

      Thousands of New Yorkers have been affected by mortgage rescue scams. After sending cease-and-desist letters to over 180 mortgage rescue companies last week, the Attorney General's office received consumer complaints and uncovered more evidence that indicated additional companies might be abusing New York homeowners.

      Mortgage rescue companies target homeowners facing foreclosure by claiming to be able to modify home mortgage loans and lower monthly payments. Often, these companies engage in deceptive and illegal marketing practices to lure customers and then fall short on their promises. After using a mortgage rescue company, homeowners can find themselves in worsened financial circumstances and at greater risk of losing their homes.

      "The letters that we are sending out to mortgage rescue companies across the United States intend to stop bad companies in their tracks," Cuomo said. "Many of these companies take money from homeowners who cannot afford to pay it and make a bad situation worse. We are telling these companies to immediately cease any wrongdoing and to make sure their business practices are all above board, or they are going to be held accountable by my office."

      Cease and desist

      The attorney general's cease-and-desist letters -- which are going to 31 additional companies -- warn mortgage rescue companies to end any illegal, deceptive, and misleading practices, including:

      • Charging up-front fees for consulting services;

      • Failing to enter into written contracts with homeowners, in the language the homeowners use, that fully disclose the exact nature of, and fees for, the services to be provided;

      • Failing to allow homeowners to cancel their contracts, without any penalty, within five business days after signing and failing to provide homeowners with notice of this right in the contracts;

      • Using any deceptive and misleading advertising practices, including: false guarantees regarding success rates, false 100 percent money-back guarantees, and fabricated consumer testimonials;

      • Using any advertisements designed to give consumers the false impression that a company is affiliated with the government or a government-sponsored program.

      Cuomo says the foreclosure catastrophe has claimed the homes of thousands of New Yorkers across the state. As of May 2010, there are 64,778 foreclosed properties in New York; in May 2010 alone, one in every 1,982 housing units had received notice of foreclosure, according to the Attorney General's Office.

      New York Expands Probe of Foreclosure Rescue Firms...
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      Pennsylvania Sues BlueHippo

      Despite suits at federal and state levels, officials say computer marketer still ripping off consumers

      Pennsylvania has become the latest state to sue BlueHippo, the Maryland-based finance company that sells older, cheap computers at hugely inflated prices to people with poor or no credit.

      Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said the civil lawsuit was filed in Commonwealth Court against Joseph K. Rensin, of Ellicott City, Md., the owner, CEO and Chairman of the Board of BlueHippo Funding, 7000 Security Boulevard, Baltimore Maryland. Rensin and his business also operated as BlueHippo Capitol, of Vienna, Virginia and BlueHippo Capitol, of Las Vegas, Nevada.

      "BlueHippo used a national campaign of television and radio ads, telemarketing calls and Internet websites to sell computers, flat screen TVs and other electronic equipment -- claiming to offer 'payments you can afford' for 'top of the line' products," Corbett said. "In reality, BlueHippo was little more than a sham designed to collect as much money as possible from consumers while delivering little, if anything, in return."

      According to the lawsuit, consumers often paid more than twice the value of the items that they had purchased, received lesser quality items or failed to receive anything for their money. In other instances, the company did not provide rebates or gifts that were offered as part of a sale, or failed to pay consumer refunds when promised.

      "BlueHippo allegedly used advertising language such as 'perfect for back to school' and 'get yours now,' which suggested fast delivery times," Corbett said. "While many customers believed they would receive their products in a timely manner, most were delivered months later -- or, in some cases -- not at all."

      Trouble with the feds

      Last November, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asked a federal court to find Blue Hippo in contempt of a 2008 court order that required it to end abusive consumer practices.

      Since the order, the FTC estimates Blue Hippo has collected more than $15 million from consumers to finance computers, but delivered neither the financing nor the financed computers.

      The FTC alleged that fewer than one percent of consumers who signed up with BlueHippo received the financed computers for which they applied, and undisclosed conditions to redeem "store credits" were rigged to discourage consumers from using them.

      ConsumerAffairs.com continues to receive many complaints about BlueHippo, such as this one from Pamela, of Patterson, Calif.

      'I smell a rat'

      "I thought I was purchasing a computer. After I sent $100 to get the payments going, they told me it was a layaway and I don't get the computer until it's paid in full," she told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I smell a rat. I could go to any store I want for a layaway and pay two times less."

      According to the Pennsylvania lawsuit, BlueHippo did not actually have any of the products they claimed to be selling. Instead, consumers were persuaded to make a series of weekly or bi-weekly payments to BlueHippo, and only after a history of successful payments would the products supposedly be ordered and shipped.

      Corbett said that during sales calls, consumers were often asked for bank account information, with BlueHippo making immediate withdrawals from their accounts long before consumers received any written information about the financing terms or other conditions about the purchase.

      Additionally, BlueHippo is accused of conducting telemarketing without properly registering in Pennsylvania, operating as a loan broker without registering with the state Department of Banking, violating the Installment Sales Act and failing to register corporations and fictitious business names with the Pennsylvania Department of State.

      Corbett said the lawsuit seeks full restitution for all consumers who were harmed by BlueHippo's unfair business practices, along with fines and penalties of up to $1,000 for each violation of Pennsylvania law, or fines of up to $3,000 for each violation involving a senior citizen.

      Pennsylvania Sues BlueHippo...
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      Bottled Water: Keeping It Safe

      All bottled water is not created equal

      By James Limbach
      ConsumerAffairs.com

      June 29, 2010
      Seems like you can't go anywhere these days without seeing someone sucking on a bottle of water. The International Bottled Water Association says more than eight billion gallons of it were consumed worldwide last year alone.

      But -- is it good for you? Bottled water comes under the watchful eye of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is charged with ensuring that it's safe to drink.

      FDA has regulations that focus specifically on bottled water, including:

      • "standard of identity" regulations that define different types of bottled water

      • "standard of quality" regulations that set maximum levels of contaminants --including chemical, physical, microbial, and radiological contaminants -- allowed in bottled water

      • "current good manufacturing practice" (CGMP) regulations that require bottled water to be safe and produced under sanitary conditions

      Types of bottled water

      FDA describes bottled water as water that's intended for human consumption and sealed in bottles or other containers with no added ingredients, except that it may contain a safe and suitable antimicrobial agent. (Fluoride may also be added within the limits set by FDA.)

      The agency classifies some bottled water by its origin. Those classifications include:

      • Artesian well water. This water is collected from a well that taps an aquifer -- layers of porous rock, sand, and earth that contain water -- which is under pressure from surrounding upper layers of rock or clay. When tapped, the pressure in the aquifer, commonly called artesian pressure, pushes the water above the level of the aquifer, sometimes to the surface. Other means may be used to help bring the water to the surface.

      • Mineral water. This water comes from an underground source and contains at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids. Minerals and trace elements must come from the source of the underground water. They cannot be added later.

      • Spring water. Derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface, this water must be collected only at the spring or through a borehole that taps the underground formation feeding the spring. If some external force is used to collect the water through a borehole, the water must have the same composition and quality as the water that naturally flows to the surface.

      • Well water. This is water from a hole bored or drilled into the ground, which taps into an aquifer.

      Bottled water may be used as an ingredient in beverages, such as diluted juices or flavored bottled waters. However, beverages labeled as containing "sparkling water," "seltzer water," "soda water," "tonic water," or "club soda" aren't included as bottled water under FDA's regulations. These beverages are instead considered to be soft drinks.

      Treated water

      Some bottled water also comes from municipal sources -- in other words, the tap. Municipal water is usually treated before it is bottled. Examples of water treatments include:

      • Distillation. Water is turned into a vapor, leaving minerals behind. Vapors are then condensed into water again.

      • Reverse osmosis. Water is forced through membranes to remove minerals.

      • Absolute one micron filtration. Water flows through filters that remove particles larger than one micron -- .00004 inches -- in size. These particles include Cryptosporidium, a parasitic pathogen that can cause gastrointestinal illness.

      • Ozonation. Bottlers of all types of waters typically use ozone gas, an antimicrobial agent, instead of chlorine to disinfect the water. (Chlorine can add residual taste and odor to the water.)

      Rhiannon from Chattanooga, TN, has problems with tap water. Aquafina, she writes ConsumerAffairs.com, advertises " 'pure water' on their bottles, so I buy it. Then they admit they were really repackaging tap water. I do not drink tap water because it contains contaminants. I now have a case of water that I cannot drink and I have ingested unknown contaminants from their not pure water."

      Heather from Brooklyn, NY, writes ConsumerAffairs.com that she purchased a sports bottle of Poland Spring water, "took a sip and smelled what seemed to be the scent of cat urine. I put pressure on the bottle a couple more times to smell the air coming out of the bottle to make sure this was accurate. I'm repulsed and worried I drank ammonia or cat urine."

      Danny, of Woodbury, NY says Poland Spring's home delivered 5-gallon "pure spring water" was "filled with -regular 'faucet water' having a strong taste and smell of chlorine." He claims "because of the high uncontrolled level of chlorine ,a very dangerous health hazard is created." He believes clients are also cheated, "getting regular faucet water, with less FDA control, sold as natural spring water."

      FDA says bottled water that has been treated by distillation, reverse osmosis, or another suitable process may meet standards that allow it to be labeled as "purified water."

      Quality and safety

      Federal quality standards for bottled water were first adopted in 1973. They were based on U.S. Public Health Service standards for drinking water set in 1962.

      The 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act gave regulatory oversight of public drinking water (tap water) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). FDA subsequently took responsibility, under the FD&C Act, for ensuring that the quality standards for bottled water are compatible with EPA standards for tap water.

      Each time EPA establishes a standard for a contaminant, FDA either adopts it for bottled water or finds that the standard isn't necessary for bottled water.

      In some cases, standards for bottled water and tap water differ. For example, because lead can leach from pipes as water travels from water utilities to home faucets, EPA has set its limit for lead in tap water at 15 parts per billion (ppb). For bottled water, for which lead pipes aren't used, the lead limit is set at five ppb.

      For bottled water production, bottlers must follow the CGMP regulations put in place and enforced by FDA. Water must be sampled, analyzed, and found to be safe and sanitary. These regulations also require proper plant and equipment design, bottling procedures, and record keeping.

      In addition, FDA oversees inspections of bottling plants. The agency inspects bottled water plants under its general food safety program and has states perform some plant inspections under contract.



      Bottled Water: Keeping It Safe...
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      Vintage Car Business Pays $140,000 In Consumer Restitution, Fines and Costs

      Connecticut company sold cars without customers' approval and pocketed proceeds


      ConsumerAffairs.com

      June 29, 2010
      A Salisbury, Connecticut, vintage car business and its owner have been ordered to pay a total of $140,295 in restitution to consumers and civil penalties and court costs to the state.

      The court found that Arthur Glen Kurrus of Falls Village and his business, Paradise Garage, also known as Evolution Motor Sports, LLC:

      • Disposed of vehicles without permission;

      • Misrepresented the condition, year, mileage and specifications of cars for sale;

      • Failed to turn over sales proceeds;

      • Billed for unauthorized repairs.

      "Instead of paradise, Kurrus' business was hell -- a vintage vehicle black hole that consumed cars and cash," said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who sued Kurrus and his company in 2007.

      The court ordered Kurrus to pay four consumers $100,134 in restitution, as well as $27,500 in civil penalties and $12,661 in court costs to the state.

      Consumers big winners

      Blumenthal called the court's decision "a victory for consumers defrauded and deceived by Kurrus, compelling him to pay more than $100,000 in damages and refunds."

      According to the AG, Kurrus sold cars without permission, failed to provide proceeds, charged consumers for unauthorized repairs and grossly misrepresented vehicle condition, mileage and other vital information. One consumer purchased from Kurrus a supposed 1961 Jaguar in good condition only to receive a rusted, damaged 1963 model needing major motor work.

      "Kurrus betrayed his customers, turning their cool ride dreams into nightmares" said Blumenthal. "They entrusted expensive automobiles to Kurrus only to see them repaired and sold without their permission, and even disappear."

      Court-ordered restitution

      The court ordered restitution to consumers in the following amounts:

      • $50,000 to William Cooling Jr. of New York, N.Y. Around 2003, Cooling's father hired Kurrus to restore a 1950s Jaguar XK, but the vehicle disappeared. Kurrus eventually agreed to pay Cooling $50,000, but never provided the money;

      • $19,724 to Simon Pinniger of Aspen, Col. In 2003, Pinniger verbally authorized Kurrus to perform about $20,000 in repairs to a 1959 Jaguar, but Kurrus later attempted to charge him more than $71,000. Pinniger never agreed to additional work. The restitution returns Pinniger's payments beyond the originally agreed upon $20,000;

      • $14,410 to Charles Moore of Dripping Springs, Tex. In 2006, Moore bought a Jaguar from Kurrus on eBay for $14,900. The eBay ad said it was a 1961 model with a 3.8-liter engine in good working order, special carburetors and no rust. When Moore received the vehicle, he determined it was a 1963 with a 2.4-liter motor needing ring and valve work, regular carburetors and a damaged and severely rusted body. Kurrus offered to resell the car on eBay correctly listing the information. In fact, he corrected only the year and never resold the car or refunded Moore's money;

      • $16,000 to Frank O'Brien of New Jersey. Around 2002, Kurrus sold O'Brien a 1967 Austin Healy. Kurrus told O'Brien the car's mileage was 38,558 when in fact it was 87,764, and that he owned the vehicle, which he did not.

      Blumenthal said that the state is seeking an order permitting sale of two Porsches seized from Kurrus to help provide restitution to consumers.

      Kurrus also faces criminal charges.

      Vintage Car Business Pays $140,000 In Consumer Restitution, Fines and Costs ...
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      Vitamin D May Help Seniors Stay Sharp

      But people tend to get less Vitamin D as they grow older

      June 28, 2010
      A recent government-funded study suggests senior citizens and baby boomers entering their Golden Years can slow cognitive decline by getting plenty of vitamin D.

      Cognitive function is measured by the level at which the brain is able to manage and use available information for activities of daily life. Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of age-related dementia, affects about 47 percent of adults aged 85 years or older in the United States. Identifying nutritional factors that lower cognitive dysfunction and help preserve independent living provides economic and public health benefits, according to authors.

      The study, which was supported by Agricultural Research Service, the National Institutes of Health, and others, was led by epidemiologist Katherine Tucker with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston, Mass. Tucker collaborated with HNRCA laboratory directors Irwin Rosenberg, Bess Dawson-Hughes and colleagues.

      Critical component

      Metabolic pathways for vitamin D have been found in the areas of the brain involved in planning, processing, and forming new memories. This suggests that vitamin D may be implicated in cognitive processes.

      The study involved more than 1,000 participants receiving home care. The researchers evaluated associations between measured vitamin D blood concentrations and neuropsychological tests. Elders requiring home care have a higher risk of not getting enough vitamin D because of limited sunlight exposure and other factors.

      The participants, ages 65 to 99 years, were grouped by their vitamin D status, which was categorized as deficient, insufficient, or sufficient.

      Only 35 percent had sufficient vitamin D blood levels. They had better cognitive performance on the tests than those in the deficient and insufficient categories, particularly on measures of "executive performance," such as cognitive flexibility, perceptual complexity, and reasoning. The associations persisted after taking into consideration other variables that could also affect cognitive performance.



      Vitamin D May Help Seniors Stay Sharp...
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      Does Our Energy Future Lie In Natural Gas?

      MIT study says under-utilized fuel could pay big dividends

      By Mark Huffman
      ConsumerAffairs.com

      June 28, 2010
      With a blown deep-water oil well spewing thousands of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, oil is looking less attractive to some as an energy source. Could natural gas be a potential replacement?

      Energy researchers at MIT think it could play a much bigger role in our energy future, especially as a replacement for coal, used to create electricity. In a report, the researchers predict gas-fired generators will eventually replace older, inefficient coal plants.

      They aren't alone. Others see gas as a much more desirable energy source that, not only could produce electricity, but also power the nation's cars and trucks.

      Natural gas is abundant and, best of all, it's plentiful in the United States. Some business leaders, including T. Boone Pickens, have argued for years in favor of increased reliance on U.S. natural gas, saying it would greatly reduce reliance on foreign oil and keep more U.S. dollars at home.

      The MIT researchers like it for another reason. Unlike oil and coal, natural gas is a very clean fuel.

      The just-completed two-year study, managed by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), examined the scale of U.S. natural gas reserves and the potential of this fuel to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Based on the work of the multidisciplinary team, with advice from a board of 16 leaders from industry, government and environmental groups, the report examines the future of natural gas through 2050 from the perspectives of technology, economics, politics, national security and the environment.

      92-year energy supply

      The researchers note the U.S. has a significant natural gas resource base, enough to equal about 92 years' worth at present domestic consumption rates. Much of this is from unconventional sources, including gas shales.

      While there is substantial uncertainty surrounding the producibility of this gas, the researchers said, there is a significant amount of shale gas that can be affordably produced.

      Not surprisingly, the natural gas industry hailed the report.

      "We hope that policymakers will read and consider the report's recommendation for greater use of natural gas as they develop plans to help our country move to a secure, economically beneficial and cleaner way of using energy," America's Natural Gas Alliance said in a statement.

      Does Our Energy Future Lie In Natural Gas?...
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      How To Cancel A Credit Card

      Simply calling an 800 number isn't enough

      But if you decide you should close an account, make sure it's really closed. Let the cautionary tale from Jack, of Topeka, Kan., serve as a warning...

      Feds Bust Massive Unauthorized Charge Scam

      Elaborate scheme was centered overseas

      June 28, 2010
      A federal court has halted an elaborate international scheme that used identity theft to place more than $10 million in bogus charges on consumers credit and debit cards.

      The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which requested the order, said more than a million consumers were hit with one-time charges of $10 or less, and their payments were routed through dummy corporations in the United States to bank accounts in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

      The alleged scheme was, at the same time, both simple and elaborate. The defendants, using phony company names resembling real companies, and information taken from identity theft victims in the United States, opened more than 100 merchant accounts with companies that process charges to consumers credit and debit card accounts, according to the FTC complaint.

      The FTC believes the defendants may have run credit checks on the identity theft victims first, to be sure they were credit worthy. The defendants also cloaked each fake merchant with a virtual office address near a real merchants location, a phone number, a home phone number for the owner, a Web site pretending to sell products, a toll-free number consumers could call, and a real companys tax number found on the Internet.

      Money mules

      The FTC alleged that with spam e-mail, the defendants recruited at least 14 money mules people in the United States they paid to form 16 dummy corporations, open associated bank accounts to receive the card payments, and transfer the money overseas. The defendants used debit cards linked to these bank accounts to set up telephone service, virtual addresses, and Web sites that helped deceive the card processors, according to the complaint.

      The money mules responded to spam e-mail pretending to seek a U.S. finance manager for an international financial services company. The FTC has not determined how the defendants obtained the stolen identities or consumers credit and debit account numbers. Consumers payments were sent to bank accounts in Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Kyrgyzstan.

      None of the consumers affected by the scam had contact with any of the defendants. Most consumers either didnt notice the charges on their bills or didnt seek chargebacks because of the small amounts charges ranged from 20 cents to $10. Consumers who called the toll-free numbers that appeared on their bills either found them disconnected or heard recorded messages instructing them to leave a message, but no calls were returned.

      The defendants are the 16 sham companies API Trade LLC, ARA Auto Parts Trading LLC, Bend Transfer Services LLC, B-Texas European LLC, CBTC LLC, CMG Global LLC, Confident Incorporation, HDPL Trade LLC, Hometown Homebuyers LLC, IAS Group LLC, IHC Trade LLC, MZ Services LLC, New World Enterprizes LLC, Parts Imports LLC, SMI Imports LLC, SVT Services LLC and one or more persons who are unknown to the agency at this time. The FTC charged them with making unauthorized charges to consumers credit cards in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. The court froze the defendants assets and ordered them to stop operating, pending final resolution of the case.

      A federal court has halted an elaborate international scheme that used identity theft to place more than $10 million in bogus charges on consumers credit a...
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      Ohio Seeks Restraining Orders Against Sham 'Veterans' Group

      Attorney General concerned about 'charity' group's ties to shady practices

      June 28, 2010
      Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray is seeking emergency court orders to prevent a Florida-based "veterans" charity from collecting contributions in his state. The U.S. Navy Veterans Association (USNVA) is being investigated by several states.

      Cordray also noted troubling revelations that the man who appears to have orchestrated the sham charity made hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions to candidates throughout the United States and in Ohio.

      Applications for a temporary restraining order against the group and its officers target UPS mail drops rented by USNVA in those counties in Hamilton and Fairfield counties. The AG is seeking permission to hold contributions that arrive while the investigation continues.

      In May, Cordray ordered USNVA to stop contacting Ohio residents for contributions after determining that the group's registration documents were plagued with irregularities. Those documents contain false and misleading information, including the names of association officers who appear to be fictional.

      "Our investigators have not been able to locate any of the Ohio officers of the USNVA, although, oddly enough, the organization's national counsel is based here," Cordray said. "Through the counsel, USNVA has advised us that it does not consider the order to be valid and that it does not have to comply with our order to cease and desist fundraising in Ohio."

      The Attorney General says the closer he looks at the organization, the more outrageous its conduct appears. "Since 2003, Ohioans have contributed close to $1.9 million to the U.S. Navy Veterans Association," he said. "However, the evidence is mounting that the operation is misrepresenting its mission. It is trading on the good name of our armed forces and patriotic Americans to solicit funds that it says will be used to assist veterans directly. Instead, it appears the funds are going to political campaigns. That is fraudulent and deceptive."

      Cordray says the information emerging about USNVA and Bobby Thompson, the individual connected with it, is troubling. "No one can locate Thompson now -- he has disappeared. This is extremely questionable behavior on behalf of a man who had access to millions of dollars raised in the name of Navy veterans."

      While very little concrete evidence is available how those funds were spent helping vets or their families, Cordray says "a great deal of information is available about political contributions made by Thompson personally to candidates or through the political action committee he created and to which he was the sole contributor, NAVPAC."

      Until this is straightened out, Cordray says he wants "all Ohioans to know not to contribute to the U.S. Navy Veterans Association."

      Ohio Seeks Restraining Orders Against Sham 'Veterans' Group...
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      Keeping Pets Safe This 4th of July

      ASPCA offers tips for pet safety during the holiday and throughout the hot summer months

      By Lisa Wade McCormick
      ConsumerAffairs.com

      June 28, 2010
      Celebrating the Fourth of July with fireworks and good food is a tradition with families nationwide.

      But those celebrations can be dangerous to the four-legged members of your family, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) warns.

      To protect your pets this Independence Day, the ASPCA recommends:

      • Never use fireworks around pets: Lit fireworks can cause severe burns or trauma to the face and paws of curious pets. Unused fireworks also pose a danger because many contain potentially toxic substances, including potassium nitrate, arsenic and other heavy metals;

      • Avoid taking pets to loud, crowded firework displays: Keep pets in a quiet, protected, and escape-proof part of your home;

      • Don't leave alcoholic drinks where pets can reach them: Pets that ingest alcohol can become intoxicated and weak, severely depressed, or lapse into a coma. Death from respiratory failure is also possible in severe cases, the ASPCA warns;

      • Never put glow jewelry on pets or let them play with it: The luminescent substance in these products is not highly toxic, but if ingested, can cause excessive drooling and gastrointestinal irritation. Intestinal blockage can occur if pets swallow large pieces of the plastic containers;

      • Keep citronella candles, insect coils, and oil products out of pets' reach: Ingestion of these products can cause stomach irritation and possible central nervous system depression in pets, the ASPCA said. The oils can also cause aspiration pneumonia in pets that inhale the products;

      • Use animal-friendly products only: Never apply sunscreen or insect repellents on your pets that are not specifically labeled for use on animals. Ingestion of sunscreen products can cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, and lethargy in pets. The misuse of insect repellents that contain DEET can also lead to neurological problems, the ASPCA said.

      • Keep matches and lighter fluid out of pets' reach. Some matches contain chlorates, which can damage blood cells, cause difficulty breathing, or kidney disease in severe cases. Lighter fluid can irritate a pet's skin. And if ingested, it can cause gastrointestinal irritation and central nervous system depression. Lighter fluid can also trigger aspiration pneumonia and breathing problems if it's inhaled;

      • Keep pets on their regular diet. Any change, even for one meal, can give pets severe indigestion and diarrhea, the ASPCA said. This is especially true with older animals, which have more delicate digestive systems and nutritional requirements. Remember onions, chocolate, coffee, avocado, grapes and raisins, salt and yeast dough are potentially toxic to pets. The blistering "dog days" of summer can also pose serious health risks to pets, the ASPCA cautioned.

      "Even the healthiest pets can suffer from dehydration, heat stroke and sunburn if they're overexposed to the heat," said Dr. Steven Hansen, a veterinary toxicologist and senior vice-president of ASPCA Animal Health Services.

      But there are simple ways to keep pets safe from the scorching sun and other summer dangers, including:

      • Keep pets cool and hydrated: Give pets plenty of water. They can dehydrate quickly in the heat. And make sure pets have a shady place to escape the sun's burning rays. When the temperature is blazing, don't let dogs linger on hot asphalt. A dog's body can heat up quickly and its sensitive paw pads can burn;

      • Never leave pets alone in a parked vehicle: "On a hot day, even with the windows open, a parked automobile can become a furnace in no time, and heatstroke can develop, which is potentially fatal," warned Dr. Louise Murray, director of Medicine at the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital;

      • Watch for signs of overheating and heat stroke in pets: "The symptoms of overheating in pets include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, seizures, and an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees," Dr. Murray said. "Animals with flat faces, like pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible."

      • Read and follow the directions on flea and tick products: The ASPCA said products that contain the chemical permethrin can be deadly to cats. Never use a flea and tick product intended for a dog on a cat -- or those made for cats on dogs. Use the products as directed;

      • Keep pest control products away from pets: Rodenticides (mouse and rat baits), insecticides, herbicide lawn and flea and tick products can be harmful to cats and dogs if ingested. Avoid walking dogs in areas sprayed with insecticides or herbicide lawn products;

      • Never leave pets unsupervised around a pool: Not all animals are good swimmers. Introduce pets to water gradually and make sure they wear flotation devices while on boats. Rinse off dogs after they swim in a pool to remove chlorine or salt from their fur. And try to keep dogs from drinking pool water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals that could cause stomach upset;

      • Beware of High Rise Syndrome: "During warmer months, we see an increase in injured animals as a result of 'High-Rise Syndrome,' which occurs when pets fall out of windows or doors and are seriously or fatally injured," said Dr. Murray. "Pet owners need to know that this is completely preventable if they take simple precautions." Those steps include keeping all unscreened windows or doors closed and making sure adjustable screens are tightly secured.

      The ASPCA advises pet owners to contact their veterinarians if their dogs or cats ingest a potentially toxic substance this summer. Pet owners can also contact the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, which offers emergency assistance 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, at (888) 426-4435. A $65 consultation fee may be charged.



      Keeping Pets Safe This 4th of July...
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      Florida Sues Auto Loan Modification Operation

      Firm promised to reduce car payments up to 50 percent - for a fee

      By Mark Huffman
      ConsumerAffairs.com

      June 27, 2010

      There are plenty of schemers out there preying on desperate homeowners by promising to help them get mortgage modifications. But the bogus pitch isn't just limited to home loans.

      In Florida, Attorney General Bill McCollum this week filed a lawsuit against a Broward County company accusing it of deceptive and unfair trade practices related to automobile loan modifications.

      According to the complaint, Auto Relief Group, its subsidiaries and owners John J. Boyle and John J. Boyle III falsely represented in national television and radio commercials that they could reduce consumers' car payments by up to 50 percent. The Florida Attorney General's Office was granted an injunction to freeze the company's assets and appoint a receiver to take possession and control of the company.

      An investigation by the Attorney General's Economic Crimes Division revealed that Auto Relief Group representatives allegedly told undercover investigators they qualified for loan modifications that would reduce their monthly auto loan payment up to 50 percent. The only catch? The consumer had to make up-front payments ranging from $299 - $375.

      The company also represented that they had "relationships" with lending entities which would allow them to negotiate substantial payment reductions, McCollum said. Investigators determined these lenders had previously notified Auto Relief Group of their non-negotiation policies, but Auto Relief Group continued to send modification requests to these lenders.

      In the majority of cases when lenders agreed to modifications of car loans, the modifications consisted of only minor deferments of payments due, not reductions of the interest rate charged. McCollum said his office is still working to locate victims, but the investigation indicates the company may have collected several hundred thousand dollars in up-front fees from consumers each month.

      In addition to the injunction, the Attorney General's Office is seeking full restitution on behalf of all victimized consumers, civil penalties, and reimbursement for fees and costs related to the investigation.

      There are plenty of schemers out there preying on desperate homeowners by promising to help them get mortgage modifications. But the bogus pitch isn't just...
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      Toyota Recalls, Halts Sales of Lexus Hybrid

      Latest quality issue for beleaguered carmaker

      Toyota is dealing with another recall issue, this time with its luxury nameplate Lexus. The Japanese carmaker said its is recalling 17,000 Lexus HS 250 hybrid models because U.S. government tests show they could leak fuel in a rear-end crash.

      Toyota also said it will halt sales of all HS 250 hybrids while it searches for a remedy to the problem.

      In April, Toyota temporarily halted sales of its GX 640 hybrid after Consumer Reports labeled the SUV unsafe after it performed poorly during standard emergency handling tests. Sales resumed after Toyota modified the settings in the car's onboard computer.

      "We want to assure our customers that their safety and satisfaction are our top priorities," Toyota said in a statement. "We take the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) test results very seriously and appreciate the NHTSA bringing its concerns to our attention."

      In a recall notice Friday NHTSA said the defect in the Lexus hybrid could result in a fire during a rear-end collision. In the late 1970s the Ford Pinto had a similar problem, which was blamed on 27 deaths. While the Pinto never recovered from the recall, Toyota says its confident it can fix the problem.

      "Our engineers conducted similar testing during the development of the new HS 250h and the vehicle performed safely," the company said. "While we are investigating and vigorously working to understand the different test results, we have stopped delivery of the involved vehicles. As soon as the issue is better understood and/or a remedy is developed, we will contact every owner."

      Customers who have any questions or concerns should contact their local Lexus dealer or Lexus Customer Satisfaction at 1-800-25LEXUS or 1-800-255-3987, Toyota said.

      This is the latest quality setback for the carmaker, which has recalled millions of cars this year to address unintended acceleration and braking issues in some models. Since September, Toyota has recalled more than 10 million vehicles.

      Toyota Recalls, Halts Sales of Lexus Hybrid...
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      Driveway Deal or Sidewalk Scam?

      Summertime scams hit snow-belt homeowners where they live

      June 27, 2010
      Homeowners should look out for groups of traveling scam artists offering roof repair, driveway paving and sealing and other summertime home upkeep, Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray warns.

      "Known by law enforcement as 'travelers,' these professional thieves make their way through Ohio and other northern states in the summer months," Cordray said. "They offer to pave driveways or repair roofs for a very low price, but they intentionally deceive homeowners and do extremely shoddy work."

      Travelers often target middle-class homeowners, especially those over 60. Travelers generally dress professionally, speak politely and drive well-maintained vehicles, giving homeowners the false impression that they are trustworthy.

      In many cases, travelers lie to homeowners, telling them their driveway or roof needs to be repaired. They work quickly, paving a driveway in less than an hour. Later, the asphalt will crack or will fail to set properly, leaving the homeowner's driveway a gooey mess. Other times, travelers "seal" a driveway or roof with a useless mixture of diesel oil and paint that will wash off in the rain.

      Weeks later, some travelers revisit their previous victims to offer phony follow-up repairs or more seal-coating. Again, the work is completely substandard, even if the victim does not realize it.

      Homeowners can protect themselves by learning to recognize the signs of a traveler, including contractors who:

      • Come to their door uninvited
      • Notice a problem with their roof or driveway
      • Say they have leftover materials
      • Offer unbelievably low prices
      • Accept cash or check only
      • Promise an unconditional guarantee on the work
      • Start work immediately
      • Take only 30 minutes to an hour to finish the job

      Consumers also should check a company's reputation with online review sites, their local consumer affairs office or their state's attorney general's office and the Better Business Bureau before paying any money.

      Homeowners should look out for groups of traveling scam artists offering roof repair, driveway paving and sealing and other summertime home upkeep....
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      Phony Health Inspectors Target Restaurants

      Callers try to pry personal information out of restaurateurs

      June 27, 2010
      In a scam sweeping the U.S. and Canada, con artists posing as health inspectors are targeting restaurants, apparently as part of an identity theft scheme.

      Investigators say the scam involves a series of phone calls. The first caller tells the restaurant that it will receive an automated call providing a numeric confirmation code. A second caller, claiming to be a health inspector, requests the code and seeks to set up an in-person restaurant inspection. The caller threatens fines if the restaurant doesn't cooperate.

      Officials in Stanislous County, Calif., issued an alert last week stating, This phony inspector scheme is part of a larger fraud involving setting up verified accounts with a national online auction service. The fraudster then uses the accounts in other schemes.

      Washington State Department of Health officials said theyve heard from local health authorities that businesses in Snohomish, Pierce and King counties have recently received calls.

      Local reports also suggest that the callers may have requested personal information, such as cell phone numbers. So far, local authorities arent aware of any restaurants that bit at the ploy.

      The Washington State Attorney Generals Office said anyone who receives a call like this should refuse to participate. Public health inspectors carry official photo identification and do not announce their visits.

      Business owners who believe they may have been victims of this scam should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.

      Phony Health Inspectors Target Restaurants...
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      Cemetery Swindler Pays $4 Million Restitution

      Michigan man accused of betraying grieving families

      June 25, 2010
      A Michigan cemetery operator has repaid $4.2 million in cemetery trust funds he embezzled from Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

      Last September, Robert Earl Nelms was convicted of embezzlement and failing to properly administer numerous funeral contracts over a three year period. His sentencing had been delayed pending completion of his restitution payment to the Court. Now that restitution has been received, Nelms is expected to be sentenced before Kent County Circuit Judge George S. Buth as soon as a date can be set.

      "Stealing from the dead is a heartbreaking betrayal to grieving families," said Attorney General Mike Cox. "Michigan citizens who have laid their loved ones to rest have a right to know their wishes will be honored and protected."

      The restitution funds were wired to an escrow account overseen by Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Giddings. The Michigan Cemetery Commissioner and the Court-Appointed Conservator of Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens will work with the Court to direct the restitution back to the pilfered trust accounts.

      Nelms, of Indiana, is expected be sentenced to a prison term of 20-120 months for the embezzlement charge and 20-60 months for the failure to trust count. Under Michigan law, the terms of incarceration are served concurrently. Cox said his office anticipates that all of Nelms' Michigan victims will see their trust accounts fully restored.

      Charges cover two states

      In December 2007, a joint Attorney General and Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth (DELEG) investigation uncovered the theft, resulting in criminal charges and forcing Nelms to lose control of Chapel Hill Cemetery.

      In total, it is alleged Nelms stole more than $24 million from cemeteries and funeral homes he controlled in Michigan and Indiana. He did this by selling cemetery products and services but failing to deposit the required portion in trust for cemetery upkeep and consumers' use. Approximately $4.2 million dollars were from the Grand Rapids cemetery, with Nelms facing charges in Indiana for the rest.

      This is the second defendant convicted by Cox for involvement in a major theft of cemetery trust funds. Carter Green of Nevada was convicted in Wayne County Circuit court in December of 2007 for his role in aiding co-defendant Clayton Smart.

      Smart is accused of embezzling as much as $70 million in cemetery trust funds from 28 Michigan cemeteries. He is awaiting trial in Tennessee on related charges. Upon completion of that trial, Smart will be transferred to Michigan for arraignment on charges filed by Cox.

      A Michigan cemetery operator has repaid $4.2 million in cemetery trust funds he embezzled from Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan....
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