A Pennsylvania hearing aid company has been ordered to stop conducting business in the state, fined $190,000 and ordered to pay nearly $31,000 in consumer restitution, Attorney General Tom Corbett announced.
Clearfield County Judge Paul E. Cherry found Mark E. Jones and his business M.E. Jones Hearing Instruments, of Dubois, and Joseph G. Pannette and his business Marketing Specialists Inc., of the same address, in contempt for violating the court's July 2001 order.
Pannette is a hearing aid fitter and business manager of M.E. Jones Hearing Instruments. He is also the president and sole owner of Marketing Specialists Inc., which managed customer accounts for M.E. Jones Hearing Instruments and manufactured the hearing aids that were sold to consumers.
Corbett said in July 2001, the Clearfield Court of Common Pleas entered a Preliminary Injunction Order against the three defendants prohibiting them from violating Pennsylvania's Hearing Aid Sales Registration Law and Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
The court ruled that the defendants violated its order by failing to comply with the 30-day money back guarantee required by the Hearing Aid Sales Registration Law and the three-day right to cancel provision under the Consumer Protection Law.
The Petition for Contempt was filed in November 2003 after the Attorney General's Office received new complaints claiming that the defendants continued to illegally deny consumers their refunds or honor their requests to cancel the sales contracts.
Many consumers said the defendants falsely told them that they were not eligible for a refund. Others claimed that they were forced to wait months to get their money back. The consumers said that they paid the defendant between $1,200 and $2,000 for a single hearing aid device that either did not fit properly or failed to improve their ability to hear.
During the contempt hearing, the daughter of a 98-year-old Bedford County man said that her father paid the defendants $4,000 for two hearing aids that never worked properly. Despite the defendants' repeated claims that they would correct the problems, the devices failed to improve the consumer's hearing as promised and he was denied a refund. The daughter said her father's inability to hear not only made him feel alienated, but created a safety issue because she could no longer communicate with him over the telephone.
"This case was particularly egregious because the victims were mostly older Pennsylvanians who were defrauded out of significant sums of money as they tried to improve their quality of life," Corbett said.
"The court's prior order put the defendants on notice that they were barred from engaging in illegal business practices and they chose to ignore the ruling," said Corbett. "It's appropriate that the defendants face stiff penalties and the ultimate consequence which is forever forfeiting their right to conduct business in this field in the Commonwealth."
Under the court order, the defendants are required to:
• Pay nearly $31,000 to consumers who filed complaints with the Bureau of Consumer Protection.
• Pay a $190,000 maximum civil penalty.
• Permanently forfeit their right to continue doing business in the Commonwealth.