Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced today that his office has launched an investigation into whether four individuals defrauded more than 30 African American churches in Southern California by forcing them to pay up to $45,000 for shoddy computer kiosks originally presented as cost-free. These individuals--Michael Morris, Willie Perkins, Tonya Wilson, and Wayne Wilson--are also suspected of targeting dozens of churches in at least ten other states.
Additionally, Brown is investigating what role three national leasing companies-Balboa Capital Corporation; United Leasing Associates of America Ltd.; and Banc of America Leasing and Capital, LLC-may have played in facilitating this scam.
"These individuals sold the churches on the promise of free services and advertising revenues," said Brown. "Instead, the churches were enticed into expensive leases, which the leasing companies aggressively enforced, even after learning of the alleged scam."
Since 2000, Morris, Perkins, Wilson and Wilson have operated two companies-Urban Interfaith Network and Television Broadcasting Online-that peddled computer kiosks to African American churches throughout the country. In California, these individuals targeted neighborhood churches in Compton, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Pasadena, Perris, Pomona, Rialto, Riverside and San Bernardino.
These individuals purportedly pitched the kiosks to church leaders as cost-free, high-tech devices that could serve as electronic message boards, print retail coupons from local businesses and generate advertising revenue.
Once a church agreed to house a kiosk, the individuals presented it with a lease agreement from United Leasing Associates of America Ltd. or Balboa Capital Corp (who later sold some of its leases to Banc of America Leasing and Capital, LLC). The individuals repeatedly assured church leaders that Urban Interfaith Network, Television Broadcasting Online or other church-friendly corporate sponsors would cover all leasing costs.
Instead, churches were left with leases as high as $45,000 per year for what amounted to little more than desktop computers and printers housed in podium-sized wooden boxes. Many of the kiosks did not function.
Even after learning of the alleged scam, leasing companies continued to aggressively enforce the terms of the leases, filing lawsuits against churches to collect payment, interest and late fees. For example:
• Los Angeles-based Bryant Temple AME Church was sued by Balboa Capital Corp. to collect on a kiosk lease even after the church informed the company that it had been defrauded into signing the lease. For months, the church pooled funds together to pay down the lease and avoid the cost of litigation, however, it has recently decided to stop making payments to Balboa.
• Los Angeles-based True Way Missionary Baptist Church contends in its own lawsuit against United Leasing Associates of America, Ltd. that even after learning of the alleged scam, the leasing company collected payments on the lease by debiting the church's bank account without authorization. The lawsuit further contends that United obtained a default judgment in Wisconsin for over $30,000 for a kiosk that the leasing company knew was worth only $2,000.
• San Bernardino-based Ecclesia Christian Fellowship Church was sued by Balboa Capital Corp. and Banc of America Leasing and Capital, LLC to collect on two separate kiosk leases. The two leasing companies continue to aggressively pursue their lawsuits.
• San Bernardino-based New Hope Missionary Baptist Church was sued by Banc of America to collect payment on two leases it purchased from Balboa Leasing. The church filed a countersuit contending that Balboa, working with Urban Interfaith Network and Television Broadcasting Online, defrauded the church. Balboa's motion to dismiss the church's countersuit was overruled in court.
• Brown has served investigative subpoenas on the three leasing companies: United Leasing Associates of America Ltd.; Balboa Capital Corporation; and Banc of America Leasing and Capital, LLC; and the two companies operated by Morris, Perkins, Wilson and Wilson: Urban Interfaith Network and Television Broadcasting Online.
• Last month, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox filed criminal charges against Morris and Perkins, including: one count of racketeering, one count of conspiracy to commit false pretenses over $20,000, four counts of false pretenses over $20,000 and four counts of fraudulently obtaining a signature.