Office of the Attorney General News Release ArchiveThursday, July 13, 2000
CORNYN CRACKS DOWN ON FRAUDULENT TELEMARKETERS IN HOUSTON
Court orders bogus businesses to stop operating
AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn and Harris County Attorney Michael Fleming today announced a lawsuit filed against three individuals operating a fraudulent telemarketing operation out of Houston. Anthony Marcell Harris, Gerald Charles Gibbs and Alvin Charles Gatson have been soliciting payments from hundreds of businesses nationwide for bogus advertisements in non-existent law enforcement publications. The State obtained a Temporary Restraining Order forbidding Harris, Gibbs, and Gatson from conducting any business until they are in compliance with Texas law. The temporary restraining order also freezes the defendants' personal and business assets. The lawsuit itself seeks fines, penalties, attorney's costs and restitution to the injured customers.
"If you operate an illegal business and take advantage of consumers, you will pay the price,"said Attorney General Cornyn. "This lawsuit sends the message that no one is above the law."
Harris and Gibbs began their joint operation in 1997. Gatson started his operation in 1995. The operations have several people working for them who call primarily out-of-state companies seeking money for law enforcement magazine advertisements. The defendants have used a variety of assumed names for their publications that imply affiliation with state troopers, sheriffs, and police. Currently, there are nine known publications for which the defendants solicit advertisements. Some of the non-existent publications they use are The State Troopers Magazine, The State Trooper Journal, Statewide Sheriff's Magazine, The Narcotic Police Journal, The State Police Magazine, The County Sheriffs Journal, Law Enforcement News and The Police Journal.
When consumers are called, they are told that any money received will go to educate the public on crime and to help keep children off of drugs. Sometimes consumers are told that any money received will benefit family members of slain law enforcement officers. The defendants' team of telemarketers typically inform businesses that payment for an advertisement has been authorized when, in fact, no previous authorization exists. "Invoices" are also sent to businesses indicating that the advertisements were approved. Additionally, businesses receive harassing phone calls from the operation's telemarketers regarding the ads and later pay the false invoices that range from $100 to $600 per advertisement, per publication.
All of the money received by the defendants from U.S. businesses does not go to charity, but is instead spent by the defendants.
None of the defendants are registered as public safety publications or as telemarketers as required by Texas law. Those operating a public safety entity or publication must be in compliance with the Texas Occupations Code which requires such organizations to file a registration statement and fee with the Texas Secretary of State. The organizations must also make required disclosures to their contributors and advertisers and have each of its solicitors file a registration statement and a bond.
This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General John Owens of the Consumer Protection Division in Houston.
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Contact Mark Heckmann, Heather Browne, or Tom Kelley at (512) 463-2050
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