The Federal Trade Commission, along with four state attorneys general, has shut down a fraudulent operation that allegedly took advantage of financially distressed consumers by falsely promising them a “guaranteed” $25,000 grant from the federal government. Several defendants have agreed to court orders settling the FTC and state charges, which bar all of them from the alleged deceptive conduct, ban some of them from certain types of marketing, and will result in judgments requiring them to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in consumer refunds.
In its July 2009 complaint, the FTC, jointly with the Attorneys General of Kansas, Minnesota, and North Carolina, charged that Grant Writers Institute, LLC and several related entities and individuals falsely told consumers that they were eligible for grants from the federal government. The complaint alleged that the defendants’ false and deceptive claims that consumers are guaranteed or highly likely to receive grants violated federal law, state consumer protection laws, and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule. The Attorney General of Illinois subsequently joined the action.
According to the complaint and a subsequent amended complaint, since at least 2007, Grant Writers Institute made its phony pitch using postcards that it mass mailed to consumers across the country. Consumers were told they were entitled to $25,000 in free government grant money, guaranteed. Consumers who called a phone number on the card were pitched a $59 book titled “Professional Grant Writer ‘The Definitive Guide to Grant Writing Success.’”
The complaint charged that the defendants then called consumers who bought the book, trying to get them to pay hundreds of dollars or more for grant research, writing, or coaching services, falsely claiming a 70 percent success rate in securing grant funding for individuals.
The FTC and the states reached five settlement orders resolving charges against defendants James Rulison, Jordan Sevy, Brett Blackman, Justin Ely, Alicia Nossov, Wealth Power Systems, and Aria Financial Services. Under the settlement orders:
The suspended judgments against Rulison, Sevy, Blackman, Ely, Wealth Power Systems, and Aria Financial Services will become immediately due if any of them is found to have materially misrepresented any financial assets.
In addition, in late July 2011 the court entered default judgments against the following six defendants in the case: Apex Holdings International, L.L.C.; Affiliate Strategies, Inc.; Landmark Publishing Group L.L.C. (d/b/a G.F. Institute and Grant Funding Institute); Grant Writers Institute, L.L.C.; Answer Customers, L.L.C.; and Direct Marketing Systems, Inc.
Each of these corporations is banned from marketing money-making opportunities, and from telemarketing. They also are prohibited from making misrepresentations when offering products for sale, and required to substantiate claims and disclose information such as fees, costs, and terms and conditions related to any cancellation or refund policy. The court also imposed a $27.2 million judgment against the first five default defendants and a $3.4 million judgment against Direct Marketing Systems to pay refunds to defrauded consumers, but the companies have no assets.
Finally, the court has entered a summary judgment opinion against telemarketer Real Estate Buyers Financial Network LLC (REBFN) and against its president, Martin Nossov. The court order bars REBFN and Martin Nossov from the conduct alleged the complaint. The court entered a permanent injunction that prohibits these defendants from future violations as alleged in the complaint, and, on August 24, 2011, entered a monetary judgment against them for $5,373,106.
The Commission votes approving the settlement orders against Blackman, Sevy, Rulison, and Ely, were 3-0-2, with Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch abstaining and Commissioner Julie Brill recused. The votes approving the settlement orders against Alicia Nossov, Wealth Power Systems and Aria Financial Services were 4-0-1, with Commissioner Brill recused. The final orders with respect to all defendants were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.
The FTC appreciates the invaluable assistance of the Offices of the Attorney General of Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, and North Carolina in this case. Litigation continues against Meggie Chapman, who is charged with providing substantial assistance or support to the other Defendants in violation of the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule.
NOTE: The consent orders are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission by the defendants that the law has been violated. Consent orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
Copies of the Commission’s complaint and settlement orders can be found on the FTC’s website and as a link to this press release. The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.