Court Orders More Than $12 Million in Consumer Redress; Bans the Defendants from Selling Credit-Related Products or Services and from Telemarketing
A federal district court in Illinois has granted the Federal Trade Commission’s motion for summary judgment in its case against Peter J. Porcelli, II and several of his Largo, Florida-based companies, including Bay Area Business Council, Inc. and American Leisure Card Corp., and issued a permanent injunction against the defendants. The defendants offered consumers guaranteed low-interest unsecured MasterCard credit cards for an advance fee. The defendants, in their sales calls to consumers, specified a certain amount for a “one-time processing” fee, but charged consumers additional undisclosed fees as part of their scam. The defendants victimized tens of thousands of consumers. The judge granted the FTC’s request for summary judgment, and ordered the defendants to pay $12,563,962.34.
In August 2002, the FTC filed a complaint against Bay Area Business Council, Inc.; Bay Area Business Council Customer Service Corp.; American Leisure Card Corp.; Peter J. Porcelli, II; Christopher Tomasulo; and Bonnie A. Harris, as part of the “Operation No-Credit” law enforcement sweep. The FTC amended its complaint in October 2002 to include: Bay Memberships, Inc.; Bay Vacations, Inc.; Sr. Marketing Consultants, Inc.; and Special Technologies, Inc.
The defendants offered consumers a low-interest unsecured MasterCard credit card for a one-time processing fee. The defendants requested and debited the fee from the consumers’ bank accounts in advance of consumers’ receiving the credit card. Although consumers paid $199 or more for the credit cards, no consumers received credit cards. Instead, consumers received a temporary “dummy” card with a MasterCard logo and the name “Bay Area Business Council” or “1st American Leisure Card” on the front, and a non-magnetic black strip on the back. When consumers complained or tried to activate the card they were told for the first time that, for an additional fee, they could obtain a debit card, but never a credit card. The defendants also did not tell consumers that in addition to the requirement that they deposit their own money in advance for any purchases they wished to make with the debit card, they would pay substantial fees every time they attempted to use the card.
The court order stems from FTC charges filed in August 2002. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah found that the undisputed facts established that the defendants made false or misleading statements to induce consumers to purchase credit cards with substantial credit limits for an advance fee, that the defendants never provided, nor intended to provide, any credit cards, and that the defendants demanded payment of additional undisclosed fees, all in violation of the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The court also found that Peter Porcelli and Bonnie Harris were intimately involved in the enterprise and knew about the deceptive practices.
The court’s final order bans the defendants from telemarketing, and from selling credit-related products. The order prohibits the defendants from making the types of misrepresentations cited in the FTC’s complaint. The order further prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting any fact material to a consumer’s decision to purchase the defendants’ products or services.
The court’s order requires the defendants to pay more than $12 million in consumer redress, the full amount sought by the FTC, and prohibits the defendants from selling their customer lists. Finally, the court’s order contains various reporting provisions to assist the FTC in monitoring the defendants’ compliance.
The Judge granted the FTC’s motion for summary judgment and entered the order on April 14, 2004. The FTC’s Midwest Region - Chicago handled the litigation.
Copies of the order for permanent injunction and other documents associated with this case are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
(FTC File No. X020103)
(Civil Action No. 02 C 5762)
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