Case is First to Result in Civil Penalties from Parties that Helped Telemarketers Avoid Complying with the National Do Not Call Registry
Under a settlement reached by the Federal Trade Commission and announced today, a Georgia-based corporation, Entrepreneurial Strategies, Ltd., and its chief executive officer, Dale Allison, Jr., will be the first service providers to pay a civil penalty for allegedly violating the ‘Assisting and Facilitating’ provision of the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR).
According to the Commission, defendants received money from another company, Debt Management Foundation Services (DMFS), to help DMFS evade compliance with the Do Not Call provisions of the TSR by assisting it in organizing and operating as a sham nonprofit corporation. Nonprofit corporations are exempt from compliance with the DNC Registry provisions. According to the complaint, because it was a sham nonprofit, DMFS was not eligible for the exemption. Today’s filing of a stipulated court order in this matter settles all Commission charges against the defendants.
“This case demonstrates just the type of conduct the TSR’s assisting and facilitating provision was intended to prohibit,” said Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It is illegal to knowingly help others violate the Commission’s telemarketing laws, including the Do Not Call Rule.”
The case announced today follows an earlier FTC action brought against DMFS, its president, Dale Buird, Jr., and related parties. In July 2004, the Commission sued DMFS for unlawfully calling thousands of consumers on the National Do Not Call Registry, and pitching bogus debt management services. The FTC also alleged that, in an attempt to get around the Registry’s Do Not Call requirements, DMFS’s telemarketers illegally portrayed the company as anonprofit entity, although it was not. As part of the March 2005 settlement of that case, the DMFS defendants paid more than $200,000, and agreed to stop engaging in the alleged illegal conduct.
According to the FTC, in late 2003 – a month before the National Do Not Call Registry went into effect – DMFS’s Buird contacted defendant Allison for help in getting around the Registry’s Do Not Call provisions. Allison agreed to help, and provided consulting and other services to enable DMFS to portray itself as a nonprofit corporation exempt from these provisions.
Among other things, the defendants allegedly drafted articles of incorporation representing that DMFS was organized exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, and educational purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and sent them to the Florida Secretary of State’s Office for filing. Further, the defendants allegedly assisted Buird in devising and implementing a plan to siphon profits from the purportedly nonprofit DMFS. The FTC contends that the defendants provided these services despite knowing that DMFS was a sham nonprofit and that it was calling consumers on the National Do Not Call Registry.
Terms of the Court Order
The stipulated final order settling the charges, which must be signed by the judge, bars the defendants from violating the TSR, including by assisting and facilitating any violation of the Do Not Call Rule. It also requires Entrepreneurial Strategies and Allison to pay a civil penalty of $13,454.71. The order also contains provisions that would allow the FTC to reopen the case and attempt to collect a larger penalty if it is found that the defendants misrepresented their financial conditions. Finally, the defendants are required to distribute the order to relevant individuals and to notify the Commission when making any changes to the structure of the corporate entity.
The Commission vote approving the complaint against defendants Entrepreneurial Strategies and Dale Allison, Jr. was 4-0. The complaint and stipulated final order were filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on the FTC’s behalf on January 24, 2006, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Gainesville Division.
The FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection is committed to ensuring compliance with the National Do Not Call Registry. To date, the Commission has brought 21 enforcement actions for a range of alleged DNC-related violations. Consumers can sign up their phone number on the Registry either online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling toll-free 1-888-382-1222 (TTY 1-866-290-4236) from the number they wish to register.
NOTE: Stipulated final judgments are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission by the defendants of a law violation. Stipulated judgments have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the complaint and the consent order in settlement of the court action 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.
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