DANA J. LESEMANN
Federal Trade Commission
6th St. and Penn. Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20580
(202) 326-3285; -3146
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION, Plaintiff
DAVID L. AMKRAUT, individually
and doing business as
Plaintiff, the Federal Trade Commission ("Commission"), by its undersigned attorneys, alleges as follows:
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
1. This is an action under Section 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act ("FTC Act"), 15 U.S.C. 53(b), to secure permanent, preliminary, and temporary injunctive relief and other equitable relief, including rescission, restitution, and disgorgement, against defendant for violations of Section 5 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 45(a), which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331, 1337(a), and 1345, and 15 U.S.C. 45(a) and 53(b).
2. Venue in this district is proper under 28 U.S.C. 1391(b) and 15 U.S.C. 53(b).
3. The Commission is an independent agency of the United States government created by statute (15 U.S.C. 41 et seq.). The Commission is charged with enforcing Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 45(a), and is authorized under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 53(b), to initiate court proceedings to enjoin violations of the FTC Act and to secure such equitable relief as may be appropriate in each case.
4. Defendant David L. Amkraut ("Amkraut") is the sole proprietor of, and does business as, Law Offices of David L. Amkraut. The Law Offices of David L. Amkraut is an unincorporated business entity that has been doing business since at least 1991. Amkraut's office and principal place of business is located at 900 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 230 Los Angeles, California 90017. Amkraut is an attorney who markets his professional services to consumers, located both in the United States and abroad, who are interested in obtaining immigrant visas, and then "green cards," also known as permanent residence visas. Individually, or in concert with others, Amkraut directs, controls, formulates or participates in the acts and practices set forth herein. He resides and transacts business in this District.
5. Defendant's course of trade is in or affecting commerce, within the meaning of Section 4 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 44.
THE GREEN CARD LOTTERY
6. The Immigration Act of 1990 created a new category of immigrant visas to encourage ethnic diversity in the U.S. population. In general, individuals can qualify for immigrant visas under the "diversity visa" ("DV") program simply by being a native of a country that has sent relatively few immigrants to the United States in recent years. The State Department conducts an annual lottery to distribute applications for 55,000 immigrant visas provided through the DV program.
7. Winners of this lottery receive the opportunity to apply for one of the available immigrant visas, which can be used to enter the United States. If the winner files a successful application, he or she can enter the United States and then exchange the immigrant visa for a green card, which is issued by the Department of Justice's Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS"). Even though a lottery winner does not actually win a green card, but only the opportunity to apply for an immigrant visa, the diversity visa lottery program is popularly known as the "green card lottery."
8. For green card lottery winners, filling out the application for the immigrant visa is fairly straightforward, but time consuming. The State Department routinely selects more winners than there are visas available, e.g., 105,000 individuals selected to apply for only 55,000 visas, and processes winners' applications on a first-come, first-served basis. Thus, individuals who submit applications after all the visas available for their geographic region have been distributed will be denied a visa. As a result, for individuals selected as lottery winners, time is of the essence in applying for their diversity immigrant visas.
DEFENDANT'S COURSE OF CONDUCT
9. Since at least January, 1992 and continuing thereafter, defendant has offered services to consumers located both in the United States and abroad who are interested in entering the green card lottery. Defendant has marketed his services throughout the United States and the world by placing advertisements in newspapers and other media outlets, both in the United States and abroad, and disseminating promotional materials via United States mail.
10. Defendant represents that the fee for his services is $50 for one individual, or $75 for a married couple. Included in the promotional material is a "'Green Card Lottery' Request Form," which the consumer is directed to complete. The "Request Form" asks for basic information about the consumer and his or her spouse and children, such as name, birthdate, number of years of education, employment, and country of birth. In return for the fee, defendant enters the consumer into the green card lottery, using the information provided by the consumer on the "Request Form."
11. In the course of his marketing program, defendant has represented that, among other things, individuals must fill out a complicated formal application to enter the green card lottery, Amkraut can increase a consumer's chances of winning the green card lottery, Amkraut has a proven success rate for customers of his lottery entry services, no Amkraut client has ever been rejected from the green card lottery, Amkraut is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and Amkraut has been acclaimed in independent news articles about him.
12. Typical and illustrative of representations made by defendant about his services and the green card lottery are the following:
13. In connection with providing green card lottery services to consumers, defendant has submitted incomplete entries and multiple entries per consumer that have resulted in the disqualification or rejection of many of these consumers. Defendant's practice of submitting multiple entries on behalf of unwitting consumers is in violation of State Department rules that limit individuals to a single lottery entry.
14. If a consumer who uses defendant's services is selected as a green card lottery winner, the National Visa Center ("NVC"), which operates the lottery on behalf of the State Department, notifies the defendant that the consumer has been selected. Defendant provides his own address, rather than the address of the consumer, for notification of selection as a green card lottery winner. The NVC immediately provides defendant with the consumer's identifying "case number" and a package of documents containing the information necessary to complete the process for applying for an immigrant visa, which the NVC calls "Package 3."
15. Defendant subsequently informs his winning customers that they have been selected as a "winner," but does not provide consumers with their NVC case number or Package 3. Instead, defendant routinely makes numerous solicitations to pressure winning consumers into paying an additional fee of $995 to $1250 to have defendant prepare visa applications on their behalf.
16. Typical and illustrative of representations made by defendant to pressure consumers into paying him an additional fee for completion of the visa application are the following:
17. In many cases, defendant refuses to send his winning customers their NVC case number and Package 3 until at least the third notification to the consumer, which can constitute a delay of several weeks, and, in some cases, of more than three months, notwithstanding defendant's own advice that "you must act quickly to get an early 'priority date' and make sure you get one of the Green Cards. Otherwise you will lose your chance and get nothing." (emphasis in original)
DEFENDANT'S VIOLATIONS OF SECTION FIVE OF THE FTC ACT
18. Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 45(a), prohibits unfair or deceptive acts and practices in or affecting commerce.
19. In the course and conduct of his business, defendant, directly or through his employees and agents, misrepresents, directly or by implication, that entries submitted through defendant's services satisfy the technical requirements set by the State Department; that there are special entry forms that consumers must file with the U.S. State Department in order to enter the green card lottery; and that no entry filed by defendant has ever been rejected or disqualified by the State Department. In fact, many entries submitted through defendant's services do not satisfy the technical requirements set by the State Department; there are no special entry forms that consumers must file with the U.S. State Department in order to enter the green card lottery; and many entries filed by defendant on behalf of consumers have been rejected or disqualified by the State Department. Indeed, defendant has submitted multiple entries and entries lacking required information such as date of birth in violation of State Department lottery regulations.
20. In the course and conduct of his business, defendant, directly or through his employees and agents, misrepresents, directly or by implication, that he uses his knowledge of immigration law to increase a consumer's chances of being selected in the green card lottery; that he has "hidden ways" to increase a consumer's winning chances; and that he uses his knowledge of "loopholes" in the lottery regulations to increase a consumer's winning chances. In fact, defendant's knowledge of immigration law does not increase a consumer's chances of being selected in the green card lottery, and there are no such "hidden ways" or "loopholes" available to increase a consumer's chances of being selected in the green card lottery.
21. In the course and conduct of his business, defendant, directly or through his employees and agents, misrepresents, directly or by implication, the rate and numbers of winners in the green card lottery for consumers who use his services. In fact, the rate and numbers of winners in the green card lottery for consumers who use his services are inflated and incorrectly compared to U.S. State Department green card lottery winner rates and numbers.
22. In the course and conduct of his business, defendant, directly or through his employees and agents, misrepresents, directly or by implication, that certain promotional materials distributed to consumers are reprints of independent newspaper articles from The Express, The Mirror, Sri Lanka Express and The Ethiopian Mirror. In fact, these promotional materials distributed to consumers are not reprints of independent newspaper articles from The Express, The Mirror, Sri Lanka Express and The Ethiopian Mirror, but rather are paid commercial advertisements.
23. In the course and conduct of his business, defendant, directly or through his employees and agents, represents, directly or by implication, that he is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. In fact, defendant is not a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
24. The misrepresentations of material facts set forth in Paragraphs 19-23 constitute deceptive acts and practices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.
25. In the course and conduct of his business, defendant, directly or through his employees and agents, submits multiple entries to the green card lottery (a prohibited practice) on behalf of unwitting consumers who have purchased his green card lottery services, with the result that some of these consumers are rejected from the green card lottery, forfeit their fees to defendant, and suffer substantial and unavoidable economic and other injury. This conduct also injures consumers who might otherwise have obtained a chance to win but for the multiple filings submitted by defendant.
26. In the course and conduct of his business, defendant, directly or through his employees and agents, fails to provide in a timely fashion the NVC case number and Package 3 to consumers who have purchased his green card lottery services and who have been selected as lottery winners, with the result that consumers suffer substantial and unavoidable economic and other injury where 1) they fail to obtain green cards due to missed NVC deadlines, misunderstanding of the process based on defendants' representations, or inability to pay defendant's additional fees, or 2) they pay defendant's additional fees which they would not otherwise pay.
27. Defendant's practices as set forth in paragraphs 25 and 26 above constitute unfair acts and practices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.
28. Consumers have in fact been injured and will continue to be injured by defendant's violations of Section 5 of the FTC Act.
THIS COURT'S POWER TO GRANT RELIEF
29. Section 13(b) of the FTC Act empowers this Court to issue injunctive relief against violations of the FTC Act, and, in the exercise of its equitable jurisdiction, to award redress to remedy the injury to consumers, order disgorgement of monies resulting from defendant's unlawful acts or practices, and issue other ancillary equitable relief.
PRAYER FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff requests that this Court:
Dated: , 1996 Respectfully submitted,
THOMAS J. SYTA