NEED WORK? Well, Santa Barbarans Anthony J. Newton and Jeremy S. Cooley really had a deal for you job-hunters. You’d pay them money, and they’d scam you out of it, according to the feds.
Since 2005, they had advertised fake, nonexistent jobs, sold a bill of goods to folks needing work, racked up more than 17,000 complaints nationally, and defrauded consumers of at least $8 million, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says.
I wanted to talk to Newton and Cooley to find out how to make millions via the telephone, but I haven’t been able to reach them. The feds raided their office at 114 East Haley Street on February 24, shut the place down, and by court order froze their assets. An FTC attorney told me that the agency will seek a permanent injunction to prevent Newton and Cooley from continuing their operations, and to seek restitution for the victims.
The fact is Santa Barbara and Goleta have long been a hotbed of shady telemarketers, with a plentiful labor market of students and others providing cheap help with compromised consciences.
The FTC cracks down, bans these marketeers from further tele-rackets, but others pop up running the same scams: work at home, be a secret shopper, clear your debts, buy cars and foreclosed homes at pennies on the dollar, or get high-paying executive jobs. And a zillion other permutations of the same rackets.
So why has Santa Barbara become a home to con artists? Because, I’ve been told, if you can do it anywhere there are phones and plenty of people to man them, would you rather do it in sub-zero weather or mild Saint Barbara?
I’ve done so many of these scam stories that I’m on a first-name basis with the FTC guys in Chicago and with Better Business Bureau of Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties honcho Rick Copelan.
What Newton and Cooley were doing was “nothing more than a scheme to take money from people already in a financial hole,” the FTC told a judge. They operated here as National Sales Group, placing ads nationwide that read, for instance: “SALES & ACCT EXECS NEEDED! Make $45,000-$80,000 yr. No Exp Needed.”
These jobs existed only in their imaginations, of course. “Defendants do everything possible to keep consumers’ money,” the FTC said. “They routinely ignore or deny consumers’ requests for refunds, only treating consumers with contempt in the process. Only the few consumers who are very persistent or complain to the BBB or law enforcement are able to get refunds.”
Unfortunately, these FTC cases are normally civil in nature, not criminal.
I once asked a young woman who worked for a scammer leasing a building in Goleta off Hollister Avenue if it didn’t bother her conscience to help scam the unwary public. Her reply, in effect: It’s their own fault if they’re that stupid.
“About a year ago, we began working with the FTC in their investigation on this company and have provided them with copies of our complaints,” the BBB’s Copelan said. “The FTC told me that most of their ‘deposition’ evidence was taken from our complaints.
“We became aware of this company back in 2005, and since that time, we have provided over 7,000 consumers with our report on the company,” Copelan said. “For much or most of that time, the company had an F rating due to unanswered complaints and the serious nature of the complaints. In terms of complaints, we have processed 237 complaints against this company.”
Sadly, some of the worst national scams are run by fake charities, many claiming to be religious groups, trying to wring tears from your eyes and bucks from your bank account, supposedly to alleviate pain and suffering among the world’s needy.
Often the only need being alleviated is the desire for luxury by those who skim off all or up to 95 percent of the take. And once you send a check, you’re liable to find yourself on dozens of sucker lists, as someone I know found out. Your mailbox is likely to be stuffed regularly with appeals, some enclosing religious medals intended to soften your heart. Some enclose shiny nickels, showing through the clear address box to encourage you to open the hustle messages.
A reliable source for honest information is charitynavigator.org. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from Newton and Cooley. But for some reason, they’re unlisted, maybe to avoid those annoying dinner-time calls from pesky telemarketers.
BRAVO: Cheers to Opera Santa Barbara for its staging of La Traviata last weekend, grand opera at its best, at the Granada. (Take that, Bakersfield.) Next up, on April 8 and 10, two chamber operas: La Serva Padrona, by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, and Trouble in Tahiti, and yes, that really is an opera, by Leonard Bernstein, no less.
CORRECTION: My column on February 17 quoted the former manager of the now-closed Borders, who stated that there were rumors that individuals stole CDs from the bookstore and resold them at Morninglory Music. After the column was published, Stan Bernstein, owner of the now-closed music store, contacted The Independent and took issue with the former Borders manager’s statement. A former store manager for Morninglory also said that employees checked and recorded the identification of sellers of CDs and assisted people who believed their CDs or DVDs had been stolen. I regret that I did not contact Mr. Bernstein before the item was published.