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Black Churches Were Targeted|In Computer Scam, DC Says

WASHINGTON (CN) - The "Urban Interfaith Network" conspired to scam black church congregations nationwide of "hundreds of thousands of dollars" by fraudulently inducing them to pay tens of thousands of dollars for computer equipment that didn't work, the District of Columbia claims in Superior Court. It claims that the defendant and its corporate parent, Television Broadcasting Online, and other conspirators caused "congregations to hemorrhage thousands of dollars a month in lease payments and late fees" in a scam that is continuing.

The District says defendants Willie Perkins and Michael Morris are "key players" in Television Broadcasting Online and the Urban Interfaith Network.

"Morris and Perkins, through TVBO and Urban Interfaith, concocted a scheme whereby they would 'lease' basic computer equipment to church congregations around the country," according to the complaint.

The leased equipment consisted of a printer and a computer- which "did not contain any significant software," and often didn't even work - inside "mahogany casing," the complaint states.

It claims Morris, of Waldorf, Md., and Perkins, of Washington, D.C., began the scam in 2004 and still are running it.

Also named as defendants are United Leasing Associates of America, Balboa Capital Corp., and Chesapeake Industrial Leasing Co.

"Defendants targeted a scam at African-American religious congregations in the District of Columbia and in other regions of the country," the complaint states. "The scam was designed to illegally obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars from congregations across the country by fraudulently inducing them to accept computer equipment on the representation that it was 'free of charge.' In fact, the congregations unwittingly were induced to sign leases that obligated them to pay tens of thousands of dollars a month for equipment that did not work, and the value of which was a small fraction of what the Defendants sought to compel the congregations to pay.

"The scheme is ongoing and in many cases is causing the congregations to hemorrhage thousands of dollars a month in lease payments and late fees, as well as negatively impacting their credit ratings."

The complaint adds: "From late 2004 through the date of this complaint, defendants conspired to illegally obtain thousands of dollars from hundreds of predominantly African-American congregations in the District of Columbia and elsewhere using fraud, unconscionable contract terms, and unauthorized collections practices."

The District demands rescission of contracts, restitution, an injunction stopping the defendants from collecting on the contracts, and penalties.

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