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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Cuomo Sues Telemarketers for Money Grab

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CN) - Attorney General Andrew Cuomo wants Suffolk Productions, a for-profit telemarketer that claims to work for law enforcement and health care organizations, barred from doing it anymore. He says the company "preys on the good will of New York donors by misrepresenting who it is and where the money will go" - more than $3 million.

The company may have collected even more than that "because a portion of cash donations are pocketed by solicitors," Cuomo claims in Suffolk County Court.

For-profit solicitors are subject to disclosure guidelines under state law, and Cuomo says Suffolk Productions flouted most of them.

Cuomo says company president Deborah Cromarty-Hallahan filed "bogus solicitation scripts with the Office of the Attorney General." And he claims that the company "encourages new solicitors to make up their own pitch, without regard for the disclosure requirements mandated by law."

Cuomo says solicitors told donors over that they were "with" or "from" law enforcement agencies - not from a telemarketing company - and even showed up at work places posing as police detectives.

He says Suffolk Productions lured donors with fake law enforcement badges as "sweeteners" to make the donors believe they will receive favors from the police.

The complaint claims one unidentified solicitor told a donor, "I'm giving you two police badges ... you can give these to people who work for you. They put this in their wallet ... where their license is ... and [if stopped] when you open it they'll see that you contribute." (Bracketed words in brackets in complaint.)

Cuomo says the company had no authority to manufacture the badges.

"As if all that were not enough, Suffolk solicitors also purposefully alter the true names of charities they call on behalf of to sound broader, and thereby net more donations - thus, for example, New York State Park Police Benevolent Association becomes the 'New York State Police Benevolent Association,'" according to the complaint.

"Suffolk employs all manner of manipulative techniques, half-truths and outright lies to maximize the funds it collects and hence its own fees, which amount to an average of over 70 cents of every dollar it brings in," the complaint states. "In the years 2006-08 Suffolk secured over $3 million in public donations."

Solicitors receive a 30 percent commission and "routinely use multiple fake names or aliases when identifying themselves," making their income difficult to report, Cuomo says.

Cuomo wants Suffolk's registration as a professional solicitor canceled, restitution and damages. He alleges 12 causes of action, including a scheme to defraud, deceptive trade, "promise of special benefits from police officers," and "solicitors holding themselves out as members of law enforcement."

Here are the defendants: Suffolk Productions Inc., Deborah Cromarty-Hallahan, Rosemary Natoli, Robert W. Finan, Melvin Watnick, John Clancy, John Doe No. 1 aka "Nick Russo" or "Joe Marino," John Doe No. 2 aka "Jim O'Laherty," John Doe No. 3 aka "Joe Ryan," John Doe No. 4 aka "Bill Lombardi," and other Does.

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