BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) – Kern County seeks $4.7 million in fines against a local business for preying on Canadian citizens with criminal records who want to enter the United States.
Filing suit Wednesday in Superior Court, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office claims Trusted Pardon Services, Scotia Pardon, and member/managers Omar Akhtar, Adil Javed, and Jamie Jackson took people’s money but provided little or none of the promised services.
“Defendants falsely represented that they were a ‘full-service company’ that would do all of the work related to a customer’s application to seal a criminal record or for a waiver to enter the United States,” the complaint states.
“When customers called back to check on their order’s status or to cancel defendants’ services, defendants concocted phony excuses about the lack of progress (e.g., lying about having sent the paperwork to the appropriate government agency) and refused to refund the customer’s money. With thousands of customers paying over $1,000 each on average, defendants have committed large-scale fraud,” the district attorney says.
Federal immigration law prevents Canadian citizens who have been convicted of certain crimes from entering the United States without a waiver of inadmissibility issued by the Department of Homeland Security. Canadian law allows people to seal criminal records or have them purged if they were not convicted of the crime.
From 2009 through at least April 2016, the defendants advertised on Facebook, Yelp!, and other online venues. Prospective customers filled out an online form and were then contacted by a Trusted Pardon employee, who promised the business would complete the entire application process on their behalf within three months, according to the complaint.
If the customer was interested, a salesperson would email them a contract and have them electronically sign it while talking to them on the phone. But the salespeople never went over the terms of the contract, and pressured hesitant customers into forgoing a walkthrough of the terms by claiming the discounted price was available only that day, and that reading the contract would take time and result in a higher fee, the district attorney says.
“Many customers thus signed contracts without knowing what the contract said, and the process was so rushed and obfuscated by the sales staff that some customers did not even realize they had electronically signed a contract,” the complaint states.
The district attorney says Trusted Pardon charged each customer differently, based on how much the salesperson making the pitch thought the customer would agree to pay. Since salespeople were paid in part on commissions, they had a financial incentive to misrepresent the terms of the contract, sell services the customer could not use, and “charge as high a fee as the customer would accept.”
The business typically charged more than $1,000 and required payment upfront. If a customer changed his mind and sought to cancel, Trusted Pardon would refuse to do so or charge a $200 cancellation fee even if no services had been performed, according to the complaint.
The prosecutor says Akhtar and Javed encouraged their customer relations staff to lie to customers who called to check on the status of their application. Among other things, they routinely told customers they had sent in applications or completed packets when they had not done so; claimed it was the customer’s responsibility to obtain certain court records despite advertising themselves as a full-service business; claimed they had not received paperwork though they had, but had not processed it; and claimed the contract had expired and the customer needed to pay a reactivation fee to continue the process, according to the complaint
The reactivation fees were at least $125, and usually around $500. If customers balked, the employee would offer phony subsidies, or surreptitiously charge separate fees for each application the customers had hired Trusted Pardon to submit on their behalf.
“The customer relations staff charged reactivation fees and solicited add-on services knowing TPS did not intend to perform any services for the customer. Indeed, Akhtar and Javed handpicked their customer relations personnel based on those employees’ ability to lie, make up phony excuses ad hoc, and persuade customers to pay even more money to TPS,” the complaint states.
The district attorney says Jackson was the best at “swindling money from customers,” and was transferred to the newly formed Scotia Pardon in 2015 to continue the scam.
The business did not return an emailed request for comment Thursday.
Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Noe declined to comment, saying the detailed, 16-page complaint speaks for itself.
The district attorney seeks civil penalties of at least $1.25 million for false advertising, $3.125 million for unfair competition, and at least $312,000 for violations of the Business and Professions Code perpetrated against a disabled person or senior citizen.