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Sleazy Tactics Alleged in Cable TV War

SACRAMENTO (CN) - Dish One, a Dish Network retailer, trained its salesmen to misrepresent themselves as working for its competitor DirecTV to trick customers into switching providers, DirecTV claims in a RICO complaint.

DirecTV sued Dish One and four of its officers - but not Dish Network - in Federal Court.

The individual defendants are Dish One founder and CEO Michael Hammond; its COO Jeremy Hammond, both of Provo, Utah; Alexander Amini, of the Salt Lake City area; and Blake Janson, who lives "in or around Alpine, Utah."

Among the allegations in the 51-page lawsuit are that Dish One employees impersonated customers to cancel DirecTV contracts, and lied to duck cancellation fees.

"DirecTV does not charge any cancellation fees for subscribers who are active members of the United States military and who are given instructions to relocate (often overseas)," the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)

"In order to avoid the potential early cancellation fee and unbeknownst to the customers, defendants impersonate the customer and contact DirecTV, falsely stating to DirecTV that the DirecTV customer is an active member of the United States military who has just received deployment instructions and seeks to cancel their DirecTV account without cancellation fees or penalties," according to the lawsuit.

DirecTV seeks an injunction and damages for 17 causes of action, including civil RICO violations, trademark infringement and dilution, false advertising, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unfair competition, libel, slander, trade libel, tortious interference with contract, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage and unjust enrichment.

DirecTV says that Dish One also has done business under the names D1 Sales, Dishone, Dish One Satellite and Hammond Marketing, Inc.

"Defendants' misconduct is and has been willful, performed with the intention of converting DirecTV customers based on multiple false pretenses and free-riding on DirecTV's hard-earned goodwill in its name, logo, and products and services. Defendants' actions have caused irreparable damage to DirecTV, and, unless defendants are restrained and enjoined by this Court, DirecTV will continue to be irreparably harmed in the future," the complaint states.

DirecTV says that Dish One "operates as an authorized retailer for Dish Network, DirecTV's primary competitor for satellite television service in the United States."

The lawsuit claims that Dish One's marketing strategy, which emphasizes door-to-door sales, features training materials that "include a series of instructional videos in which defendant Michael Hammond and defendant Amini teach the Dish One Sales Force how to convince existing DirecTV customers to sign up for Dish Network's products and services by falsely claiming to be affiliated with DirecTV and then falsely disparaging DirecTV. ...

"To accomplish these purposes, the videos explicitly reference the fact that the Dish One Sales Force wear shirts that include the DirecTV name and logo and the fact that the Dish One Sales Force's binders contain the DirecTV name and logo as well. The stated purpose of these logos is 'so you don't come across like you are just from Dish Network' and it 'comes across like you are repping both,'" according to the complaint.

The videos instruct sales staff to follow a script using multiple references to their supposed representation of DirecTV, the complaint states.

It continues: "In fact, defendants are not associated with DirecTV. Further, at no point were defendants an installer of DirecTV. Additionally, defendants are not and have never been the exclusive installation company for DirecTV in any given area. ...

"Finally, the video instructs the Dish One Sales Force, toward the end of the pitch, to walk into the DirecTV customer's home without an invitation."

DirecTV says it "would never encourage any individual wearing its logo or associated with DirecTV to walk into a home uninvited."

DirecTV claims that consumers have filed Better Business Bureau complaints about Dish One's practices.

"These complaints further demonstrate the continuing nature of defendants' acts and its pervasiveness, beyond the state of California and likely nationwide. The above instances of defendant's improper actions are what DirecTV is currently aware of. On information and belief, there are additional instances of this practice by defendants or their employees which will be brought to light through discovery," the complaint states.

DirecTV seeks injunctive relief, actual damages, statutory damages, punitive damages, treble damages, attorneys' and investigators' fees, prejudgment interest and costs.

DirecTV is represented by Michael E. Williams, with Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan, in Los Angeles.

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