Accomplishments

Below are highlights from some of the Consumer Protection Unit's ("CPU") civil and criminal achievements in 2015:

Civil Accomplishments

Unfair and Deceptive Practices

Vivint, Inc. (f/d/b/a “APX Alarm Systems”) provides home security, home automation and energy management devices and systems, primarily via door-to-door sales.  The Consumer Protection Unit (CPU) alleged that Vivint committed multiple violations of the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act ("FBPA"), including:

  • Misinforming consumers by significantly inflating the quoted value of equipment and services;
  • Advertising that the energy management package and services would result in specific savings off consumers’ utility bills, but being unable to substantiate the savings claimed;
  • Advertising that implementing the Vivint home security system would allow consumers to save up to 20% on their homeowner’s insurance costs, but being unable to substantiate the likelihood of consumers’ achieving those savings;
  • Misinforming or failing to provide full terms and conditions pertaining to its cancellation, relocation and auto-renewal policies;
  • Advertising that consumers who “call now” could receive certain free or discounted services or products, when, in fact, the offer was not time-limited.

In resolution of these allegations, Vivint, Inc. entered into a settlement with the CPU requiring it to bring its advertising and sales practices into compliance with the law and to pay $375,000 in civil penalties and investigative expenses.

Mastermind Media, Inc., Rock Finance Inc., f/d/b/a Royal Surgery Recovery Program, Rodney Bowling, individually - Mastermind Media, Inc. ("MMI") is a Georgia corporation that organizes special events, including contests and beauty pageants.  Rock Finance, Inc., formerly doing business as Royal Surgery Recovery Program, offered a gas reward program (“SmartCards”), plastic surgery aftercare services, and financing.  The CPU alleges that Bowling and his companies committed various violations of the FBPA, including:

  • Falsely representing that certain events, including “Atlanta’s Next Top Model”, “One Mic” and “Clothesminded: Best Dressed Affair” were sponsored by CBS Atlanta, Jezebel Magazine, and Atlantan Magazine, among others;
  • Various violations of Georgia’s statutes regulating beauty pageants;
  • Misrepresenting the availability of prizes in connection with MMI’s special events; and
  • Misrepresenting the nature of Rock Finance’s Royal Surgery Recovery Program.

Under the settlement MMI and its owner Rodney Bowling must pay a $25,000 civil penalty and  consumer restitution to eligible consumers.  If, over the next 25 months, Bowling and his companies fail to fully comply with the terms of the settlement or if the CPU receives any verifiable, actionable complaints that indicate violations of the settlement, an additional $125,000 penalty will immediately become due.

Sprint Corp. and Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless - Our office, along with the Attorneys General of the other 49 States and the District of Columbia, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Federal Communications Commission, reached settlements with Sprint Corporation and Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless, that resolve allegations that Sprint and Verizon placed charges for third-party services on consumers’ mobile telephone bills that were not authorized by the consumers, a practice known as “mobile cramming.”  Under the terms of the settlements, Sprint will pay $68 million and Verizon will pay $90 million.  Of these amounts, Sprint and Verizon are required to provide $50 million and $70 million, respectively, to consumers who were victims of cramming.  Sprint and Verizon will each distribute refunds to harmed consumers through redress programs that will be under the supervision of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Sprint will also pay $12 million to the Attorneys General and $6 million to the Federal Communications Commission.  Verizon will pay $16 million to the Attorneys General and $4 million to the Federal Communications Commission. 

JPO Management Ltd., d/b/a Glamour Shots, and Studio Perimeter Village, LLC, d/b/a Glamour Shots – This case was initiated when the CPU received consumer complaints regarding a special Glamour Shots’ Groupon offer.  During the investigation, it became evident that the Groupon offer, which included a DVD of all images, was deceptive because the images on the DVD were watermarked and print-restricted, which was not disclosed to consumers in the Groupon advertisement.  Glamour Shots entered into a settlement that required them to change their advertisements to include the required disclosures regarding the DVD.  The company further agreed to pay $11,550 in fees and penalties.  

FAR Direct, Inc. and Craig W. Fenoff, individually - Consumers claimed this company sent them a promotional mailer stating that they had "qualified" for an award of two round-trip airline tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S., as well as two nights at any Marriott hotel location.  Consumers were told that previous attempts to reach them had been unsuccessful and that the mailer was the "final notification".  Once the consumer called, they were told they must attend a 90-minute presentation to be awarded the travel vouchers. There were also redemption fees charged to redeem the vouchers that were not disclosed to consumers in the mailer.

Our office alleged that the Respondents misrepresented affiliation, connection, or association with or certification by another; failed in numerous ways to comply with provisions concerning promotions; failed to provide consumers the requisite notice of cancellation;, and made other misrepresentations to consumers.  CPU assessed the company a civil penalty in the amount of $1,002,000.

 

Credit Repair, Credit Reporting and Debt Collection

J Sears Company, LLC; Truthe Institute, Inc; and Jennifer Sears, individually - The Respondents offer financial services, including credit repair services.  After investigating their business practices, the CPU determined that they unlawfully offered credit repair services, had failed to provide certain written disclosures required under the Credit Repair Organizations Act, and had misrepresented the effectiveness of their services.  They have entered into a settlement requiring them to comply with the FBPA, Georgia's credit repair statute and the Credit Repair Organizations Act; to provide, free of charge, continued services, including credit repair services to all consumers that have current contracts for the duration of the contract; to pay $17,500 in consumer restitution and a civil penalty in the amount of $5,000.  The company’s practices will be monitored for 45 months and, an additional penalty will immediately become due should violations occur. 

Ernest Earvin IV and Zenith Financial Group, LLC - This debt collection company violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by

  • Representing that the nonpayment of a debt would result in the arrest or imprisonment of consumers;
  • Failing to disclose to consumers that it was attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained would be used for that purpose; and
  • Failing to send written notice to consumers validating the debts within five days after its initial communication with those persons. 

 

The company entered into a settlement in which it agreed to forgive the debt accounts of 9,259 consumers for a total amount of $3,137,809.58.  It must also pay a civil penalty of $15,000 and is subject to an additional $445,000 penalty should the company fail to comply with the settlement.

Chase Bank USA N.A. and Chase Bankcard Services, Inc. will pay $136 million and significantly reform its credit card debt collection practices as the result of a multistate-federal settlement.  The joint state-federal investigation uncovered various unlawful debt collection practices by Chase, including: 

  • Attempting to collect debts from and seeking judgments against consumers for accounts that did not belong to the consumers;
  • Selling certain accounts to debt buyers that contained inaccurate information or concerned debts that were settled, discharged in bankruptcy, not actually owed by the consumer, or otherwise uncollectable;
  • Using false and deceptive affidavits that were prepared without following required procedures, a practice referred to as “robo-signing;”
  • Making calculation errors when filing debt collection lawsuits that sometimes resulted in judgments against consumers for incorrect amounts; and
  • Because of the unlawful debt collection practices mentioned above, reporting inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies about consumers that may have affected their ability to obtain credit, employment, housing, and insurance in the future.

Following an investigation by this office, along with Attorneys General from 47 states plus the District of Columbia and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Chase entered into an agreement to cease all collection efforts on more than 528,000 consumers.  Chase will notify affected borrowers of the required changes and will request that all three major credit reporting agencies not report any judgments obtained relating to these accounts.  Chase has also agreed to implement new safeguards to help ensure debt information is accurate and that inaccurate data is corrected, to provide additional information to consumers who owe debts, and to prohibit Chase’s debt buyers from reselling consumer debts to other purchasers.  

Chase will pay $106 million to the 47 participating states and the District of Columbia, and $30 million to the CFPB.  Chase must also provide $50 million in consumer restitution by July 1, 2016, as provided under a separate 2013 agreement with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.  

Desmond Humphries, Individually, and Humphries & Associates, LLC – The case against this small Georgia-based debt collections company and its owner was initiated when our office received complaints from consumers who alleged that they were given the impression that they were being contacted by persons from law enforcement, or from a law firm, and harassed about debts that they did not owe, or debts which were discharged in bankruptcy.  The investigation revealed that the acts complained of were being carried out by only three of the employees, all of whom were terminated once the owner of the company learned of the complaints.  Under the terms of the settlement, the company has agreed to abide by very strict compliance terms with regard to its future collections practices, and must pay approximately $100,000 in penalties and other fees, some of which will be waived provided the Respondents comply in full with the settlement, and that we receive no further verifiable, actionable complaints implicating violations of the FBPA, FDCPA, or the settlement during the 24-month monitoring period.

Equifax Information Services LLC, Experian Information Solutions Inc., and TransUnion LLC - Our office, along with 30 other state Attorneys General, were part of a multi-state settlement with the three national credit reporting agencies.  Under the settlement, the credit reporting agencies have agreed to pay the participating states $6 million and to make a number of changes to their business practices to benefit consumers. 

The investigation focused on consumer disputes about credit report errors, monitoring and disciplining data furnishers (providers of credit reporting information), accuracy in consumer credit reports, and the marketing of credit monitoring products to consumers who call the credit reporting agencies to dispute information on their credit report.  Under the settlement, the credit reporting agencies have agreed to increase monitoring of data furnishers, to require additional information from furnishers of certain types of data, to limit direct-to-consumer marketing, to provide greater protections for consumers who dispute information on their credit reports, to limit certain information that can be added to a credit report, to provide additional consumer education, and to comply with state and federal laws, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

RSB Equity Group, LLC, an Atlanta-based debt-buying company, and its principal Roy Mullman, entered into a settlement with the CPU, resolving charges that the company committed multiple violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act. The CPU has alleged that RSB Equity Group repeatedly harassed and deceived consumers by:

  • Threatening consumers with arrest or imprisonment if they did not pay an alleged debt;
  • Falsely representing that consumers had committed fraud or criminal acts and that a lawsuit was about to be filed unless the debt was paid;
  • Refusing to send consumers written proof of alleged debts owed;
  • Falsely identifying themselves as “attorneys” or “investigators” rather than disclosing that they were, in fact, debt collectors;
  • Contacting consumers about alleged debts at the consumers’ place of employment;
  • Contacting third parties and divulging information about the debtors’ accounts;
  • Collecting or attempting to collect amounts that were unauthorized and illegal; and
  • Calling consumers before 8:00am or after 9:00pm

Under the settlement, RSB Equity Group will not be allowed to collect sums due under the 11,803 accounts it owns, representing a total of $13,054,667.16 in purported consumer debt.  The settlement also requires the respondents to pay a $10,000 civil penalty and to reimburse the CPU for investigative and legal expenses in the amount of $5,000.

Critical Resolution Mediation, LLC and Brian McKenzie, individually -This debt collection company collects debts for third parties, as well as accounts that it owns.  The CPU alleges that the company failed to validate the debts at the request of the debtor, and collected interest amounts that were not allowed under the collections agreements.  In resolution of this matter, the company entered into a settlement in which it agreed to abide by strict compliance terms (many of which it has already put into practice); forfeit to the CPU all of its consumer debt accounts, totaling $1,613,321.18; pay $5,000 in administrative fees; and pay a $15,000 civil penalty.  An additional penalty will immediately become due should the company re-offend within the 24-month monitoring period

 

Automotive

Cobb Parkway Motors - This independent automobile dealer advertised vehicles for sale on its website, as well as the availability of "low interest rate" financing for the purchase of those cars. However, the company did not offer any financing in connection with vehicle sales; instead, it sold vehicles for cash only.  All other transactions were lease transactions.  When consumers questioned the difference between the advertised financed purchase and the available lease transaction, the dealer represented that the two transactions were the same or were comparable, even though at the end of a lease term the lessee must pay additional money in order to own the vehicle. 

To resolve these allegations of deceptive practices, Cobb Parkway Motors entered into a settlement to pay $10,000 in civil penalties and administrative fees and $13,131 in consumer restitution.  In addition, the company must forgive or refrain from any attempts to collect $4,270 in vehicle payments from a customer named in the settlement.  It also forgave and will refrain from attempting to collect all monies owed by 11 consumers who previously defaulted or surrendered their vehicles.

The case against Rick Case Cars (“RCC”) was initiated when CPU received a complaint from the Cherokee County Tax Commissioner’s office, which expressed concerns about repeated incidences of unlawfully issued temporary operating permits (“TOPS”) from the Rick Case dealerships.  Chief amongst the Commissioner’s concerns were that RCC was not conforming with the statutes governing the TOPS.  This activity placed consumers at risk for having their vehicles impounded by police when they would be pulled over for traffic citations, and in some cases, caused consumers to lose their insurance coverage for not having a properly registered Vehicle Identification Number (“VIN”) on their TOP.

The investigation yielded evidence from both the Georgia Department of Revenue and RCC that the dealerships would change a letter or one number from the customer’s original VIN so that the additional TOP would not be caught by the system. The evidence showed a pervasive pattern of this practice from seven of RCC’s dealerships.  The company entered into a settlement with CPU in which it agreed to abide by very strict compliance terms with regard to its future financing practices, as well as stricter oversight of the process whereby its dealerships issue temporary operating permits. Additionally, the company paid $75,000 in administrative fees, penalties and court costs.

Infiniti of Union City, LLC d/b/a Infiniti of South Atlanta – The CPU alleges that this automobile dealership failed to disclose hail damage and repairs made to 26 new vehicles prior to their being sold or leased to consumers.  In addition, the dealer added its dealer service fees to its advertised prices. The company has entered into a settlement and agreed to pay $30,000 to the State and $8,000 in consumer restitution.

Speed Gears, Inc. d/b/a Atlanta Luxury Motors - This car dealership made multiple misrepresentations about their vehicles.  They:

  • Represented that certain vehicles had a "clean Carfax" and "no known bodywork" and/or "no known accidents" when in fact the vehicles had previously been involved in accidents;
  • Continued to advertise vehicles on the dealer website after those vehicles had been sold and then actively represented the availability of at least one of those vehicles;
  • Advertised that vehicles contained certain equipment or features, such as navigation systems and/or cameras, when they did not;
  • Sold motor vehicles that lacked a valid, unexpired certificate of emission;
  • Failed to timely submit properly completed title applications to the appropriate entity following a vehicle sale; and
  • Designated charges, such as tag/title fee, as charges collected on behalf of the government when only a portion of the fee was actually collected and remitted to the government.

In resolution of these allegations the company entered into a settlement and paid $15,000 in penalties and fees.

Auto Source, LLC and Dominique Snoddy, individually – The CPU took action against this Georgia-based used car dealership for alleged violations of the FBPA and the emissions statutes.  The case was initiated when the CPU received a complaint from a consumer who purchased a car that then began having trouble.  The car had been represented as having no damage, when in fact it had been involved in an accident.  Further, a check of the emissions certificate indicated that it had not been current when the vehicle was sold.  The investigation revealed that the dealership had actually sold several vehicles without current emissions certificates. 

Under the terms of the settlement, Auto Source must abide by very strict compliance terms with regard to its future advertisement practices, abide by the emissions statutes, and pay approximately $3,000 in consumer restitution, as well as $1,000 in penalties and fees.

Ally Group Inc. d/b/a Marietta Luxury Motors is an independent motor vehicle dealer that entered into a settlement with this office to resolve allegations that it: 

  • Represented that certain vehicles had a "clean Carfax" when the vehicles had previously been involved in accidents;
  • Continued to advertise vehicles on the dealer website after those vehicles had been sold;
  • Sold a third-party vehicle service contract and failed to remit consumers' payments for those contracts in a timely manner;
  • Sold motor vehicles that lacked a valid, unexpired certificate of emission;
  • Failed to timely submit properly completed title applications to the appropriate entity following a vehicle sale; and
  • Designated charges, such as tag/title fee, as charges collected on behalf of the government when only a portion of the fee was actually collected and remitted to the government.

The settlement required the company to pay $10,000 in penalties and fees.

United Motor Cars, Inc., Lucinda Patel and Jitendra Patel – The CPU alleges that this Snellville, GA-based used car dealership failed to timely submit properly completed title applications to the appropriate authorized county tag agent and/or commissioner after consumers bought vehicles.  The dealership then issued multiple temporary tags to consumers, in violation of Georgia law.  Additionally, the company sold vehicles that lacked a valid, unexpired certificate of emission inspection to consumers residing within counties where such a certificate is required.  Finally, the company falsely advertised that it offered extended vehicle warranties to consumers, when it merely provided information about the extended warranties of third parties, and that it offered guaranteed financing. The settlement requires the company to follow strict compliance terms, pay $10,000 in fees and penalties, and provide consumer restitution in the amount of $3,000. 

Golden Motors, Inc. and Ogochukwu Ebubedike, individually - During the CPU's investigation of this independent used car dealer, the agency discovered that the dealership had replaced faulty instrument panels and broken odometers with used instrument panels that reflected odometer readings significantly lower than the vehicles' original mileage.  For vehicles with odometer discrepancies, title and disclosure documents reflected that the true mileage was unknown or that due to the vehicle's age, it was exempt from odometer disclosure requirements.  These practices violate the FBPA.  The dealership also allegedly sold vehicles without a valid emissions and failed to register vehicles within 30 days.

The company has entered into a settlement agreeing to pay $15,000 in civil penalty fees and $15,023 in consumer restitution.  It has also agreed to numerous monitoring provisions. Should the company fail to comply with the settlement terms during the next 12 months, an additional $25,000 civil penalty will immediately become due. 

Peach State Auto Auction, Inc. - This auto auction company in Loganville, Georgia misrepresented the nature of fees it charged consumers for titling services by designating certain fees as "Temp Tag & Title Fee" when only a portion of that fee was collected on behalf of the government.  It entered into a settlement requiring it to bring its sales and advertising practices into compliance with the law and to pay $20,000 in fees and penalties.

Atlanta Auction Access, Inc.; Patrick Brazer; and Fredegra Brown -The CPU took action against this company for allegedly selling cars without valid emissions certificates and failing to transfer titles within the statutorily required 30 days.  Under the terms of the settlement the company must submit to strict compliance measures, pay a $15,000 civil penalty, and $15,000 in administrative fees. Should the respondents fail to comply with the requirements of the settlement, another significant penalty will immediately become due.

Eco Cars Atlanta, LLC d/b/a Georgia Wheego, and Keith Cristal -Wheego is a car dealership that sells new and used vehicles. The CPU opened this investigation due to representations on Wheego's website that it was conducting an "emergency clearance sale," when that sale was not actually occurring outside of the regular course of business.  Furthermore, Wheego advertised on its website that it charges dealer fees in addition to the advertised prices of the vehicles, which is a violation of this office’s Auto Advertising and Sales Practices Enforcement Policies. The CPU also alleges that the company was falsely representing the number of previous owners of its vehicles.

The company has signed a settlement in which it agreed to cease these illegal practices, to pay $5,000 in administrative fees and $25,000 in civil penalties. 

Auto Loan Finders, Inc. and Thaddeus Fabiniak, individually - This independent used car dealer advertised a purchasing program through which consumers could strengthen their credit and work towards lower interest loans.  However, the business was unable to substantiate these representations.  Furthermore, it engaged in additional unlawful practices including selling vehicles without a valid emissions inspection, failing to register vehicles within 30 days, and advertising but not honoring certain claims such as "no money down" or the use of discount coupons.  The dealership signed a settlement in which it agreed to numerous monitoring provisions.  It must also pay $2,195 in consumer restitution, a $15,000 civil penalty and $10,000 in administrative expenses.

 

Magazine Subscriptions

USA's Finest Publishers, Jitendra Petal and Lucinda Patel – TheCPU alleged that this company deceptively marketed its magazine subscription services to elderly consumers.  The company and its principals agreed to a settlement which required the company and principals to change their scripts and mailers to exclude deceptive representations; to notify each consumer currently engaged in a contract that they may cancel the remainder of the contract without penalty; to allow the CPU to request and receive copies of recorded sales calls, notes, spreadsheets and documents from the company's lead generators for a period of four years; and to pay $190,000 in fees and penalties.  A portion of the penalty will be waived if all payments are made on time and if all of the settlement's compliance terms are met. 

America’s Choice Publishers, Inc. and its CEO, Chris Sidhilall, have entered into a settlement in response to allegations that they engaged in illegal and deceptive telemarketing activities in the course of selling magazine subscriptions.  The CPU alleged that America’s Choice Publishers and Sidhilall committed multiple violations of Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act, including:

  • Falsely representing to consumers that the purpose of the phone call was to advise consumers that they had been entered into a sweepstakes for a $5,000 prize, when the actual purpose of the call was to solicit magazine sales;
  • Promoting a sweepstakes, when no such sweepstakes was actually held and no prizes were awarded until the CPU commenced its investigation;
  • Implying that it was associated with or sponsored by publishers and credit card companies, when that was not the case;
  • Using fictitious company names in an effort to convince consumers of the validity of its sweepstakes and ultimately induce them to buy magazine subscriptions;
  • Engaging in abusive telemarketing practices as defined by the Federal Trade Commission’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by failing to promptly and clearly disclose the identity of the caller, the fact that the purpose of the call was to sell magazines, that no purchase or payment was necessary in order to win a prize, and that any purchase or payment would not increase the person’s chances of winning.
  • Misinforming consumers regarding the company’s cancellation policy.

The CPU investigators found that a representative sample of the calls reflects that the majority of consumers targeted were over 60 years of age.

In resolution of these allegations, America’s Choice Publishers and Chris Sidhilall agreed to pay $90,000 to the State and to notify each consumer currently under contract with the company that he/she may cancel the remainder of the contract without penalty.  The company has also agreed to submit to auditing and compliance measures over the next two years.  The company’s activities will be monitored for 24 months to ensure compliance.  

Health & Fitness

Royal One, LLC d/b/a Orangetheory Fitness failed to comply with the Fair Business Practices Act's health spa provisions.  The company has entered into a settlement requiring it to maintain all funds collected during its pre-sale in a single account until CPU certifies to the bank or trust company that the gym is fully operational and available for use.  In addition, the company must pay a $2,000 civil penalty.

Premium Nutraceuticals, LLC – The CPU's investigation into this Georgia-based supplements company revealed that its negative-option renewal terms and conditions applicable to its trial offers were inconsistent and confusing, and led to consumers not understanding the actual deadline by which they needed to cancel an order to avoid being sent additional shipments of product they did not want. The company entered into a settlement and agreed to abide by very strict compliance terms with regard to future advertisement and refund practices, to pay $9,298.08 in consumer restitution, and to pay $57,000 in penalties and fees.  Should the CPU receive additional verifiable, actionable complaints in the next 24 months, an additional $103,000 penalty fee will immediately become due.

 

Criminal Accomplishments

UnLoyal Chodi - Synthetic Identity Fraud / CPN scheme

The Consumer Protection Unit (“CPU”) has learned of a relatively new criminal scheme being used by perpetrators to obtain credit cards and loans, and by some others to obtain credit accounts while defaulting on debts already incurred. 

Synthetic identity fraud is the creation of a new, fictitious identity profile by applying for credit accounts using made-up identifiers or assuming someone’s true name along with the use of a made-up CPN or “Credit Profile Number,” instead of a Social Security number (“SSN”).

The use of these “synthetic identities” results in credit providers reporting the newly created accounts to major credit bureaus, who in turn create new consumer credit profiles using the name and particulars submitted on the fraudulent credit account applications.

Even some so-called credit repair companies may claim to use synthetic identities to "erase" your credit file and create a synthetic (or fictional) identity for you to allow bad credit risk clients to obtain even more credit.

In the CPU’s UnLoyal Chodi Investigation the suspect utilized a synthetic identity scheme whereby through the Internet and telephone calls he fraudulently applied for 832 Capital One, Amex and Discover credit card accounts, using various combinations of hundreds of names, dates of birth, and SSN/CPNs.  The suspect used the fraudulently obtained credit cards to obtain cash advances at bank ATMs, for cash back in conjunction with small retail purchases, to pay for utility and Internet service, and for merchandise purchases made online and at area retailers with currently reported losses in excess of $165,000.

The CPU tracked computer identifiers, phone accounts, mail drops, power service and Internet service to identify the source of the fraudulent applications.

On January 22, 2015, CPU investigators along with inspectors from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Gwinnett County Police Department officers, served CPU’s search warrant at a Peachtree Corners residence.  The suspect is pending federal indictment.

Al Wilson Investigation

Alfred Wilson (aka “Al” or “D” Wilson) managed and participated in a criminal enterprise producing and selling high quality counterfeit driver’s licenses and counterfeit checks, personal identifying information (PII) profiles, and providing fraudulently obtained US Treasury checks to others to commit fraud.  CPU’s criminal investigator, working in an undercover capacity, conducted a series of “buy-walks” that resulted in Alfred Wilson’s arrest and conviction.  In early January 2015, Alfred Wilson was sentenced in Cobb County under first offender/conditional discharge to seven years on probation, a $700 fine, and 100 hours of community service.  The initial investigation led the CPU to open two additional investigations resulting in arrests.

Forest Park Investigation

The CPU’s Criminal Investigation Division, Homeland Security Investigation, and Forest Park Police Department investigated a case involving the manufacturing of counterfeit Georgia driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, alien resident cards, and prostitution.  The investigation revealed that driver’s licenses that could be attributed to the operation were being used to commit fraud around the metro Atlanta area.  At the conclusion of the investigation, the main target, Raul Ramirez Romero, was sentenced to five years to serve for six counts including multiple counts of making false IDs, pimping, 2nd degree forgery, and keeping a house of prostitution.  In addition, a separate civil case was filed against the property used for keeping the place of prostitution.  The house was forfeited to the government on February 19, 2015.

Langford-Newman Investigation

The CPU’s Criminal Investigation Division ("CPU-CID") opened an investigation by request of Target Corporation Asset Protection after Target detected a pattern of counterfeit business checks being returned back to Target in the names Langford Construction, Interior Designers, SD Langford, Tina Newman, SDL Landscaping, Langford Construction, S Langford, Newman Construction, and Langford Lawn Care. After reviewing the check transactions, it was discovered that multiple fraudulent Georgia drivers’ licenses were presented with the checks.  Further review revealed the checks were used to purchase Visa gift cards in approximately thirty Target stores throughout Georgia and South Carolina.  The investigation identified four primary suspects, subsequently charged by CPU-CID.  All four defendants pled and were sentenced.  The final defendant, Tina Newman, waived trial in April 2015 and was sentenced in Douglas County to 15 years for 12 counts of forgery in the 1st degree with the first four years to be served in confinement and the remainder to be served on probation.  Ms. Newman was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $3,314.93 to Target Corp.

Carleon Cartel Investigation

The CPU’s Criminal Investigation Division (“CPU-CID”) initiated a criminal investigation in connection with a complaint from Asurion Protection Services, LLC (“Asurion”) regarding alleged violations of O.C.G.A. §§ 16-14-4 (RICO), 16-9-121 (Identity Fraud), 16-9-93 (Computer Theft), and 33-1-9 (Insurance Fraud). At the time, Asurion investigators indicated they had developed a case involving over $164,000 in fraud claims related to cell phones. 

The modus operandi for this case involves suspects who utilize the personal identifying information of victims to create cell phone accounts.  The suspects fraudulently acquire cell phones through these accounts and purchased optional insurance coverage for the devices.  The suspects then file fraudulent insurance claims on the devices to obtain replacements.  Evidence obtained during the investigation shows that the suspects were selling the devices they obtained originally and the replacement devices to local fencing operations.  Asurion investigators had determined that over 500 devices had been shipped as a result of the fraudulent claims, which resulted in losses of approximately $110,000 in Georgia and additional amounts in other states. 

CPU-CID obtained DeKalb arrest warrants alleging Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) violations against the four living suspects (suspect five was an Atlanta homicide victim).  The suspects are now pending indictment in DeKalb County.

Multi-million dollar fencing operation

CPU's Criminal Investigation Division conducted an investigation into an alleged multi-million dollar fencing operation for cell phones, tablets, and other electronic goods.  Suspects were obtaining the new electronics via identity theft, burglaries, robberies, and/or insurance fraud and then selling the product to several “store fronts” in the metropolitan Atlanta area.  The owners of the stores would pay slightly below market value resulting in a high profit of the sellers, and then ship the newly acquired devices overseas.  The CPU, along with the U.S. Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service, located several of the fences who jointly purchased and sold thousands of devices worth millions.

The result is a 35-count federal indictment unsealed October 20, 2015 against multiple suspects including charges of wire fraud conspiracy, mail fraud, money laundering, and possession of a document-making implement.  Five of the six defendants were arrested in October 2015.  A sixth is believed to have left the United States for Russia.