AP News

Miss. regulators fine Arizona firms $5.7 million

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi regulators are ordering a pair of companies to pay a record $5.7 million fine for more than 1,000 violations of the state's do-not-call law.

Public Service Commissioners voted 3-0 Tuesday to impose the penalty, the largest the body has ever imposed under state laws banning unwanted telemarketing.

The fine was levied against Purchase Power Solutions LLC of Chandler, Ariz.; ELH Consulting of Tucson, Ariz.; and two directors, Lisa Miller and Emory L. Holley IV.

The companies and directors failed to respond to legal complaints from the Mississippi PSC. The commission levied the maximum $5,000 fine for each of 1,141 violations.

Until now, the largest fine imposed by Mississippi regulators for no-call violations had been the $945,000 levied in May against Roy M. Cox of Santa Ana, Calif.

Jeff Jernigan, a staff attorney for the PSC, said that the Arizona defendants were offering a service where people could consolidate debt. In one case, a consumer accepted the offer, was charged about $800 and received only two compact discs in the mail.

Mississippi commissioners used the vote to continue their tough talk against telemarketers.

"I want you to do whatever we have to do," said Southern District Commissioner Leonard Bentz, a Republican. "Take their kids if we have to. They need to go to jail."

There's no jail time associated with the PSC's action, though, because it's leveling a civil penalty, not a criminal one. Jernigan said defendants do own some land near Tucson that could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat, urged Jernigan to turn the case over for criminal prosecution.

"I'd just ask you to share our case file with the attorney general's office and the Federal Trade Commission," Presley said.

Jernigan said Indiana authorities have also investigated the current situation.

For Miller, it's at least the third scrape with regulators over telemarketing violations. In 2004, the Federal Trade Commission ordered Miller and others to stop marketing a $399 service to protect financial information from unscrupulous telemarketers.

The FTC said Miller, Mike Stafford and a company they controlled called Vector Direct Marketing told consumers that information including their Social Security and bank account numbers was for sale on telemarketing lists. The defendants allegedly told consumers that a $399 call screening device could help them avoid becoming victims of identity theft, the federal regulators said. But most consumers received little more than a $34.95 call-screening device that they could have bought at many stores.

The FTC ordered the defendants in that case to make restitution of $811,000, but suspended the penalty citing inability to pay. FTC spokesman Mitchell Katz said Tuesday that if it is determined that Miller misrepresented her financial condition, the federal government could still seek the money.

In 2010, the West Virginia attorney general sued Miller, Holley and Allied Corporate Connection, saying the company was offering "dubious" debt reduction services similar to those that regulators say they were offering in Mississippi. The defendants settled in March 2011, agreeing to refund $29,000 to customers there, according to West Virginia officials.

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