SALEM, Ore. - A Phoenix, Ariz.-based telemarketer that sold a home-based business scheme to more than 100 Oregonians has agreed to pay full refunds to all of its Oregon customers who file a complaint with the Oregon Department of Justice, the agency said Tuesday.
U.S. Doc Assist LLC, AflacAssist LLC and 10 affiliated companies, as well as their principals, Lance Himes and Leary Darling, have agreed to permanently cease doing business in the state. They will also pay $400,000 to the state of Oregon.
The companies sold a variety of work-from-home business opportunities. Dozens of customers signed up, lured by the promise of steady passive income for little if any hands-on work. The companies targeted the elderly, whose need for additional revenue and unfamiliarity with technology made them ideal targets.
"I am sickened by Internet-related scams that target our senior citizens, many of whom enjoy going online as an integral part of their daily lives," said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. "This being Older Americans Month, the Oregon Department of Justice Consumer Protection Section reiterates its commitment to combating elder financial abuse as our top priority."
Consumers paid $219-$519 to have their own businesses set up in Arizona. They were told their companies would advertise merchant processing services or credit card swiping equipment, debt reduction services, business loans and other merchant services.
But that was just the beginning. Other companies, also controlled by Himes and Darling, would then follow up, offering to put up a website, selling lists of potential customers, marketing campaigns, business plans and other assistance. Consumers generally paid between $2,000 and $50,000 for the additional services.
It's unclear how much U.S. Doc Assist and its many affiliates extracted from Oregonians. U.S. Doc Assist by itself signed up 112 customers in the state in just six months.
The Department of Justice launched its investigation last August after three customers filed complaints. They invested $219, $5,419 and $22,719, respectively.
The Department of Justice issued notice in April that it intended to sue Himes and Darling and their companies alleging multiple violations of Oregon's Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The violations included: Knowingly allowing a customer to enter into a transaction from which they would derive no benefit; knowingly taking advantage of a customers' confusion over the terms of the deal; and failing to deliver goods as promised.
Himes and Darling opted to settle, agreeing to pay full refunds to all of their Oregon customers. To qualify, customers of U.S. Doc Assist and its affiliates must file a complaint with the Justice Department. They have until Oct. 23 -- 180 days from the execution of the legal settlement -- to file those complaints.
If you have invested with U.S. Doc Assist or any of the other companies run by Himes and Darling and wish to file a complaint, please call 1-877-877-9392 or go to www.oregonconsumer.gov.
Companies operated by Himes and Darling are: Aflac Assist LLC, AflacAssist.com LLC, US Job Assist LLC, US Doc Assist LLC, First Business LLC, Divine Clientele LLC, Management AA LLC, Alac Assist LLC, Legal Doxs LLC, Assisting US Jobs LLC and AlacAssist.com LLC.
None of the companies have any relationship to Aflac, the large insurance company.
Three others who worked with Himes and Darling – Maria Sabastianna Hobbs, Vanessa Hobbs and William Stogner – also agreed to cease doing business in Oregon.
Himes, Darling and their companies agreed to pay $1 million to the state as part of the settlement. The Department of Justice agreed to suspend $600,000 of that payment. If the companies fail to pay the balance of $400,000 within 90 days of the settlement or fail in any other way to comply with the settlement terms, the suspended $600,000 will be reinstituted.
Rosenblum thanked Justice Department attorney Ariel Vee and investigator Patricia Swansick for their work on this case.