Among unethical retailers, there’s a certain subset of predators that target members of the armed forces and their family. The latest example: A California couple who pushed military personnel to finance their purchases with a related business, then allegedly made illegal threats when customers fell behind on their bills.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced today that his office had filed a 14-count complaint against Ramil Abalkhad and Melina Abalkhad accusing the couple of engaging in illegal financing and debt collection practices.
Ramil Abalkhad is the owner of Romano’s Jewelers, which has several locations in California, including some near military bases. His wife, Melina, is the owner of MBNB Financial, which provides customers with credit and works as a debt collection agency.
(MBNB is not to be confused with MBNA, which was the largest credit card issuer in the country before being acquired by Bank of America.)
According to the AG’s complaint [PDF], from Aug. 2009 until Oct. 2014, the couple used their companies to target young marines and sailors, encouraging them to purchase jewelry using MBNB Financial for credit.
During this process, the complaint alleges that the Abalkhads failed to provide many customers with legally required disclosures about monthly payments, interest rates, and other terms of their financing.
Debt Collection Woes
When a customer was unable to pay their bill, the couple would use MBNB’s debt collection arm to allegedly harass the borrower.
The complaint claims the collection attempts involved sending notices to customers that appeared to be from an attorney named Thomas Parker, threatening court martial and other military disciplinary actions. In reality, these letters were not from an attorney, the complaint states.
In order to give the appearance that the lawyer was real, the couple allegedly posted a sign at their building purporting to be Thomas Parker’s office.
Additionally, during some collection attempts, the couple would allegedly direct their employee, Ramiro Salinas, to act as Thomas Parker or use email accounts in that fictitious name in order to further facilitate the debt collection ruse.
In all, the AG’s complaint charges the couple with conspiracy to violate the Unruh Act, which protects consumers who buy goods or services on credit, and the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which protects Californians against unlawful debt collection practices.
Ramil Abalkhad was also charged with engaging in a check kiting scheme that involved Romano’s Jewelers bank accounts, resulting in a loss of $270,000 to First Bank.
Salinas was also charged with conspiracy to engage in unlawful debt collection.
If you are a servicemember who believes you may have been targeted by Romano’s Jewelers, please contact the California Department of Justice. For those located in California, please call: 1-800-952-5225. For those located outside of California, please call: 1-916-322-3360.