A Phoenix, Ariz.-based telemarketer that sold a home-based business scheme to more than a hundred Oregonians has agreed to pay full refunds to all of its Oregon customers and stop doing business here, the Oregon Department of Justice reported.
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 also must pay $400,000 to the state of Oregon and refund money to all customers who file a complaint with the Department of Justice by Oct. 23, the department reported in a news release.
Three others who worked with Himes and Darling - Maria Sabastianna Hobbs, Vanessa Hobbs and William Stogner - also agreed to cease doing business in 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.
An 87-year-old Medford woman, Ilene Ogier, was one of three customers who complained last year, prompting the state's investigation.
Ogier's husband had recently entered a nursing home. Faced with mounting expenses, Ogier said she tried other more traditional investment avenues before she began looking online for a way to increase her $14,000 nest egg.
"I am embarrassed. I know it was probably a dangerous place to look," Ogier said. "But it was a real polished, professional-sounding presentation."
U.S. Doc Assist signed up 112 customers in the state in just six months, authorities said. They paid $219-$519 to have businesses set up in Arizona, said Jeff Manning, DOJ spokesperson.
Ogier and other Oregon consumers were told their companies would advertise merchant processing services or credit card swiping equipment, debt reduction services, business loans and other merchant services.
Other companies, also controlled by Himes and Darling, would then follow up, offering to put up a website and 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, Manning said.
"They have agreed to make full refunds," Manning said, adding the DOJ is hoping Ogier's story will help other victims come forward.
Anyone who invested with U.S. Doc Assist or any of the other companies run by Himes and Darling and wishes to file a complaint is asked to call 1-877-877-9392 or go to www.oregonconsumer.gov.