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Wisconsin DOJ sues White City publishing groups

MADISON, Wis. — The state Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against two Oregon-based publishing groups alleging they ran a subscription scam targeting the elderly.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Madison, alleges Liberty Publishers Service and Orbital Publishing Group, both based in White City, sent invoices to nursing home residents and older people warning them to renew their periodical subscriptions and charging them far more than the actual cost.

For example, the groups offered a year's subscription to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for $499. An actual year's subscription to that newspaper costs $182, according to the lawsuit. The groups also offered a year's subscription to the Milwaukee Business Journal for $189; the actual cost is $102. Some of the invoices identified the "Madison State Journal," which doesn't exist.

The groups touted their prices as reduced rates and led consumers to believe their subscriptions were close to expiring when in reality they weren't. In some cases, consumers never received the subscriptions, the lawsuit alleges.

"Defendants ... engaged in a practice of issuing fraudulent invoices for both existent and non-existent publications, designed to confuse consumers into believing they are paying for an ongoing subscription with a newspaper or periodical," the lawsuit said.

The Wall Street Journal has told the groups to cease and desist, saying it won't honor subscriptions and renewals the groups facilitate, the lawsuit added. Other publishers have placed scam alerts on their websites warning consumers not to accept renewals from the groups, according to the filing.

Laura Lovrien, the president of Liberty Publishers Service and chief executive officer of Orbital Publishing, is named as a defendant. She didn't immediately return a telephone message Wednesday.

The lawsuit asks a judge to bar the groups from continuing to violate Wisconsin consumer law. The DOJ also is seeking forfeitures of up to $200 per violation as well as an unspecified forfeiture for targeting older people.

In Oregon, the Attorney General’s Office has a pending investigation against Lovrien's companies and has received at least 595 complaints. The various White City companies are known by more than 40 different names, including Publishers Payment Processing, Publishers Billing Association and Readers Payment Service. Multiple addresses for the businesses are listed, mostly in White City or Medford, but they are post office boxes or mail services.

In some cases, the companies have disclosed in fine print a fee of about 20 percent is charged and do pay the subscription bill but pocket the 20 percent processing fee.

The Better Business Bureau, which represents Alaska, western Washington and Oregon, has received 863 complaints from across the nation over the past three years, with 266 in the past 12 months alone.

No publications in Oregon appeared to have been affected.

Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann contributed to this story.