TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Last summer, a Local 10 News viewer told the Call Christina team that Alumni Research, Inc. took her money for an alumni directory book and then never delivered.
As investigative reporter Christina Vazquez began to dig deeper, she uncovered thousands of people were impacted nationwide. Alumni groups across the country have posted warnings about the Pinellas-based business, alleging that the purchased product was never delivered and refunds were not being issued.
Vazquez visited the company’s office to get answers and secure a refund for our viewer from CEO Robert Laping.
On Friday, the Attorney General's Office announced that they have entered a consent judgment against Alumni Research, Inc. and its CEO Robert Laping for violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and the Florida Telemarketing Act.
The AG's Office told Local 10 News that the company's business practices harmed more than 26,000 consumers nationwide.
Most of the victims are senior citizens who each paid about $70 to preorder a directory for their alma mater.
The company is now banned from marketing or selling the books.
Following the initial Call Christina investigation, Alumni Research, Inc. filed for bankruptcy.
Earlier this month, the Call Christina team went back out to the business to see if they were still at it following a bankruptcy.
There was no one on site. The doors were locked and nearby business owners said the landlord had recently changed the locks.
While the Call Christina team was able to secure a refund for our viewer, it is uncertain if anyone else in the country will see a refund.
"The judgment also requires payment of almost $4.5 million, including full consumer restitution and civil penalties," the AG's Office said in a news release to Local 10 News. "Given the current insolvency of the business and its principal, it is unlikely that there will be funds available to pay consumer restitution or penalties. The Attorney General's Office will continue to seek funds for consumer refunds through post judgment proceedings, should the office find any evidence of available assets."
The consent judgment includes the following terms for the defendants:
· Engaging in or assisting in any charitable solicitation activity is prohibited;
· Making any false or misleading representations, or false or deceptive statements, in any communications with consumers is prohibited;
· Confirming that the business is completely shut down is required, including disabling the website, closing bank accounts and credit card accounts and disconnecting any phone numbers advertised to consumers;
· Issuing a separate, formal written apology to the affected schools and alumni associations is required;
· Returning to schools and alumni associations any proprietary or otherwise historical or valuable artifacts, photographs, yearbooks or other items in the defendants' possession is required; and
· Making alumni data available upon request and free of charge to any school or alumni association currently under contract with Alumni Research for collection or storage of alumni data is required.