PA Telemarketer Agrees to Ban, Restitution

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A company accused of using phone agents posing as police officers in telemarketing fundraising calls has agreed to cease operations in Pennsylvania, the state's attorney general said yesterday.

Although the company denied the allegations in the settlement, it agreed to file articles of dissolution with the state. A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania attorney general's office said the company has a year to comply with the settlement.

The agreement between Liberty Publishing Co. Inc., Pittsburgh, and attorney general Mike Fisher called for the company to pay $75,000 in fines and restitution to consumers who donated money. Company owner George W. Lee agreed to forfeit rights to conduct fundraising for any charity or public safety group until 2006, at which time he must pay an additional $75,000 in restitution to regain his rights.

According to the lawsuit filed by the state in January, Liberty Publishing Co. conducted fundraising activities for several law enforcement groups, including the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police, the Central Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and the County and State Detectives Association of Pennsylvania.

Since 1996, the company raised more than $3 million for the organizations, the state said. However, according to the lawsuit, during telemarketing calls the company's telephone representatives falsely implied that they were police officers and that stickers, decals and membership cards offered in exchange for donations could result in special treatment by police.

Some of those called by the company reported that agents became abusive and intimidating when consumers declined donations, and some consumers received invoices without their consent or invoices for a bigger donation than they had agreed to make, according to the lawsuit. Consumers were often told their donations would be used for police training or in "crime fighting," when in fact donations went solely to the organizations, the state charged.

Furthermore, the state accused Liberty Publishing of using convicted felons for fundraising in violation of the state's Charity Act. Fisher also charged the company with failure to register with the state and post a $25,000 bond before beginning its activities.

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