Woman Sues Over Inmate Telemarketer Incident

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A Dallas woman filed a class-action lawsuit yesterday claiming that a Utah prison inmate wrote a letter to her teen-age daughter using personal information gathered in a jailhouse telemarketing operation.


The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Austin, TX, against SandStar Family Entertainment, alleged that an inmate working for SandStar called the home of April Jordan on an outbound sales call and reached Jordan's 15-year-old daughter on Feb. 15, 2000. SandStar had obtained Jordan's personal information while conducting a survey that month.


The inmate gathered personal information about the daughter, including her name, date of birth, physical description and home address, and gave it to a fellow inmate, according to the suit. A week later, the second inmate wrote a letter to Jordan's daughter, the lawsuit claimed.


Upon discovering the letter, Jordan called Utah state prison authorities. A prison official confirmed that the original telephone conversation had taken place, according to the suit.


Charges in the lawsuit against SandStar, which markets edited home videos for family viewing, include fraud, negligent misrepresentation, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and privacy violations. The suit also claimed SandStar violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act when another inmate representing the company called the Jordan household despite Jordan's request for removal from the SandStar database.


Jordan is seeking unspecified actual and exemplary damages, trial costs and $1,500 for each violation of the TCPA.


A representative for SandStar, Salt Lake City, did not return calls for comment. In June 2000, the company issued a statement saying it had discontinued its prison telemarketing program and had brought its teleservices operations inhouse.


Neither the state of Utah nor any of its agencies were targeted in the lawsuit, and a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections said the state had ceased hiring out inmates as teleservices agents in response to concerns stemming from this incident and others. The use of inmate telephone agents by the Utah Travel Council and state Department of Commerce's Division of Corporations, both government agencies, also had brought public scrutiny on the Utah Department of Corrections.


Interviewed Nov. 13, Jordan said she thought the federal government should take action to prevent states from hiring out inmates for work as telemarketers. Jordan has testified before the Federal Trade Commission on the matter.


"They need to know that consumers do care," she said. "Our kids are safer on the Internet than on the phone."


Though conversations were recorded -- Jordan eventually obtained a tape of her daughter's telephone conversation with the inmate -- only about 10 percent of the telemarketing calls from the prison call center were monitored by live personnel, she said.


The letter sent to Jordan's daughter did not contain any specific threats. But the fact that it was sent continues to rob Jordan of a full sense of security, she said.


"That in and of itself was unsettling," Jordan said. "A convicted felon does not start a pen-pal relationship with a 15-year-old girl."


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