A federal judge has halted the activities of five interrelated Overland Park companies that authorities say ran a multi-tiered scam that bilked consumers out of millions of dollars.
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson on Wednesday also froze the assets of the companies — Affiliate Strategies, Landmark Publishing, Grant Writers Institute, Answer Customers and Apex Holdings.
Robinson issued the temporary restraining order after the Federal Trade Commission and the attorneys general of Kansas, Minnesota and North Carolina sued on Monday to stop the companies from allegedly deceiving customers into paying for help in obtaining non-existent government grants.
The suit charged that the companies and their principals, Brett Blackman, Jorday Sevy and Jaumes Rulison, engaged in deceptive business practices and telemarketing, in violation of state and federal laws.
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“During this time of economic uncertainty, grant scams are taking advantage of people’s hope for financial assistance and scamming them out of hard-earned money,” Kansas Attorney General Steve Six said in a statement Thursday.
“There is no such thing as a guaranteed grant. But to consumers in financial trouble, the chance for extra income can unfortunately be a huge draw.”
The suit alleged that the companies sent postcards to consumers that made claims such as, “You are Guaranteed a $25,000 Grant from the U.S. Government. Use your money to: Pay Bills, Start or expand a business , Pay for your children’s education, Help you purchase or fix up your own home, Travel the World.”
Consumers who called the toll-free number on the postcard were then solicited to buy a “grant guide” for $69 that purported to show them how to obtain the grants. Once consumers bought the guide, a telemarketer solicited them to buy additional grant research, writing and coaching services for additional hundreds or thousands of dollars.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Blackman, a founder of the companies and the president of Affiliate Strategies, told The Kansas City Star that the companies had nothing to do with the solicitations and blamed them on former employees.