For the second time in as many years, a San Diego-area husband and wife are facing legal trouble for hustling military families.
On Tuesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra stood before news cameras and said criminal charges had been filed against Ramil and Melina Abalkhad, proprietors of a chain of California jewelry stores, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The couple is accused of snaring sailors and Marines into purchasing luxury pieces on bogus payment plans, then squeezing them for money.
According to prosecutors, the couple went so far as to create a fake law firm — the Thomas Parker Collection Agency — and an imaginary lawyer, Thomas Parker, who threatened service members who fell behind on payments. “Parker” would even warn military members they would be reported to their superior officers for unpaid loans.
The Abalkhads are charged with 14 counts of illegal financing and debt collection.
“The cost of what should be a beautiful gift to someone in your family, when you go to a jewelry store, became a nightmare for service members,” Becerra reportedly said.
According to the attorney general’s office, Ramil Abalkhad targeted service members at his stores, Romano’s Jewelers. Once an interested buyer was hooked, Abalkhad financed the purchase with MBNB Financial Inc., a lending company owned by his wife.
But neither the store nor the lender properly documented the loans and failed to provide buyers the necessary information on their terms of financing, such as monthly payments and interest rates. But if a military buyer fell behind, the company harassed them for money.
“Our service members and military families sacrifice immensely for our country; the last thing they should have to worry about is being fleeced by local merchants,” Becerra said, according to Fox 5.
State officials said the recent charges stemmed from transactions that took place in 2013 and 2014 at a now shuttered Carlsbad location. A third MBNB Financial employee — Ramiro Salinas — was also charged with conspiring to engage in unlawful debt collection.
The recent charges come only months after the Abalkhads closed a previous criminal case. Ramil Abalkhad pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit identity theft and two counts of identity theft with intent to commit fraud last February, the Union-Tribune reported.
That case also involved a scam targeting service members. The jewelry store owner and two employees got Marines from Camp Pendleton to sign paperwork for credit financing, and “then later paid a Marine with access to a military payroll system to reset the victims’ PINs in order to withdraw money from their accounts,” according to the Union-Tribune.
As part of his plea agreement, Ramil Abalkhad was given probation and ordered to pay $55,000 in restitution.