Ohio solicitor accused of deceiving donors

Suspect sued for alleged misleading tactics while soliciting for firefighter and police charities.
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Sep 25, 2013

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today filed a lawsuit and was granted a temporary restraining order against Youngstown-area Encore Music Productions Ltd. and its agents for deceiving donors while soliciting for firefighter and police charities. The Pennsylvania Attorney General also filed a lawsuit against the business.

(NOTE: To read the lawsuit, scroll down to the bottom of this story and click on the link.)

“These telemarketers used misleading tactics to solicit donations from Ohio families under the pretense of supporting police and firefighters,” Attorney General DeWine said. “In some cases, they even pretended to be firefighters. This situation required immediate action to prevent further deception and fraud. Ohioans deserve to know the truth about their donations.”

Since 2006, Encore has solicited for more than 30 organizations in Ohio and four organizations in Pennsylvania by selling tickets and business advertisements for local concerts.

An investigation by Attorney General DeWine’s office found that Encore and its agents Phil’s Productions LLC, MVP Productions, and Sharp Productions committed several violations including:

    * Lying to donors by saying 100 percent of donations went to a local charity, when only 10 to 33 percent went to charity.
    * Training telemarketers to falsely identify themselves as volunteers or firefighters.
    * Failing to identify themselves as professional solicitors.
    * Hiring more than 22 recently convicted felons as telemarketers in violation of Ohio law.
    * Failing to properly register with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Attorney General DeWine’s 42-count civil lawsuit, filed in the Allen County Common Pleas Court, alleges violations of Ohio’s Corrupt Activities Act and the Ohio Charitable Organizations Act, including money laundering, mail and wire fraud, theft, and deceptive acts and practices. The Attorney General seeks an order shutting down the enterprise, redistribution of its assets to legitimate charities, civil penalties, and other costs.

The lawsuit names 18 defendants: Encore Music Productions Ltd. of Boardman; Phil's Productions LLC of Youngstown; Joseph Chiovitti of Boardman; Philip Howells of Youngstown; M.V.P. Productions LLC of Cambridge; Martin Vernello of East Liverpool; Kingsley Harris of Canfield; Jennifer Fairall of Campbell; Jessica Covington of Lowellville; Matthew Bocian of Youngstown; William Sharp and Waive Sharp, doing business as Sharp Productions, of Bucyrus;  William Berrier of North Lima; Abby Makara of Youngstown; Laura Harper of Cambridge; Jaime Kegarise of Struthers; Esther Holmes of Youngstown; and John Douglas of Youngstown.

Attorney General DeWine thanked the Ohio State Fraternal Order of Police and the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, including several of their local chapters, for providing information and assisting in the investigation.

The Attorney General’s action against Encore is part of an ongoing effort to crack down on professional solicitors that fail to comply with Ohio law. In August, the Attorney General reached a settlement with Gordon & Schwenkmeyer, a California-based professional solicitor that agreed to pay $39,600 to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office after the office discovered dozens of violations, including failure to file timely solicitation notices or financial reports.

Ohioans can research professional solicitors or report suspicious charitable activity to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or by calling 800-282-0515.