Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane and her counterpart in Ohio
are suing Encore Music Productions Ltd. over charitable donations solicited on behalf of firefighter organizations in the commonwealth and its neighbor.
For the past five years, Kane’s office alleges, Encore, a telemarketing firm based in Ohio, has solicited donations for four organizations in the Keystone State and more than 30 organizations in the Buckeye State by selling tickets and business advertisements for local concerts.
“Encore purposefully hired and trained telemarketers to scam Pennsylvanians who believed they were supporting local firefighters,” Kane said in a statement. “The Office of Attorney General has zero tolerance for any fraudsters that take advantage of the generosity of Pennsylvanians, and I thank the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for its assistance with this investigation.”
The prosecutor’s office claims that investigators found that Encore and its agents, Phil’s Productions LLC and MVP Productions, lied to donors by claiming 100 percent of the donations would go to a local charity when in reality only 10 to 33 percent of said donations were given to charity; trained telemarketers to falsely identify themselves as volunteers or firefighters; failed to identify themselves as professional solicitors; hired more than 13 recently convicted felons as telemarketers in violation of Pennsylvania law; and failed to properly register with the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations.
Additional defendants named in the lawsuit, which was filed in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court, include Joseph Chiovitti and Philip Howells, both of Youngstown, Ohio, and East Liverpool resident Martin Vernello.
The five-count complaint accuses the defendants of violating Pennsylvania’s Solicitation of Funds for Charitable Purposes Act for their alleged deceptive acts and practices.
Kane also seeks a court order that would shut down the solicitation enterprise and redistribute its assets to actual charities.
“Attorney General Kane said her efforts to protect Pennsylvania consumers will not stop at state lines, and she will continue to work with fellow Attorneys General to prevent citizens and charities in the Commonwealth from becoming victims of fraud,” reads a news release from Kane’s office.
The solicited donations raised through the ticket sales were said to be going to four firefighter unions in Pennsylvania, the Sharon Professional Firefighters Local 417; McKeesport Local 10; New Castle Local 160; and Butler Local 114, according to a report Thursday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The lawsuit states that Encore collected more than $286,000 between 2008 and 2012 on behalf of the firefighter unions.