LOS ANGELES -- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has just filed a lawsuit seeking restitution and civil penalties totaling $803,100 in a scam that defrauded 33 African American churches in Southern California. Promoters promised that the leased computer kiosks would enhance the experience of parishioners, but the scheme ended up creating big debts for the churches.
The Attorney General's lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, names Television Broadcasting Online, Ltd., Urban Interfaith Network, Willie Perkins, Michael Morris, Wayne Wilson, Tanya Wilson, Balboa Capital Corp., and United Leasing Associates of America, Ltd. It charges them with violations of the state's unfair competition and false advertising laws, and seeks restitution, civil penalties and an injunction to prevent any further illegal activities.
"This was a cruel and hypocritical scheme," said Attorney General Harris. "The perpetrators preyed on institutions of faith. Let this be a lesson to others who may look to defraud our community organizations: you will be caught and you will be held accountable."
The Attorney General's complaint states that defendants Television Broadcasting Online, Ltd., Urban Interfaith Network, Willie Perkins, and Michael Morris "engaged in a nationwide scam" in which they persuaded "195 African American churches in 15 different states to enter into expensive and onerous leases for shoddy computer equipment housed in wooden cabinets." They promised the churches the kiosks would be free, advertisers would make the lease payments and the churches would be under no financial obligation.
By 2006, the scam reached California, where 33 African American churches were persuaded to enter into leases for the kiosks. Twenty-four of the churches are located in Los Angeles County, five in Riverside County and four in San Bernardino County.
Defendants Wayne and Tanya Wilson -- on behalf of Television Broadcasting Online, Ltd., Urban Interfaith Network, Willie Perkins and Michael Morris -- pitched themselves to the California churches, according to the Attorney General's complaint, as representing "a business/religious entity, national in scope, with strong ties to both the African American community and enlightened corporate sponsors" that wanted to help this religious community. They said the computer kiosks would connect the churches and their parishioners to "national advertisers, government, businesses and even generate some revenue for themselves."
When the churches failed to pay the monthly lease payments, Balboa and United filed collection suits, seeking full payment plus interest, attorneys' fees and costs.
According to the Attorney General's complaint, the leasing companies, Balboa and United, are liable because the other defendants were acting as their agents and because, even after the leasing companies learned of the misrepresentations, they failed to alert churches to the scam and vigorously continued to enforce the terms of the leases.
Wayne and Tanya Wilson live in Rancho Cucamonga. Balboa Capital Corp. is based in Irvine. United Leasing is based in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Urban Interfaith Network, Inc. and Television Broadcasting Online, Ltd. are based in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Perkins and Morris were convicted in Michigan of racketeering, conspiracy, and false pretenses in connection with the scam. Morris is serving 5 to 20 years, and Perkins is serving 4 to 20 years.