At least a dozen Brainerd residents and businesses have alleged they are victims of a scam involving an Illinois publishing company offering to sell advertising on school sports calendars, the Brainerd Police Department reported Tuesday.
Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc said the victims paid between $250 and $500 for advertising on a school sports calendars but never received the calendars from Liberty Publishing of Peoria, Ill. The company also does business under the name Booster Club Promotions, Bolduc said.
"The complaint is that the victim companies were led to believe there would be widespread distribution of these calendars and there's no evidence that happened," Bolduc said.
The company, along with three other Pekin, Ill.- and Peoria, Ill.-based publishing companies, was sued May 2 by the Illinois Attorney General's office, which has received 21 consumer complaints concerning the company since 2004, including 16 complaints from outside Illinois.
Jim Bedard, operations manager with Liberty Publishing Inc., said his company is unfairly being lumped together with other publishing companies that do scam customers.
"We don't cheat people," Bedard said. "If we made a mistake, we'll do our best to fix it."
Bedard said his company has been doing business in Brainerd for the last four years. Since he joined Liberty Publishing Inc. in October, Bedard said he has worked on making sure staffers are honest when they make their sales calls. If any of his staffers misrepresent themselves or their product, they are disciplined, he said.
"It really upsets me being clumped with all these other companies," Bedard said. "To say we don't deliver on what we promise is just unsubstantiated."
Bedard said his company has lost a similar judgment in the Indiana court system because he lacked representation in that state but he said he believes his company will be removed from the Illinois lawsuit.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office began investigating the four publishing companies after receiving complaints from high school principals and athletic directors in Illinois and other states, alleging that the defendants, purporting to be affiliated with their schools, had called small businesses in the schools' communities to purchase advertising space on game schedules. According to the complaints, in some instances, company telemarketers told prospective customers that the proceeds from the ad sales would be contributed to the schools' athletic teams.
Madigan's investigation not only revealed that there was no affiliation or relationship between the defendants and the schools, but that, in most cases, the defendant companies never contributed money to the schools. In a few instances in which the defendants sent checks of $50 or $100 to a school district, the districts often returned the money to the defendants to show their disapproval of the manner in which the defendants had obtained the money.
"My office will never tolerate illegal profiteering by companies that divert money away from high school sports teams by deceiving local businesses in this cruel manner," Madigan said in a statement.
Bolduc warned potential victims to be wary of phone solicitations to sell advertising from Liberty Publishing Inc. or Booster Club Promotions.
"Make sure you know what you are paying for," Bolduc said. "It is always prudent to verify information before committing any funds."
Bolduc said a simple Internet search would have revealed that Liberty Publishing Inc. has had problems with the law. He said his department has had contact with the Minnesota Attorney General's office and local charges are possible.
"We're trying to get the word out, 'consumer beware,'" he said.
Anyone who may have been a victim of this company or with additional information is asked to call the Brainerd Police Department at (218) 829-2805.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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