Anatomy of a Scam Investigation, Chapter Eleven
[Wondering what's going on here? Check out the Chapter Index on this series.]
The wheels turn slowly, but they turn.
Congratulations to the great state of North Dakota, the first state — so far as I have been able to determine — to take action against David and Branden Bell's UST Development mail fraud enterprise. California (and federal) officialdom ought to be embarrassed that North Dakota — with far fewer resources, and with its citizens targeted far later in the game — took action first. Pull your thumbs out of your asses, people.
Popehat reader Ray alerted me that the North Dakota Office of the Attorney General has issued a cease and desist order (and notice of right to request a hearing on the order) to UST Development, its various entity aliases and alter egos, and to David Bell individually, accusing them of consumer fraud. The Attorney General's press release, and news stories discussing it, are available on the internet and are quickly contributing to UST's and David Bell's overwhelmingly negative web presence. Good job, North Dakota.
Ray, the tipster who pointed me to this, reports that his city government in Kansas has received three invoices from UST. This is not surprising. I continue to get tips from people across the country — both at private businesses and public entities — who have received these invoices — from a private business in Kansas, from a school district in Minnesota, from a private business in Louisiana. I suspect that civil discovery — or a search warrant — will reveal that David Bell has purchased some mailing lists of some sort, possibly "reload lists" of individuals and businesses that have fallen for scams before.
There are several things that are notable about the latest iteration of the UST scam invoice. First, notice that Bell and UST have sent them out in 2012 — as I said last time, this establishes without cavil that Bell and UST continue to send the invoices knowing that recipients find them deceptive, knowing that they violate federal law, and knowing that multiple consumer complaints have been lodged against them. Notice also that UST has transitioned to a new Post Office Box — Box 970 in LaVerne, California. Hopping from address to address and from box to box is typical of mail fraud schemes. Notice that the language has shifted slightly again. The gibberish non-disclaimer disclaimer remains, in an even more deceptive form: "Thank you for your business, this warranty covers preventative maintenance on all telecom systems equipment, including, telephone instruments, switches, routers, and cabling." Query: how does one sell a warranty (something usually invoked when something goes wrong) for preventative maintenance? Also, how does UST — a California entity the various iterations of which have gone bankrupt — plan on providing services in Kansas and Minnesota and Louisiana? They've also added the deceptive "Term: Net 10 Days," which typically denotes that a business expects payment in 10 days for services already rendered, usually implying that this is under a preexisting agreement with a vendee. UST and Bell have simply removed some deliberately misleading language (like the suggestions of service on multiple occasions, or the suggestion that the invoice is past due) with new and different deliberately misleading language. This, too, is typical of mail fraud schemes.
Let's hope some additional states step into the act, and let's hope California and the feds step up, as they should have long ago.
Meanwhile, David Bell's pretrial hearing in his criminal case was continued yet again until April 19,2012, probably because he retained a new attorney. Such delays are typical.
I'll be seeking a comment regarding the North Dakota cease and desist order through Mr. Bell's new attorney. I note that Denis Baranowski, an attorney who used to be the registered agent for service of process for UST Development, Inc., has resigned from that role. That was the prudent and ethical thing do to, and I commend him for it. I respectfully suggest that he may want to review his role as registered agent for service of process for California Consultant Group, Inc. with care, as it appears to be another UST/Bell entity, as we discussed in Chapter Nine.
This investigation will continue. Your tips remain welcome. See you soon.
Edited to add:
Here's part of the letter I sent to the gentleman I believe is his new attorney:
I write because I infer that you are the attorney who appeared this week for David Bell in a criminal matter in San Bernardino County Superior Court. If I have the wrong [attorney name], please ignore this inquiry.
Since Mr. Bell, through his entity UST Development, Inc., sent what I believed to be a fraudulent invoice to my company, I have been writing an investigative series regarding his entities and what I believe to be his mail fraud scheme. I write today to seek his comment — or, if you wish, yours — regarding recent developments in that scheme. You can find an index of what I have written here: http://www.popehat.com/2011/09/25/anatomy-of-a-scam-chapter-index/
1. Does Mr. Bell have any response to the North Dakota Attorney General's Office issuing a Cease and Desist Order to UST Development, and to him personally, based upon apparent consumer fraud? Will the UST entities — and Mr. Bell — make any adjustments to their business practices based upon that order? Will they contest it?
2. The UST entities, and Mr. Bell, have continued to send their "preventative maintenance" invoices in substantially the same form even after the Better Business Bureau, among others, have informed them that the invoices violate, for instance, 39 U.S.C. section 3001. Does Mr. Bell have any comment on whether he believes his invoices comply with 39 U.S.C. section 3001, and if so, the basis for that belief?
3. Two UST entities — UST Development, Inc. and UST Dry Utilities, Inc. — have been in bankruptcy, as have Mr. and Mrs. Bell personally. Yet the UST entities are sending invoices across the United States. I have received invoices from tipsters as far away as Louisiana. Would Mr. Bell care to comment on how he, and his entities, are able to provide "preventative maintenance" services in other states? Would he like to comment on precisely what those services would entail, and exactly who would provide them? Would he like to comment on precisely what services customers are entitled to if they pay "UST" the amount listed on the invoices?
4. Mr. Bell's latest invoices are under the name "UST," as opposed to past invoices that referenced UST Development, Inc. Is UST a legal entity? If so, in what form, and in what jurisdiction?
5. Is Mr. Bell personally affiliated with "California Consultant Group, Inc.", a California entity using the same agent for service of process he has used and the same address he has used? What is the business of that entity? Is it affiliated with Mr. Bell's "preventative maintenance" invoices?
Any comment from Mr. Bell, his affiliates, or you would be welcomed, and I will be happy to print any response from Mr. Bell to anything I have written.
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