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Pa. and Ohio attorneys general sue scammers posing as firefighters

| Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, 6:42 p.m.

Attorneys general in Pennsylvania and Ohio filed civil lawsuits on Wednesday against a Youngstown company that solicited charitable donations for firefighter organizations and pocketed most of the money.

The lawsuits by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Encore Music Productions Ltd. sought donations for four organizations in Pennsylvania and more than 30 in Ohio by selling tickets and business advertisements for concerts.

An investigation found that Encore and associated companies trained telemarketers to falsely identify themselves as volunteers or firefighters; hired more than 13 felons; failed to register with the Pennsylvania Department of State's Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations; and told donors 100 percent of the money would go to a charity, but only 10 to 33 percent was donated.

“Encore purposefully hired and trained telemarketers to scam Pennsylvanians who believed they were supporting local firefighters,” Kane said. “The Office of Attorney General has zero tolerance for any fraudsters that take advantage of the generosity of Pennsylvanians.”

The suit said Encore brought in more than $286,000 between 2008 and 2012 on behalf of firefighter groups. It's unclear how much money they received.

In addition to Encore, the five-count lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania names Phil's Productions of Youngstown, MVP Productions of Cambridge, Ohio, Joseph Chiovitti and Philip Howells of Youngstown and Martin Vernello of East Liverpool, Ohio.

The lawsuit alleges the companies violated the state's Solicitation of Funds for Charitable Purposes Act.

“These telemarketers used misleading tactics to solicit donations from Ohio families under the pretense of supporting police and firefighters,” said DeWine, who filed his 42-count lawsuit in Allen County Court of Common Pleas. “In some cases, they even pretended to be firefighters. This situation required immediate action to prevent further deception and fraud.”

DeWine's suit 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.

A judge granted a temporary restraining order against Encore, pending a permanent shutdown that would redistribute the donations to legitimate charities.

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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