SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the sentencing of Ramil “Randy” Abalkhad, owner of Romano’s Jewelers, for felony conspiracy to engage in illegal financing and debt collection practices targeting sailors and marines in San Diego. Attorney General Becerra filed criminal charges against Mr. Abalkhad on October 7, 2017. Today, Mr. Abalkhad was sentenced to three years of felony probation, including a requirement that he serve 90 days in jail. Mr. Abalkhad will also be required to pay restitution to the victims identified in Attorney General Becerra’s complaint and to cancel outstanding MBNB debts owed by those victims. Co-defendant Melina Abalkhad, who was previously sentenced, will be required to complete a misdemeanor diversion program for her role in operating Romano’s affiliate, MBNB Financial.
“Mr. and Mrs. Abalkhad thought they could get away with targeting our young men and women in uniform. Today's sentencing should send a clear message to them and others looking to commit predatory crimes against our service members,” said Attorney General Becerra. “We intend to hold unscrupulous merchants and businesses fully accountable for their offenses. We owe a big shout-out to the Navy and Marine Corps judge advocates at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, and Naval Base San Diego for their critical assistance to our investigative team on this case.”
Romano’s Jewelers had several retail locations in California, including stores near Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. The stores targeted young marines and sailors, some fresh out of boot camp, encouraging them to buy jewelry for themselves and for their families and loved ones on credit. According to the criminal complaint, Abalkhad failed to provide legally required disclosures about monthly payments, interest rates, or others terms of financing. Those customers who fell behind on their payments were allegedly harassed by the defendants’ debt collectors. In addition, the complaint alleged that Romano’s used debt collectors who falsely posed as attorneys and illegally threatened servicemembers with court martial and other military disciplinary actions.
The California Department of Justice filed a 14-count felony complaint charging Mr. Abalkhad with conspiracy to violate the Unruh Act, which protects consumers who buy goods or services on credit, and the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which protects Californians against unlawful debt collection practices.
A third defendant, MBNB employee Ramiro Salinas, was also charged with conspiracy to engage in unlawful debt collection. He was sentenced on October 18, 2018.