AG Becerra secures full restitution for victims
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra secured $16,440.56 in victim restitution for victims of businessowners previously charged and convicted of preying on active-duty military families. On November 1, 2019, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered defendants Ramil Abalkhad, owner of Romano’s Jewelers, and Melina Abalkhad, owner of MBNB Financial Inc., to pay the victims by no later than May 4, 2020.
“Individuals who participate in despicable crimes by targeting our young men and women in uniform will pay the price,” said Attorney General Becerra. “We hope today’s announcement brings healing and closure to the victims of this scheme. Our office will continue to protect all Californians from all types of fraud – large or small. The California Department of Justice will always have the backs of our military families.”
Romano’s Jewelers had several retail locations in California, including stores near Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. The Abalkhads targeted young Marines and Sailors, encouraging the purchase of jewelry using MBNB Financial for credit. According to the criminal complaint, Mr. 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 Jewelers 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 the defendants 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. Attorney General Becerra announced the sentencing of the defendants in December 2018. 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 cancel outstanding MBNB debts owed by the victims identified in the criminal complaint and was also ordered to remove any negative credit reporting by MBNB from the victims’ credit history. Co-defendant Melina Abalkhad, was sentenced to complete a misdemeanor diversion program for her role in operating Romano’s Jewelers affiliate, MBNB Financial.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to working on behalf of our military service members and veterans. Among other actions, he reached a multistate settlement with VietNow National Headquarters, Inc., a charity that falsely claimed to help veterans; and he sued two bogus charities, Wounded Warriors Support Group and Central Coast Equine Rescue and Retirement, for pocketing the proceeds of charity raffles that were supposed to benefit veterans. Last year, Attorney General Becerra sponsored Assembly Bill 3212, a measure that strengthen California’s existing consumer protections for service members and military families, including California National Guard soldiers and airmen. Attorney General Becerra worked closely with the bill’s author, Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, to shepherd it through the Legislature before it was signed into law. The Attorney General’s Office also provides training on military consumer protection to prosecutors and JAG legal assistance attorneys throughout the state.