SPOKANE - Three members of a door-to-door vacuum sales ring that allegedly used high-pressure sales tactics on elderly consumers will be required to pay $30,000 in consumer restitution and $20,000 in attorney fees, Attorney General Christine Gregoire announced today.
In a consent decree filed in Spokane County Superior Court, the three -- Carol Weeks, Frederal Lopez and Alfred Lopez --
|Audio clip of Attorney General Christine O. Gregoire
also agreed to not do business in the state until the restitution and attorneys fees are paid.
According to the settlement, if the three fail to satisfactorily resolve a single complaint after resuming business, they can be permanently barred from door-to-door vacuum cleaner sales in Washington. To help monitor their performance, the three will regularly provide state attorneys with a list of consumers who purchase vacuum cleaners for three years after they resume business.
The settlement also calls for $50,000 in civil penalties, which are suspended on the condition that the remaining terms of the settlement are met.
According to the lawsuit filed last year, Weeks and Frederal Lopez were distributors who supplied numerous salespeople, including Alfred Lopez, with high-priced vacuum cleaners.
The three, along with four other salespeople, targeted consumers by scanning city directories for people with older-sounding names or cruising neighborhoods looking for homes that appeared to belong to elderly residents.
Consumers were either called as part of an "appliance survey" or were confronted at their door by salesmen who told them they were eligible to enter a drawing, often for a supermarket shopping spree.
Weeks later, consumers were told they hadn't won the grand prize after all. Instead, they'd won a free "carpet cleaning." To get the prize, they had to agree to an in-home demonstration, the complaint alleged.
During the demonstrations, salesmen sometimes refused to leave homes when asked, argued with consumers who were reluctant to buy, searched for valuable items that could be used in trade if the consumers said they couldn't afford the vacuum, or "double teamed" consumers by using two salespeople to complete a sale.
In many cases, consumers purchased vacuum cleaners in order to get the salesman to leave. Many were not told they had a three-day right to cancel the sale or were misled as to when those cancellation rights expired.
"This case involved some of the most disturbing predatory sales tactics my office has ever seen," Gregoire said. "This vacuum cleaner sales ring targeted vulnerable seniors and utilized tactics that can only be described as ruthless, relentless and remorseless."
Although the number of consumers eligible for restitution is unknown, attorneys estimate that about 57 people lost money. The amount that each consumer might receive could range between $500 and $800.
Three other defendants never responded to the Attorney General's lawsuit and have been ordered to pay restitution and attorneys fees. The fourth - whose involvement in the scheme was minimal - was dismissed from the lawsuit.