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The corporations behind TV psychic "Miss Cleo," and two of their corporate officers, have pled no contest to criminal charges of unlawful merchandising practices in St. Charles County Circuit Court . The charges against Florida-based corporations Access Resource Services and Psychic Reader Network, current corporate president Peter Stolz, and corporate officer and past-president Steven L. Feder ( Stolz's cousin) were brought in an indictment returned by a St. Charles County grand jury at the request of Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon.
As a result of the pleas, the defendants were placed on probation and will not attempt to collect approximately $18.8 million in claims against Missourians who were billed for pay per call services. In addition, the defendants are barred from operating, advertising or marketing "900" pay-per-call numbers accessible by Missouri consumers. They also cannot rent or sell lists of Missourians' names, addresses, and telephone numbers.
The character of "Miss Cleo" -- supposedly a Shango shaman from Jamaica but, in reality, an actress from Los Angeles named Youree Dell Harris -- became well-known in television ads offering "psychic readings." The ads often enticed consumers by offering "free" readings or so many minutes as free.
The indictment charged the defendants with illegally billing Missourians for pay-per-call services, including:
The defendants were also charged wih making numerous misrepresentations to consumers, including:
In addition to abandoning collection of the $18.8 million from consumers and being barred from doing pay-per-call business in Missouri, the defendants must pay $24,000 to the state for investigative costs. They also must pay $6,000 for restitution to consumers of whom the Attorney General's Office already is aware, and up to $50,000 for restitution to other consumers who may be eligible but are currently unknown. Access Resource Services will also pay a $20,000 criminal fine.
In July 2001, Nixon filed two civil lawsuits against Access Resource Services. One, which charged the company with making misrepresentations similar to those contained in the grand jury indictment, was resolved was part of the criminal case settlement. The other, which charged the company with violating Missouri's No Call law, was resolved with the company being ordered to pay $75,000 to the State of Missouri. To date, more than 1 million Missourians have registered with Missouri's "Do Not Call" list and the State has collected $610,000 in fines.
Civil actions against "Miss Cleo" promoters have been filed by the Federal Trade Commission and the attorneys general of several other states.