State investigators say they've raided four illegal telemarketing operations in Largo, Palm Harbor and Pinellas Park in recent days, shutting down call centers that employed dozens of people.
On Thursday the owner of United Marketing Solutions, 13553 66th St. N in Largo, was arrested. Matthew Adam Gentile, 20, of Dunedin, was charged with operating an unlicensed telemarketing business and employing unlicensed telemarketers, both felonies.
"We also issued 83 cease-and-desist orders to the 83 people working in the business," said Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which regulates telemarketers. "The 83 telemarketers were first-time offenders, so if they are caught again working in a telemarketing operation without first registering with our office, they will face fines and/or criminal charges."
United Marketing Solutions' telephone greeting at its office describes the company as "the leader in deregulated energy sales."
"The arrests this week have all followed a similar method," said Ivey, who added that the arrests resulted from leads. "It appears the telemarketing businesses are contacting Pennsylvania residents and encouraging them to change utility providers, while charging the resident a fee to complete the service."
Under Pennsylvania's regulations, residents can choose their own utility provider.
On Wednesday, investigators arrested the owner of American Alarm Consultants, also known as ABC Energy. Its call center at 30798 U.S. 19 N in Palm Harbor had eight unlicensed telemarketers working the phones, Ivey said. Owner Benoit Orpha Choiniere, 49, of Clearwater was charged with two counts of employing unlicensed telemarketers.
On Tuesday, investigators raided an office with at least four telemarketers at 11380 66th St. N in Pinellas Park. Sheryl Lynn Campbell, 47, of Indian Rocks Beach, was charged with employing unlicensed telemarketers.
Campbell is a former employee of St. Petersburg-based Vacation Property Services, a timeshare resale telemarketing company that was one of several highlighted in a recent Tampa Bay Times investigation of fraud in the timeshare resale industry.
On March 1, state investigators went to Gulf Bay Magazine, also known as Personal Security Shopper, at 12505 Starkey Road in Largo. Esrom Brandt Scott, 26, of Largo, and Chelsea Carter, 22, of St. Petersburg, were charged with telemarketing without a license. Both were selling medical supplies over the phone. Both had been denied telemarketing licenses because they were on probation for other crimes, Ivey said. The business owner was fined, and the investigation of that case is continuing.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151.