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Feds, 2 companies settle case over job ads

Brett Barrouquere, Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Two southern Kentucky companies are permanently barred from selling or promoting guides to jobs and must surrender a series of bank accounts to the government under a pair of settlements with the Federal Trade Commission.

Career Exams, Inc., and O'Brien Marketing of Bowling Green also have a potential $4.8 million judgment against each of them if they do not comply with all the terms of the civil agreement approved Monday by U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell.

The FTC sued Career Exams and O'Brien Marketing in federal court in Kentucky in 2012, accusing the company of deceptive advertising for marketing the guides for $120 or more without fully disclosing it has no affiliation with the federal government.

Messages left for the attorneys for O'Brien Marketing and for the FTC were not immediately returned Tuesday.

The FTC lawsuit stems from a series of newspaper and online ads run around the country touting jobs with the post office paying $13 to $32.50 an hour. The ads appeared on websites such as CareerBuilder.com and Yahoo! Hot Jobs, as well as in newspapers in Miami, Fort Worth, Texas, Northville, Mich., and Chesapeake, Va. People were encouraged to call an 800 number and, when connected, were put on hold and played a recording containing statements that suggested post office jobs were readily available.

The guides were versions of free information about how to apply to the Postal Service for a job and general information about the federal government's hiring process.

The FTC said a telemarketer would then come on the line and ask a series of questions that would normally appear in an initial job screening, but not disclose the person wasn't speaking with the post office.

Under the terms of the agreement, neither Career Exams, O'Brien Marketing and its officers, including businessman Derek Jackson, cannot offer for sale any employment product or service or assist others in doing so. The companies and officials must also surrender three bank accounts containing an undisclosed amount of money and two investment accounts to the federal government. They must also surrender all websites and assets used in selling the guides.

Failure to do so would mean the $4.8 million penalty would kick in individually against the defendants in the case.

A federally appointed monitor will watch over Jackson and the companies to ensure they comply. Jackson and his business associates must notify the FTC of any change of address and any business venture they take part in for 12 years.

The Federal Trade Commission has pursued other companies making similar sales pitches for jobs with the federal government, particularly the post office. Settlements of similar suits with companies in Tennessee, Arizona and Indiana over the last decade resulted in penalties ranging from $25,000 to more than $300,000, with the amount being based on the company's ability to pay.

"I don't remember her ever mentioning she worked for a private company, so I continued to think I was talking to someone at the Postal Service," Aleta Bame of Northville, Mich., told the FTC in an affidavit.

Once the person bought the information, paying up to $127 for hard copies or $40 for a downloadable version, they received a booklet titled the "Federal Employment Guide," which includes general information about the civil service hiring process. Career Advancement included information for obtaining a refund, with the provision that a person must prove they applied for and were rejected for a federal job, the FTC said.

"The downloaded document wasn't what I expected: I thought I was taking the first step in a job application process, but this was just a study guide and some general information," Serge Bernardin of Miami told the FTC in an affidavit.


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