$150,000 Fine for Scottsdale debt settlement companyPosted: Updated:
SCOTTSDALE -- Patricia Aker has been a teacher for 20 years and thought opening up a teaching supply store might bring in a little extra income.
“It's not a place where we have a lot of flexibility with our money and for many years it's been payday to payday.”
But Aker says she barely had the chance to stock her shelves before the bad economy forced her to close her store, leaving her nearly $30,000 in debt. That's when she says she heard a radio commercial for a Scottsdale company called the J. Hass Group.
“I'm sitting there listening and, of course, as it should, it’s doing its job. It’s sounding very promising,” she said.
Aker called the J. Hass Group and eventually signed up for the company's program. She says for a $4,200 fee, the J. Hass Group agreed to negotiate down her credit card debt. But 17 months and $8,000 later, Aker says J. Hass had only reduced her debt by $1,200.
“They wouldn't call me back and then I'd call and I'd get hung up on,” Aker said.
Around the same time last year, the J. Hass Group was slapped with a cease and desist order by the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions accusing the J. Hass Group of "engaging in unlicensed activity as a debt management company." The company was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine.
Although their offices have since been cleared out, J. Hass has disputed it did anything wrong.
In fact, J. Hass appealed that cease and desist order, and 3 On Your Side has learned a ruling has been made.
This week, the judge in the case upheld the cease and desist order and, in addition, ordered the J. Hass Group to pay a $150,000 within 45 days. It's an amount three times more than the state originally requested.
As for Aker, the J. Hass Group says her claims are false and says she backed out of her enrollment in their program prematurely.
Patricia says she feels the program was a waste of money.“As an educator who teaches children about integrity and value and being honest and working hard, how many people are out there that are in the same boat that I'm in?” she said.
The J. Hass Group has 30 days to appeal the judge’s decision, something a company representative says it intends to do.