Thursday, May 15, 2008
Attorney General Abbott Shuts Down Badge Fraud Scheme; Operator Ordered to Pay $11 Million in Civil Penalties
Owner of ‘The Sheriff’s Journal’ pocketed donations collected for fallen officers' families
HOUSTON – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott secured court orders that permanently shut down a Houston-based “badge fraud” scheme that bilked small businesses nationwide. Brian Brumfield and his Houston-based business, Thornebrooks Shapiro, LLC, were ordered to pay $11,920,000 in civil penalties for illegally soliciting charitable contributions by falsely claiming the donations would benefit the surviving family members of fallen peace officers.
Attorney General Abbott took legal action against Brumfield in February 2008 after uncovering evidence that Brumfield unlawfully converted charitable contributions into cash for his personal use. The defendant was ordered to pay $176,820 in restitution to contributors who gave to the non-existent police charity. Brumfield also faces an ongoing criminal investigation by federal authorities, who took him into custody earlier this year.
“This defendant raised charitable donations for fallen peace officers’ families and illegally used those contributions for his personal use,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Badge fraud schemes take advantage of both generous contributors and the law enforcement families who should benefit from those charitable donations. The Office of the Attorney General will aggressively pursue criminals who attempt to exploit the families – and communities – of fallen law enforcement officers.”
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) began investigating Brumfield after several small business owners complained that the defendant sent fraudulent invoices for advertisements in “The Sheriff’s Journal” and similarly-titled publications that were never ordered or authorized. Claiming the advertising had already been printed, the defendant continued sending invoices and making harassing telephone calls to demand payment, even after business owners disputed their bills. Some businesses paid the fraudulent invoices in an effort to avoid further telephone calls. Many of the invoices sought payments totaling between $100 and $600.
Brumfield claimed “The Sheriff’s Journal” was published nationally to raise money for families of fallen law enforcement officers. However, investigators discovered that the magazines do not actually exist and none of the advertising money was used to provide benefits to law enforcement officers or their families. Instead, the defendant immediately converted the advertising revenue into cash for his personal benefit. Financial documents indicate Brumfield operated the scheme since at least May 2006, pocketing as much as $10,000 to $19,000 a month.
Attorney General investigators determined that business owners in Texas and at least 27 other states issued checks to the defendant. Those other states are: Alabama; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Indiana; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maryland; Massachusetts; Mississippi; New Hampshire; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Tennessee; Vermont; Virginia and Washington.
The Attorney General’s February enforcement action charged Brumfield with violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the state’s telemarketing solicitation laws. It also accused him of failing to register as a telemarketer with the Secretary of State.
Brumfield, 38, has a criminal record dating back to 1989, including misdemeanor theft. In 1996, he was arrested for felony credit card abuse and was sentenced to five years probation. He violated probation in 1998 and was sentenced to six months in jail.
To report suspected badge fraud or telemarketing abuse, consumers may contact the Office of the Attorney General at (800) 252-8011 or file a consumer complaint form online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.