The Orange County district attorney's office and the Newport Beach Police Department have launched a joint investigation of Coach Investments, a Connecticut stamp dealership that recently opened an Orange County branch.
The investigation focuses on allegations that Coach Investments has misrepresented the value of stamps in its sales pitches to investors, said Mark Fisher, a detective with the economic crime unit of the Newport Beach Police Department.
Fisher said investigators are also looking into allegations that Coach Investments has engaged in unfair business practices in Miami Beach, the location of another of its offices.
Headquartered in Greenwich, Conn., Coach Investments is a telemarketing firm that uses a computerized database to price and sell stamps. The firm was founded by Marc Rousso, a 38-year-old entrepreneur from France whose flamboyant business practices have rankled some stamp dealers and auctioneers.
In an interview Thursday, Rousso said he was unaware of the investigation or any complaints lodged against Coach Investments.
Rousso was in Orange County to attend a Thursday evening "stamp education" seminar sponsored by Coach Investments at the Red Lion Inn in Costa Mesa. More than 200 people were expected to attend the event.
Fisher said the investigation is based in part on a complaint received in March from a Los Angeles stamp collector who had been solicited by a Coach Investments salesperson.
As a result of the phone call, Fisher said, the collector became interested in selling his stamp collection to Coach Investments. He was told that he would have to invest a minimum of $5,000 in the company or purchase $5,000 worth of stamps from Coach Investments before the firm would consider buying his collection, Fisher said.
"We've got a problem with a company that calls itself a stamp exchange but is only willing to sell stamps and not buy them," Fisher said.
Coach Investments is encouraging investors to purchase stamps issued in the 1960s by the Middle Eastern state of Aden, now South Yemen. A Coach Investments brochure says the stamps, known as Aden provisionals, offer "unsurpassed opportunities" for investors. The brochure cites as an example one series of Aden stamps that sell for $5,000 each.
But Rousso acknowledged in an interview Thursday that most Aden provisionals, while rare, are worth only $1 to $3 each.
Rousso has been criticized by other stamp dealers for his aggressive sales techniques.
"There are hundreds and hundreds of unique and unknown stamps out there. But that does not in itself make them valuable," said Richard Frajola, a stamp dealer in Danbury, Conn.
"Nobody in the stamp field knows or cares about these stamps," said Frajola, referring to the Aden provisionals.
"I don't know anyone who deals in these (Aden) stamps," added Peter Robertson, curator of the Philatelic Foundation in New York.