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'Operation Disconnect' Unplugs 2 O.C. Men : Scam: Huntington Beach businessmen are indicted on 13 federal counts of wire fraud through illegal telemarketing operations.

March 26, 1993|From Times Staff and Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — A federal grand jury Thursday indicted two Orange County businessmen and a Lawndale resident on charges stemming from one of the nation's biggest telemarketing probes.

Timothy J. Laros, 29, and Paul C. Cooper, 30, both of Huntington Beach, were indicted on 13 counts of wire fraud.

The indictments, stemming from the government's "Operation Disconnect" telemarketing probe earlier this month, alleges the men ran illegal telemarketing operations under the names Lifepro International in Tustin, United Safety Associates in Huntington Beach and American Superior Products of Costa Mesa and Fountain Valley.

The indictment says the operations falsely represented to mostly elderly victims their odds of winning prizes and the values.

When reached for comment, Laros said, "We had innocent companies, caught up in a big sweep." Cooper could not be reached.

Also indicted was Paul Turman, 32, of Lawndale, a salesman at Culver City telemarketer Finer Images, on eight counts of wire fraud. Turman could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the FBI, which led "Operation Disconnect," said telephone scam artists turned the action against them into a new fraud.

Soon after the FBI announced this month that "Operation Disconnect" had nailed more than 100 fraud suspects in 12 states, the phone rang at the National Consumers League's National Fraud Information Center.

Someone claiming to represent "Operation Disconnect" told the hot line operator that "they had a list of companies that had defrauded her and for a fee of $424 would get her refunds," the FBI said.

The woman didn't take the scam artist's bait and turned the information over to the FBI.

FBI spokeswoman Sharon Smith confirmed Thursday that the bureau had investigated the incident. She would not elaborate, but indicated that the case is closed.

She said "Operation Disconnect" so far has led to 210 arrests, 78 searches, seizure of $4.5 million from bank accounts and confiscation of cars, a boat, computers and other property.

Barker said the league gets about 350 calls a day from people reporting suspected fraud or wanting information about telemarketing schemes.

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