Matchmaker ordered to pay victims $50,000

Matchmaker ordered to pay victims $50,000

 

Harvey Luna, owner of Matchmaker Matchmaker, might have better luck beyond the Texas state line after a judgment rendered in a lawsuit brought by the Texas Attorney General’s Office effectively shut the doors of Beaumont’s burgeoning dating service Oct. 1.

In May, The Examiner caught on to a local dating scam after interviewing numerous clients who said Luna had conned thousands out of elderly and disabled Southeast Texans since opening Matchmaker Matchmaker in July 2012.

Some two months after The Examiner’s story was published, Attorney General Greg Abbott obtained a temporary restraining order and froze the assets of Luna and co-defendant Monterrey Financial, both companies Abbott says have violated the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the Texas Debt Collection Act and state telephone solicitation regulations.

The Attorney General’s Office included The Examiner’s story as an exhibit in its lawsuit against Luna and Monterrey Financial.

In their lawsuit, Texas’ top attorney says Luna’s Matchmaker Matchmaker is just the latest in a series of nationwide dating schemes that target “senior citizens, the disabled and veterans” using “coercive and at times physically intimidating tactics to convince prospective senior citizen clients and others to sign expensive ‘membership agreements’ for their services, costing $3,000 to $10,000 for prospective dating introductions.”

The lawsuit alleges Matchmaker trained employees in “dubious and aggressive recruitment practices that include memorizing false information to entice consumers to sign expensive contracts for Matchmaker Defendants’ services. This information includes falsely representing to consumers that Matchmaker has a database of ‘thousands’ of prospective dates.” The attorney general also says Matchmaker falsely claims to conduct psychological evaluations that are, in fact, not done, Matchmaker claims to be accredited by the Better Business Bureau even though no such accreditation exists, and Matchmaker duped potential clients into coughing up their credit card information by claiming the information would be used to “match” them with specific dates when the info was actually used to “adjust the final price to the consumer’s ability to pay.”

The Texas attorney general included the signed affidavits of Jay Sheppard with the BBB of Southeast Texas along with five clients of Luna’s Matchmaker Matchmaker, all living witnesses to Luna’s scheme to profit from the elderly and disabled.

All confirmed Luna’s use of coercive and physically intimidating tactics. Many told the same story: They were put in a room alone with Luna for hours, under pressure from sales tactics that included references to religious leader Joel Osteen, and Luna physically placed himself between a potential client and the door once a client refused to pay an exorbitant price.

Abbott’s lawsuit did not include the testimony of Judy Seelke, the mother and legal guardian of Wesley Seelke, a 33-year-old mentally challenged man who Luna signed for some $4,000.

Seelke said her son, Wesley, didn’t see a single date from Luna’s Matchmaker Matchmaker and she was shocked to learn about the dating contract when The Examiner caught up to her in May 2013.

“He says yes to everything. He don’t argue,” Seelke said of her son, who has a speech impediment and is mentally challenged. “He’s always saying yes. If there’s a problem, he just agrees and says yes. If someone calls, he’ll say yes, but he don’t know what he’s saying yes to.”

Seelke said a majority of her son’s income is from Social Security disability, which would go to Luna if her son’s contract hadn’t been canceled.

Seelke said her son was duped out of $400 by the smooth-talking Luna, who she says never intended to send Wesley a date.

“He’s just mean,” Seelke said.

Lloyd van Oostenrijk, Luna’s attorney, refused to comment on the details of the settlement. Oostenrijk would only point to the judgment on the Harris County District Clerk’s website.

“It speaks for itself,” Oostenrijk said.

According to the judgement, Luna must pay a sum of $50,000 in restitution to the victims affected by his shady business dealings.

An attorney familiar with the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the details of the judgement, said victims could get their money back in the next few years.

“It’s set for payoff over the course of two or three years, so we’re hoping to get all that money back to consumers as soon as it gets in,” the attorney said.

Written into the judgment is a provision that fines Luna if he misses a restitution payment. According to the agreement, Luna will be fined another $250,000 if he misses his first payment of $10,000 on or before Feb. 1, 2014, $20,000 on or before Jan. 1, 2015 and the last $20,000 on or before Jan. 1 2016.

“It jumps up,” the attorney said of the built-in fines. “As long as they’re agreeing to pay everybody back, we won’t exercise the fines that are built in to the judgment.”

The attorney said Luna is effectively barred from operating another dating service in Texas, but neighboring businesses at the industrial park where Luna operated Matchmaker said Luna might have gone to Florida to start a new dating service.

“Our jurisdiction, unfortunately, only extends to state lines. But obviously, we’ll cooperate with other states and help them as best we can if an issue arises there,” the attorney said.

Consumers who might have been affected by Luna’s swindle and who wish to file a claim should contact the Texas Attorney General’s office or visit their website www.oag.state.tx.us.

As for how the Texas Attorney General caught on to The Examiner’s story, the attorney said that’s unknown. What is known is had it not been for The Examiner’s story, Luna might still be operating today.

“If not for the article you put out, it probably wouldn’t have come to our attention,” the attorney said.

 

Clay Thorp can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 222, or by e-mail at clay [at] theexaminer [dot] com.

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