2012-01-05 / Front Page

Federal Trade Commission files complaint against well-known businessman

By Anna Bitong

Turpel Turpel The Federal Trade Commission has filed a complaint against Pete Turpel, alleging that his Newbury Park-based company Sonkei Communications Inc. violated FTC rules related to telemarketing phone calls.

Turpel, who disputes the charges, sits on the Thousand Oaks Planning Commission. He was appointed to the seat last January by Councilmember Dennis Gillette.

On Nov. 17, the Department of Justice filed the civil complaint on behalf of the FTC at the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The complaint alleges that, since at least 2008, Sonkei Communications, Peter J. Turpel and relative Joseph Turpel, sold a robocalling service that delivers prerecorded phone messages offering credit card services, home security systems and grant procurement programs.

The defendants allegedly gave clients the technological means to mask their identities by replacing caller names on caller ID displays with “service message” or “service announcement.” The FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) requires telemarketers to reveal their names and phone numbers through a caller identification service.

The FTC also alleged that since September 2009 the defendants knew, or avoided knowing, that their clients did not obtain the required written permission to deliver prerecorded messages selling goods or services to call recipients.

It also contends that the defendants knew their clients were calling phone numbers on the FTC-run National Do Not Call Registry.

According to the 11-page federal document, the phone calls have prompted tens of thousands of complaints from individuals and businesses.

“Consumers have suffered and will continue to suffer injury as a result of the defendants’ violations of the TSR,” the document states. “Absent injunctive relief by this court, defendants are likely to continue to injure consumers and harm the public interest.”

If convicted on all counts, the Turpels face large fines.

The FTC Act “authorizes this court to award monetary civil penalties of up to $11,000 for each violation of the TSR committed on or before Feb. 9, 2009, and up to $16,000 for each violation of the TSR committed after (that date),” according to the document.

Charles Miller, spokesperson for the Department of Justice’s civil division, said the department cannot comment on a case in litigation or provide information not included in the complaint.

A trial date has not been set, Miller said.

Pete Turpel, president of Sonkei Communications as well as Phone On-Hold Marketing Systems, denied the charges against him through a press release sent out early this week.

“Sonkei Communications has been the victim of unauthorized use of its trade name by third parties which are not affiliates of Phone On-Hold or Sonkei Communications,” Turpel said in a statement released Dec. 29.

“Neither Phone On-Hold nor Sonkei Communications is in the business of making unauthorized telemarketing calls to consumers,” the statement continued. “Sonkei Communications’ involvement in telemarketing has been limited and has exclusively involved businessto business calls and other nonconsumer campaigns which are entirely lawful.

“We shall vigorously defend against the allegations made by the FTC and are optimistic that the commission will dismiss its complaint after it investigates the facts of this case.”

Turpel, 54, former general manager for KNJO, the Conejo Valley’s first radio station, is a member of the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce. He’s been a member of the Rotary Club of Thousand Oaks since 1988 and has served as president of the club’s foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit, since 2009.

He’s been active in a range of community activities and groups, including Conejo Valley Days, the Conejo Valley Historical Society and the Boy Scouts.

“Pete is a longtime, great community member and business leader,” said Jill Lederer, president and CEO of the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce, who declined to comment on the charges against him.

Gillette, who said he has not spoken to Turpel since the complaint was filed, praised Turpel’s morals.

“I’ve known Pete for many, many years,” Gillette said. “Pete and his wife have always been ethical, legitimate and honest. He’s always been a credit to the business community.

“In this particular case (I will) wait to see the outcome. I don’t know anything other than (Pete’s character),” the council member added.

In 1984, a business owner asked Turpel to connect KNJO to broadcast to the business’ phone customers when they were on hold. Turpel instead came up with the idea of creating a message to play for those customers. The idea was so successful that Turpel launched his own company, Phone On-Hold Marketing Systems, according to a March 2011 Acorn interview.

--Story updated 2:36 p.m. Fri., Jan. 6, 2012

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