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Consumer News Release

For immediate release -- Friday, December 8, 2000.
Contact Bob Brammer -- 515-281-6699

Georgia Telemarketer Found Guilty of Felony Charges in Iowa Criminal Trial

O'Brien County jury finds Atlanta telemarketer Robert Holland guilty of theft by deception in Northwest Iowa case.

Primghar, Iowa -- Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said Friday that Georgia telemarketer Robert Holland has been found guilty by an O'Brien County jury in Primghar of felony theft by deception. After an eight-day trial, Holland, age 44, from Canton, Georgia, also was convicted of conspiracy to commit theft by deception and being a habitual offender.

"We alleged that Holland took more than $50,000 from an Iowa couple in a phony investment scheme," Miller said. "Victims from around the country also came to testify in this trial."

Sentencing was set for February 5 in O'Brien County. Theft by deception is a Class C felony punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine of $500 to $10,000. Conspiracy to commit theft by deception is a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $500 to $7500. Being a habitual offender is punishable by up to 15 years in prison with a minimum of three years in prison before a person is eligible for parole. (A habitual offender is someone convicted of a Class C or Class D felony who has two previous felony convictions in Iowa or elsewhere.) The judge also may order restitution in the matter. District Court Judge Patrick Carr presided over the trial.

Miller said that Holland worked out of a telemarketing "boiler room" in Atlanta, Georgia, and was charged because he made numerous misrepresentations in telephone calls attempting to sell investments in foreign currency options such as Japanese yen. Charges were filed in Iowa because victims included the O'Brien County couple who lost more than $50,000 in the scam, Miller said.

"In the trial, we sought to prove this was an intricate scam involving too-good-to-be-true claims by Holland about the amount of money investors would make from buying the options in foreign currency," Miller said. Evidence entered in the trial included testimony of a victim who was told by Holland that his $80,000 investment would be turned to $500,000 in a matter of weeks.

"The vast majority of investors lost most or all of the money they invested while the company Holland worked for made millions," Miller said. "We alleged that their phone solicitors like Mr. Holland made hundreds of thousands of dollars while their investors lost their money."

Miller cautioned Iowans to be wary of telephone solicitations for investments - especially unsolicited calls from unknown companies promising fantastic profits.

He said the Consumer Protection Division of his office began investigating the matter last year after receiving information from the Georgia Office of Consumer Affairs.

"This was a big effort and a team effort," Miller said. The trial started Nov. 28 and lasted eight days. Experts and ten victims from all over the country came to Primghar to be witnesses in the trial, which went to the jury Thursday morning. "We are very grateful to everyone who worked with us in this trial," Miller said, "from witnesses to our partners in law enforcement."

Miller thanked O'Brien County Attorney Bruce Green and County Sheriff Mike Anderson and their offices for their cooperation, as well as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in Washington, DC, and the National White Collar Crime Center in Richmond, Virginia. He added that several staff of his Consumer Protection Division worked long hours preparing for trial, interviewing multiple witnesses, transporting witnesses to and from the Sioux Falls airport and the court house in Primghar, and trying the case.

"This conviction is another successful effort in our battle against telemarketing fraud," Miller said. He noted that the program has been under way for a number of years and has resulted in a reduction by over 85 percent in the number of complaints his office receives annually regarding telemarketing fraud. An undercover telephone "sting" already has resulted in 36 criminal convictions in telemarketing fraud cases and given Iowa a reputation among con-artists as a state they should avoid. (In the "sting" technique pioneered by Miller's office, persons who were repeat victims of telemarketing fraud calls changed their phone numbers and had their old numbers routed into the Attorney General's Office - where investigators could hear first-hand the "pitches" for fraudulent schemes.)

"The Holland case was based primarily on live testimony from victims rather than undercover tapes, but it has the same result," Miller said. "We will have no tolerance for those who cheat Iowans in telemarketing fraud. That's our best tool to protect Iowans from deceptive telephone solicitations," he said.

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