Landmark Telemarketing Case Casts Shadow Over Mayoral Candidate | Buzz Blog
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Landmark Telemarketing Case Casts Shadow Over Mayoral Candidate

Millcreek candidate says he was not involved in employer's vast illegal activity.


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Between 2007 and 2010, a Utah telemarketing firm called Feature Films for Families made more than 117 million illegal calls to consumers—an allegation that the company was convicted of on May 25 by a federal jury and has put a mayoral candidate in Millcreek on the defensive.

During the time of the illegal phone calls, which carry a maximum fine of $16,000 per phone call and could lead to a $1 trillion settlement, Fred Healey, one of nine candidates facing off in the June 28 primary election, was chief operating officer and chief financial officer at Feature Films for Families.

While Healey has told his supporters via email that he had nothing to do with the illegal phone calls and that he even urged the company’s CEO, Forrest S. Baker III, to avoid making the calls, his 27-year tenure at the company, and his use of the firm to conduct polling on behalf of his campaign, has intrigued some voters and his opponents.

“Myself and one other individual in the company advised him that that was not a good idea, not something he should do, and that in the long run it would probably hurt feature films,” Healey tells City Weekly.

What Healey wants to make clear, he says, is that he is not facing any legal action from the Federal Trade Commission, which filed its case against Feature Films for Families in 2011. In a letter to his supporters, Healey wrote: “I have nothing whatsoever to do with that case. I was not a witness, a defendant, or a subject of any investigation related to it.”

Some of Healey’s opponents—all vying to be Millcreek’s first mayor after the township voted in 2015 to break from Salt Lake County rule and incorporate as a city—say that Healey’s former job hasn’t played a large role in the campaign.

Jeff Silvestrini, who is running for mayor, declined to discuss Healey’s situation at length, saying he preferred to campaign on his strengths.

“I’d prefer to campaign on why I’m better than being negative about it,” Silvestrini says. “It’s an issue that voters are going to have to evaluate.”

While Healey says he sent his letter to Millcreek residents and his supporters as a way of being transparent, he insists that to focus on his employment with a company that happened to engage in illegal activity while he worked there is unfair.

“It was a case of unfortunate timing that someone has chosen to make something out of it, which there is nothing,” Healey says. “It’s too bad in politics today that people have to do that. While I’m not perfect, I’ve complied with the law wherever I’ve been.”

Aside from any fallout the case has on the Millcreek mayor’s race, the depth of illegal activity that the FTC says occurred at Feature Films was unprecedented. According to an FTC news release, Feature Films and a pair of other companies, Corporations for Character and Family Films of Utah, which are all run by Baker, are the first to be prosecuted for violating the FTC’s Do Not Call (DNC) registry.

In addition to soliciting DVDs to those on the DNC, Baker’s telemarketers gave false information about where the proceeds from the DVDs would be donated. “The defendants’ telemarketers called millions of numbers on the DNC registry during this campaign and told consumers that ‘all of the proceeds’ from the sale of Feature Films for Families DVDs would be used to complete a recommended viewing list of the nonprofit Coalition for Quality Children’s Media,” the FTC news release says. “In reality, Feature Films for Families had contracted to receive 93 percent of the sales to these consumers.”

Healey says he stopped working for Feature Films in 2010. He did, however, tap into the company’s telephone resources for his campaign. “Feature Films allowed me to use 10 phones and phone lines, which I had to give them compensation for as trade,” Healey says. “They did not do any of the work. I or the volunteers did the calling.”

This in-kind trade was reflected on Healey’s June 21 campaign finance disclosure form with a value of $1,100. Healey says his telephone polling ran afoul of local election laws because he did not know that he and his volunteers were required to inform residents the purpose for the poll. Healey says he paid a $100 fine.

“None of us knew that we had to do that,” Healey says.

The Millcreek mayor’s race comes on the heels of a contentious, multi-year battle by some citizen groups to sever ties with Salt Lake County. The first crack in 2012 at incorporating failed 60 percent to 40 percent. But in 2015, voters flipped, voting 66 percent to 33 percent to incorporate.

Glen Worthington, a Millcreek resident who opposed incorporation, says he’s eager to see Millcreek move into its next phase. And while he says Healey’s employment history doesn’t make him or break him as a candidate, Worthington says the more information voters have about their elected leaders, the better.

“I would say let’s have everything on the table, including parking tickets,” says Worthington, who has publicly endorsed Silvestrini. “How you behave and what you’ve done. I think that’s important. At least that way skeletons can dissolve in the daylight.”