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News » Cover Story

Dialing for Dollars

Utah's telemarketing "flop-portunity" industry continues to phone in support from Utah politicos



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Close Connections
While Johnson’s charitable acts may have earned him some leeway with the local and state officials who would have prosecuted him, another OBO operator, Sov Ouk, pursued the “family friend” angle.

It was 10:45 p.m. on a cold night in January 2012 when a black car slowly pulled into the driveway of Johanna Quinones’ Sandy home and parked with the engine running. Quinones didn’t recognize the car but feared who might be in it. She quickly called the police. Quinones previously had a restraining order against her ex-husband, Sov Ouk, a Salt Lake City Internet-marketing entrepreneur.

She was naturally relieved when a patrol car rolled up to her house and an officer approached the idling car. She then watched in amazement as the officer shook hands amiably with the driver, the man she would later find out was Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. The state’s top attorney had driven her ex-husband to her house, in an act, she says, of intimidation.

To add to the confusion, Quinones learned that Shurtleff had called 911 on her. Quinones had gotten into an argument with her ex-husband a few hours earlier after she had waited at his house so she could drop off their children, as part of their custody arrangement. When Ouk called and told her he had yet to leave work and was at least a half-hour away, Quinones says the couple quarreled, and she ended up taking the children back to her house.

In a recorded 911 call, Shurtleff can be heard identifying himself by name, telling police that he’s outside of the residence and warning the dispatcher that he’s concerned about Ouk’s children. As a result, when law enforcement arrived on the scene, they promptly went into Quinones’ home and shined flashlights into the eyes of her sleeping children to make sure they had not been abused. The children were startled but in good condition, a police report from the incident would note.

“Just because he was late [picking up the children], he tries to prove a point to me and brings the attorney general to my house at 10:45 at night,” Quinones says. “I did not appreciate that.”

Shurtleff’s “bromance” with Ouk, owner of Global Marketing Alliance, goes back a few years. According to Quinones, in 2007, Shurtleff’s son, Heath, went to work at an affiliated company owned by Ouk called Global Marketing Design, a company that helped design websites for Shurtleff’s 2008 election efforts.

Shurtleff’s campaign banked $10,000 from Ouk’s company in his 2008 election bid plus $2,400 for his 2009 Senate campaign. In 2010, Shurtleff added his voice as a testimonial for one of Ouk’s other business efforts, a nutritional-supplement product called 8 Zone. In an infomercial, currently on YouTube, featuring Olympic gold medalist Apolo Anton Ohno, the video opens with a limo pulling up outside what appears to be the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City. At a staged press conference, Ohno begins talking about the wonders of the supplement as being vital to anyone interested in “Olympic medal health.”

Testimonials start to flash across the screen, including one from Mark Shurtleff, identified as “Attorney General.”

“I’ve tried a lot of vitamins and supplements in my life, and this is the first time, with the Red Zone, that it’s really worked for me,” Shurtleff says, smiling. “I loved it.” City Weekly attempted to interview both Ouk and Shurtleff for this story but calls and e-mails were not returned.

Currently, Global Marketing Alliance is facing an administrative citation from Consumer Protection for up to $17,500 in fines for deceptive practices and other violations resulting from complaints filed by consumers over promises the company made, claiming, for example, a GMA program has “no failures.” The matter is still pending.


Good coach, bad coach
Still, when operated lawfully, some in the industry say the OBO industry provides valuable services that can help people get ahead. State Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-West Jordan, has had years of experience in the coaching industry, having previously served as CEO of a company called WealthRock until he left in April 2012 to return to the IT field.

As a legislator and former member of the industry, Osmond says his company worked hard to make sure its coaches were professionals with knowledge of the OBO services they offered, whether it was real-estate investing or starting online businesses.

As to the idea recently suggested by AG candidate John Swallow of moving Consumer Protection under the Attorney General’s Office, Osmond says he sees “no significant benefit.

“In my perspective, you have to have a Division of Consumer Protection—that is clear—because this industry is fraught with small organizations that do take advantage of students,” Osmond says.

He says a division that advocates for average citizens is essential, though, during his time in the industry, he says he worked to police his companies and even alert regulators of bad actors in the industry.

Osmond also worked for The Coaching Company, a business affiliated with several companies involved in a still-ongoing civil lawsuit filed in 3rd District Court in 2009—prior to Osmond’s employment. That lawsuit primarily focused on James Smith, a Florida real-estate “guru” who referred clients to affiliated coaching companies in Utah. Osmond’s involvement in the company came after the lawsuit was filed.

The lawsuit alleges a coach involved in Smith’s companies defrauded more than a dozen, mostly elderly, victims out of a combined $10 million. Osmond was not a part of the companies at the time, and, during the time he worked for The Coaching Company and WealthRock, he says, the companies maintained a positive Better Business Bureau rating and faced no actions from Consumer Protection. No trial date has yet been scheduled in the case.

It bears noting that an affiliated James Smith company called Real Estate Investor Education donated $12,500 in 2011 to Swallow’s campaign for attorney general, according to Swallow’s campaign-finance-disclosure forms.


The Party Never Stops
Since many victims of OBO fraud reside out of state, Utahns are often oblivious about what these companies do and how they give Utah a black eye. For Utahns, the OBO call centers are unknown entities, operating in the shadows, except when tragedy strikes.

Like when Sov Ouk threw an office party for his employees in 2009. One employee was given the keys to a company BMW. After employees started drinking at the office, the group then went downtown to a strip club, where employees knocked back high-end tequila until closing time. Leaving the club, GMA employee John Bishop was, according to police reports, highly intoxicated. He drove the company BMW and rolled it after going speeds in excess of 120 mph along Interstate 80. The crash killed Jason Palmer, also a GMA employee, who was ejected from the vehicle. In 2011, Bishop was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the fatal crash, and Ouk’s company has faced $400,000 in legal exposure from resulting lawsuits, according to his divorce file.

Beyond such overt tragic losses, The Salty Droid’s Jason Jones says the true victims of unscrupulous companies in the OBO industry are the unwitting consumers. He says the industry seems to focus on whatever trend is hottest—like real estate prior to the housing collapse—to lure in a demographic that are struggling to make ends meet.

“It’s tilted toward senior citizens and so many baby boomers. You see all these stories on the local news about people losing their jobs because the economy is modernizing past their skill set, and that group of people are the meat and potatoes for this fraud monster,” Jones says. “That’s horrifying. That’s our family members, our fellow citizens who are already in this sad and desperate situation, who are getting ground out in this meat grinder.”

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on the OBO telemarketing industry. The third installment will appear in the June 21 issue.