Nov. 1, 2011 — -- Goldline, a company that used endorsements from Glenn Beck and other conservative icons to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold to consumers, has been charged with theft and fraud in a 19-count criminal complaint filed Tuesday by local officials in California.
The criminal complaint filed Tuesday by the Santa Monica City Attorney's consumer protection unit marks the latest in a series of allegations it has leveled against the gold dealer, which pioneered the practice of weaving its sales pitches into broadcasts by popular conservative political personalities -- including two former presidential candidates -- to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold every year.
The complaint alleges that Goldline "runs a bait and switch operation in which customers, seeking to invest in gold bullion, are switched to highly overpriced coins by using false and misleading claims," according to a statement released by the consumer affairs division of the Santa Monica City Attorney's office.
The company has been charged in the court filing with misdemeanors that include theft by false pretenses, false advertising, and conspiracy, the City Attorney's office said. In addition to the charges against the company, the complaint accuses former CEO Mark Albarian, executives Robert Fazio and Luis Beeli, and salespeople Charles Boratgis and Stephanie Howard of defrauding customers. Current CEO Scott Carter is accused of making false or misleading statements. Each of the charged offenses carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and maximum fines of between $1,000 and $10,000 per offense.
Carter, who is frequently featured in Goldline commercials, told ABC News Tuesday that he was withholding comment until he has had time to review the court filing.
The launch of an investigation into Goldline was first reported by ABC News more than a year ago, when Santa Monica officials first said they were looking into allegations they said were leveled against the company by unhappy customers.
"There are two main types of complaints we're seeing," Adam Radinsky of the Santa Monica City Attorney's office said at the time. "One is that customers say that they were lied to and misled in entering into their purchases of gold coins. And the other group is saying that they received something different from what they had ordered."
Goldline officials said at the time that customer complaints were infrequent and it responded immediately to address them. The proof of the company's commitment to customer satisfaction, they said, is Goldline's top rating from the Better Business Bureau. "When we learn that customers have not received the experience they deserve, we investigate and take action," said Carter, then Goldline's executive vice president, in a letter to ABC News sent last year.
The criminal complaint lays out a series of allegations that it contends add up to a conspiracy to trick customers into overpaying for an investment in gold.
For instance, the complaint alleges that the company trains salespeople to "get the money in" from customers on the promise of delivering gold bullion, with the intent to later switch the sale to far more overpriced collectable gold coins. It alleges that the company trains its employees "to disguise the more than 50 percent markup on the overpriced coins," and alleges that Goldline reprimands its salespeople if they fail to convince the customer to buy the overpriced coins.
The promotional strategy appears to have been beneficial both to Goldline, which boasts $500 million in sales, and to such conservative figures as Beck and former presidential hopefuls Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee, all of whom have, at various times, coupled their television or radio appearances with Goldline advertisements.
When contacted last year, a spokesman for Beck noted that Goldline has an A plus rating from the Better Business Bureau.