Jeweler charged with scamming young military families

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SAN DIEGO — A San Diego jeweler and his wife, who owns a financial firm, are facing criminal charges for alleged unlawful financing and debt collection practices targeting young Navy sailors and Marines, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Tuesday.

A 14-count felony complaint was filed against Ramil Abalkhad, owner of Romano’s Jewelers, and his wife, Melina, who owns MBNB Financial Inc.

According to the complaint, the Abalkhads targeted young military families, encouraging the purchase of jewelry using MBNB Financial for credit. Romano’s Jewelers has several retail locations in California, including stores near the Camp Pendleton Marine base.

The Abalkhads allegedly failed to provide legally required disclosures about monthly payments, interest rates or other terms of financing, according to the complaint. Customers who fell behind on their payments were allegedly harassed by the defendants’ debt collectors.

In addition, the defendants posed as attorneys, threatening servicemembers with court martial and other military disciplinary actions, the complaint alleges.

“Our servicemembers and military families sacrifice immensely for our country; the last thing they should have to worry about is being fleeced by local merchants,” Becerra said in announcing the charges at a San Diego news conference.

“At the Department of Justice, we will vigorously protect California’s servicemembers and veterans, like all consumers in California,” he said. “We will continue working with our military partners who provide legal assistance and financial counseling to educate and protect military consumers.”

Ramil Abalkhad was additionally charged with engaging in a check kiting scheme involving Romano’s Jewelers bank accounts that resulted in a loss of $270,000 to First Bank, authorities said.

A third defendant, MBNB employee Ramiro Salinas, was charged with conspiracy to engage in unlawful debt collection.

Ramil and Melina Abalkhad were arrested on Sept. 26 and Salinas was taken into custody three days later.

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