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Local jeweler gets jail time for scamming military families

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego jewelry store owner who preyed on active-duty military families was sentenced Thursday to 90 days in jail and was ordered to make restitution to the victims.

Ramil “Randy” Abalkhad, owner of Romano’s Jewelers, will also be required to cancel outstanding debts owed by the victims.

The state Department of Justice filed a 14-count criminal complaint last year charging Abalkhad with conspiracy to violate the Unruh Act, which protects consumers who buy goods or services on credit, and the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which protects Californians against unlawful debt collection practices.

Co-defendant Melina Abalkhad, who was previously sentenced, will be required to complete a misdemeanor diversion program for her role in operating Romano’s affiliate, MBNB Financial.

“Mr. and Mrs. Abalkhad thought they could get away with targeting our young men and women in uniform,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. “Today’s sentencing should send a clear message to them and others looking to commit predatory crimes against our service members. We intend to hold unscrupulous merchants and businesses fully accountable for their offenses. We owe a big shout-out to the Navy and the Marine Corps judge advocates at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and Naval Base San Diego for their critical assistance to our investigative team on this case.”

Romano’s Jewelers had several retail locations in California, including one near Camp Pendleton. The stores targeted young marines and sailors, some fresh out of boot camp, encouraging them to buy jewelry for themselves and for their families and loved ones on credit.

According to the criminal complaint, Randy Abalkhad failed to provide legally required disclosures about monthly payments, interest rates, or other terms of financing. Those customers who fell behind on their payments were allegedly harassed by the defendants’ debt collectors.

In addition, the complaint alleged that Romano’s used debt collectors who falsely posed as attorneys and illegally threatened service members with court martial and other military disciplinary actions.