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Military victims of jewelry scam get money back

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

SAN DIEGO — State Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Monday that his office has secured full restitution for victims of a pair of jewelry retailers convicted of running a credit scheme that preyed on active-duty military families.

On Nov. 1, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered defendants Ramil Abalkhad, owner of Romano’s Jewelers, and his wife, Melina, owner of MBNB Financial Inc., to pay the victims $16,440 by no later than May 4 of next year.

According to prosecutors, the Abalkhads, who operated several retail outlets in California, including stores near Camp Pendleton, targeted young Marines and sailors, encouraging them to make purchases using MBNB Financial for credit.

A criminal complaint in the case accuses Ramil Abalkhad of failing to provide borrowers with legally required disclosures about monthly payments, interest rates and others terms of financing. Customers who fell behind on their payments were harassed by the defendants’ debt collectors, court documents state.

Romano’s Jewelers also allegedly used collectors who falsely posed as attorneys and illegally threatened military personnel with courts-martial and other military disciplinary actions.

The California Department of Justice filed a 14-count felony complaint charging the defendants 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.

Last year, Ramil Abalkhad was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years’ felony probation. He also will be required to cancel outstanding MBNB debts owed by the victims identified in the criminal complaint and was ordered to remove any negative credit reporting by MBNB from the victims’ credit history, Becerra’s office said.

For her role in operating MBNB Financial, Melina Abalkhad was ordered to complete a misdemeanor diversion program.

“We hope today’s announcement brings healing and closure to the victims of this scheme,” Becerra said. “Our office will continue to protect all Californians from all types of fraud, large or small.”

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