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AG alleges couple ran charity scam

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An Oklahoma City couple has been accused by Attorney General Drew Edmondson of duping residents in a charity scam that involved cellular phones donated from 41 states to help battered women, the disabled and others.

``Our investigation determined and we allege that cell phones solicited on behalf of battered women's shelters, domestic violence victims, the elderly or disabled were actually sold for the couple's personal profit,'' Edmondson said Friday.

Edmondson said only about 300 of 100,000 cell phones received by couple's Save a Life Give a Phone Foundation and associated businesses were ever donated to help others. The rest were sold for about $1.2 million, which was deposited in accounts controlled by the couple, he said.

``These people were bold in their solicitations,'' Edmondson said, seeking donations from individuals, businesses, cell phone companies and even police departments.

Domingo Frias-Payan, 24, and Heather Frias-Payan, 25, were charged in Oklahoma County District Court with one felony count of racketeering and 11 counts of violating the Oklahoma Solicitation of Charitable Contributions Act.

Domingo Frias-Payan also was charged with violating the Oklahoma Securities Act and one count of offering forged or false instruments for record.

Edmondson's office asked the court for a temporary injunction prohibiting the company from conducting business while the state seeks legal remedies to shut down the business.

Defense attorney Billy Coyle said the couple had done nothing wrong, calling the racketeering charge ``ludicrous.''

An employee answering the telephone listed on the foundation's Web site said no one was available for comment. She said the company she worked for bought and recycled telephones, did not take donations and was not connected with the foundation.

Coyle said the figures cited by Edmondson were excessive. He said many of the cell phones actually went to battered women and others were repaired and sold and the profits were put back into the enterprise.

``I truly believe the AG's office has blown this out of proportion,'' Coyle said. ``Basically, our position is my clients did nothing wrong and there was no criminal intent.''

Edmondson said the couple was misleading in their solicitations by failing to disclose to donors that only a small portion of the cell phones would actually be given to battered women and others.

``After the Frias-Payans became aware of our investigation, they added a disclaimer to the Save a Life Web site saying that a portion of the proceeds were donated to charity. It's a little late for that,'' he said.

The official also said the couple falsely represented that donations to Save a Life would be used to maintain a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

``The only shelter run by the defendants has been shut down because it was not licensed and operated in violation of municipal ordinances,'' he said.

He said the couple allegedly required residents of the shelter to either pay $125 a month or work four hours a day in a telemarketing boiler room soliciting cell phones and donations.
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