California AG charges jeweler who wooed military with loans

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — California's attorney general has charged the owner of a chain of a chain of jewelry stores with failing to inform military members about credit terms and wrongly assessing penalties.

The criminal complaint, filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court, charges Ramil Abalkad, the 54-year-old owner of Romano's Jewelers Services Inc. in Southern California, and Melina Abalkad, the 43-year-old owner of MBNB Financial Inc., with conspiracy to engage in illegal financing and debt collection practices.

The attorney general's office said in a press release that the Abalkhads encouraged young Marines and sailors to buy jewelry using MBNB Financial for credit, including at stores near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. The couple allegedly failed to provide legally required disclosures about monthly payments, interest rates and other financing terms and had debt collectors harass customers who fell behind.

The defendants also allegedly threatened military members with courts martial and other military discipline, according to the complaint.

"Our service members and military families sacrifice immensely for our country, the last thing they should have to worry about is being fleeced by local merchants," Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday in San Diego, where he announced the charges.

Ramiro Salinas, 51, an employee of MBNB Financial, was charged with conspiracy to engage in unlawful debt collection.

A phone message for all three defendants left Tuesday at corporate offices for Romano's Jewelers and MBNB Financial was not immediately returned.

 Bail for Ramil Abalkad was set at $235,000 and at $40,000 for Melina Abalkad following their arrests on Sept. 26. Bail for Salinas was set $100,000 following his arrest Friday.

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