In November 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged Sean Austin, John Steven Huffman, John Preston Thompson, and their affiliated companies with deceiving consumers by falsely promising to eliminate or substantially reduce their credit card debt. The FTC alleged that the defendants took tens of millions of dollars from people through their deceptive debt relief scheme, which operated under multiple names such as ACRO Services, American Consumer Rights Organization, Consumer Protection Resources, Reliance Solutions, Thacker & Associates, and Tri Star Consumer Group.
To prevent further harm to consumers, the FTC requested that a federal court temporarily freeze the defendants’ assets and appoint a receiver over their businesses while the case took place. The court orders, which were agreed to by the defendants to settle the case, include a number of requirements to prevent the defendants from engaging in similar activities in the future.
Firstly, the defendants are permanently banned from advertising, selling, or assisting in any debt relief product or service. Secondly, the defendants are permanently banned from participating in telemarketing. Thirdly, the orders broadly enjoin the defendants from deceiving consumers about any other product or service they sell or market.
The defendants are also required to surrender certain property interests and assets contained in multiple bank accounts that will be used to provide any possible refunds to affected consumers. The orders contain a total monetary judgment of $17,486,080, which is partially suspended upon the defendants’ surrender of assets and also based on their inability to pay the full amount. If the defendants are found to have lied to the FTC about their financial status, the full judgment would be immediately payable.
In summary, the court orders permanently ban the defendants from engaging in debt relief products or services, telemarketing, and deceiving consumers about any product or service they sell or market. The orders also require the defendants to surrender certain assets contained in multiple bank accounts to provide possible refunds to affected consumers and contain a total monetary judgment of $17,486,080.