SAN DIEGO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced criminal charges against Ramil Abalkhad, owner of Romano's Jewelers, and Melina Abalkhad, owner of MBNB Financial Inc., for conspiracy to engage in illegal financing and debt collection practices.
Romano's Jewelers had several retail locations in California, including stores near Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. The Abalkhads targeted young marines and sailors, encouraging the purchase of jewelry using MBNB Financial for credit. According to the criminal complaint, Abalkhad failed to provide legally required disclosures about monthly payments, interest rates, or others terms of financing. Those customers who fell behind on their payments were allegedly harassed by the defendants' debt collectors. In addition, the defendants posed as an attorney, threatening servicemembers with court martial and other military disciplinary actions.
“Our servicemembers and military families sacrifice immensely for our country, the last thing they should have to worry about is being fleeced by local merchants,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “At the Department of Justice, we will vigorously protect California's servicemembers and veterans, like all consumers in California. We will continue working with our military partners who provide legal assistance and financial counseling to educate and protect military consumers.”
The California Department of Justice filed a 14-count felony complaint that charges 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, which protects Californians against unlawful debt collection practices.
Ramil Abalkhad was additionally charged with engaging in a check kiting scheme involving Romano's Jewelers bank accounts that resulted in a loss of $270,000 to First Bank.
A third defendant, MBNB employee Ramiro Salinas, was also charged with conspiracy to engage in unlawful debt collection.
Ramil and Melina Abalkhad were arrested on September 26, 2017, and bail was set at $235,000 and $40,000, respectively. Salinas was arrested on September 29, 2017, and bail was set at $100,000.
It is important to note that a criminal complaint contains charges that must be proven in a court of law. Every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
A copy of the complaint is attached to the electronic version of this release at oag.ca.gov.
If you are a servicemember who believes you may have been targeted by Romano's Jewelers, please contact the California Department of Justice. For those located in California, please call: 1-800-952-5225. For those located outside of California, please call: 1-916-322-3360.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra / Tuesday, October 3, 2017