A Canadian telemarketer convicted of bilking victims while receiving government grants and tax breaks in Newfoundland is now allegedly running a similar operation in the United States.
That’s according to an investigation by NBC Miami.
CBC News assisted the American network affiliate with its probe.
In 2007, a Quebec judge banned Michael Mouyal from telemarketing business directories and office supplies for 10 years, and hit him with a $1-million fine for running a scam from several locations in Canada, including St. John’s.
Mouyal is currently being investigated by law enforcement authorities in Florida, according to NBC Miami.
He now runs a telemarketing outfit from a business park in Miramar, Fla.
One Mouyal company — called Smart Merchant Services — telemarkets business supplies. A number of affiliated companies sell extended warranty services on things like office equipment, cars and cell phones. Other operations peddle insurance for medical, travel and even identity theft.
Mouyal set up shop in Newfoundland more than a decade ago, thanks to a basket of federal job grants and provincial tax incentives on offer.
Ottawa approved a cash contribution of $287,000 to help Mouyal open a call centre in St. John’s. The Newfoundland operation also got so-called EDGE status from the province, qualifying it for a series of potentially-lucrative tax breaks.
Mouyal’s businesses operated under a number of names at the time, including Merchant Transaction Supplies, Merchant Supply Services and International Business Directories.
In 2000, following a series of critical media reports, police and federal agents raided Mouyal call centres in St. John’s, Toronto and its home base of Montreal. The St. John’s call centre shut down soon after.
Mouyal and a number of his senior executives were charged and later convicted of deceptive telemarketing.
One Mouyal executive got 18 months jail time.
According to court documents, the Mouyal group of companies generated gross sales of $136.8 million between 1994 and 2001. Mouyal personally pulled down more than $2.8 million in earnings from 1995 to 2000.
Mouyal admitted to "exercising control, direction and management over all aspects of the business operations," Quebec Court judge Elizabeth Corte wrote in her 2007 sentencing decision.
His telemarketers led people to believe they were existing customers of products like business directories and office supplies. Mouyal companies charged inflated prices for things like toner cartridges, with mark-ups as much as 700 per cent higher than normal retail prices.
The Crown asked for a three-year jail term for Mouyal and a $2-million fine.
But the judge instead accepted a defence submission that no jail time should be imposed.
Mouyal got a $1-million fine, was put on two years probation, and ordered to perform 240 hours of community service.
He also received a 10-year prohibition order from selling business directories or commercial supplies.
Back in business
But Michael Mouyal is now back in business, this time in Florida.
NBC Miami spoke with Mouyal telemarketers who alleged that they impersonate other businesses to get information, and charge fees without providing any services in return.
"Usually when I call, I make them think I’m someone else," one of the current telemarketers told NBC. "I make them think that this is not Smart Merchant Services. This is ... the insurance company, and they’ll say, 'Oh, from Allstate?' 'Yeah, it's from Allstate.' And then they'll give me their information."
Neither Mouyal nor his wife agreed to talk to NBC about their telemarketing business.
While Mouyal call centres were previously based in Canada, the company ran a warehouse out of Miami. Because of that local address, Florida state investigators received more than 150 consumer complaints about the company a decade ago.
Today, Mouyal's telemarketing operations are again attracting the attention of law-enforcement agencies, according to NBC.
Edgar Rodriguez, who owns El Fogon restaurant in Miramar, Fla., told NBC that Smart Merchant Services telemarketers are calling his employees twice a week claiming to be the vendor for his business equipment.
Rodriguez says he has lost $200 or so. But he says it's not the amount that bothers him, it's the dishonesty.
"These people (are) still making millions out there and they’re still, you know, free."