Suit will claim fraud in sweepstakes seeking magazine subscriptions Florida clearinghouse will name winner today

January 30, 1998|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Two Georgetown University law professors plan to file a class-action suit in Prince George's County Circuit Court today, alleging the marketing campaign for the $11 million American Family Publishers sweepstakes is a fraud that violates state law.

Also today, the sweepstakes winner is scheduled to be announced.

Professors Anthony Cook and Gary Peller claim that mailings sent by the Florida-based clearinghouse mislead consumers into thinking they are finalists and that they increase their chances of winning by ordering magazines.

"It's all lies," said Peller, who teaches contract and tort law at Georgetown.

Peller and Cook, who teaches civil rights and corporate law, are filing suit on behalf of three people in Anne Arundel County and one in Prince George's County, who received the mailings and responded over the past year.

Peller said he expects others to join the suit as plaintiffs once word of it circulates. To qualify as a plaintiff, the person must live in Maryland and have responded to the mailing, he said.

He said up to 25,000 people in Maryland may have responded, either by buying magazines or by sending a completed form to American Family Publishers' Tampa, Fla., offices.

Spokesmen for American Family Publishers were unavailable last night.

But Peller said the mailings violate the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits mailings that have a "potential to mislead consumers," and laws governing fraud established by the Maryland courts.

"This is clearly misleading marketing. Every piece of mailing I've seen makes the representation that the person has been specifically selected and that they have a better chance of winning if they order magazines," Peller said.

He said that the marketing tactic dupes mostly the poor and the elderly.

"A lot of poor people are spending money they really can't afford on this," he said.

In a mailing the plaintiffs say was distributed over the past year, American Family Publishers informs the recipient that he or she is one of two finalists in the running for an $11 million jackpot.

"You and one other person in Maryland were issued the winning number. Whoever returns it first wins it all," the notice says. It gives Jan. 21 as a deadline for mailing in the notice.

Peller said a similar suit filed in New Jersey in 1995 resulted in a private settlement.

Pub Date: 1/30/98

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