New name, but scheme is the same

Disappointment: Lured into unpaid "training" by promises of high-paying jobs, most applicants to variants of the same scheme end up disillusioned and deep in debt.

August 08, 1999|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN STAFF

When Global Security Inc. advertises for new employees, the pitch is enticing: Come join a growing company and become an office manager for $15 an hour. No experience necessary.

Applicants arrive to find a U.S. map studded with push pins from New York to California next to a message board saying, "You pick a city!" By selling fire extinguishers and other safety equipment, a company manual exhorts, you can "Walk The Road To Riches."

The road instead almost always leads to a dead end of disappointment and debt, according to investigators and dozens of angry job applicants in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Many of them say they spent weeks working for the company for no wages, then paid as much as $12,000 apiece in exchange for managerial jobs that never materialized.

It is apparently a well-traveled road. Global Security's operation is the latest incarnation of a 13-year-old sales scheme that has left a trail of lawsuits, criminal charges, federal injunctions and disgruntled consumers across 39 states.

Company founders Paul W. Janoski, 30, and Robert Hironimus, 26, are veterans of the business, having worked for at least three previous companies with virtually identical tactics.

Whenever a bankruptcy, criminal prosecution or bad publicity has put one firm out of business, another has sprung up in its place, using similar scripts and slogans, sometimes even renting the same offices.

"It's like some grade-B movie where the monster dies and keeps coming back to life," said William Botts, a Legal Aid attorney in Fredericksburg, Va., who battled a predecessor company, International Safety Management Inc. "These guys are good, and they keep re-inventing themselves."

The regenerations continue despite a recurring pattern of complaints to public and private consumer protection agencies in Maryland and elsewhere. With few exceptions, government enforcers haven't taken action until prompted by private lawsuits.

That is the case for Global Security as well.

The company still enjoys a spotless record with the Maryland Better Business Bureau and has barely attracted the attention of either the Maryland attorney general's office or the Division of Labor and Industry.

The Pennsylvania attorney general's office only recently opened aninvestigation.

Private attorneys, meanwhile, filed a class action suit last month in Prince George's County on behalf of several hundred plaintiffs allegedly bilked by Global Security.

A second lawsuit was filed last week in Baltimore County on behalf of five other people.

Hironimus, in a brief interview, played down his company's problems, saying, "Basically there are a couple of disgruntled people getting everybody riled up. That's all this is."

As for his track record with similar companies, he said, "I don't remember. That was a long time ago. I worked my way up through the ranks."

He and Janoski refused to comment further after meeting Thursday with their attorney.

It begins with an ad

As lawsuits and disgruntled job applicants describe it, Global Security's operation works this way:

It appears that almost all applicants who respond to the company's newspaper ad (which recently ran in The Sun, the Washington Post, the York Record and other newspapers) are accepted as long as they pay $75 in cash for a "background check" that is almost never carried out.

They also pay a $95 deposit, seldom refunded, for a "sales kit" consisting of a small fire extinguisher, a cup, some lighter fluid, a pie plate and a book of matches.

This launches several weeks of no-wage "training," which applicants complete only by selling $2,000 to $5,000 worth of vastly overpriced safety equipment -- mostly a style of fire extinguishers that government regulators have deemed unsafe and environmentally unsound.

Buyers, usually family members or the salespeople themselves, complain that they seldom receive the merchandise they order.

Trainees who drop out along the way aren't paid, no matter how much they sell or how many hours they work.

Those who finish find out they won't get paid, either, unless they first sign a contract obligating them to pay a hefty nonrefundable "deposit," ranging from $4,000 to $12,000, to secure the new office they're supposed to manage.

Even that payment doesn't guarantee that either the office or any paychecks will materialize.

Those who try to get their money back generally don't.

The few who do get an office are expected to make their money the way Janoski and Hironimus do: by placing ads to lure a new stream of applicants who will pay fees, sell merchandise and make "deposits" for offices of their own.

A seductive sales pitch

Described this way, it's hard to imagine anyone paying a penny to work for Global Security. But for applicants the revelations come gradually and are interspersed with upbeat speeches and sales meetings promising a future income of at least $4,000 a month.

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