Accused business shuts 2 Md. sites

Safety-equipment sales company faces lawsuits, scrutiny

August 13, 1999|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

A Maryland company that has been accused in lawsuits of bilking customers in a slick sales scheme has closed two of its three offices in Maryland amid rumblings that three government agencies are considering investigations.

Global Security Inc., which suggests that prospective applicants can "walk the road to riches" after paying up to $12,000 in start-up fees, abruptly closed its offices in Glen Burnie and Towson this week. An office in Laurel remains open.

"We were forced to shut offices down because of the bad publicity," said Paul W. Janoski, one of two chief executives at Global Security, referring to a Sunday story in The Sun that detailed the company's business practices. "The Baltimore area is not someplace we're looking to even deal with right now."

Janoski vehemently denied that the company had misled anyone, and he accused a small minority of disgruntled people of stirring up trouble.

"No matter what kind of a company you're running, you're bound to make some people unhappy," Janoski said. "You'll have those problems even if you're running a church."

The Lancaster, Pa.-based company, which Janoski says has 10 offices in four states, has been the target of consumer complaints and lawsuits from people who say they were misled through deceptive sales pitches into spending thousands of dollars.

Typically, recruits to the company are required to undergo several weeks of training without pay while they sell fire extinguishers and other safety equipment. They are then often required to pay a nonrefundable deposit between $4,000 and $12,000 to secure an office they are supposed to manage.

Lawyers for the former contractors and a Baltimore advocacy group said yesterday that they have forwarded information about the business to the U.S. attorney's office in Maryland and to the Federal Trade Commission.

"The people that were hurt had their lives really messed up and ruined," said Nevett Steele Jr., a Towson attorney who contacted the U.S. attorney's office Monday.

Lynne A. Battaglia, Maryland's U.S. attorney, refused to comment yesterday on whether an investigation has begun. But a source in the office said a preliminary inquiry is under way.

The FTC is looking into any possible violations Global Security may have committed in connection with a 1991 restraining order it filed against a Kentucky company called Safety Plus, according to a letter sent recently to Civil Justice, the Baltimore advocacy group.

Janoski and his partner at Global Security, Robert W. Hironimus, worked for Safety Plus. The company came under similar criticism for alleged deceptive practices.

Also taking a look at Global Security is the Maryland attorney general's office, which reported yesterday that it has received roughly a half-dozen consumer complaints against the business alleging deceptive advertising.

"We have had complaints and we continue to look into them," said Frank Mann, a spokesman for the attorney general's office. "We encourage anyone who may have had a problem with the company to contact us. We're very interested in it."

Janoski said the decision to close two of the company's three Maryland offices was also made because The Sun won't let him advertise in the "Help Wanted" classified section. His company is allowed to advertise only in the "Employment Opportunity" classified section because Global Security requires new applicants to make an investment before employment is secured.

"If you can't advertise, how can you run a business?" Janoski said. "We were forced to make some decisions. We were getting harassing phone calls from people. A lot of people who ordered products a week ago decided we were running a scam."

Janoski added that his company has helped numerous people find gainful employment. But he refused to allow a reporter to speak with any of them.

"We have a lot of satisfied people working for us," he said, adding that there are no plans to close the company's office in Laurel.

"It's business as usual for right now," he said. "We're a very young company and we're trying to build a good reputation. I consider myself to be pretty respectable."

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