Am I a scammer?

Here’s a paradox for you. I did something really bad, but turned it into something really good. Does that make my action good or bad?

Right, context.

When I first decided to go back to work, I took advantage of a government program offered by my state. This service would help me build my resume, get around the lack of work for the past six years, and also give me a job coach to help me apply and keep on track. My job coach was an idiot.

Her idea of looking for work meant carousing Craig’s List, which is probably the worst place to find legitimate work. Red flags up all the way, I submitted applications to jobs she directed me too, while also applying to other places. I got a call back from a Craig’s Lister, went to this interview, and the guy hired me on the spot. Probably more to do with the fact my job coach happened to be gorgeous, and he was more than happy to have her stop in.

She was excited, and got me excited. I didn’t have a car at the time, and social services was more than happy to shell out the money for a cab back and forth until I got a car. And with the money I would be making, it would be more than enough to help me afford one.

I quickly found out this job was scamming seniors. We sold refurbished medical alert buttons as “brand new,” over the phone. Often, they didn’t even work. We lied constantly, claiming A ratings with the BBB (we had an F), a website (nope), and deception to hide the actual amount of the unit. And God forbid you wanted to return it. You had to pay a “restocking fee” to do so, and that fee was based on my boss’s mood at the moment.

My job coach offered me no direction, or help, in trying to get out of this job. She constantly reminded me, when I finally got the car and wanted out, that they paid for the cab. I owed them. Her excuse was that it was work, and I should do the work. Something tells me her paycheck depended on me having work, and if I lost my job, she would have negative repercussions. My boss, on the other hand, given I had Social Security and needed to report my income, constantly reminded me that he had dirt. Like my social security number, my parent’s address. He apparently stopped by my house once when I had the flu, “to make sure I was really sick.” I felt like I couldn’t even really tell my job coach what was actually happening.

My boss was also, as you can tell, abusive. He would walk in everyday and tell me to kill myself. He would also tell me to do something, then yell at me for it, claiming he didn’t remember telling me to do it so he must not have. Even his partner had it with the abuse he was giving me. All the while this man was holding vital information he could sell to the black market if he wanted too, and vague threats about knowing my mother’s address. It was a shitty situation all around.

And I felt a mix of guilt and pride in everything I did for the company. I was proud of my work, I ran that office. I really wasn’t in sales, and while I was forced on the phones now and again, my job was more back end. I hadn’t worked in six long years, collecting disability for an injury. I was working, I was contributing. From six years of recovering in a bed I built an effective office structure and ran it. There is a passage in Orwell’s, 1984, that talks about this phenomenon. You’re hired to do a job, and most people want to do their job well. So when you do it well it carries pride. Even when you know it’s wrong. Even when it defies your very ethics. Sometimes that pride is all you have, and you cherish it. It makes you feel better as you do something very wrong, because it gives you approval, moral. Something.

And at some point, I lost even that. Doing my job well became more to do with actual fear of my boss than anything pride related. The workplace was violent and unpredictable. Fights broke out, getting physical. No, I was never hit. I think some of the men there would not have allowed that to happen, so I felt safe from a physical altercation. But the verbal abuse didn’t make me feel better about it. Don’t even get me started on the blatant drug abuse happening.

So, I scammed seniors. I called elderly people and sold them a completely defective device and lied about it. I convinced them they needed this. I had their insurance information, doctor’s name, their address. I don’t know where my boss got his lists, but they were complete, and the information was more than convincing to most seniors. I stapled all their account information to the front of the file, gave a copy of that to the salesperson for their records (still with the information on it, which they took home), and put it right by the filing bookshelf left at the front door for any person who wandered in to take. Unlocked.

I wanted to walk away. But, my rent and electric bills, any of my bills, they could care less about my ethical feelings about the job. So, I had to keep going until I found another one. But, it was the holiday season. Over-saturation was a problem, I guess. Most legit jobs don’t hire you on the spot either. I sent out resumes hoping.

Finally, I had reached a last straw: my paycheck bounced. Three weeks before Christmas, when I had a deal with the Vet (poor kitty got sick) that I would pay her weekly payments on the bill every Friday (payday). And I couldn’t. She was, thankfully, understanding. Confused, but understanding. I had the check, I showed her the check, it was just worthless. When Monday rolled around, I demanded my check, told them I was going to cash it at their bank, and then once I had the cash in hand, I called them and told them I wasn’t coming back.

The office scrambled because no one else bothered to learn how to run it, even the boss. He couldn’t even get into his email. I got calls all day. Finally I picked up and said, “tell him to pretend I killed myself, like he told me to do everyday.” Then blocked every last one of them. To be honest, I was happy to be gone. I would have just put that blip out of my life forever. I wish I could say I was noble here, but I was scared. I was scared he may show up to my house because I wouldn’t help them in the scramble. For once I was happy to have a neighbor downstairs who called the police for any reason whatsoever. And also spied on anyone entering or exiting the building. And was also racist (since my boss wore a yam-mica, it was easy to tell he was Jewish, and she didn’t like Jews). Thank God for small favors, I guess. One point in favor of racist, paranoid, nosey neighbors.

I was also scared the job coach would come after me to collect the cab money, since I technically had broken the contract with them as well. And, now that I lacked work, had no extra income to pay it back if they did.

He forced my hand.

Social security knew I had the job, and likes to collect certain income back. It bases your correct pay, not just on the paychecks I’d been submitting, but also your IRS tax forms. The ones he never filed. We know what happens when you do that, right? If Al Capone couldn’t get away with it, I don’t know why he, as a small-time crook, thought he could.

I filled out whatever forms the IRS sent me, and called every number the IRS told me to call. It eventually reached the state prosecutor’s office who called me and built their case based on everything I told them. And I held nothing back. I also had a verbal contract on my silence, which is why I never spoke about this before. Five years of unprocessed guilt and fear.

In April of 2018, they settled. Most people will not even get a quarter of what they paid back. Some may not even be alive to. It turns out he had run this same scam three separate times under three separate companies for a number of years. They were looking for him. Anytime they got close, he would close shop and sign up a new partner to hold a new company name. I guess he underestimated how much I would have jumped on any opportunity to report him without fear of repercussion (what was he going to say to me, how dare you for me forgetting you reported your income to Social Security). He was also a convicted felon in New York, for trying to scam the insurance on a jewelry business he co-owned. And he was wanted for failing to pay back a previous civil suit, in which he telemarketed as a debt consolidation company. This fine got added to the new civil suit. Which means he probably won’t pay this one either, given his track record for not paying two other fines he owed on. No one will get their money back, will they?

Safety Alert Settlement

The above link will take you to the State of NJ’s official statement of the lawsuit and settlement. It’s over.

No, it’s so not over. It reopened under a new name in a different location by their third investor in the business I worked under. I don’t know, nor can I prove, that he is in any way still partnered with that investor. And until people start complaining to the FTC that they have lost money, the prosecutor can’t do anything but keep an eye on them from afar. In this country, you have the benefit of the doubt, even when, logically, we all know what you are doing, Jerry.

To those that stumbled here, and this story sounds uncomfortably familiar to you, or a family member, I am sorry. I don’t know how to forgive me either. I’m hoping that actively following up, speaking out, and agreeing to bring this man down for no benefit and completely terrified, served some penance. If he failed to settle, I was prepared to go to trial for you.

The job coach was fired, as was the boss of the agency. A complete overhaul and retraining was done to prevent other clients from falling into the cracks. I have cut ties with the service entirely.

Then I got a call from the FBI asking me questions about my scammer boss. They didn’t say why, or ask me for silence. They wouldn’t tell me anything. But, I will tell them everything they want to know. As long as they will remain proactive, so will I.

Here we go again…

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