LARGO, Florida - The owner of a local telemarketing business accused of defrauding customers and employees has shut down his office after questions from the 10 News Investigators.
James Tom Graham was illegally using telemarketers to pitch financial help/debt reduction services. Several former employees of Financial Knowledge Network (also known as Financial Educational Services and Life Financial Services) called the 10 News Investigators when Graham stopped paying them.
According to the employees and hundreds of complaints sent to consumer groups and the Florida attorney general, Graham's company would charge debt-saddled consumers between $695 to $1,095. Consumers were promised a $3,000 reduction in debt, but most found they never received any savings.
Graham, 52, who once pitched a reality show based on his telemarketing company, had neither the proper telemarketing licensing from the Florida Department of Consumer Services nor the proper financial licensing from the CFO's office. Last year, Financial Knowledge Network was denied a license.
Graham, who admitted he owed many employees, vendors, and the IRS money, has a history of shutting down business offices and re-opening in new locations, sometimes with a new company name.
Victim of Tom Graham's company? File a complaint with each agency:
Florida Attorney General
Florida Dept. of Financial Services
DOACS (telemarketing regulations)
US Dept. of Labor
Graham has been operating without the proper licensing for years, but has remained under the radar of state regulators by utilizing many company names:
- Financial Knowledge Network
- Financial Educational Services
- Life Financial Services Group
- Financial Freedom Resources
- Debt Free Resources
- Qualified Holdings & Management, Inc.
His most recent company, Life Financial Services Group, was created under an associate's name, Regina Wright, who indicated to 10 News that Graham was in charge.
Another one of Graham's associates, Todd Myers, is serving 20 years probation for Grand Theft. He was convicted in 2008 of cheating a local medical business of more than $100,000. Former Life Financial employees say Myers was Graham's financial expert and in charge of squeezing customers as much as possible.
The 10 News Investigators, using public documents and interviews, estimate the amount Graham owes could top $100,000.
The convicted felon (battery, criminal mischief) said he was "broke" and had to sell three of his five cars. He also said he stopped making payments on his $1.7 million waterfront home in Gulfport, but continues to live there.
Graham's long history of legal troubles even pre-date his telemarketing experience, as he lost a 2004 Breach of Contract lawsuit. More than $2,200 of his wages were garnished at the time.
Graham has also called the Largo Police Department (LPD) numerous times from his offices after former employees came to the building to seek back wages. Once, LPD responded to a fight between Graham and an active female employee.
Financial Knowledge Network was also kicked off the state's employment board for requiring employees to attend unpaid trainings. It was there that they were taught how to deceive callers on the other end, according to former employees.
"We didn't tell (customers) what it would cost," Patty Davis, a former telemarketer for Financial Educational Services. "That wasn't our job.
"We had a script and it would say, 'I need to check the status of your credit card to make sure you qualify,'" Davis continued. "Once we got their credit card, a 'closer' would take over."
Davis said clients were charged up to $1,000 up front for debt reduction services, which is a violation of FTC Debt Relief Services & Telemarketing Sales laws. Graham maintains he followed the letter of the law and was merely providing "debt education."
The Department of Labor is also currently investigating the unpaid wages.
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