The Secretary of State and the Attorney General say there is little they can do to stop a bogus solicitation of $125 from businesses; the U.S. Postal Service thinks there may be the basis to bring criminal charges against the operation. The solicitation falsely claims businesses need to pay it to meet state law.
“It is an open investigation that might have criminal liabilities,” U.S. Postal Inspector Stephen Souza said Friday. Souza said the Postal Service has “received a number of calls” from people who have paid $125 to the Rhode Island Corporate Compliance Business Services Division. The company lists an address of 68 Dorrence St. in Providence.
Souza has also been working with Christopher Barnett of the Secretary of State’s office that has received about 170 calls concerning the two-page letter and return envelope mailed to corporations across the state within the last three weeks. The letters, with an official looking seal, cite the Rhode Island Business Corporations Act saying that corporations are required to keep complete books, including minutes of meetings and the names and addresses of shareholders.
The letter further says, “maintaining records is vital to the existence of all corporations” and that those that fail to do so “personal liability could possibly be put on directors and shareholders.”
Rhode Island Corporate Compliance claims it assists corporations in avoiding non-compliance and asks for a form listing the principals in the company, information on shares owned and a payment of $125. A reply is requested by March 1.
It’s the fine print at the bottom of the letter that has made it difficult for the state to close the operation. The address leads to a post office box. Barnett has called the listed 800 phone number but gotten nothing but music.
The fine print says that the product or service has not been approved or endorsed by any government agency; nor is the offer being made by a government agency. Finally – in fine print – it reads, “You are under no obligation to make any payments on account of this offer unless you accept this offer U.S.C.39 & 3001(d).”
“It appears to be nothing illegal,” Barnett said.
He added that this is not the first time the Secretary of State has encountered this kind of solicitation.
“They have done a disclaimer and they’re very careful in the wording,” he said.
Barnett said businesses are required to maintain records under the law, but there is no provision that they must file a report at this time. However, at this time of year businesses are required to pay a $50 report-filing fee with the Secretary of State. Barnett said some of those companies that have paid the $125 are under the impression that they were fulfilling their state obligation. He doesn’t see the timing as happenstance.
“We have seen these things and they always pop up at the same time,” he said.
“Rule number one,” he said, “is ‘never write a check to a solicitation via letter or fax.’”
Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for the Attorney General, was aware of the solicitation and that a number of corporations had been bilked out of $125. She said it does not appear that Rhode Island Corporate Compliance had broken any law and that the Attorney General was not actively pursuing the matter.
Souza, of the Postal Service, did not disclose on what grounds it could bring criminal action against Rhode Island Corporate Compliance.
“Any potential criminal act that uses the mail, we are investigating,” he said. He said the investigation would be “completed fairly quickly.”