A class-action suit is accusing DirecTV of deliberately misleading minority-owned small businesses owners into buying residential service, then coercing them into settlements for illegal usage of the services in business environments.
Doneyda Perez, owner of Oneida’s Beauty and Barber Salon in Garden Grove, California, said DirecTV conspired with New York lawyer Julie Cohen Lonstein to “extort an unreasonable and unconscionable ‘settlement’” from her.
She said DirecTV sales reps walked into her salon in 2014 and sold her a service that she said was, unbeknownst to her, residential. Later, she said, she notified by Lonstein that she was breaking the law by using the service in her salon. She said she was coerced into a settlement with Lonstein and DirecTV.
"Without the business owners being made aware, defendants designate the accounts as 'residential,' despite the fact that defendants solicited Ms. Perez and those similarly situated because they were small business owners,” according to court documents obtained and reported on by Courthouse News Service.
After the residential service was established in her salon, Perez’s suit claims, Cohen Lonstein sent “independent auditors” to her business.
"Using the results of these audits, defendants then send legal correspondence to the business owners alleging that they have 'pirated' or stolen satellite cable television services, and threaten legal action unless the owners agree to pay thousands of dollars and/or become business subscribers,” the suit added.
Perez said she was "misled and fraudulently induced" into settling and began paying $500 per month to meet settlement terms.
As the news service reported, the case is nearly identical to a RICO class action filed against DirecTV and Cohen Lonstein in Middlesex, N.J. last October by another Latino salon owner. That case was withdrawn a month later. In her complaint, Angela Joaquin also accuses DirecTV and Cohen Lonstein of targeting minority businesses owners.
Meanwhile, in 2013, the Dallas Morning News reported on a rash of similar business-owner complaints against DirecTV and Lonstein, claiming they were also coerced into $15,000 settlements.
Complaints have also emerged from places like Eden, Utah.
Reps for DirecTV parent AT&T didn’t immediately have a statement for FierceCable.