UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
AMENDED COMPLAINT FOR INJUNCTIVE AND OTHER EQUITABLE RELIEF
Plaintiff Federal Trade Commission ("Commission"), by its undersigned attorneys, for its complaint alleges:
1. The Commission brings this action under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 53(b), to secure preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, rescission of contracts, restitution, disgorgement, and other equitable relief for defendant(s)' deceptive and unfair acts and practices in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a).
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
2. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331(a), 1337(a), and 1345, and 15 U.S.C. §§ 45(a) and 53(b).
3. Venue in the District of the District of Columbia is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(d) and 15 U.S.C. § 53(b).
4. Plaintiff Federal Trade Commission is an independent agency of the United States government created by the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 41-58. The Commission enforces the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce. The Commission is authorized to initiate federal district court proceedings by its own attorneys, to enjoin violations of the FTC Act, and to secure such equitable relief as is appropriate in each case, including restitution and disgorgement. 15 U.S.C. § 53(b).
5. Defendant Mountain View Systems, Ltd. is an Israeli company with its principal place of business at 89 Rechov Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, Israel.
6. Defendant Wheelie International Limited is an Bahamian company with its principal place of business at 89 Rechov Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, Israel and registered office in Nassau, Bahamas.
7. Defendant Aladdin Travel, Inc. is a North Carolina company with its principal place of business at 3305 Durham Drive, Suite 111, Raleigh, North Carolina and registered office at 1308 Claymore Drive, Garner, North Carolina. Aladdin Travel, Inc. does business as Aladdin Financial Management and University Systems.
8. Defendant S.C. Hyacinth S.R.L. is a Romanian company with its principal place of business at 46 Fabrica de Chibrituri Street, Bucharest, Romania and registered office at 25 C.A. Rosetti Street, Ground Floor, Apartment 2, Sector 2, Bucharest, Romania.
9. Defendant Jason Matthieu Abraham is an officer and director of Defendants. He is also known as Yaakov Abraham. Individually or in concert with others, he directs, controls, formulates or participates in the acts and practices set forth herein.
10. Defendant Caroline Shallon is an officer and director of Defendants. She is also known as Caroline Abraham and Chaya Rochel Abraham. Individually or in concert with others, she directs, controls, formulates or participates in the acts and practices set forth herein.
11. Defendant Charles Fogel is an officer and director of Defendants. He is also known as Charlie Lewis. Individually or in concert with others, he directs, controls, formulates or participates in the acts and practices set forth herein.
12. Defendants have operated as a common business enterprise while engaging in the deceptive acts and practices alleged herein, and are therefore jointly and severally liable for said acts and practices. This common enterprise transacts or has transacted business in this district.
13. Defendants' course of trade is in or affecting commerce within the meaning of Section 4 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 44.
BACKGROUND CONCERNING INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMITS
14. The United Nations Convention on Road Traffic of 1949 ("Road Traffic Convention") was promulgated to establish certain uniform rules for international road traffic. The U.S. and over 150 other countries are signatories to this convention. The contracting countries agreed to allow legally-admitted visitors from other contracting countries to drive on their roads, if the visitors have a valid driver's license issued by another contracting country or subdivision thereof.
15. The Road Traffic Convention created a document called an International Driving Permit ("IDP") to facilitate this reciprocal agreement. An IDP is a booklet that translates a person's government-issued driver's license into the official languages of the United Nations (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish) and up to six other languages chosen by the issuing country. Its purpose is to reduce confusion caused by language barriers between local police and foreign drivers carrying foreign-language driver's licenses.
16. The Road Traffic Convention provides that IDPs must be issued by the same country that issued the person's driver's license or by a duly authorized association designated by that country. This requirement ensures that IDPs are issued only to persons who hold a valid driver's license from their home country. This requirement also ensures that translations in IDPs are truthful and accurate.
17. Valid IDPs must conform to the model set forth in Annex 10 of the Road Traffic Convention concerning color, size, and required information. The name of the issuing country must be printed at the top of the front cover and a seal or stamp of that country's governmental unit or association empowered to issue IDPs must be affixed to the middle of the front cover.
18. Annex 10 requires the IDP to include the following five pieces of information about the driver: surname, other names, place of birth, date of birth and permanent place of residence. The signatory country or its authorized association must affix its seal or stamp next to the category of vehicles the driver is licensed to operate. The driver's photograph and signature must be affixed on the last page of the IDP.
19. Some countries require visiting tourists to carry an IDP along with their home country driver's licenses, but most do not. The U.S. State Department encourages U.S. citizens and residents to obtain an IDP and carry it with their driver's license if they plan to drive in countries where English is not the primary language.
20. The U.S. Department of State has designated the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance as the only organizations authorized to issue IDPs on behalf of the U.S. These organizations issue IDPs for $10, but only to persons who are eighteen years of age or older and have a valid driver's license issued by a U.S. state or territory.
21 Residents of countries that are signatories to the Road Traffic Convention may drive legally in the United States if they have a valid license from their country of residence. They are not required to carry an IDP.
22. A valid IDP does not do the following:
DEFENDANTS' BUSINESS PRACTICES
23 Defendants market and sell phony international drivers' licenses via unsolicited commercial emails ("UCE" also known as ')unk email" or "spam") and the Internet. Defendants send out the junk email using the following email addresses, among others: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, medehvs@~ahoo.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, hervetoIQ@aol.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, aowao@jubiiQost.dk, eI6077@mail.ru, email@example.com, rxzoQ@suisse.org, opoux@luso.Qt, and firstname.lastname@example.orgQi.Qt. In numerous instances, consumers are unable to reply to these addresses because the addresses have been forged.
24. Defendants' junk email reads as follows:
25. Defendants' junk email provides consumers with one of several telephone numbers ("Telephone Numbers") to call to order. Telephone Numbers include 770-908-3949, 770-492-2925,206-706-2665,602-230-5208, 602-230-4335, 713-866-4056, and 713-867-3477. The Telephone Numbers ring to voicemail boxes maintained by commercial voicemail companies. Consumers calling the Telephone Numbers hear a recorded message informing them that they have reached the Institute for International Licensing. The message instructs consumers to leave their name, daytime phone number and evening phone number and that someone will call them back.
26. Defendants also market and sell phony international drivers licenses via the Internet. Defendants maintain several Internet websites, including www.i-d-l.org and www.henryheston.com.cnchost.com/driving. The websites are identical in content. Through the Internet websites, Defendants represent that (1) consumers may use Defendants' international drivers' licenses to drive with suspended licenses; (2) consumers do not need to have valid drivers' licenses to drive as long as they use Defendants international drivers' licenses (3) consumers may use Defendants' international drivers' licenses to obtain automobile insurance; (4) consumers can avoid points on their driving records by using Defendants international drivers' licenses; and (5) Defendants' international drivers' licenses are valid identification, and may be used as, among other things, an alternative to passports. Defendants' Internet website guarantees that Defendants' international driver's license is a valid IDP. The Internet website directs consumers to call 770-496-4304 to contact Defendants.
27 As with the Telephone Numbers contained in Defendants' junk emails, consumers have reached the Institute for International Licensing. The message instructs consumers to leave their name, daytime phone number and evening phone number and that someone will call them back.
28. Whether responding to the junk email or the website, shortly after leaving his or her name and phone numbers, Defendants' representatives contact the consumer. Defendants' representative states that the international driver's license offered by the Institute for International Licensing costs $375.00 and is valid in 200 countries, including all 50 states in the United States as well as Canada.
29. In some instances, the representative then states that he or she will send the consumer a fax containing more information about the international driver's license and how to order it. Shortly thereafter, Defendants send a two page fax to consumers. The fax's letterhead states Institute for International Licensing and lists a London, England address. Defendants' phone number, however, is listed as an Atlanta, Georgia number. Defendants' fax number is listed as a Massachusetts number. The fax states that for $375, Defendants will send the consumer two separate international driving licenses -one will contain the consumer's home address or any other address the consumer wants, and the other will be registered to an overseas, English speaking country. The consumer will also receive a rubber stamp with the official seal of the Institute for International Licensing. The fax confirms that both licenses are valid in over 200 countries.
30. The second page of Defendants' fax is an authorization for Defendants' to charge the consumer's credit card. The fax states that an entity by the name of "Hyacinth Romania" will charge the consumer's card, and the consumer is directed to call their credit card issuer and tell them that a company from Europe will be posting a charge to the consumer's card. The consumer is instructed to complete the authorization form and fax it to Defendants along with a copy of the front and back of the consumer's credit card.
31 In other instances, instead of sending the prospective customer a fax and requesting that a copy of the customer's credit card be faxed back, Defendants' representatives complete the transaction by telephone. Defendants' representatives take required information and ask for the consumer's credit card or checking account number. Consumers can also pay by wire transfer and Defendants send consumers an email containing wire transfer instruction.
32. After payment is received, Defendants send customers a package containing an introductory letter, two international driving licenses, and a rubber stamp bearing the seal of the Institute for International Licensing.
VIOLATIONS OF SECTION 5 OF THE FTC ACT
33. In numerous instances, Defendants represent, expressly or by implication, that Defendants' international driver's license authorizes consumers to drive legally in the United States.
34. In truth and fact, Defendants' international driver's license does not authorize consumers to drive legally in the United States.
35. Therefore, the representations set forth in paragraph 33 are false and misleading and constitute deceptive acts and practices in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a).
36. In numerous instances, Defendants represent, expressly or by implication, that consumers who purchase Defendants' international driver's license may use it to avoid points for traffic violations and to avoid sanctions for driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license.
37. In truth and fact, consumers who purchase Defendants' international driver's license may not use Defendants' international driver's license to avoid points for traffic violations and to avoid sanctions for driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license.
38. Therefore, the representations set forth in paragraph 36 are false and misleading and constitute deceptive acts and practices in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a).
39, In numerous instances, Defendants represent, expressly or by implication, that their international driver's license can be used in the United States as an identification document in the same ways a person can use a government-issued photo identification document.
40. In truth and fact, Defendants' international driver's license cannot be used in the United States as an identification document in the same ways a person can use a government issued photo identification document.
41. Therefore, the representations set forth in paragraph 39 are false and misleading and constitute deceptive acts and practices in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a).
42. Consumers throughout the United States have been injured and will continue to be injured by Defendants' violations of the FTC Act as set forth above. In addition, Defendants have been unjustly enriched as a result of their unlawful acts and practices. Absent injunctive relief by this Court, Defendants are likely to continue to injure consumers, reap unjust enrichment, and harm the public.
THIS COURT'S POWER TO GRANT RELIEF
43. Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, 15 U..S.C. § 53(b), empowers this Court to grant injunctive and other ancillary relief, including rescission of contracts, disgorgement and restitution, or other forms of redress or disgorgement, to prevent and remedy violations of any provision of law enforced by the Commission.
PRAYER FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff requests that this Court, as authorized by Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 53(b), and pursuant to its own equitable powers:
Dated: February 21, 2003
William E. Kovacic
GREGORY A. ASHE