A South Florida man and his wife are at the center of criminal investigations, and allegations of widespread fraudulent telemarketing targeting people and their bank accounts nationwide.
But several of Michael Mouyal's own telemarketers say victims might not even notice.
The chicken is getting grilled at El Fogon restaurant, but the busy small business owner says he’s getting burned, by telemarketers.
“And they have my bank information and everything," complains owner Edgar Rodriguez. "And I don’t even know how they got it.”
Rodriguez says telemarketers from “Smart Merchant Services,” which has a professional looking website, have been calling his employees twice a week for years claiming to be his business equipment vendor. They are not. His bank shows small monthly withdrawals, listed only as “key components,” without permission and no actual service provided at all.
"It’s unbelievable that these people are still out there doing what they’re doing," he says. "And it’s ridiculous.”
And telemarketers who have spoken to NBC Miami say there are many other small businesses being targeted nationwide. For example, a tiny Mexican restaurant in Brawley, California, another one in Los Angeles, another in New Jersey, at least one branch of a Texas bank.
Sometimes the businesses end up receiving rolls of paper for their office equipment, but often nothing at all.
We spoke with four telemarketers for "Smart Merchant Services" who say they work in a building in a Miramar, Florida corporate office park. Two of them agreed to do on camera interviews, but asked that their faces and voices be hidden due to fear of retaliation.
"Yea. There’s no service provided,” said one of them about the telemarketing businesses for which he makes sales calls.
“There’s no service provided at all?” a reporter asked.
“So just charge a monthly fee for absolutely nothing?”
“For as long as you can get away with it?”
“For as long as you can get away with it.”
The second telemarketer described their sales strategy.
“Usually when I call, I make them think I’m someone else. I make them think that this is not 'Smart Merchant Services.' This is…a company from the insurance company, and they’ll say, ‘oh, from Allstate?’ ‘Yeah, it’s from Allstate.’ And then they’ll give me their information.”
But it goes far beyond "Smart Merchant Services." NBC Miami has learned from telemarketers, law enforcement, and state records that a dozen or so affiliated companies are selling “extended warranties” to repair your office equipment ("Smart Merchant Services"), your car ("Auto Members of America"), cell phone ("Mobile Assurity"), appliances ("Home Assure"), and more. Other companies sell insurance for medical ("OnCallMD"), travel("Travel Insurance Program"), unemployment ("Constant Paycheck"), even identity theft ("Identity Assurance"). Telemarketers we interviewed say the companies can bring in potentially millions of dollars from small monthly bank withdrawals but providing little or no service in return.
They all have one thing in common.
He goes to work most days in the same South Florida offices those telemarketers say the call center is based.
“He’s the mastermind in all this and we’re all his puppets,” says a telemarketer. He was asked, “You feel badly doing this?”
“Do I feel bad? I mean, I don’t know what else to do. I mean, I know it’s bad. I know what he’s doing is bad but I mean it’s the only income I have.”
NBC Miami tried to talk with Mouyal, and his wife. Neither wanted to talk about their telemarketing business.
Business must be good. Miami Dade County records say Mouyal and wife Kasey Crouch Mouyal live in an estate in Pinecrest.
NBC Miami has learned Mouyal, his wife and his operation are being investigated by law enforcement authorities. That follows an extensive investigation more than a decade ago by Florida state investigators who received more than 150 consumer complaints, according to the lead state investigator on that case and news accounts at the time.
But Mouyal's biggest troubles came in Canada where court records say he did much the same thing there.
In 2007, armed police raided Mouyal’s offices in Montreal, Toronto and St. Johns. The Queen’s Court accepted Mouyal’s guilty plea to false or misleading telemarketing from 1994 to 2001.
"They’re aggressive and they’re out there to make money. And they’ll do it any which way they can,” Gus LeForge, Phonebuster Police Unit told the Canadian Broadcasting Company several years ago.
News accounts in Canada and in Barbados reported workers for Mouyal in Barbados rioted after not getting paid at his offshore call center there, where one unhappy worker yelled "where's my money!" into a TV news camera.
The Canadian government says Mouyal grossed $137 million back then, but fined him $1 million.
One former Mouyal telemarketer, who also asked that his name not be published, said he can hardly believe Mouyal appears to be at it again in America.
"I was really surprised he did not get any jail time" in Canada.
One of Mouyal’s South Florida telemarketers says he recently put pulled his phone out and started recording a sales meeting as Mouyal chastised them.
“How can you do this job and not write orders? It’s, it’s depressing….It’s something in the approach that you’re not doing….You have to make you’re an actor! You’ve got to create problems for them!...Because I’m smarter than them!...I’m telling them what’s going on. I’m not asking them. I TELLING them. You guys are all calling and you’re ASKING people!”
In the same recording, we hear an actual attempt to get a bank account number out of an employee at Chavelo’s Restaurant in tiny Buda, Texas.
“And we’ll bill it to your account that we already have in our system. And I’m just trying to, which we’ll have obviously, uh, and I’ll call you back just to verify it one more time so that I get the right banking information so that we’re properly debiting you correctly.”
The Internet is full of people angry at Mouyal and his companies. One of them, Metropolitan Benefits Group, was reviewed by the Southeast Florida Better Business Bureau and given an “F.”
Rodriguez, the El Fogon Restaurant owner, says he lost $200 or so. It’s not the amount that bothers him. He’s says it’s simply dishonest. "These people still making millions out there and they’re still, you know, free.”