Sunday, December 9, 2007

Police, BBB besieged with complaints about local publisher

Police, BBB besieged with complaints about local publisher
By Ronal Hawkins awkinsrhawkins@reportert.comSaturday December 8, 2007
Martinsville


Philadelphia-based author and counselor Bonnie Kaye says she is just one of hundreds of customers that Airleaf Publishing and Book Selling has misled.

Indeed, she wasn't the first to have a complaint about the Martinsville-based self-publishing company. The Indiana Attorney General's office, the Martinsville Police Department and Better Business Bureau of Central Indiana have all received complaints about the company's alleged failure to pay royalties, publish books and deliver other promised services.


Kaye, however, began a crusade earlier this year warning people about the dangers of doing business with Airleaf, a publishing company that was started 5 1/2 years ago in Martinsville by Carl Lau, who had previously worked for Author's Press in Bloomington.


Kaye was a previously published author and a counselor specializing in the field of straight/gay marriages. She has served as a consultant to television talk shows such as "Oprah" and "Montel Williams." She hoped Airleaf could get the book printed quickly and would help her market it, she said.


Kaye was happy with the printing of the book, but she ended up promoting the book by arranging interviews on television shows. The problems continued when the company failed to pay her royalties she was due on the sales of the book, she said.


Until she contacted police earlier this year, she'd only received a check for $300, she said. Since then, she's paid an additional $683.


Kaye launched www.airleafvictims.com as a network for people who've had problems with the company. It's a way for those people to know they're not alone in their experience and to encourage the victims to urge action by law enforcement agencies, she said.
Kaye has talked to Martinsville Police Department Detective Jeff Buskirk, the attorney general's office and the FBI.


Buskirk was joined by a county computer expert and an attorney general's representative in October when he seized the computers and records of Airleaf. The computers and records have since been returned.


Buskirk has been contacted directly by more than 120 customers from throughout the United States who've had difficulties with Airleaf, he said.


The investigation won't be complete before the end of January, Buskirk said. He, however, may no longer be a city detective after Phil Deckard is sworn in as mayor at the end of the year. Deckard defeated incumbent Mayor Shannon Buskirk, brother of Jeff Buskirk, in the May GOP primary.


"I'm trying to see if there is criminal activity or if it's all civil," Buskirk said. "They're still taking money in. ...This is ongoing, continuous."


Kaye says she has no doubt that what Airleaf has been doing is a criminal activity. She believes the company has been guilty of fraud, before and after a close associate of owner Carl Lau left the company, she said. Lau has attributed many of the problems to Brien Jones, the former company vice president who left in January and started a similar business in Bloomington.
"They're still taking money," Kaye said. "Many became victims after Brien Jones left. ...
"It's more and more of the same; promising to fulfill hopes and dreams and giving nothing back in return."


Kaye said she has been disappointed by the work of the state attorney general. The attorney general's office, however, has filed complaints against the firm in the past and in some cases helped the authors get their money back.


"The attorney general's consumer protection division has civil authority, not criminal and will assist with criminal investigations if asked or needed," said Staci Schneider, a spokeswoman for the attorney general.


The attorney general's office is working with "local authorities as we investigate civil violations of Indiana's Consumer Protection statutes," Schneider said. The state office didn't receive any materials obtained during the October visit to Airleaf's offices, Schneider said.


Dozens of complaints have been investigated by the state. Some have been settled and others are marked as complaints headed for litigation. Nearly all of the complaints allege "failure to deliver" or "failure to perform contract."


Although Airleaf isn't a member of the Better Business Bureau, the BBB has received multiple complaints about the company and has given it an "unsatisfactory rating."


According to the BBB Web site, "based on BBB files, this business has an unsatisfactory rating with the BBB due to a failure to respond to complaints. Based on BBB files, this company has an Unsatisfactory Record due to a pattern of complaints. Specifically, consumers allege the contract to publish books were never fulfilled. Consumer also allege contracts to market and advertise books were not fulfilled. Files also indicate a pattern of consumer allegations that the company does not return phone calls or respond to letters or e-mails."


Airleaf, formerly known as Bookman, has offered packages for authors that include printing and marketing the books. Some packages for an additional price offer pitches of the books to movie studios. Others promise ad placements in major newspapers and magazines along with interviews on national radio shows and more.


The packages for the movie pitches were sold even before the manuscript has been received by Airleaf.


The company takes advantage of the elderly, disabled, poor and others by selling them the idea that their book can sell and in some cases be made into a movie, Kaye said.


At least two people who sent Airleaf money lost their homes, Kaye said. One invested $10,000 for a book and its marketing and another one $14,000, she said.


Gracie Hubal invested $8,028 for two books, one by a dying son and another a crime novel she'd written. Promises of marketing services that were to include 15-minute interviews on nationally syndicated radio shows, commercials, glossy advertising, and face-to-face meetings with feature film directors never materialized, she wrote in a posting at airleafvictims.com.


Kaye said other promises such as Lau or Jones going to Germany and England to pitch books at major book fairs never happened. Company officials were found sitting at their desks while the major book fairs were underway, she said. Former employees have shared their experiences about what has been happening at the business, she said.


When she was told about Lau's statements that he regretted what has happened, Kaye said, "A kind person doesn't take people's money and leave them hanging. ...


"Why do you keep pitching. ... He's selling a dream that could never happen. That's the greatest crime of all."


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