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February 11, 2015

Miller Files Consumer Fraud Lawsuit against New York-Based “International Astrology Foundation”

Miller obtains injunction barring International Astrology Foundation and Joseph Meisels from sending misleading mail solicitations to Iowans

(DES MOINES, Iowa) An Iowa judge today issued a temporary injunction against a New York-based self-described astrology foundation and the Brooklyn man believed behind it, after Attorney General Tom Miller filed a consumer fraud lawsuit alleging the defendants used “a string of fabrications and falsehoods” to extract money from a 91-year-old Iowa widow.

Polk County District Court Judge Douglas F. Staskal ordered the injunction against the International Astrology Foundation (IAF) and its controlling individual, Joseph Meisels.

The temporary injunction, in effect while the lawsuit is pending, bans misleading mail solicitations to Iowans and sharing customer lists containing the names of Iowans to other marketers.

Lawsuit: Defendants Part of “Feeding Frenzy,” Extracted Money from 91-Year-Old
According to Miller, his office was led to IAF and Meisels after learning of a 91-year-old eastern Iowa woman who had almost gone broke sending checks to various operations in response to misleading mail solicitations.  The mailings featured characters claiming psychic powers, and promised riches and other benefits.  One of the many payments the woman sent in response was $70 to IAF.

“This older Iowan was the focus of what my Consumer Protection Division calls a ‘feeding frenzy,’ as financial records show that many different questionable operators barraged her with bogus mailings and requests for money,” Miller said.  “We want to help this woman, and we also think it’s important to learn how information about potentially vulnerable consumers is being shared, so we can keep this from happening to others like her.”

Lawsuit Follows Defendants’ Refusal to Cooperate with Attorney General Inquiry
Miller said his office was able to identify IAF and Meisels as the source of several deceptive mailings to Iowans, but the New York operators withheld information about how they zeroed in on this particular woman and whether her name was being shared with others.

“When the defendants refused to cooperate, we filed this consumer fraud lawsuit,” Miller said.  “We allege that the defendants’ mailings were filled with outrageous lies, designed to cheat this elderly Iowan, and untold other Iowans, out of their savings.”

Former U.S. Fed Chair & Microsoft CEO Used in IAF Solicitations
As an example, the lawsuit referred to one mailing that featured a picture of “Prof. Magnum Demorarth,” the “Chairman of International Conference of Astrologers and Psychics,” with his message that the recipient had been singled out to receive a luck-changing, wealth-producing “psychic instrument” for $50.

According to the lawsuit, the picture of “Chairman Demorarth” was actually of former United States Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.  The “psychic instrument” was a single sheet of paper embellished with optical art and random symbols.

“Picturing Ben Bernanke as a renowned astrologer and psychic would be amusing, if it weren’t part of a cynical scheme preying on older Iowans,” Miller said.  “We intend to stop these defendants, as well as other operations that coordinate in draining the resources of vulnerable Iowans like this elderly victim.”

The same solicitation also claimed that the IAF turned “completely around” the lives of several people pictured in the mailing, including former Microsoft CEO and current Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

Advice for Consumers
Miller cautioned Iowans to be wary of personalized mailings from strangers claiming they want to help, and asking for money.  In particular, Miller urges caregivers of older Iowans to look out for predatory mailing or telemarketing campaigns making too-good-to-be-true promises.

“Once predatory operators identify a vulnerable victim, losses can mount quickly,” Miller warned.  “Stopping the feeding frenzy from ever getting underway is key.”

For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Consumer Protection Division through the Attorney General’s website at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov or email directly to consumer@ag.iowa.gov.  Consumers can also call the Consumer Protection Division at 515-281-5926, or outside the Des Moines area, toll free, at 1-888-777-4590.

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