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If you’ve ever listened to conservative talk radio, you’ve probably heard of Goldline, the precious metal seller endorsed by Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and others. But critics allege that Goldline is misleading its consumers, much like the talkers they sponsor.
The company’s business model was built on systemically swindling and scaring its mostly elderly clientele into purchasing overpriced gold coins, prosecutors in California alleged, leading the company to settle for $4.5 million in refunds to its customer. The city attorney in Santa Monica, where the company is based, brought 19 criminal fraud charges against the company that were later dropped, but a Los Angeles judge last year instructed the company to foot the bill for a court-appointed monitor, who was tasked with ensuring the company revealed its price markups and stopped misleading consumers.
But now, the company’s former compliance officer is saying she was fired for complaining to her bosses that she was being prevented from speaking with the monitor, Courthouse News Service reported yesterday. Carol Taylor Gabrelow, who is suing Goldline in L.A. for wrongful termination, says her bosses were afraid she would spill the beans to the monitor about her company’s shady tactics. Her complaint alleges:
“Goldline specifically targets vulnerable consumers with sales tactics designed to pressure those consumers into buying products that would often result in the consumer losing over one-third of his or her investment the instant the purchase is made meaning that, even when the price of the precious metals increases, because these consumers were deceived into purchasing coins with mark-ups exceeding 50 percent, it could be years, if ever, before the consumer recoups, much less makes any profit on, the investment.”
One of Goldline’s biggest foes was former congressman Anthony Weiner, who launched a congressional investigation into the company after getting complaints from his constituents about shady business dealings. According to Gabrelow’s complaint, company executives temporarily “discouraged account executives from engaging in some of the illegal conduct” during Weiner’s investigation, but as soon as it was over, they went back to their old ways.
Yuri Becklemen, who worked on the investigation in Weiner’s office, told Salon that he found evidence that executives regularly pressured employees to skirt ethical concerns. “We spoke to numerous former employees who were conflicted with the tactics being used,” he said. “However, management set the system up to only reward those that were able to push those concerns aside. One employee told me that if he didn’t upsell customers to semi-collectible coins from regular bullion, his commission check wouldn’t be enough to afford a sandwich.”
Coins are often not an ideal investment because they’re more difficult to sell. But Goldine makes a much bigger profit margin on them, so they often tricked or pressured customers into purchasing coins instead of investment-grade bullion, critics allege.
Gabrelow, who as head of compliance oversaw 28 employees, says she was first demoted to a job with no substantive responsibilities or subordinates before being terminated. Her complaint alleges that the company fired her entire finance department along with her, including her husband, who is also a plaintiff on the suit.
Beck and the other conservative talkers never split from Goldine, despite the legal issues. An ad for the company appears on his website today, which leads you to this endorsement: “Before I started turning you on to Goldline, I wanted to look them in the eye. This is a top notch organization that’s been in business since 1960.”
Goldline denies defrauding its customers and never admitted guilt in its settlement with Santa Monica prosecutors. “We are committed to transparent, honest and responsible pricing … no gimmicks,” the company says on its website.
Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.More Alex Seitz-Wald.