State settles suit against McDonald Hearing Aid Centers | TheUnion.com

State settles suit against McDonald Hearing Aid Centers

The state's consumer affairs board last month reached a settlement in its civil suit against McDonald Hearing Aid Center — which had a branch in Grass Valley — that included a $600,000 judgment and the loss of licenses for the owner and a number of employees.

"The settlement means consumers who were victims of fraud and deception — many of whom are part of the state's vulnerable elderly population — will receive restitution," said Paul Sanchez, the executive officer of the California Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensers Board.

The board first moved to revoke or suspend the license of Mark Lee Moore, owner of McDonald Hearing Aid Center, for fraudulent and unlicensed activity, back in 2015.

The hearing aid center was the second largest seller of hearing aids in the Sacramento region, according to the state Department of Consumer Affairs, grossing $45 million in hearing aid sales between 2007 and 2013.

Moore was accused of using unlawful schemes to mislead elderly customers at multiple branch locations throughout Northern California into buying the most expensive hearing aids. McDonald Hearing Aid Center advertised a $745 hearing aid product to lure consumers into stores where they reportedly were pressured and misled into purchasing products costing several thousand dollars.

The accusation filed in 2015 listed victims that include an elderly Catholic nun and an 88-year-old World War II veteran with hearing loss from German artillery fire; in some cases, the alleged victims reportedly were incorrectly tested and their hearing losses were overstated to up-sell them into more expensive hearing aids. McDonald Hearing Aid Center would, in some cases, allegedly refuse to issue refunds unless the client went through a lengthy Patient Journey, which would then place them beyond the 30-day refund time limit.

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The accusation against Moore did not list any complaints against the Grass Valley branch, although it did allege that an ad that appeared in The Union listed testimonials that were fraudulent; the Grass Valley branch, in the 700 block of Freeman Lane, was recently bought out by Bloom Hearing Aid Center.

The California Attorney General's Office filed a civil suit in December 2016 in Sacramento County Superior Court, working with the Sacramento, Contra Costa, Sonoma, Yolo and Placer county district attorney's offices.

The suit named McDonald Hearing Aid Center Inc., owners Mark Lee Moore and Kimberly Moore, McDonald Hearing Foundation Inc. and Moore Family Hearing Company Inc. Also named were Moore Corporate Enterprises, which operated approximately 18 retail stores throughout Northern California, as well as the Moores and their son, Matthew Moore, as owners of Innerscope Advertising Agency Inc. and Innerscope Advertising Agency LLC, two companies that created advertising for McDonald Hearing Aid Center. The suit also named Elite Consultants Inc. of Redding, its president Gregory Edward Scott and vice president Ashley Brown, who acted as salespersons for McDonald Hearing Aid Centers.

The defendants were charged with fraud, deceptions, misrepresentation, false advertising, and unlawful and unfair business practices that targeted senior citizens and people with hearing loss.

The settlement reached in late August of this year included an injunction preventing the defendants from engaging in the practice of selling or fitting hearing aids without being fully licensed to do so, and from using deceptive or misleading advertising and other restrictions. The defendants also agreed to pay $100,000 to the board for the cost of the investigation and a civil penalty of $100,000 to each of the five district attorney's offices.

Elite Consultants, Scott and Brown also must make restitution payments to the board and the district attorneys offices.

In a separate administrative action, the board obtained the surrender of the hearing aid dispenser licenses of Mark Lee Moore and employees Marion Nelson and Melissa K. Peacock; the licenses of employees Robert Bennett, Michele Moreland and Christopher M. Simon were placed on probation for five years.

Sanchez noted that the board has contacted all affected consumers, but anyone else who believes they are eligible for restitution that has not been contacted can contact the board at 916-263-2666. Eligible clients are those who purchased products from Jan. 1, 2011, to March 15, 2017, and requested a refund within the warranty period and were denied a refund, and/or those who requested cancellation prior to the delivery of the products and were charged a cancellation fee.

The board's disciplinary decisions can be read on its website at http://www.speechandhearing.ca.gov/.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lkellar@theunion.com.

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