By Lenore Fedow
Sacramento, Calif.—A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ordered Ramil Abalkhad, owner of Romano’s Jewelers, to pay additional restitution to the active-duty military families he was previously charged with defrauding.

Abalkhad pleaded guilty to charges of identity theft and fraud in November 2016 in a case brought by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and, at that time, was ordered to pay $55,000 in restitution. He was sentenced to three years’ probation in March 2017.

The additional restitution, totaling $16,400, is a result of the prosecution by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office, the AG’s office confirmed Thursday.

“Individuals who participate in despicable crimes by targeting our young men and women in uniform will pay the price,” Becerra said in a press release regarding the case.

“We hope today’s announcement brings healing and closure to the victims of this scheme.”

Romano’s Jewelers had retail locations throughout California, including stores near Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego County.

The attorney general’s office said Abalkhad targeted Marines and sailors, encouraging them to buy jewelry on credit through MBNB Financial—which was owned by his wife, Melina Abalkhad—but failing to provide the legally required disclosures about monthly payments, interest rates, or other terms of financing.

Customers who fell behind on their payments were allegedly harassed by debt collectors, with some posing as attorneys and threatening servicemembers with courts-martial and other military disciplinary actions.

The California Department of Justice filed a 14-count felony complaint charging the Abalkhads with violating the Unruh Act, which protects consumers who buy goods or services on credit, and the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which protects Californians against unlawful debt collection practices.

Melina was sentenced to complete a misdemeanor diversion program for her role in operating the affiliate credit agency, the attorney general’s office said.

In addition to the sentencing and fines, Abalkhad will be required to cancel outstanding debts owed by the victims identified in the criminal complaint to MBNB and to remove any negative credit reporting by MBNB from the victims’ credit history.

In an email to National Jeweler, Abalkhad’s lawyer A. David Youssefyeh said: “Issues raised in the complaint were as a result of actions by a few rogue employees. Nevertheless, Mr. and Mrs. Abalkhad take full responsibility for their employees’ actions and will do everything to make sure that everyone who was wronged is made whole."

The initial complaint by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office alleged that Abalkhad told a former store employee, Nellie Cha Noland, to get the social security numbers of active duty military personnel who were customers and had credit accounts with the store.

Then, Abalkhad allegedly told Noland to ask a Marine named Kymani Tate to use the social security numbers to reset the passwords of other Marines’ Defense Finance and Accounting Service MyPay accounts. MyPay functions like a bank account and can be directly linked to other financial accounts so money can be withdrawn to pay bills.

Once the passwords were changed, the employees accessed the accounts and added unauthorized charges, as per the complaint.

Ramil and Melina Abalkhad are required to pay the victims the $16,440 by May 4, 2020.

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