State sues Minneapolis employment agency, alleging fraud

  • Article by: SUZANNE ZIEGLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2009 - 9:18 PM

The attorney general's office claims people paid Arthur Group but didn't get work interviews.

Hundreds of Minnesota job-seekers who said they were scammed by a Minneapolis executive search firm that gave them nothing in return for thousands of dollars in fees learned Tuesday that the state will try to get some of their money back.

The Minnesota Attorney General's office filed suit Tuesday against the Arthur Group and its CEO, Barry Trimble, saying the company "baited" job seekers to come to its office for job interviews by posting ads on websites such as CareerBuilder or by pulling their résumés off Internet job boards. It says the company often failed to produce a single job interview or lead, even though clients paid as much as $4,500 in fees.

The lawsuit, filed in Hennepin County District Court, alleges that Trimble violated state laws on consumer fraud and deceptive trade practices. The suit seeks restitution, injunctive relief and civil penalties.

The Arthur Group closed its doors in August, shortly after the New York Times wrote about the company and allegations against it.

Trimble, 46, of Dellwood, did not respond to a message left on his cell phone Tuesday seeking comment. In an August telephone interview with the Star Tribune, he denied misleading clients, saying it's clear in the company's agreements that it does not make any guarantees.

Former employees and customers said this is how it worked: Get potential customers in the door, make sure they have money, then rip apart their résumé and interview skills in a "mock interview" situation. Have them sign up and pay for the services with promises that the Arthur Group had relationships with dozens of prestigious companies and could help them land a job. They were also told to bring in their spouses for the final pitch.

Many said that their gut instincts told them something wasn't right but that they still signed on, saying they were won over by promises of an edge in a tough job market.

"This is a good day for Minnesota," Mike Myser said Tuesday. "This guy ripped off anywhere from 600 to 1,000 people who were just looking for jobs over the past three years."

Myser, 48, of Prior Lake, said he gave Trimble $3,000 in January but never landed even one job interview. He has been the point person for other people who also say they were scammed.

Gary O'Loughlin of Woodbury said he shelled out $4,500 to the Arthur Group, which promised him at least 300 contacts with companies. "He's a very suave, very polished speaker when it comes to selling the package to the unemployed," he said about Trimble. "I'm still unemployed, and I never saw any of the companies that he supposedly sent my information to."

Former employees backed the allegations made by the former clients. Pat Powers of Eagan, 63, who worked for the Arthur Group from April until August, said he started noticing that things were "a little bit fishy" so he started collecting information that he later gave to the attorney general's office.

He started doing that, he said, shortly after Trimble told him: "I have money because of all the people I've screwed."

Attorney General Lori Swanson said job seekers need to be cautious.

"With our unemployment rates at record-high levels, many people are out of work and looking for jobs," she said in a prepared statement. "It's unconscionable for a company" to take advantage of people who are already out of work by charging them hefty fees but giving them little help.

Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said it has received complaints from dozens of people but said there may be hundreds if not thousands of victims. He did not have a specific amount the lawsuit is seeking but said he expected that more information would come to light in the discovery process of the proceedings.

Asked whether he was optimistic the victims would see any restitution, he said, "That's the goal."

Suzanne Ziegler • 612-673-1707

  • TIPS FOR JOB SEEKERS

    • Be suspicious of any agency that charges up-front fees

    • Get it in writing: Do not take the company's word

    • Research the company

    • Be wary of companies that respond to your online résumé but provide little information

    • Don't be rushed by high-pressure sales tactics

    Source: Attorney general's office

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