Investigators: Job agency probe - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

The Investigators: Attorney general expands probe of Memphis job agencies

By Andy Wise - bio | email

MEMPHIS (WMC TV) - Tennessee's attorney general has sued an off-shoot of a local job counseling agency accused of deceptive practices and false promises.

In an amended complaint to a lawsuit he filed last October, Attorney General Bob Cooper named Lorry Ronza, Kevin Shaw and their company, Continental Business Solutions at 6055 Primacy Parkway, for charging clients illegal up-front fees and "...for allegedly promising to find consumers jobs at exaggerated salary levels."

"If an employment agency is charging you a fee in advance of finding you a job, it's time to find another agency," said Cooper in a press release Wednesday.

"We are not an employment agency," said Ronza in an exclusive interview with the Action News 5 Investigators.  "I am a counseling service. The sad thing is I started this company way before this whole thing happened with Linda."

Ronza and Shaw once worked for Linda McCluskey, owner and operator of two Memphis career-counseling agencies, The Franklin Group of America and Britton James & Associates, at 5100 Poplar Ave.  Cooper named those companies and two others formerly associated with McCluskey --  Hamilton Clark International and The Renaissance Group International -- in his original suit filed in Shelby County Chancery Court.

Cooper said McCluskey misled more than a dozen consumers into paying thousands of dollars to help them find jobs " exaggerated salary levels, promising 'career development, career management, and career transition services' and other related 'job placement services.'"

"None of it is true," said McCluskey in an exclusive Action News 5 interview Oct. 6. "I believe in our service. The only time a (client) will fail is if they don't want to do what the program requires."

In the amended complaint, Cooper alleged "Continental Business Solutions is a re-incarnation (of McCluskey's Franklin Group of America and Britton James & Associates) and is engaged in identical conduct in violation of the Tennessee Employment Agency Act and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act."

Ronza admitted her company has charged its clients up-front fees, but she insisted they are legitimate.

"We charge an 'investment,' but it's not to get a job," she explained. "It's for our services.

"I am not a placement service, and I tell everyone who walks in the door I'm not going to place you in a job. I'm going to help you get in front of the decision-makers. I'm going to help you in a lot of things, but it is not placing you in a job. We're not an employment agency."

The Action News 5 Investigators failed to reach Shaw for comment.

Memphis attorney and City Councilman Jim Strickland has also sued McCluskey, Britton James & Associates and The Franklin Group of America on behalf of Lisa David of Collierville, TN.  Strickland's complaint alleged McCluskey broke a binding Better Business Bureau arbitration that ordered her to pay David back $3,980 for career counseling services David said she never received. 

"They weren't real services," said Strickland. "They didn't exist."

Randy Hutchinson, President/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South, said McCluskey failed to show for the arbitration hearing, a requirement for BBB-accredited members. The arbiter ordered the payment because McCluskey "...engaged in deceptive sales practices and owes (David) a refund for her purchase price," according to arbitration documents.

The BBB's board of directors voted to expel McCluskey for not honoring the arbitration award.

"We can't force them to make their payment, but what we can do as we've done is expel them from membership," said Hutchinson.

"I was not notified (about the arbitration hearing)," said McCluskey.  Hutchinson maintained both she and her former partner, Glenn Roseberry, Jr., were notified of the hearing.

Action News 5 also interviewed a Bartlett, TN, man whom the attorney general said is one of the complainants that helped initiate the original lawsuit. 

The man, who asked not to be identified, said he paid McCluskey $4,000 two years ago for career counseling, job interview preparation and networking.

"They assured me that with that amount, they could guarantee me a certain salary and a certain salary range," he said. "I didn't get anything."

"We have numerous letters from clients saying, 'I would not be where I am today without your services,'" said McCluskey. "There's not another service in Memphis that prepares a client for what we do."

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