Suit from Aspen lawyer, pastor over auto warranty calls seeks millions

A local attorney and his wife are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that alleged multiple telemarketing companies conspired in an auto warranty scam that cost the couple thousands of dollars. In return, they’re seeking millions of dollars in damages from the alleged perpetrators, who have responded to the allegations with denials of any wrongdoing.

The suit initiated by Attorney Andrew L. Quiat and Jane Keener-Quiat claimed fines and penalties associated with the illegal calls amount to $200,000.

Their suit valued each allegedly illegal call at $500 each, making those $1,500 apiece when treble damages are included. Some calls allegedly included multiple civil violations, so the suit tacked on extra damages to those, as well. All told, the robocalls amounted to 545 violations, according to the suit. By factoring in damages associated with civil theft under penalties set by the Colorado Organized Crime Act, the couple’s maximum monetary claim added up to $8.451 million.

The couple received repeated calls last fall and into May from telemarketers trying to sell them extended auto warranty coverage, the suit alleged. Both Quiats have been on the national do not call registry since the mid-2010s, according to the civil complaint, which alleged the phone calls violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act forbidding unsolicited and unapproved robocalls. The suit also said the alleged scammers employed “spoofing technology” so that the plaintiffs’ caller ID would display what appeared to be local phone numbers to entice them to pick up the calls.

“A ‘spoofed caller ID’ is a false or inaccurate number from which the call in fact was not made. … Spoofing technology is commonplace and often used by those engaging in the course of conduct,” the suit said.

The defendants are the out-of-state limited liabilities companies Direct Marketing Group, Auto Renewal Services, Vehicle Protection Specialists and CarGuard Administration. The complaint was originally filed July 20 in Pitkin County District Court and later served on the defendants, which successfully motioned the U.S. District Court in August to accept the suit’s transfer.

The suit alleged the conspiracy worked like this: Telemarketers Vehicle Protection Specialists, Direct Marketing Group and Auto Renewal Services would place the robocalls on behalf of CarGuard to market its extended vehicle warranties.

“CarGuard was knowingly and actively accepting the business that originated through the illegal telemarketing calls through the issuance of vehicle service contracts,” alleged the suit.

The calls began with a recorded voice — intended to sound real and live — and if the recipient showed interest in buying an extended warranty, an actual person from Carguard would enter the call to work on closing the deal.

“The purpose of the enterprise was to promote and derive revenues, cash flow, or profits from illegally making autodialed and prerecorded calls to vulnerable persons perceived to need ‘protection’ and ‘peace of mind’ with respect to future automobile repairs,“ said the suit.

An answer to the lawsuit filed Aug. 13 by attorneys representing Direct Marketing Group and Vehicle Protection Specialists, as well as their founder and president, Daniel M. Laurent, denied any wrongdoing or any knowledge of the plaintiffs’ version of the events. The answer called the suit’s monetary claim an “excessive amount” that violated constitutional rights of the defendants and claimed the telemarketing companies were not complicit in any third-party activity from other defendants.

Attorneys with Holland & Knight, the firm representing Carguard in the dispute, responded to the complaint Friday and “specifically denies any actions or omissions in this District that amounted to wrongful conduct whatsoever.“

The answer also said CarGuard adhered to the the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and the company “had no control” over and was “not responsible” for the alleged practices by its affiliate telemarketers.

“Although CarGuard specifically denies that it has any liability with respect to Plaintiffs’ claims and allegations, CarGuard asserts that it has established and implemented, with due care, reasonable practices to discourage violations of the TCPA,” the answer said.

The couple filed the suit after they recorded and documented every robocall they received, as well as phone discussions with actual people involved in the alleged scam. They even played along with the calls, and Keener-Quiat actually paid $3,750 for the coverage.

“For the sole purpose of identifying the source of the anonymous and unlawful call(s), (Keener-Quiat) investigated by choosing to respond to indicate interest in the proffered offer and was then passed on by live transfers to live voices …“ the suit said, noting that she ”thereby feigned interest and ultimately made a purchase of the proffered auto warranty on her credit card in the amount of $3,775 … in order to obtain a policy that could be canceled in order to determine from both the policy and the funds flow via the credit card, the identity and source of the party(ies) making the illegal calls.“

The calls disrupted the daily and professional lives of Andrew Quiat, who has an office in Aspen, and Jane Keener-Quiat, a local pastor, the suit alleged.

“Defendants’ unlawful robocalls wrongfully created a nuisance for Plaintiffs (Jane Keener-Quiat) and (Andrew Quiat) by ringing their respective cellphones which are intended for legitimate calls from family, friends, employees, business partners and clients,” alleges the suit.

Kenner-Quiat also was denied when she tried to get a refund on her warranty coverage, the suit says.

Andrew Quiat, who filed the suit, indicated in a recent email to The Aspen Times that he was out of the country and would not be available for comment. Attempts to reach him at his Aspen and Denver offices also were not successful.