Owner of Jewelry Store Sentenced for Scamming Navy Sailors and Marines

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A Carlsbad jewelry store owner was sentenced Thursday to 90 days in jail and placed on probation for three years for targeting young sailors and Marines with predatory loans to pay for jewelry.

Ramil "Randy" Abalkhad, 55, who owned the now-shuttered Romano's Jewelers, will also be required to pay restitution to the victims named in the criminal complaint brought by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Romano's, which had stores across the state, and its associated lending company, MBNB Financial Inc., will be required to cancel outstanding debts owed by those same victims.

Abalkhad pleaded guilty in April to felony conspiracy to engage in illegal financing and debt collection practices, according to Becerra's office.

Abalkhad's wife and co-defendant, 44-year-old Melina Abalkhad, and a third defendant, MBNB employee Ramiro Salinas, both pleaded guilty in April to a conspiracy charge, and both were previously sentenced. Melina Abalkhad will be required to complete a misdemeanor diversion program for her role in operating MBNB Financial.

According to Becerra's office, Romano's Jewelers allegedly targeted young sailors and Marines -- many of them just out of boot camp -- and encouraged them to buy jewelry for themselves and others on credit. But prosecutors say Abalkhad and his associates did not give them required documents when they took out loans, and then used illegal debt collection practices -- including debt collectors who falsely posed as attorneys -- if the service members fell behind on payments.

"Mr. and Mrs. Abalkhad thought they could get away with targeting our young men and women in uniform," Becerra said in a statement. "Today's sentencing should send a clear message to them and others looking to commit predatory crimes against our service members: ... We intend to hold unscrupulous merchants and businesses fully accountable for their offenses."

Becerra said Navy and Marine Corps judge advocates at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and Naval Base San Diego provided "critical assistance to our investigative team on this case."

Abalkhad, who could not be reached by phone and did not immediately respond to voicemail and email messages Thursday, was called a "sophisticated financial criminal" by San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Gina Darvas in early 2017 when he was sentenced to probation on identity theft charges in a previous case.

Prosecutors in that case said Abalkhad and his associates used the personal information of dozens of active-duty Marines in a scheme to charge them for items many of them did not want, sometimes without their knowledge.

This article is written by Alex Riggins from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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