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The Watchdog: Mike Huckabee's on the phone ... quite a lot

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Dave Lieber, The Dallas Morning News

Usually, you think of annoying robo-callers working out of a crummy call center in a foreign country. Who could imagine that a former U.S. presidential candidate would be credited with 4 million calls?

But that's the situation faced by a company that hired Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Fox News TV show host. The company now must defend a class-action lawsuit charging that the calls violated federal law.

The defendants were promoting a movie about the supposed war on Christmas. In court papers, they deny any wrongdoing and say lawyers suing cannot prove the number of victims or show that any were actually harmed.

Huckabee, whose voice is heard on the calls, was originally listed as a defendant in the case, but was removed. He is not charged with wrongdoing, but his name and reputation will be associated with the case.

Huckabee is the father of White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

In June, millions of mailings were sent to Americans asking if they received the calls. If they answer yes, they could qualify as participants in the lawsuit.

In the recorded calls, Huckabee asked if recipients shared "traditional American values." If so, he recommended that they'd enjoy the straight-to-DVD movie Last Ounce of Courage.

The lawsuit contends those calls violate federal phone laws. Court papers charge that the promoters, listed as Veritas Entertainment, paid a company $248,000 to make 4 million calls and $30,000 for 30 million emails-to-text messages to cellphones.

Note to political junkies: One of those who the lawsuit alleges may have paid for the calls is San Antonio billionaire and political player James Leininger. He's a major Republican donor who founded a conservative think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

For information about the lawsuit, email info@LastOunceClassAction.com or call 1-888-205-7974. The website is LastOunceClassAction.com.

Double-check that bill

If you get a bill you're not expecting warning that you owe back property taxes, don't get alarmed. It could be fake. Fake property tax bills, like fake IRS bills and fake health care bills, are a thing.

Call your county appraisal district and check your status. Or log on to its website.

Never pay any bill you weren't expecting without double-checking, OK?

NTTA ombudsman

As The Watchdog, I've covered the ins and outs of the North Texas Tollway Authority for a dozen years. So how did I not know that NTTA has an ombudsman on staff to handle serious customer service complaints? I missed that.

The ombudsman reviews customer complaints "in an unbiased and impartial manner," NTTA's website states. "We research all customer concerns."

This might be good information to save if customer service can't solve your problem: Email: NTTAOmbudsman@ntta.org. Phone: 469-801-3662. Mail: NTTA Ombudsman, 5900 W. Plano Parkway, Plano, TX 75093.

Death bet

If you're keeping track of big-shot Texas millionaires who commit fraud, add Brian D. Pardo of Life Partners. He founded the Waco company that allowed investors to buy life insurance policies of living people and then reap the proceeds upon their deaths. A ghoulish investment, for sure.

A Fort Worth jury in federal court found him guilty of fraudulent behavior. Pardo may have to pay millions back to jilted investors, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.

Pardo already lost luxury cars, two jets and other assets seized by the feds. Oh, and don't forget he and his former company received one of the biggest civil fines faced by a small company — more than $40 million.

Remaining Life Partners investors are now handled by Magna Servicing, which was appointed in bankruptcy court. More than 20,000 investors may have been affected.

One Technologies

A Dallas company that made its money fooling people got fooled in return. Fooled big time to the tune of losing more than $2.4 million to one of its top employees.

Albert Shih-Der Chang, a lead systems engineer for One Technologies, pleaded guilty in federal court to mail fraud and money laundering. He created fake companies and fake invoices for at least six years, the feds say.

The company he ripped off was caught advertising free credit scores, but then locking customers in expensive monthly subscriptions that were difficult to cancel. After getting caught by the Federal Trade Commission, One Technologies was ordered to repay customers $22 million in total.

When free isn't free

Finally, Carol G. tells me she got suckered when she ordered a free sample of a product, but then her credit card was charged $180. The company won't let her cancel. How does she get out of this?

My Watchdog Nation strategy is this: Find out which state the company has its headquarters in and file a "deceptive trade practices" complaint with both that state's attorney general and also the Texas attorney general. Also, as a backup, file a complaint with ftc.gov. You can do these online.

The inquiry letters from these government agencies, if they follow through, should be enough reason for the jerks to cancel your account and reimburse you. Good luck.

Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.

ABOUT THIS COLUMN

The Watchdog Desk works for you to shine light on questionable practices in business and government. We welcome your story ideas and tips.

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Email: watchdog@dallasnews.com

Call: 214-977-2952

Write: Dave Lieber, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265