On April 28, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) obtained multiple orders banning operators of an alleged credit card debt relief scheme based in Tennessee, who agreed to the court orders which permanently ban them from telemarketing and selling debt relief products or services. This was the result of a lawsuit brought against Sean Austin, John Steven Huffman, John Preston Thompson, and their affiliated companies by the FTC in November 2022. The FTC accused the defendants of taking tens of millions of dollars from people by falsely promising to eliminate or substantially reduce their credit card debt. At the time, a federal court froze the defendants’ assets and appointed a receiver over the businesses while the case took place.
The FTC’s complaint alleged that Austin, Huffman, and Thompson operated a network of companies incorporated in Tennessee, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming that worked together to support the defendants’ deceptive debt relief scheme. The court orders agreed to by Austin, Huffman, and Thompson include a permanent ban on advertising, selling, or assisting in any debt relief product or service, and a permanent ban on participating in telemarketing. The orders also broadly enjoin the defendants from deceiving consumers about any other product or service they sell or market. Additionally, the defendants are apparently required to surrender certain property interests and assets contained in multiple bank accounts that will be used to provide any possible refunds to affected consumers.
The orders contain a total monetary judgment of $17,486,080, which is partially suspended upon the defendants’ surrender of assets and also based on their inability to pay the full amount.