Ohio Attorney General sues painting company for fleecing college students

Tyrel Linkhorn

Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro brought a lawsuit Thursday against University Painters, seeking an injunction against the company, and more than $300,000 of civil penalties and financial repayment to 13 Ohio university students.

The suit alleges the Virginia-based Maxco Development Inc. – operating in Ohio as University Painters – and company officers Joshua D. Jablon and Thomas F. Torries, both of Alexandria, Va., fleeced college students out of thousands of dollars, violating 14 sections of Ohio law in the process.

The Attorney General’s office received its first complaint in March 2004, said Mark Anthony, Attorney General deputy communications director. They said they believe the company has “actively recruited” college students in Ohio since 2001 or 2002.

University Painters is a painting company which offers both summer and permanent positions to “college students, college graduates, and others,” according to their Web site (www.univpaint.com). University Painters did not return several calls for comment on this story.

Petro, however, said the company offers no realistic chance at profit for its student employees.

“Students sign the University Painters contract thinking they will learn to manage a business and earn money, but they end up deep in debt with regular calls from collection attorneys,” he said in a press release.

Anthony said two of the main violations were misrepresenting the “standard cooling-off period,” which allows individuals a certain amount of time to back out of a contract and including a “confession-of-judgement” clause in the contract, which allows a creditor to bring judgment against a debtor without any judicial proceedings. Anthony said confession-of-judgement clauses are illegal in Ohio, as well as many other states.

“It’s a classic fine print situation,” said Anthony of the 65-page contract he said students are given to look over and sign in a matter of minutes.

Any attempt to mediate these complaints has failed, according to the press release.

Thirteen students from colleges around the state including Ohio State, Ohio University, Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo have filed complaints with the Attorney General’s office regarding University Painters. Anthony said that it was very possible there were students from other colleges who filed; however, complainants were not required to list their place of enrollment.

Anthony said the timing of the lawsuit was based both upon the clear cause of action the Attorney General believes he has against the company and the fact that the company is reportedly beginning to look for summer employees on college campuses.

“Recruiting will begin soon, so we wanted to make sure we built some awareness,” he said.

Career Services Assistant Director Ami Haynes Hollis said to her knowledge University Painters is not currently recruiting on Kent State’s campus. A similar company, College Pro Painters, has been recruiting on campus this semester.

“If you look at College Pro Painters and University Painters, the information is basically the same,” Hollis said.

The Attorney General has received four complaints against College Pro Painters since 1994, the last being in 2004 which was mediated by the Attorney General’s office, Anthony said.

Contact news correspondent Tyrel Linkhorn at [email protected].