CHICAGO — A federal judge has entered a default judgment against a self-identified "prophet" who is accused of profiting mightily from his use of robocalls, in violation of federal telecommunications laws.
Jeffrey Molitor filed a class-action complaint in January 2016 in Cook County Circuit Court against Manasseh Jordan Ministries (a religious corporation in New York) and Yakim Manasseh Jordan.
At the time, Molitor said he kept getting calls seeking money “despite thousands of consumer complaints, an FCC citation and multiple news articles decrying their practice.” The complaint identified Jordan as a “self-identified ‘prophet’ (who) lives a lavish lifestyle that includes multi-million dollar homes and Rolls Royce cars. These expenditures are largely funded through ‘seed-faith’ money donated to his ‘nonprofit’ corporation, MJM, and/or his father’s corporation, Zoe Ministries.”
In a motion filed April 16, Molitor and other named plaintiffs asked Judge Charles Norgle Sr. on the bench in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to enter default judgment, a request he granted in an April 26 filing.
According to the plaintiffs’ motion, the defendants refused to participate in the litigation for nearly a year. On March 22, Norgle entered the entry of default, prompting the request for default judgment. Among the violations cited were 74 robocalls to Molitor, 138 calls to Laura De la Cabada, 118 to Steve Clarke and 36 to Ruth Maki.
The plaintiffs said they had evidence each call was made with an autodialer and featured a pre-recorded message, entitling them to $500 in statutory damages for each call — a total of $183,000 — but also pointed to “overwhelming evidence that defendants intentionally and repeatedly violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act,” justifying the awarding of $1,500 per call, or $549,000.
In arguing for default judgment, the plaintiffs repeated claims from their first amended complaint, such as allegations MJM isn't registered in New York, and deposition testimony from, among others, Jordan’s sister Naomi Cook, showing MJM “fails to observe corporate formalities” like electing trustees, conducting annual meetings and keeping bylaws or records.
“Nor does MJM appear to engage in any of the traditional activities of a nonprofit ministry, or employ a staff to assist it in its purported mission,” according to the complaint, which also cited records showing MJM placed more than 163 million automatic calls to a database of more than 4 million unique cellphone numbers in just two years.
Frank Juliano, MJM’s chief operating officer, “admitted to defendants engaging in much of this conduct,” according to the motion, and “Manasseh admitted defendants ‘absolutely’ sent out calls featuring his prerecorded voice.”
The motion said the defendants engaged in discovery for more than a year from the filing of the first amended complaint in June 2016, but “abruptly stopped participating in this action after May 25, 2018, when plaintiffs filed a properly noticed motion.” After that, they allegedly failed to appear at three status hearings through March 15, 2019, and “all of their attorneys withdrew from this case over the course of a year.”
Noting it isn’t clear MJM was ever properly incorporated, the plaintiffs asked Jordan be held personally accountable.
“Because MJM is a shell entity and Manasseh’s alter ego, he should be held liable for violating the TCPA,” according to the motion. “Allowing Manasseh to escape liability here would sanction a manifest injustice, letting a serial TCPA-violator off the hook. … Worst of all, defendants’ conduct continues to this day.”
Representing the plaintiffs in the matter are Edelson PC, of Chicago, and Bursor & Fisher P.A., of New York.