Ramil Abalkhad and his wife Melina Abalkhad face criminal charges related to conspiracy to engage in illegal financing and debt collection practices, according to a felony complaint filed by the California Department of Justice.
According to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the couple targeted young marines and sailors and encouraged them to buy jewelry using MBNB Financial for credit.
Melina is the owner of MBNB Financial Inc., Ramil is the owner of Romano’s Jewelers, which had several store locations in San Diego and Southern California, including near Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base.
According to the 10-page complaint, Melina did not provide legally required disclosures about monthly payments, interest rates, and other financing information to borrowers.
In a news release, California Attorney General said, "our servicemembers and military families sacrifice immensely for our country, the last thing they should have to worry about is being fleeced by local merchants."
According to the complaint, the defendants also posed as an attorney and threatened their military customers with court-martial and other military disciplinary actions. When customers fell behind on their payments, they claimed they were harassed by the defendants’ debt collectors, the complaint outlines.
In a news release, the California AG’s office said the Abalkhad’s were arrested on Sept. 26. Another MBNB employee was charged with conspiracy to engage in unlawful debt collection and was arrested on Sept. 29, according to the California AG’s office.
The Abalkhads did not respond to NBC 7 Investigates request for comment. An attorney who previously represented Ramil said he was no longer representing the jewelry store owner.
In Nov. 2016, Ramil Abalkhad pleaded guilty to felony charges, including conspiracy to commit identity theft and identity theft with intent to defraud and theft by false pretenses. He was sentenced to three years probation and 250 hours of community service.
The charges were associated with a 2012 U.S. Marine Corps criminal investigation. According to the original criminal complaint, between 2010 and 2012, Ramil Abalkhad instructed a jewelry store manager and former employee to obtain the personal financial information of Marine customers and then add unauthorized charges on their store credit accounts.
As part of his plea agreement, Abalkhad paid $55,000 in restitution payments avoiding serving time behind bars, according to San Diego Deputy District Attorney Gina Darvas. The money, she said at the time, was to be distributed to at least 70 victims impacted by the identity theft.
Click here to see the all of NBC 7 Investigates stories, in the series, "Jewelry Store Under Fire."