Singles Fail to Find Love, Sue Matchmaker

Why some San Diegans claim a high-end dating service broke their hearts and their bank accounts

Fran Dalton, 73, and her husband did everything together.

When he died in 2009, she was heartbroken.

But months later, she remembered her late-husband’s words.

“He always told me when he died he said I want you to continue your life,” Dalton said.

So Dalton decided to start dating again.

A friend recommended a high-end matchmaking service in Rancho Santa Fe called Valenti International which advertises online and in magazines.

Valenti International’s promotional video, given to NBCSanDiego by the company, features its CEO Irene Valenti.

In the video Valenti says, “I love what I do more than I love the place I am in. Absolutely.”

With hopes of meeting a man, Dalton met Valenti at her Rancho Santa Fe estate.

Dalton also met Valenti’s staff.

“A psychiatrist spent a couple of hours with me going over and saying this is how we determine how we find a compatible person,” Dalton said.

That same day, Dalton said she signed a contract with Valenti paying $25,000 for a year’s worth of matchmaking services.

Per the contract, Valenti promised to “make contact with the client approximately once monthly.”

But Dalton says more than four months went by and she never heard anything from Valenti International.

“I called again and said I still haven’t met anyone or seen anyone,” Dalton told NBC 7 Investigates. ”She said ‘Remember it takes time.’”

After another two months, Dalton said Valenti did set her up on a date.

“When he came he didn’t know anything about what was going on, he wasn’t anywhere like the man I was told he was going to be,” Dalton said.

Dalton said she called Valenti and told her it wasn’t a match, that she wanted to meet someone else but Dalton said she never heard from Valenti again.

“I’ve represented about 28 clients against Valenti starting in 2003. I have probably had at least double that call me with different cases against Irene Valenti,” said Elaine Heine, Dalton’s attorney.

Court documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates show 7 people, including Dalton, are currently suing Valenti International.

These former customers claim they paid anywhere from $14,000 to $125,000 for Valenti’s services.

The documents allege the plaintiffs “failed to hear from her or be provided with a match for a long period of time if ever. On the occasion a match was provided to the plaintiffs, the “match” was completely incompatible.”

Court documents show between 2003 and 2006 31 other people filed lawsuits against Irene Valenti. The cases eventually settled.
Court documents show Valenti denied the allegations in at least one of the cases.

Heine says in 2009, Valenti’s contracts changed making it more difficult to pursue claims.

Valenti also filed for bankruptcy last year.

NBC 7 Investigates tried to contact Irene Valenti several times for several weeks before the initial report aired by phone, email and in person.

Valenti’s attorney sent us a letter telling us not to pursue the story, threatening that NBC 7 “could be subject to contempt of court which could include imprisonment and penalties.

Valenti’s attorney went to court to stop the story from airing but two days before the original news story was scheduled to air, a spokesperson invited NBC 7 Investigates to the Valenti estate.

We were told by Valenti’s attorney that Irene Valenti would not do an interview or answer questions but she did want to address former clients who were unhappy with the company’s service.

“They should not give up on themselves,” Valenti said.

“Any of the clients that we have that are unhappy I would love to sit face to face with them, embrace them and help them at any time,” she said.

The Valenti staff arranged for NBC 7 to interview a husband and wife who credit Valenti for introducing them. Stephen Lobbin also works as Valenti’s patent attorney.

“We are their biggest cheerleaders and vice versa,” Lobbin said.

“They love us coming around and put us in some of their advertising materials and magazines.”

We also spoke with former Valenti employee Stacy Hoyt.

“You know there is no guarantee in life and there is no guarantee here either,” Hoyt said. “We don’t guarantee anything.”

Hoyt said she didn’t know about the lawsuits involving Valenti but she did say this when asked about plaintiffs in the past and current lawsuits against Valenti.

“Within your heart is that really what happened? Have we disappointed you or is it life that’s disappointed you,” Hoyt questioned.

Meanwhile Fran Dalton said she hopes to get her $25,000 back and wants others to learn from her story.

Dalton, who is still single, said she’s given up on matchmaking services but will never give up on love.

When Irene Valenti and her staff were asked how many successful matches or marriages they’re responsible for, they wouldn’t give NBC 7 an exact number or tell us how many clients they have.

We spoke with several former clients over the phone but due to confidentiality clauses in their settlements with Valenti they could not do an interview with us.

One of them told us actually she was shocked Irene Valenti was still in business. 

This report originally aired on NBC 7 on February 13, 2012.

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