Burnsville, Minnesota -- June 7, 2012 --
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) recently conducted an inquiry into Affordable Law Center, a Hibbing business which claims to offer consumers bankruptcy services at highly competitive rates. The results of this review revealed that despite the company's name, the owner - Ed Jonak - is not a licensed attorney, nor does he employ counsel admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Court in Minnesota, where bankruptcy proceedings are handled. Additional findings by the BBB, available in the public record, led to the lowering of the company's BBB rating from an "A" to an "F."
"There's a clear pattern of deception on the part of this company," said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB. "They have advertised themselves as legal experts here and in other states, when in fact they are not. This is a serious matter, and we have adjusted their BBB rating accordingly."
In addition to Affordable Law Center, Jonak operates or has operated a variety of businesses claiming to offer legal services, including American Lawworx, Christian Discount Attorney Services, Affordable Court Services, Paralegal Center, and Action Plan RX. In recent court filings, Jonak claims to have discontinued operating any of these other companies except for Affordable Law Center, which has been the subject of government actions in Missouri, Colorado and Wisconsin, resulting in the company being permanently enjoined from offering bankruptcy or other legal services to consumers in those jurisdictions. A similar action is pending in the Minnesota federal court.
The St. Louis County Attorney's Office filed suit against Jonak and his company for practicing law without a license in June of last year. However, the lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice, meaning it could be brought forward again.
On Affordable Law Center's website, the company says they offer "Low Cost Bankruptcy" assistance, in addition to other services. In Minnesota phone books, Affordable Law Center has been listed under "Attorneys - Bankruptcy." However, court filings reveal there have been eighteen separate bankruptcy actions in Minnesota where Jonak assisted with the filings and no attorney was ever involved. Currently, language on the company's website indicates they are marketing their services to potential clients in Nevada and California.
When looking for bankruptcy assistance, the BBB advises choosing a credit counseling agency that has been approved by the U.S. Trustee's Office to provide the mandatory financial counseling classes. A list of approved agencies by state location is posted on the Trustee Web site at http://www.justice.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/cc_approved.htm
You will also want to check the agency's record at BBB.org, and find out if it is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org
) or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (www.aiccca.org
). Agencies that are members of these organizations must adhere to strict standards of professionalism and accreditation and use only certified credit counselors.
Remember, bankruptcy is a legal remedy, so it is recommended that you hire an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy and knows how to navigate federal and state laws. It is also important that you not choose an attorney based on price alone. You will find it of benefit to look for an attorney who wants to meet you individually, answer your questions, and take into account your personal situation.
The BBB also warns consumers not to make the mistake of assuming that a "bankruptcy petition preparer" can offer you legal advice. They are non-lawyers who can prepare bankruptcy forms for a fee; they offer no services once a bankruptcy case has begun.
If you're considering filing bankruptcy and don't know where to start, ask family, friends, or colleagues if they can recommend an attorney. Check with your local or state bar association, and check out companies at www.bbb.org
before you make your decision.