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FTC shuts down prison magazine subscription company for charging inmates but not delivering

Roy Snowden, owner of Inmate Magazine Service, a company that sold magazines to thousands of prisoners but never delivered, has been barred from ever selling or marketing subscriptions again in a settlement reached with the Federal Trade Commission.

Snowden was also ordered to pay $2.2 million from accounts connected to the business as part of the settlement, a penalty which was partially suspended due to his inability to pay in its entirety, the FTC said. Snowden was accused by the FTC and the Florida Attorney General of taking out ads in legal magazines widely distributed in prisons around the country, offering inmates deals for magazines. But after the prisoners sent their money, they rarely ever received any magazines, officials say.

“The FTC is committed to halting consumer abuses against incarcerated individuals and their families,” said Samuel Levine, acting director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Like all Americans, incarcerated individuals and their families deserve to get what they paid for, and get it when it was promised.”

Snowden was previously convicted of tax evasion in 2007 and was sentenced to four years in federal prison for transferring a yacht, luxury cars and houses into the name of his wife or various corporate entities in an effort to avoid paying over $1 million in back taxes. The FTC said that if Snowden misrepresented his financial situation, he would be ordered to pay the $2.2 million in its entirety.

Officials said that Inmate News Service made it almost impossible for its customers to complain or request refunds as the only phone number listed for it was unmonitored and didn’t allow for messages to be left. Messages sent online never received any response, the FTC complaint said.

The court documents noted that it was particularly difficult for incarcerated people to file complaints as they had limited access to telephones and the internet while in prison. Only customers who filed complaints with agencies such as the Better Business Bureau of Northwest Florida ever received replies, which blamed delays on a computer system failure or offered them free issues of other magazines which were also never sent, the FTC said.

Over the past three years, the Better Business Bureau received 560 complaints about the magazine business. Inmates who reached out directly to the publications to which they had subscribed were told there was no record of their account and that Inmate Magazine Service was not a contracted partner [Market Watch].

MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE

PHOTO CREDITS: MARKET WATCH

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