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High pressure vacuum cleaner salesman sent to jail

BY KEITH LACEY The vacuum cleaner company owner whose employees used deceit and pressure tactics to convince three seniors to purchase machines they didnÂ?t want was taken away by police in handcuffs Thursday.

The vacuum cleaner company owner whose employees used deceit and pressure tactics to convince three seniors to purchase machines they didnÂ?t want was taken away by police in handcuffs Thursday.

Justice of the peace Marcel Bedard sentenced Thomas Holmes, 46, to 30 days in jail to be served on weekends.

"I find the actions of your business and your employees to be despicable to say the least,Â? Bedard told Holmes. "I hope the message goes out throughout your industry."

Holmes pleaded guilty to three counts of "engaging inÂ?unconscionable consumer representation" under the provincial Business Practices Act.

Besides jail time, Bedard ordered Holmes to repay $4,300 in restitution to the three seniors his company ripped off. He gave Holmes only 90 days to repay all money owed.

Holmes said he had "no problem" paying the restitution order in the prescribed time.

The daughter of one of the seniors involved was relieved after the sentencing hearing.

"IÂ?m very happy," she said. Her fragile 85-year-old mother sat beside her in a wheelchair. "HeÂ?s going to jail because he deserves it."

The woman said she, "didnÂ?t believe for a second" HolmesÂ? profuse apologies in the courtroom stating he didnÂ?t know his employees were using pressure sale tactics.

"He knew full well what was going on," she said. "He knew my motherÂ?s age and her condition. He was quite aware of what was going on."

The court heard that on Dec. 7, 2000 and on two separate occasions on Dec. 29, 2000 employees hired by Holmes called and visited the homes of three seniors in the Sudbury area.

Holmes was named in court as the sole proprietor and owner of Diamond Holdings. He told the court heÂ?s originally from London, Ont., but moved to Sudbury six years ago.

All three seniorsÂ?two were age 83 at the time and another age 68Â?told company telemarketers they werenÂ?t interested in purchasing vacuum cleaners.

However, the callers convinced the seniors they simply wanted to demonstrate Miracle Maid vacuum cleaners and they were under no obligation to purchase, said James Stebbing, Crown prosecutor for the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services.

After each call, employees hired by Holmes arrived within minutes to provide demonstrations, said Stebbing.

All three demonstrations took between one and two hours, and all three seniors told investigators they felt intimidated having strangers in their house.

Fear and intimidation played a big part in them agreeing to signing the contracts, said Stebbing.

In all three cases, the sales agents took all of the old vacuum cleaners the seniors owned with them after finalizing the sales contract.

One woman signed over a cheque for $1,300, a second woman was driven to a nearby bank by the sales representative to withdraw cash, and the third paid for the full purchase on a credit card.

The total amount for all three contracts was over $4,500, said Stebbing.

All three seniors live on a fixed income and suffered from health problems.

When asked if the facts read into the record were correct, Holmes told the court the sales representatives involved were not employees, but "self-employed contractorsÂ?who just used my paperwork to make sales."

Holmes said he was extremely remorseful and would never encourage anyone he hired to use pressure tactics.

"IÂ?m very, very sorry for what has happened," said Holmes, who was ordered by Bedard to address the seniors involved directly. "I talked to my sales people and they denied everything said here today.

"IÂ?ve been in this business for over 20 yearsÂ?and nothing like this has happened.

"I hired people and I trusted themÂ?and they messed you upÂ?but to put me in jail wouldnÂ?t help anyone. All I can say is I deeply apologize."

When Bedard asked Holmes about training employees, Holmes said he does not conduct criminal record background checks, but does provide ethical guidelines to follow.

"Miracle Maid is a wonderful product and you donÂ?t have to pressure to make a sale," Holmes said.

The maximum penalty Holmes faced in relation to each count was $25,000 and one year in jail.