Put it in writing 

John Robert Powers offers to settle dispute with local client over refund, despite signed contract

You always hear the stories of gullible old folks falling victim to greedy, heartless companies.

What you don't hear about are cases where the fault isn't so easy to pin on either party.

Take the case of local senior citizen and author, Jon R. Horton. He took the nationally known talent school chain John Robert Powers, which once schooled the likes of Cary Grant and Lucille Ball, to small-claims court, but the local Powers school now has offered Horton a settlement.

Horton, who lives in Colorado Springs, says the company ripped him off. He says the talent agency hooked him with promises that he could be a sought-after model. He signed up for the school and paid nearly $2,000 for classes. Horton was under the impression that the contract he signed guaranteed him a refund if he dropped out early in the program.

So when Horton decided to quit the course after just two classes, he was surprised when Lindsay Fagyas, executive director of the Colorado Springs school, said she was keeping the cash.

The dispute circles around two contracts. The first, titled "Enrollment Agreement/Contract," is a long, official-looking document that lays out the program's guarantees and offers talent a partial refund if they don't finish the majority of the classes.

The second, titled "Sponsorship Agreement," looks a little more like the letter of congratulations that's also included in the packet. The sponsorship agreement doesn't appear to offer the student anything. What it does do is negate the refund policy.

Fagyas had said that since Horton signed the sponsorship agreement, the company didn't owe him a dime.

But now Marcia Mitas, the local school's owner, has offered a partial refund, though it's slightly less than what Horton had sought.

In a letter to Horton dated Wednesday, Mitas wrote: "Your negative comments about my school and Lindsay (Fagyas) are disturbing and groundless to say the least. However, I had already decided to make an exception to the paperwork you signed off on agreeing to "NO REFUND' and provide one to you anyway."

The letter offers Horton a refund of $1,295. Horton could not be reached for comment.

The sponsorship contract is short, sweet and in large, bold print. It's hard to miss its objective if you read it. And while Horton is a senior, he's not even close to senile.

But Horton says he was deceived by the sponsorship contract's innocent appearance. He says the company is engaging in "deceptive business practices" to try and swindle people out of their money.

"It's a classic bait-and-switch scam," he said.

According to local attorney Michael Duncan, a court would be likely to consider the fact that Horton willingly signed the sponsorship agreement and amendments to contracts are common. But Horton might have a case, Duncan said. That's because the sponsorship agreement doesn't appear to offer Horton any extra benefits in exchange for relinquishing his right to a refund.

"Almost invariably, whoever writes the contract is going to make sure it's favorable to them, but this is just the extreme example of that," Duncan said. "If the sponsorship agreement had actually provided something, whether it's additional products and services or getting contracts with third parties something in return that would probably make it enforceable. But ... it really looked like it didn't provide anything anything other than a release from liability for the company."

Duncan said there was no guarantee either side would win in small-claims court. It all would depend on how the judge viewed the validity of the sponsorship agreement.

Horton has also filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Higher Education's Private Occupational School Board, which regulates the John Robert Powers school.

The local John Robert Powers school has a satisfactory record with the Better Business Bureau.

Cocourts.com lists 11 cases since 1992 in which John Roberts Powers has been a defendant.



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