'Meet Over Drinks' dating service called a fraud

Dating service troubles.A dating service with operations in Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania that deceived and defrauded its clients has been ordered to reimburse them by a New York State Supreme Court judge.

Justice Richard Liebowitz found Gary Ferone, president of "Great Date Now," and its successor, "Meet Over Drinks," personally liable "for the fraudulent, deceptive and illegal business acts of his companies," according to a report on LoHud.com.

The judge ordered Ferone to compensate former clients of Great Date Now and Meet Over Drinks to the tune of $720,000 in restitution, plus thousands more in court costs and penalties. A hearing in September will determine the precise amount of the penalties. The Purchase, N.Y.-based companies went bankrupt soon after New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed suit against them in December.

Ferone, a former Wall Street banker who was convicted of misdemeanor securities fraud in the 1990s, launched Great Date Now in 2004, which he promoted an alternative to online dating for upscale clients willing to pay for a consultation with a professional matchmaker.

According to the lawsuit, Great Date Now charged upwards of $5,500 for its matchmaking services -- far in excess of the $1,000 ceiling set by New York State's Dating Service Consumer Bill of Rights. Great Date Now contracts also neglected to inform clients of their legal right to annul the contract within three business days and suspend it up to a year, according to the lawsuit. Cuomo's office launched and investigation into Great Date Now in 2008 in response to complaints by clients.

The web remains rife with complaints about Great Date Now and Meet Over Drinks. Hundreds of burned clients have accused Ferone and his companies of being "scam artists," "the BIGGEST SCAM on the planet" and of "stealing money from people who are putting their trust in him." One angry customer wrote: "Great Date Now and Meet Over Drinks [are part of] the same scam company owned by the same scammer cheater owner who just steals people's money."

About a year after the Cuomo launched his investigation into Great Date Now, Ferone apparently tried to elude all the negative publicity by selling the company to Meet Over Drinks -- which was also run by Ferone and the same team, including his wife Lisa. The new dating service then asked former Great Date Now clients to sign a new contract with "upgrade" fees of $250 to $695.

Justice Liebowitz said the Attorney General's Office "submitted persuasive evidence" that neither business provided the referrals or the numbers of referrals promised. Ferone did not dispute the fact he violated the law, of which he claimed ignorance. But he also maintained it was designed to protect lower-income people from predatory dating companies, not the "affluent and well-heeled communities" he served, according to the judge's decision.

"Contrary to Ferone's assertions, ignorance of the law is not a defense," Liebowitz wrote in his decision. "Moreover, [the law] does not discriminate between the affluent and not-so-affluent members of society."
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