Company Linked To Other Businesses With Troubled Pasts
What if you were out of work and a company promised to help you get a job? All you had to do is pay this career placement agency several thousand dollars.
Former clients of Transforming America say they paid the money, but never got their promised jobs.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates went undercover. Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus exposes what this company is doing and why some say it's gone on long enough.
If you're out of work, Transforming America says it will help you get a job.
When we went in undercover posing as a prospective client, we were told by the company's executive vice president Gary Sebold, "We can open the door for anybody."
Here's how it works. You pay Transforming America nearly four thousand dollars and they claim they'll use their inside connections to get you hired anywhere you want.
Gary Sebold told our undercover crew, "We're so good at what we do that we guarantee in writing that (you) will accept a position (you) want, period."
As good as it may sound, the problem is that's not what this company does.
Ed Wozniak, the owner of Transforming America, tells us his company helps clients with their resumes and interviewing skills and does not promise people jobs.
But former client Lyle Seavers strongly disagrees.
Kraus asks Seavers, "They told you they would help you find a job?"
And Seavers' emphatic response, "Absolutely."
And, again, when we went in to Transforming America undercover and met with the company's Gary Sebold for close to an hour and a half, he assured us, "We know how to write. We know how to use email to get to the vice-president you will pick up the phone and call you and invite you to an interview."
Kathleen Calligan, head of the Middle Tennessee Better Business Bureau says, "We call this misrepresentation."
And Calligan told NewsChannel 5 that what we heard from Transforming America sounds just like another so-called career placement company called JL Kirk Associates.
The BBB has dozens of complaints from customers who say they paid JL Kirk thousands of dollars and never got the jobs they were promised.
Of the similarities between the two companies, the BBB's Calligan believes, "The name may have changed but the business game is the same."
Two years ago, the Tennessee Attorney General's office began investigating JL Kirk. Last year, the company suddenly closed its Brentwood office. But, not long after, Transforming America opened in the exact same spot.
Barbara McDaniel who worked for JL Kirk believes it's no coincidence. McDaniel says of the new company, "It's the same thing. It's the same thing as JL Kirk Associates."
When NewsChannel 5 went to the Transforming America office, the company's owner, Ed Wozniak, refused to talk about his company on camera, but he insists there's no connection between Transforming America and JL Kirk. Yet our investigation found plenty of evidence there is.
We asked McDaniel, the former JL Kirk employee, to take a look at the materials Transforming America gives its clients.
McDaniel told NewsChannel 5 the materials are the same as JL Kirk's and so is the pitch.
She recalls, "They're (prospective clients) brought in there and told we'll find you a job."
Just like our undercover crew.
While our undercover cameras were rolling, Gary Sebold, again the company's vice president, told us, "There's not a position you can think of we haven't helped somebody get because they wanted it."
But Barbara McDaniel says the sales pitch isn't really what the company is all about. She says, "None of it's true. None of it."
Prospective clients, she recalls, were also told the company has 'in's' with top executives at well-known companies in town.
Gary Sebold told our undercover crew, "We've got people who play golf with the president of Nissan."
McDaniel says this is how that works, "If they (the client) were saying while they were being interviewed, I really would like to go to work for Genesco, then they were told, 'Oh, the owner of the company is a personal friend of the president of Genesco. We'll set up a golf game for you.'"
Ed Wozniak told NewsChannel 5 that his company, Transforming America, has only been around for a year.
But his own vice-president told NewsChannel 5 when our undercover team was in his office, "We've been here 8 years."
Eight years ago, the company was known as Bernard Haldane Associates according to this employee who told us that's who started it all.
Gary Sebold said, "His last name was Haldane. Dr. Haldane."
But Bernard Haldane is a company with a troubled past. Attorneys general across the country have gone after their offices in other states for doing many of the same things we found at Transforming America.
But owner Ed Wozniak insists Transforming America is a different company.
Yet our investigation uncovered emails and even a voice mail message which prove the men behind Bernard Haldane in Tennessee and then JL Kirk are just as involved with Transforming America.
In fact, we even found one of their signatures on a recent contract.
And Gary Sebold, the current vice president, told our undercover crew that he's been with the organization for years, informing them, "I ran the Madison-Milwaukee, Wisconsin office for 12 years."
When NewsChannel 5's Kraus tried to ask owner Ed Wozniak about these apparent ties that NewsChannel 5 discovered, he told Kraus and her photographer to shut off the camera and leave the property.
Former JL Kirk employee Barbara McDaniel sees it this way, "All of the same people are working there. They're doing the same thing."
And she now believes that Transforming America is treating those who are desperate to find jobs just like JL Kirk did.
McDaniel recalls, "It was horrible. They were taking people at their most vulnerable time in like and they were exploiting them."
Again, the owner of Transforming America denies any sort of relationship between his company and JL Kirk. But, he does acknowledge that before starting Transforming America, he was a client of JL Kirk.
As far as the Tennessee Attorney General's investigation into JL Kirk, a spokeswoman for the A.G.'s office tells NewsChannel 5 they never took any against the company, but would not explain why.
NewsChannel 5 has learned that the Better Business Bureau now plans to suspend Transforming America's membership and may even take it a step further by revoking it because the BBB says the company never disclosed its ties to JL Kirk.
If you were a client of either Transforming America or JL Kirk, you can file a complaint by calling the Tennessee Consumer Affairs office at 615-741-4737 and the Better Business Bureau of Middle Tennessee at 615-250-4222. You can also file a complaint online with the BBB or with the state Consumer Affairs.