Consumers who bought "Caylee Sunshine" dolls and Michael Vick dog toys were misled into believing that a portion of their purchases would go to charity, according to a lawsuit filed this week.
The Florida Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit Thursday against Showbiz Promotions and its owner, Jaime Salcedo, seeking $10,000 in penalties for each violation under the state’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. But Salcedo denies the allegations, saying he has been trying to resolve the disputes and compensate charitable organizations. The Jacksonville-based entrepreneur claims he has been working with the attorney general’s office for more than one year to settle the issue. The suit also asks that Salcedo stop running the Web site, www.cayleedoll.com, his short-lived vehicle for selling dolls that critics said were modeled after slain Florida toddler Caylee Anthony. Salcedo says the doll was not meant to be Caylee, but rather a tribute to her memory. The Florida Attorney General’s office did not return calls for comments on Salcedo’s claims. The dispute began with the attorney general’s investigation into complaints about dog chew toys in the likeness of suspended NFL star Michael Vick, who is serving a federal prison sentence for his role in a dogfighting operation. Consumers said they ordered and paid for merchandise from the company but did not receive the items, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also claims that Showbiz Promotions told consumers that a portion of the proceeds would go to local animal shelters, another promise Salcedo allegedly never made good on.
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Read the lawsuit (PDF)
“Defendant Salcedo began cooperating with the Attorney General and made attempts to either make delivery on consumer orders for the Vick Dog Chew Toy or to provide refunds. However, numerous consumer complaints remain unresolved,” the complaint alleges. But Salcedo claims the scope of the damage is less extensive. Of 200 complaints that he says the attorney general’s office received, all but 10 were resolved. “Those people purchased on PayPal, so the only way I had to get in touch was going though e-mail. If they don’t respond, then I can’t help them,” he said in a telephone interview Friday. Salcedo also insists that his company made donations to animal shelters in forms of merchandise, including Vick chew toys, T-shirts and hats. “They’d rather have $100 in toys because they can sell them or auction them off,” he said. “We said they could have either and every time they said they wanted the toys.” The suit also addresses Salcedo’s promotion of the Caylee Sunshine Doll and other members of the Sunshine Doll Collection, including Gracie Sunshine and Hope Sunshine. The dolls set off a firestorm of controversy with its launch in January, drawing allegations that Showbiz Promotions was attempting to profit off the death of Caylee Anthony, whose mother is facing trial for her murder. Members of the public, media pundits and the Anthony family called for production of the dolls to be halted. One month later, Showbiz Promotions pulled the plug on the Sunshine Collection, citing high manufacturing costs and tepid consumer response. The company had fulfilled just five orders and provided refunds for 20, according to Salcedo. The lawsuit alleges that the product’s Web site, www.cayleedoll.com, falsely claimed that “100% of the profits” from the Sunshine Doll Collection would go to charity, accusing Salcedo of fabricating a donation receipt and posting it on the site so visitors could view “the first donation” made to charity. The receipt — a purported screen grab from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Web site — shows an “online credit card donation confirmation” for $5,000 in the name of Showbiz Promotions, according to the lawsuit. Salcedo says he never posted any such image on the site. The alleged receipt is attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit, along with another purported receipt in Salcedo’s name that the attorney general’s office says is the only existing NCMEC donation associated with Salcedo or Showbiz Promotions. See exhibits attached to the lawsuit “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children confirmed that their records showed that a donation was made by Jaime Salcedo on March 12, 2009 at [5:28 p.m.] in the amount of $10,” the lawsuit states. “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children confirmed that they had no record of a donation from Showbiz Promotions in any amount or any additional donation from Jaime Salcedo.” Salcedo insists that the receipt for $5,000 is not real — and says his company had nothing to do with it. “They’re saying this was posted on our Web site and clearly it was not. That is clearly something that someone made and sent to them and they’re jumping the gun,” he said.
Furthermore, he does not deny making a $10 donation to NCMEC out of his own pocket. “We had nothing left to give to charity apart from what I give every year, which is $10,” he said. “If giving $10 every year to charity is a crime, then I’m guilty.”