Fort Worth

‘Shady’ Fort Worth company accused of scamming schools, businesses

Dozens of T-shirts sit in unmarked boxes inside the Allen school district’s administration building.

Nearby are several banners, rolled up and leaning against a wall.

All are unwanted. And unused.

In Allen, where the school district has exclusive rights to sponsorship deals with local businesses, outside companies are not allowed to hand out T-shirts or hang banners at Allen’s $60 million football stadium or other school-related events.

But Touchdown Sports, a Fort Worth-based company is trying to grab a piece of the advertising action by making promises it can’t keep. After a sales rep persuaded businesses to purchase T-shirts and banners that bear the Allen Eagles logo and advertising — with a loosely veiled promise to the businesses that the spirit items would be distributed by the school district — Touchdown Sports shipped the merchandise to Allen.

Problem is, Allen wants nothing to do with the stuff.

“It’s frustrating for us because we don’t have a way to make them stop,” said Tim Carroll, chief information officer for the Allen school district. “They’ve been talking to people in our town saying they represent Allen ISD.”

And Allen is not alone. School districts across the nation that have been targeted by Touchdown Sports say they do not have a relationship with the company.

While experts say the alleged scam borders on illegal, they contend the business model is certainly ethically challenged.

Numerous efforts to reach Touchdown Sports by email, phone and in person were not successful. Officials with school districts say they’ve had the same result.

The company received an F rating from the Better Business Bureau, with 18 complaints. A Google search for Touchdown Sports finds links to more than 50 reports and news stories across the country — from Montana to Illinois to Alabama — warning businesses of a possible scam.

Indiana’s attorney general issued a consumer alert in February about Touchdown Sports after the company called businesses trying to sell advertising for spirit items that would go to Noblesville High School.

Locally, SMU and its partner, Learfield Sports, both sent cease-and-desist letters to Touchdown Sports after a business paid $1,500 last year for a banner ad it believed would be placed on campus. Just this week, two small Texas school districts, Spearman and Denver City, were alerting local sponsors that they had no relationship with Touchdown Sports.

The company, which was incorporated in 2015, first had an address listed in Richland Hills. It’s now located in the Riverbend Business Park along East Loop 820 in east Fort Worth. Filings with the secretary of state’s office list Joseph Elkhatib as the company’s registered agent.

In response to complaints on the Better Business Bureau site, Touchdown Sports insisted it had binding contracts with customers and fulfilled all of its obligations. It claims to have provided free spirit items to more than 600 schools and colleges across the country.

“We do not ever claim to be working at the school, we let the customer know we simply work with a representative at the school to provide these items as a donation, to the school,” the company said in response to a Better Business Bureau complaint. “We provide extensive customer service via our graphic art department, to ensure the customer receives their perfect vision for advertisement.”

‘It’s not fair’

A businessman in Seminole, southwest of Lubbock, is one of those who feels he was misled by the company. Gary Parker paid $300 last year for an advertisement on T-shirts that he believed were to benefit the Seminole school district. Parker said he never saw any items delivered, and Seminole school district officials said they alerted other businesses to warn them of the possible scam.

“If they are actually taking the money and not providing a service, then I think it should be a violation of the law,” Parker said.

Parker said he recently heard from the company again, soliciting him to support the nearby Denver City High School football team with packages ranging up to $3,500.

“They’re doing this without the school’s endorsement, and idiots like me that are dumb enough to fall for it,” Parker said.

An email from Touchdown Sports to Parker said Denver City sponsors would be recognized during football games.

“Each Sponsor will be announced at halftime of every varsity home game over the PA system,” the email said. “The shirts are sold by the students and 100 percent of the proceeds go directly back to the school. The cheerleaders can also throw some of the shirts into the stands for families to catch and wear for years to come.”

Denver City High School Principal Rick Martinez said that’s a false claim.

He learned about the email this month and said the school district was warning area businesses that the school has no relationship with Touchdown Sports. He also contacted the local police to see if there were any criminal violations but was told nothing rose to that level.

“This company is just going out and representing that it has a relationship with the school district and it’s not true,” Martinez said. “It’s not fair to the schools or the businesses that support them.”

‘It’s just shady’

In Alabama, the Shelby County Schools district, which is just outside Birmingham, had two encounters with Touchdown Sports.

Touchdown Sports tried to reach an agreement with a cheer sponsor, which compelled Shelby athletic director David Hogue to contact the company and tell it that no contract was legal unless a principal signed it. A second attempt prompted the school district to send a cease-and-desist letter to the company in June 2016.

“It appears to be a legitimate business,” Hogue said. “It doesn’t appear to be criminal, but it seems to be one step removed. It’s just shady.”

Under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Consumer Protection Act, there are legal avenues businesses or individuals could pursue, said Wayne Barnes, a professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth.

“It’s simple fraud,” Barnes said. “There is even a statute in the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act where most individuals could get their money back plus treble damages. The statute also allows them to collect legal fees.”

If individuals who paid money don’t want to hire an attorney, Barnes said, they could also contact the Texas attorney general’s consumer protection hotline.

Barnes said he wasn’t surprised that no criminal cases have been pursued, though he believes a case could be made. Richland Hills police said they had no cases involving Touchdown Sports, and Fort Worth police forwarded the Star-Telegram’s request to its Open Records unit.

“Typically they’ll say it’s a civil matter since it’s so closely related to civil disputes,” Barnes said.

Trademark infringement?

Dallas attorney Amanda Greenspon said pursuing trademark infringement may be the best way to stop this from happening.

Even rural school districts that haven’t formally copyrighted their logos, as Allen has done, have a right to protect it. Greenspon agreed that individual businesses could also take action if the items aren’t handed out at school events as promised.

“The school districts have a cause of action, and to me, the third party has another cause of action,” Greenspon said.

On behalf of the Allen school district, Carroll made numerous attempts to reach someone at the company. Every time he called, Carroll said, he would be transferred to voice mail and nobody would call him back. Eventually, someone simply hung up on him.

The school district sent a letter Nov. 17 telling Touchdown Sports “to cease and desist from all copyright and trademark infringement.”

Then another box of T-shirts showed up in late March. The school district will send another cease-and-desist letter to the company but won’t rule out further steps.

“So far, no we have not taken any legal action, but it could be worth pursuing for a trademark infringement,” Carroll said.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna

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