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Two Men Charged With Fraud in Doll Distribution Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two men who sold dolls bearing the image of customers’ children or friends have been charged with defrauding distributors, authorities said Thursday.

Laurence Edgar Bergman, 50, of Santa Ana and Chester Robert Cooper, 34, of Newport Beach were each charged with 23 felony counts, including 20 charging grand theft.

“This is a major fraud case,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark A. Sevigny.

Both men were released on their own recognizance and will be arraigned today in Harbor Municipal Court, Sevigny said.

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The two men operated Native Designs Inc. of Newport Beach, which manufactured 19-inch-high dolls selling for $70 to $100. Customers provided full-face photographs of a child, spouse or friend, which was reproduced on the face of the so-called “Spitten Images Kids” dolls, Sevigny said.

For 10 months, the two men promised spectacular profits to entice distributors to buy special licenses to sell the dolls. Costing between $3,000 and $31,000, the license provided the exclusive right to sell in a particular region and a nearly 20% commission on every doll sold, Sevigny said. The two men sold 20 licenses, netting themselves $200,000, Sevigny said. But Native Designs lacked the personnel and facilities to produce the thousands of dolls needed to fill all orders, he added.

Neither Bergman nor Cooper was available for comment Thursday.

“It was a very inviting product. It’s the type of thing that a lot of people would have enjoyed purchasing for their parents or their children,” Sevigny said. But “these guys made statements that were a misrepresentation of the material facts.”

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“The guys lied to us,” said Pat Corridan, 30, of San Diego, who paid $9,000 for the license to sell in the city of San Diego. “I just want full restitution.”

Bergman and Cooper sold licenses from November, 1988, to August, 1989, Sevigny said. They promised extensive marketing support, advertising materials--including sample dolls and store displays--and prompt delivery on the orders.

But distributors had to argue and cajole to get Native Image to send the sample dolls, and often only partial shipments were made, many times of merchandise of questionable quality, Sevigny said.


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