Career Counseling Scammers Still at It

Six years ago, we wrote about a group of vultures purporting to sell "career counseling" to mostly upper-level folks who were either unemployed or looking for a career change. It was, in a word, bullshit.

Called "TCM" at the time of the story, it was a franchise of the troubled Bernard Haldane Associates brand that had existed in countless other three-letter iterations. (It's currently called "MAP," and will doubtlessly shed its skin after this update comes out. Its Dallas branch is called SAS.)

Ever since the story ran, we've received e-mails from people who had posted résumés online and were instantly e-mailed by a representative who said the person was a great candidate for their services. These people told us that, feeling a sketchy vibe, they Googled the place as soon as they got home (or before they went) and found out the real story.

Well, in this economy, we think it's especially scuzzy of MAP to mislead people by withholding certain information about their employees, who are invariably referred to as some sort of senior executive. (Inside, though, there's a clear delineation between sales people and so-called career advisers.)

The man behind MAP, or whatever the hell you want to call it, is Ian McClure. According to a 2005 deposition in a wrongful termination suit filed by a former employee, McClure's job history is this: five to seven years with a company called Comedy Defensive Driving School, and about a year as a physician recruiter. Since then, he's incorporated companies with names like TOP, THE, HCI, STC -- you see where we're going with this.

For a while, now, we've been hearing from folks who've met with a woman calling herself Carol Sand, MAP's "senior vice president." From what we can tell, her real name is Carol Garrett, and she got "Sand" from the name of the street where she lives.

Sand's/Garrett's résumé is odd. For one thing, it says she was a regional vice president for advertising giant J. Walter Thompson, but a spokesperson for the company could find no one named Sand or Garrett ever holding that position. She also wrote that she was vice president of Textured Coatings of America, but they told us she was a salesperson. She also boxed herself into a corner by saying she's been the principal of a company called Carol Sand & Associates since 1993. We scoured the ends of the Earth, and Carol Sand & Associates only seems to exist on her résumé. If you think about it, since she apparently only recently started referring to herself as "Sand," it was kinda dumb to pick an alias that had to retroactively cover the last 18 years. (And no, neither Sand nor Garrett are maiden/married names.)

In her 2007 bankruptcy filing, she listed her occupation as "Senior Career Consultant" at some place called Houston Career Specialists, LLC, which was oddly located in Tucson, Arizona. She also listed previous employment at Chandler-Hill Associates, another so-called career counseling agency. (The trustee in her bankruptcy found that Garrett's filing "is presumed to be an abuse" of the bankruptcy code, by the way.)

We called Garrett to ask her about all of this. She didn't return numerous messages, and we only managed to catch anyone at her number one time -- a woman who said she wasn't Carol Garrett or Carol Sand, and who also angrily told us she was on the computer and therefore too busy to look for a pen to take a message for ol' Carol.

When we called MAP to try to find out about Sand/Garrett (and others), a woman named Erica told us she'd pass along our messages. But we never heard back. Every time we've called MAP (and SAS in Dallas) since then, no one has answered the phone.

See, we also wanted to find out about Robert Lewis, an "executive vice president" of MAP. His résumé is curious, too, not in small measure because it doesn't list the locations of the companies he allegedly worked for. One company is called "Aztec Data Inc," which we couldn't find a match for. He supposedly worked at another company, Quality Foods Distributing, between 1982 and 1984, but we haven't been able to find a company that operated under that name at that time. The only company we could find by that name has only been in business for about a year. Another company is called "National Rentals, Inc." It may as well be called "Vague Widgets, Inc." -- it's just too amorphous an entity to pin anyone to. Which is precisely the point.

Lewis is actually James Robert Lewis, who was charged with passing bad checks in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 2005. He was briefly listed as a fugitive, but the case was dismissed after he paid restitution, according to Harris County District Clerk records. (We called his ex-wife in Indiana to see if she'd shed any light on his employment history, but she said she'd only talk to us if we paid her.)

One prospective client/sucker who met with Lewis later shared the following with us: "One red flag: once I signed paperwork, Robert got up to check schedule to see 'who is next up...' Does a $5,500 investment in a career search firm for executives/professionals really assign 'next up'?....Furthermore, Robert inquired a little too much about my husband's work situation, and if my husband was OK with my using MAP services. I found that both creepy and inappropriate."

As for the "next-up" business; it's a mind-set that's reflected in the previously cited wrongful termination suit (which the ex-employee lost). She swore in a deposition that salespeople were under a lot of pressure to line up as many clients as possible. (When she was there, the company was still affiliating itself with a Cincinnati branch of Bernard Haldane, and "executives" flew there to receive awards for their bounty.)

Now, none of this stuff would really be a problem if they were upfront with job-seekers -- but they aren't. For all we know, Carol Garrett and James Robert Lewis might be the best job-placement folks in the country. But why does the company they work for go through so many name changes (and URL changes); why do they resist honest media inquiries?

If this company contacts you, please read our 2005 feature, or at least check out the comments to the story from folks who've actually gone in for interviews. If they contact you, demand proof of their employees' work history. If they expect you to pony up $5K, you deserve to know exactly who you're dealing with.

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