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Connecticut Goes After Chair Company

October 3, 1989

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ State legal and consumer officials said Monday that, after a successful sting operation, they were suing a Pennsylvania company over alleged deceptive techniques in marketing the ″Contour Chair″ - a chair advertised on television by entertainer Art Linkletter.

Acting Attorney General Clarine Nardi Riddle said claims that the chairs, which are sold through presentations in customers’ homes, were custom fitted for individual consumers were false.

She also said salesmen deceived buyers in offering senior-citizen and other discounts when there was no original retail price for the chair, which she said sells for anywhere from $2,800 to more than $4,000.

The suit, filed in Hartford Superior Court Sept. 19, charges use of false and deceptive sales techniques by the distributor, Contour Lounge Inc. of Bensalem, Pa., its president, Mark S. Levinthan of Huntington Valley, Pa., and the manufacturer, Craftmatic-Contour Organization Inc. of Trevose, Pa.

The suit seeks to have the company barred from doing business in Connecticut. Riddle said that the state of Washington has already obtained a cease-and-desist order against the company and others - Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Oregon, as well as the city of Denver, Colo. - are trying.

Charles B. Chernofsky, the lawyer for Craftmatic-Contour, said the company’s sales techniques were standard in the business.

″I’m sorry for the way they feel, but ... Contour is really doing nothing that I’ve been able to determine ... that’s wrong,″ Chernofsky said.

He said the chairs are, in fact, ″custom made for each customer″ including the size, fabric and various configurations of ″viviration units″ - vibrators and heating units - preferred by each customer.

All those factors, he said, affect the price of the chair, accounting for differences in prices that customers paid.

Riddle said the sting included employees of the Department of Consumer Protection posing as interested customers. The employees were secretly ″wired″ and taped the sales presentations that allegedly used false and deceptive claims, including offering discounts that didn’t exist, according to Consumer Protection Commissioner Mary M. Heslin.

″This is an important case because these chairs are advertised extensively on television and also because we’ve had problems with their sales techniques before,″ Riddle said, adding that 281 of the chairs had been sold in Connecticut.

She said the sales techniques violated terms of a court settlement two years ago between the company and the state. She also said that the salesmen claimed that the chairs were medical devices and endorsed by the American Medical Association and claimed that the company’s sales materials and business practices had been approved by Riddle’s office.

Chernofsky said the problems encountered in other states were not directly related to the chairs themselves, but with distributors who had difficulty filling orders.

He said the company would vigorously challenge the allegations in court.

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