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Fraud Trial with 15,000 Plaintiffs Moved to Concert Hall

November 26, 1996

GRASSE, France (AP) _ Justice officials rented this southern city’s biggest concert hall to try a mail order company accused of defrauding 15,000 people, but only 66 showed up for the opening of the trial Monday.

The class-action lawsuit accuses Bernard Graeff and his company, France Direct Service, of using false advertising and fraud by promising customers ``fabulous prizes.″

Catalog clients ordering anything from clothing to computers were entered in a contest for Mercedes-Benz cars and other prizes. The plaintiffs say the prizes were never awarded.

But Graeff’s lawyers dismissed the complaints, saying the company, one of the biggest in France, paid out $3 million worth of prizes and cash last year alone.

The trial is expected to run through Friday.

The Justice Ministry spent $46,000 to rent the Grand Palais de Congres theater for the trial, misjudging plaintiffs’ interest in the case, said prosecutor Bernard Durand.

He said he was surprised at the low turnout.

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