A Jerusalem lawyer said this week he has started taking legal steps against floundering financial firm Cheerfully Changed, discounting promises from the company’s owner, Jonathan Abeles, to make every effort to repay all his debts.
“We’re no longer going to give him any credit or any good will − that he had for many years and he misused it,” said A. Amos Fried, a Chicago-born attorney specializing in civil, commercial and criminal law. “He’s not going to be able to tell us he’s going to get back on his feet and we’re going to believe him. Because we’re about to take concrete steps.”
Fried said he initiated “legal proceedings” against Abeles, but declined to provide any details. Abeles’ attorney, Zemach Green, told Anglo File he does not know Fried and is unaware of any proceedings against his client.
Cheerfully Changed was exceedingly popular among English-speaking immigrants because it offered lower rates and quicker services than regular banks. Last month, the company’s six branches in and around Jerusalem suddenly closed, leaving countless clients wondering about money they had deposited or wired through the firm.
Fried says he has spoken to about 100 people who are seeking legal action against Abeles, more than half of whom have already hired him as their legal council. The people who have contacted him together demand sums totaling about $5 million, Fried said.
Fried, who immigrated to Israel in 1983, declined to detail his strategy for the case he is preparing against Abeles, but announced it would be painful for the latter. “He’s not going to live another normal day. The life he is accustomed to up until now he’s no longer going to live, by any means,” he said. “Until I see full collection he’s going to be the one suffering no less than my clients.”
Last week, Fried met with Abeles, the Maryland native who in 1991 founded Cheerfully Changed, which changed currencies, executed money transfers and held deposits, though it was not licensed by the Bank of Israel to do so.
“I made it very clear to him what I demand from him in order to find a resolution that may not involve the courts, and that’s very specific,” Fried said. “If he wants to postpone that, the only legitimate way that I could advise my clients to accept his pleas is to back that up with actual securities.”
After days of leaving his customers in the dark about the company’s fate, Abeles last week posted a letter on the Anglo-centric Internet forum Janglo. Abeles wrote that Cheerfully Changed has been going through an “extremely difficult time” caused by a “combination of factors including a collapse of a major computer database, market conditions and possible embezzlement.”
While not apologizing for closing shop and withholding money with no explanation, Abeles acknowledged that many clients “suffered anxiously.”
He further wrote that he intends to “repay every debt I legitimately owe” as soon as possible. “While, clearly, this statement will not fully satisfy depositors,” he added, “I do hope that the extent of my commitment will allow you to breathe a bit easier.”
But many former Cheerfully Changed clients do not seem to be soothed by Abeles’ promises. New groups of Anglos planning to organize and seek legal action against Cheerfully Changed spring up on Internet forums almost daily.
“If you lost money through Cheerfully Changed, you can do something about it,” Nettie Feldman, the host of an Internet radio talk show, posted on one such forum this week.
After meeting with Abeles last week, Fried, the lawyer representing many former clients, said he felt as if Abeles thought the letter he posted online would be enough to appease people and buy time.
“I disabused him of that impression. I, for one, will advise my clients not accept that, it’s much too late for that,” Fried said. “My clients don’t want to hear stories and promises. We want actual securities and guarantees. I made it very clear to him that we’re going to pursue him to the full extent that the law provides in order to make sure that everybody I represent will be duly compensated.”
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