Wednesday, December 04, 2002

We've written several times about the English-school frauds that have been news in Spain over this summer and fall. Well, Alfredo Ibáñez, the boss of Brighton, which collapsed in October, was arrested last Friday by police who came with a search warrant and found the company books, which Ibáñez had taken with him when he "disappeared" to his palatial house in Cabrils.

Brighton has always been known to local English teachers as a rotten place to work, where they paid poorly and usually late, didn't provide the teachers with professional materials and support, and threw together students of widely different abilities and ages in the same class. The only people who would work for them were newcomers, who didn't know any better, and people who were desperate for some income somehow.

When I came back to Barcelona in fall 1994 after getting my master's degree back in Kansas, I applied for a job at Brighton, needing money right away. I went in and there was absolute chaos. I finally found someone who could give me an application; all they asked was very basic information, and then they gave you this long psychology test. I wrote at the top of the application, "I think this is pretty silly but I'll play along," and filled out the questions honestly. Then I waited a long time and some guy who was ugly and had no social skills interviewed me in Spanish. By then I'd sussed out that this place was extremely bad news. They never called me back, which is just as well since I found a good job at the beginning of 1995. I did know an English girl named Hannah who was around here in 1998 or so; she worked for them and had to threaten to take them to court to get her last couple of paychecks.

Brighton kept going downhill after that; Ibañez spent a lot of money on expensive full-page ads in La Vanguardia, from where it is rumored that he got kickbacks, and there are a lot of rumors that he spends a lot of money on cocaine, among other things essential to a rather pimpish lifestyle. By the beginning of this year they were having trouble meeting rents and payroll. They were evicted from a couple of their centers, and they haven't paid all their teachers all they owe them; a lot of people are short one or two months' pay.

According to Ibáñez, the bankruptcy of another English-school chain, Opening, that used similar techniques of very aggressive, almost violent selling caused the number of students to drop 70% at Brighton and drove them to the wall in October 2002. Ibáñez took off with the books and the computer and students and workers sacked the offices when they heard the news. So, you figure, no big deal for the students, right? The school closes, they stop paying, right? Wrong. When students had inquired about Brighton, they were immediately subjected to a hard sell and they agreed to sign up for a year or more at a time. (And, Sr. González, if you sign up for THREE years you get a 75% discount on the third year!) The students were given the impression that they were signing a deal by which they would pay Brighton X amount of money a month for Y months of English classes, and that they could stop paying if they stopped attending classes. What they were actually doing is signing up for a bank loan; the bank paid Brighton up front and the student's deal was thereafter with the bank. And the bank wants to be paid back the money it gave to Brighton, which the student legally borrowed. The bank is fully within its rights. So if you're one of the unfortunate 3500 Brighton students, or one of the some 5000 Opening students, in the Barcelona area, who signed up for one of those deals, you're going to be paying off your bank loan for whatever remains of Y months, and Brighton or Opening already has the cash.

Ibánez has been indicted for fraud, and the money involved may be as much as three million euros, all of which Ibáñez has certainly spent. The prosecution asserts that Brighton was still accepting money from students while they knew they were going to have to close up, that people who tried to pay by Visa card were instructed to go to a nearby ATM and get the money in cash, and, get this, that during the month that separated the collapse of Opening and the collapse of Brighton, Brighton aggressively tried to recruit former Opening students, who had already been defrauded once, offering them special huge discounts on English courses. What gall. ¡Vaya cara! That's almost as bad as the official definition of chutzpah: the guy who murders his parents and then at his trial throws himself upon the mercy of the court as an orphan. Hacienda, our local IRS, is also coming down on Ibáñez; he owes them and Social Security more than a million euros in back taxes.

So they've thrown Ibáñez in the Modelo, the notorious "Black Hole of Catalonia", the worst of the Catalan jails. Since last Friday he'd been in one of the holding cells at the Via Layetana police station, and now he's being held without bail, awaiting trial, with the worst father-stabbers, mother-rapers, and father-rapers in this whole lovely land of six million. Ever hear that song, "Texas Jail Cell", by Jon Wayne? "Ossifer, Ossifer, this here big Indian next to me says he needs some sexual healing! Ow! Hey!" Deliverance is on TV tonight; hope it doesn't give any of the guys in the slam any ideas.

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