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Texas Prison Slaves No Savings for Direct Marketing Firm; Data Mining Results in $ 15 Million Settle

Texas Prison Slaves No Savings for Direct Marketing Firm; Data Mining Results in $ 15 Million Settlement Fund

by Michael Rigby

A class action lawsuit involving thousands of women who received threatening letters from prisoners employed to process data for a private company has settled for amounts ranging from $100 to $250,000.

In 1994, Metromail, a Texas-based direct marketing company, contracted with the Texas Department of Corrections (TDC) to have prisoners process names, addresses, and other personal information the company collected and then sold to bill collectors, telemarketers, and others without the consumers knowledge or consent. By using the free labor of Texas prisoners the company paid one-third to one-half less than commercial rates.

But the savings came at a price. While entering data at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville, convicted rapist Hal Parfait came across the address of Beverly Dennis, an Ohio grandmother. Dennis had filled out a Metromail survey promising just free coupons with no gimmicks. Unfortunately, Ms. Dennis got more than she bargained for.

Parfait wrote the grandmother a sexually explicit 12-page letter in which he offered to make her sexual desires and fantasies become a fulfilled reality. Parfait also said he wanted to be there to rub in your Neutrogena and that, while he could only express his desires in letters at the moment; maybe later, I can get over to see you. At the time Parfait was scheduled to be released in September 1998.

In 1996 Dennis sued Metromail for breach of contract, fraud, and violating her privacy rights. The lawsuit soon swelled into a class action involving 20,000 women in Ohio, California, Illinois, and New York. Im being bombarded with calls from furious consumers from all over the country, Denniss attorney, Mike Lennet of the Cuneo Law Group, said at the time.

Nearly 10 years later, in the week of December 9, 2005, the case finally settled, according to Beverly Dennis reportedly accepted $250,000 for the trauma she endured, while other plaintiffs apparently settled for $100. At least some plaintiffs received $500 settlements. The exact amounts paid out and the number of plaintiffs receiving payments were not reported. The payments were from a $15 million fund created as part of the settlement; Metromail also agreed to stop using prisoners to process consumer information.

Metromail had provided the personal information of about 1.3 million people to prisoners. Denniss lawsuit revealed that Metromail had also been amassing information about young children, which it sold to anyone over a 1-900 phone number for $3 a minute. The fallout resulted in Kids Off Lists legislation at the federal and state levels.

Metromail additionally used Texas prisoners to process data for Days Inn, Six Flags, LOreal, Time-Life, Phillip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Coca-Cola, and Seventeen magazine. See: Dennis v. Metromail Corp., USDC WD TX,Case No. 1:1996-cv-00314,.

Sources:, Business Wire,

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Related legal cases

Dennis v. Metromail Corp.

Dennis v. Metromail Corp.

Dennis v. Metromail Corp.