Class action claims AT&T charged hidden connection fee

Ann Knef Jan. 5, 2007, 12:35am

A new class action lawsuit has been filed against AT&T (Illinois Bell) over "hidden fees" charged for connecting local calls from its directory assistance service.

Represented by attorney Christopher Cueto of Belleville, Linda Cassin seeks to represent a class of plaintiffs in St. Clair County Circuit Court. Cassin, of Belleville, claims the phone company charged 12 cents per minute for phone calls to local toll numbers when those calls had been connected by a directory assistance operator.

She and members of the class seek damages of less than $74,999 individually.

The suit, filed Dec. 29, claims the extra charge is not included in the $1.25 fee charged to obtain a number from directory assistance.

"Illinois Bell Telephone Company customers using Directory Assistance to obtain local toll numbers are specifically informed that he or she would be connected 'at no charge' when offered the option to immediately connect to the recently obtained local toll number," the complaint states.

The suit also claims the company did not distinguish local toll calls from other types of calls when offering to connect customers using directory assistance.

"Despite offering directly conflicting information to the customer, Illinois Bell Telephone Company...charges customers using Directory Assistance a fee for connecting to a local toll number," the complaint states.

Cueto is the brother of St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto, who was elected to another six-year term in November and the brother of convicted felon and St. Clair County powerbroker Amiel Cueto.

Christopher Cueto is currently feuding with class action attorney Stephen Tillery over a competing class action lawsuit each of them has brought against GlaxoSmithKline. Tillery and his co-counsel obtained a $63.8 million settlement in a suit over the anti-psychotic drug Paxil in Madison County last October, which effectively shut down a similar suit Cueto has pending in St. Clair County.

According to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tillery's firm has alleged that Cueto and his co-counsel in the Paxil litigation, John Driscoll of St. Louis, sought a $5 million payout to halt their objection to the Madison County suit.

Cueto has been contacted for comment regarding the Paxil matter, but has not returned a phone call. Driscoll denied Tillery's charge, according to the Post.

The suit against AT&T claims the phone company violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

It seeks to discover whether the company:

  • Omitted, suppressed and/or concealed material facts concerning fees and charges;

  • Engaged in marketing and promotional activities which were likely designed to conceal the fact that connecting to a local call cost 12 cents per minute;

  • Knowingly or intentionally engaged in deceitful or misleading practices;

  • Received authorization from customers when the policy of connecting to phone numbers "at no charge" changed to connecting toll calls at 12 cents per minute;

  • Would have availed themselves to the connection service had they been informed individually about the 12 cents per minute charge before connecting to local toll calls; and

  • By charging for connecting customers to numbers obtained from directory assistance, engaged in unfair acts or practices in violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act.

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