Matchmaker or bait-and-switch?

Paul O'Neill paid $5,095 to for introductions to eight women who matched what he wanted in a woman. Now, he complains it was a bait-and-switch deal.
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Paul O'Neill paid $5,095 to for introductions to eight women who matched what he wanted in a woman. Now, he complains it was a bait-and-switch deal.

Personal Finance

He wanted to meet the right woman. Leawood matchmaker delivered — a $5,095 bill

By Mark Davis

October 05, 2017 07:00 AM

Paul O’Neill lost his love to cancer in May and said he lost $5,095 to a high-priced matchmaking service two months later.

Now, the Kansas City resident is complaining to prosecutors about what he says are high-pressure, bait-and-switch tactics at in Leawood.

The 81-year-old retired professor of psychology wanted to meet “highly educated, spiritually-oriented single women in professional occupations.” He’d also asked to meet women with a “cheerleader physique,” inasmuch as he stays fit through regular exercise.

The Leawood manager, O’Neill said, even told him she had the first referral in mind, a personal friend and client, a beautiful, blond professional.

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“Instead, they tried to palm off a woman who had never been to college,” said O’Neill, who has filed complaints with the Kansas attorney general and the Johnson County district attorney.

Both law enforcement officials acknowledge they’ve received other complaints about

“The consistent complaint was that the consumer did not feel like they were getting what they bargained for,” said Stephen Howe, Johnson County district attorney. “I’m trying to think how to put this. The type of person they were requesting was not the type they received on their matches.”

An emailed statement from Kansas Singles spokesman Rich Nichols said the company has responded to Howe’s office about O’Neill’s complaint and “looks forward to an amicable resolution to the dispute.” Nichols said the company similarly responded to Howe’s office about three other complaints.

Nichols said complaints filed this year with the Missouri attorney general’s office relating to an affiliated service in that state have been “amicably resolved.”

Finally, Nichols said Kansas Singles stands by a letter submitted by Dawn Bradford of Kansas Singles when O’Neill had told his credit card company to block the substantial payment.

O’Neill had signed a contract that makes two points clear “without question,” Bradford’s letter said, “that we make no guarantee of satisfaction and that the service rendered was exactly as described.”

It worked before

Digital romance is nothing new to O’Neill, a Kansas City area resident since 2004. He’d met the love of his life online.

Glenda Marie Sherrill also was spiritual, which he explained is different from religious. They met at Spiritual Singles. Emails and long phone calls followed.

She still worked, but he had retired from teaching at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss. He moved here to be with her.

“I flew to KC to meet a woman with the face of an angel and the body of a goddess. We dined and talked half the nights. What else could I do?” O’Neill had written in a poem while courting Sherrill, part of which appeared in her obituary in The Star.

O’Neill said he isn’t sure how he connected first with Kansas Singles. He had been scouting dating sites online but didn’t feel ready to start meeting women. He figures he must have left his number on one because Kansas Singles in Leawood called him.

Still, he signed the contract and paid for the standard package, which provided introductions to eight women who matched his criteria.

Kansas Singles’ price tag is steep. O’Neill’s $5,095 would buy about 20 years on either or, based on one-year contract prices for each as posted by an online dating blog. He said he also was offered a $6,000 premium contract and a $7,000 platinum version for more introductions.

The first Kansas Singles match came a week later. Eva, he was told, was 82, 5 feet 3 inches and 130 pounds. She was fun to be with and had a big personality. Kansas Singles doesn’t provide photos of matches, just a phone number when both parties agree to be introduced.

O’Neill called. Eva, he said, was religious, not spiritual. She had not attended college. They decided not to meet.

And O’Neill decided he wanted his money back.

Not as it appears

Kansas Singles is part of a sprawling network of similar services in several states, including Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Idaho and New Mexico.

Related matchmaker sites overlap some of that territory but mostly expand the group’s map into California, including Santa Rosa, San Jose, Carmel, Sacramento, Fresno and Alamo.

They all align with a corporate headquarters in Broken Arrow, Okla., near Tulsa. Brotherton Holdings Inc. is led by its president, Charlee Brotherton, sometimes referred to as Charleen Brotherton. She could not be reached.

Inquiries by The Star originally were referred to Mike Carroll, vice president of operations of Brotherton Holdings, who ultimately provided information through the emailed statement from Nichols.

Brotherton’s most exclusive matchmaker service is Executive Matchmakers in San Francisco. It arranges introductions for tech entrepreneurs. Its fee: $20,000, according to a Business Insider report last year.

“They weren’t the jocks at college and they weren’t picking up girls all the time,” Brotherton told Business Insider. “So romance is a new experience for a lot of them.”

Brotherton’s singles sites share more than their corporate tie. Their websites are nearly identical, right down to the smiling faces they present to those seeking love.

For example, a testimonial from “Judy” on Missouri Singles raves about the “tall, dark and handsome” man introduced to her by the service. The two had dinner, she wrote, then went back to her place where “I taught him how to play my cello and violin.”

Right above that fan letter is a photo, seemingly of the couple. Except that it is the same photo that appears atop the company’s Idaho Singles site.

In one photo crossover, Lisa’s testimonial on Kansas Singles accompanies the same photo of a couple that adorns Lois’ testimonial on Arkansas Singles.

A search on Google Images showed that each of the photos checked on Brotherton Holding’s singles sites were stock images widely used online.

The Lisa/Lois photo, for example, also promotes botox treatments in New Jersey, a classic rock station in Texas, dental implants in Nebraska, long-term care insurance in Florida and real estate document services in Las Vegas.

O’Neill said Kansas Singles did not provide a photo of Eva, his first match, though he said his photo was taken at the Leawood office.

The Brotherton singles operations also don’t arrange dates for clients, just those photoless introductions with a scant description. It is up to the clients to arrange the date, and what happens from there also is out of the matchmaker’s hands.

Fine print

The letter that Kansas Singles’ Bradford sent to O’Neill’s credit card company quoted extensively from the contract he’d signed.

The contract stated, for example, that the company could not ensure that the members it had available to match with the signer would meet any specific personal characteristic.

Kansas Singles could not guarantee that it had someone of a specified height or weight, age or education level, occupation or income, according to the contract.

The contract even said the company “makes no representations or warranties of any kind” that anyone in its membership available for a match would be of the sex that the customer requested.

Kansas Singles met its contract obligations to O’Neill, Bradford’s letter said, because the company “matched him with a woman who, in our opinion, most closely fits his profile.”

And she pointed out that the contract says it didn’t matter what anyone told O’Neill when he signed on for a $5,000-to-$7,000 deal. The contract itself says that its terms are all that matters — “no oral representations by either party shall in any way affect this contract.”

More specifically, the contract also says, the customer’s signature meant he was “not making a decision to join based on any expressed or implied representations by the company or our agents.”

Kansas Singles’ website does make other representations. It says the matchmakers will match or closely match customers’ requests. There’s no “most” about it.

For example, the site’s page appealing to widowed singles said Kansas Singles’ matchmakers “will introduce you to like-minded, quality singles that match your fundamental values and goals.” The website’s page appealing to single men said the matchmakers “hand select only those introductions that closely match your preferred requests.”

The singles websites in other states also link to pages that target Christian singles, divorced singles, mature singles, professional singles and serious singles.

Bradford’s letter, however, said O’Neill’s eight introductions carried with them an understanding that it might take eight matches “to get everything right.” Matchmakers, she explained, rely on the reactions from early matches to refine their finds.

“We are a feedback based matchmaking service. It is through the feedback after each meeting that we truly get to know our clients,” she wrote.

Several Missouri Singles customers have complained to the Missouri attorney general’s office, mostly women who cited bad service and repeated mismatched introductions.

After three unsuccessful introductions, a Chesterfield, Mo., woman complained to the state in 2015 that “I talked with the fourth man and we decided we had nothing in common and didn’t want to meet.”

One Missouri woman complained last year that the men offered for introduction “were not professional men like I had requested and they said I shouldn’t be so picky.” Another complained two years ago that for the first of her eight introductions, “they sent me a clown,” and the second was “too weird” to accept.

A Waterloo, Ill., woman complained in May that the third man Missouri Singles told her would call never did but still counted as one of the 16 introductions she had paid for. “I feel I have been baited and switched to a service that is not supplying anything ... basically, I have been ripped off,” the complaint report said.

In O’Neill’s case, Bradford had argued to the credit card company that Kansas Singles earned half of his $5,095 payment before he ever saw an introduction.

That $2,547.50 paid for all of the “interviewing, eligibility screening, qualifying of new members, compatibility testing, evaluation, profiling, processing of new members, membership search, and/or advertising and marketing expenses” listed in the contract.

Kansas Singles earned the other half, Bradford’s letter said, once he accepted the company’s first introduction. O’Neill’s credit card company has told him that he must cover the entire $5,095 charge.

Howe said his office is investigating the complaints he has received. And he offered this advice to anyone signing a contract in Kansas.

“Make sure you read the contract,” he said. “You are bound by that contract.”

Neither Kansas nor Missouri law give consumers a grace period to rescind contracts other than a three-day period involving door-to-door sales.

“If you are listening to a sales pitch, my advice is to go home and sleep on it,” Howe said.

Mark Davis: 816-234-4372, @mdkcstar