More than $88,000 has been refunded to people across the nation who purchased the "Cross of Lourdes" from American Consumer, Inc., a Philadelphia mailorder firm.
The restitution to the more than 5,500 persons who paid $15.95 for falsely advertised crosses is part of a plea bargain agreement struck between U.S. Attorney Peter F. Vaira and the mail-order house that faced a 1,000-count mail fraud indictment and a possible$1 million fine.
After U.S. District Judge Alfred L. Luongo imposed a $25,000 fine on American Consumer for 25 fraud counts, the company -- one of the largest mail-order houses in the nation -- agreed to make restitution of about $103,000 to customers who bought the "Cross of Lourdes" in the belief that the crosses had been dipped in the waters at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France and blessed in Rome by Pope Paul VI.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Cohen, deputy chief of the special prosecutions division, said about 240 customers remain to be contacted for the refunds. Cohen said American Consumer has been complying with the plea agreement and the remaining refunds are due to people the firm is unable to locate because they have moved.
In September, the government charged that although American Consumer had advertised that the crosses were authentic, they had actually been sprayed in the United States with bottled water from Lourdes and never were blessed by the pope.