Kyiv-based IT company’s CEO intimidates ex-workers. They complain of his failure to pay salaries – investigation by DOU

Larby Amirouche, CEO of Ad Masters, has asked the administrators of the DOU portal to remove negative comments by his ex-employees complaining about his failure to pay salaries, disclosure of personal data, and intimidation. In response, the editorial team has carried out an investigation, finding, among other things, that a person named Larby Amirouche had been accused of fraud by US Attorneys’ offices on several occasions. 

AIN.UA has selected the highlights.

About The Ad Masters

Within the Ukrainian IT labor market, The Ad Masters is billed as a developer of advanced online-sales and marketing software for entrepreneurs and e-commerce business owners. However, according to those interviewed by DOU, the company has actually been developing just one product, which is a website selling diet pills in the USA.

“Having bought a set for $139, a person would subscribe for monthly deliveries and monthly charges from their card. It would take several months for the customer to figure this out. And as we learned later, there were either no pills at all or just something like Vitamin C dragées,” says Pavlo, a former employee.

So that banks would not trace the scheme, so-called pre-landing pages were created. DOU has obtained a list of such pages:

What ex-workers complain about: layoffs without pay

Just a few people among DOU’s interlocutors worked in The Ad Masters for more than six months. Usually, employees would not spend as much as a month there. Some of them were fired immediately ahead of the payday. Sometimes this caused whole departments to leave.

Yaroslav Bokiy, the former HR Director, has told one of such stories:

“I’ve been working for 16 days, and during that period, I’ve only had one day off. Some day, Larby told me to fire my subordinate Mykyta Melnykov without giving a reason. And the day before that, Larby has raised Mykyta’s salary. When I was told to fire another two people, I realized that they were probably not going to receive their pay either. I gathered my department, told them everything, and said I was leaving. Everyone decided to leave also. This was on the twelfth. And the next day we were not paid our salaries,” Bokiy says.

According to Yaroslav’s estimates, Amirouche did not pay at least 8 employees from his team for their work. He also says that his colleagues have filed a group report to the police.

Similar cases have been described by commenters on DOU’s website.

“Our whole department quit on our own accord because we realized there was reason to stay and waste our time. The parting was far from rosy: we were refused the pay under the pretext of ‘having worked ineffectively.’ And it turned out that all the people who were fired did not get their pay for the same reason,” says the IT recruiter Valeriya Bors in her comment on DOU.

“I have been working in this company for 14 days as an HR department project manager. During the whole period, I was being told that I was doing well. On the morning of the 14th day, the CEO and I were discussing my KPIs for the next month. Besides, he offered me a promotion and a salary raise. But on the same evening, my colleague from the HR department, having no clue, called me and said that he was asked to tell me that I was fired and, in fact, not expected to come to work from the next day on. And of course, this happened right before the payday,” Mykyta Melnykov writes on DOU.

CEO’s mood swings

Some people interviewed by DOU note the CEO’s combustible temper.

“Our CEO’s mood swings seemed shocking in the beginning. There were also several occasions which frightened us. For example, once, while talking to the subordinates, Larby started yelling and actually put his fist through a plasterboard office wall,” recounts Bohdan, an ex-programmer.

“Once Larby fired me but changed his mind in three minutes. It was a record. As for other people, he could praise them at three pm and fire them at six pm with no explanation. Eventually, I quit on my own accord. The final straw was that many of my colleagues did not receive their pay after the dismissal,” Pavlo recalls.

Overworking, no days off, and fake reviews

According to ex-employees, oftentimes they had to work until late at night, as well as work on weekends. Those surviving it for longer than a month could not get leave, even an unpaid one. There was no overtime premium.

Some employees performed work outside of their duties. For example, the programmer Bohdan admits that from time to time he was engaged in recruiting and even “daylighted” as a storekeeper.

Former employees also recount being forced to write positive commentaries about the company on DOU.

“As soon as a negative review appeared on DOU, Larby would immediately make someone from the office write a positive one. Once he made me do it too; later I deleted that review and wrote an honest one,” Pavlo says.

The editorial team notes that immediately after the publication of The Ad Masters’ vacancies on DOU, nine users complained about junk mail from the company’s recruiters. After that, five users at once posted favorable reviews, which were, though, followed by a barrage of negative ones coming from ex-employees.

Intimidation and personal data breach

Some commenters claim they have been intimidated by their ex-boss.

“A person called, introducing himself as Amirouche’s lawyer. He said I had 12 hours to delete my comment on DOU. Otherwise, they would find my parents’ contacts and sue me. I said I didn’t mind litigation,” says Bohdan.

He provided screenshots of his Telegram conversation with Amirouche. The latter was threatening to complain about the “inappropriate behavior” of the former employee to his University teachers and his mother whose telephone number he would procure with the help of a private detective.

Amirouche also threatened Bohdan that he would get back at his friends. Probably, this referred to the developer’s colleagues still working at the company.

The editorial team has also obtained emails sent from the address [email protected] to the mailbox of the FSB of the Russian Federation. In those messages, their author accused Bohdan and Pavlo of hacking, destroying his business, and working for Saudi Arabia’s oil industry. What was more, he attached copies of their passports.

Who is Larby Amirouche?

There are quite a few things known about The Ad Masters’ CEO Larby Amirouche. According to DOU’s findings, there were several lawsuits brought against him (or a person with the same name). The plaintiffs were the Attorneys General of Illinois and Arizona.

In both cases the businessman was accused of internet fraud with the sale of acai berries that were popular at that time. The Attorney’s office claimed that mister Amirouche had misguided customers by offering the first package for free and then charging the money from their credit cards.

Larby Amirouche’s company was also one of the fifty firms sued by the famous television presenter Oprah Winfrey back in 2009. She accused the companies of illegally using her name in acai berry ads.

The outcome of the litigation in Illinois is unknown, but after a similar process in Arizona mister Amirouche and the other defendants consented to pay a fine of $175,000. This was reported by the newspapers Courthouse News Service and Legal Newsline