Unicredit America, Inc., received its just deserts when it received an authentic subpoena from Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett’s office along with a real petition.
I’ve represented Orlando, Florida consumers against collection agencies whose debt collectors harassed consumers by falsely threatening to arrest them when no crime was committed. I observed the devastating effect that these threats have on consumers, their spouses, and their children. But, no consumer ever contacted me about fake “court” proceedings and I don’t remember ever even hearing of this particular scam until the Unicredit case. Florida residents contacted me about fake summons or similar documents but never about fake court proceedings. If true, the “Unicredit Debt Resolution Center” is one of the most outrageous forms of harassment I’ve heard of.
Unicredit America, Inc., also known as “Unicredit Debt Resolution Center”, allegedly conducted fake court hearings and depositions. Unicredit allegedly sent “hearing notices” (intended to act as “Summons”) and letters which were often hand delivered by people dressed so that they appeared to be Deputy Sheriffs. The debtors who received this “service of process” believed that they would be taken into custody by the “Deputy” if they failed to appear at the phony court for “hearings” or “depositions”. According to Mr. Habursky of the Erie Sheriff’s Office :
“by looking at the complaint, it looks like they preyed on the elderly [and] the sickly, which is extremely sad. They are impressionable [and] they are scared.”
reported the Erie Reader.
According to the Attorney General’s Petition, Unicredit conducted fake court hearings to intimidate consumers into making payments, providing access to their bank accounts, or surrendering property including motor vehicle titles.
The fake “Courtroom” allegedly contained a raised “bench” area where : (1) a judge would be seated; (2) two tables and chairs in front of the “bench” for “attorneys” and defendant consumers; (3) a “witness stand”; (4) seating for observers; and (5) a law library on bookshelves. In other words, the room appeared to be a courtroom.
In order to not disappoint the consumer “defendants”, a person
dressed in black was seated on the “bench” during some of these proceedings.
At least 370 affected consumers have come forward according to court records according to an article entitled “Attorney General Goes to Court to Shut Down Erie Debt Collector” by Lisa Thompson in the Erie Times News. According to this report, the consumers who Unicredit attempted to collect debts from typically had judgments entered against them in favor of local business such as debts to medical providers which were turned over to Unicredit for collections. Ordinarily, obtaining information to execute judgments, especially small judgments, is a time consuming and dicey investment.
According to the Erie Times News, Erie lawyer Lawrence D’Ambrosio is accused of orchestrating the hearings held in the mock courtroom. Another lawyer identified only as “Attorney Logue”, is referenced in the court records as “Unicredit counsel”.
Follow-up reports by the Erie Times News identified “Attorney Logue” as former Erie County Public Defender Tony Logue who went to work for Unicredit after leaving the P.D.’s office.
Although the defendants deny the allegations and vigorously dispute the lawsuit, the Erie Times News reports that a “state Attorney General’s Office investigator … attended a purported court ‘hearing’ at Unicredit while working undercover.”
According to the Times News, the consumers often received subpoenas commanding them to bring documents concerning their property including motor vehicle registrations, bank statements, deeds, bonds, stocks, tax returns, and records of personal property.
Investigators explained that if people failed to appear at the “hearing”, Unicredit would send letters warning them that they risked arrest if they failed to comply. For example, one letter by lawyer D’Amrosio
filed in the court records states :
“I shall have no alternative but to request from the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County to have the Sheriff attach you personally (physically take you away) for your appearance before the Judge to answer to the Court for your disobeying the Subpoena issued by the Prothonotary and lawfully served upon you. You have attempted to flout the law, therefore, you must face the consequences. See me immediately.”
“Attorney Logue” also signed at least one similar letter.
If an attorney accompanied the judgment defendant to the “hearing”, Unicredit simply dismissed the “proceedings”.
The Attorney General apparently opened its investigation as a result of ten complaints many of which were lodged by clients of Northwest Legal Services.
The Attorney General’s Petition requests that the court : (1) grant a special and preliminary injunction; (2) freeze all of Unicredit’s assets; (3) prohibit Unicredit from collecting debts; (4) require Unicredit to immediately cease all bogus hearings and depositions; and (5) to turn over business records, bank accounts, and assets.
Attorney General Corbett urged consumers with complaints or questions about Unicredit’s debt collection practices to call the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or file an on-line consumer complaint.
Consumers who are not residents of Pennsylvania can call the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office at (814) 871-4371, use the website (link above), or mail the attorney general’s Erie, PA office at 1001 Renaissance Centre, at 10th and State Streets.
Although not as “newsworthy” as Unicredit’s alleged scheme, any false threat to arrest even one consumer is reprehensible.
Florida consumers can sue debt collectors and original creditors who falsely threaten to have a consumer arrested or who impersonate law enforcement or other government employees. Impersonating a government official or falsely threatening to arrest or prosecute a consumer violates both state and federal collection practices laws prohibiting harassment.
(C) 2010 – 2013 Donald E. Petersen
All rights reserved.