Attorney General Cuomo Announces Criminal Charges Against 12 Buffalo Debt Collectors
BUFFALO, N.Y. (September 29, 2009) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the filing of criminal charges against 12 employees of several Buffalo-area debt collection companies for posing as law enforcement officials and threatening to have consumers thrown in jail unless they immediately paid off the debts that they supposedly owed.
All of the individuals charged today worked for one or more of the debt collection companies owned by Buffalo resident Tobias Boyland, which were shut down in June under an order obtained by Cuomo’s office. Since announcing that case during the summer, the Attorney General’s Office has compiled more than 1,000 complaints against Boyland and his companies. Today’s charges and arrests are a part of the Attorney General’s ongoing probe into unlawful debt collection practices.
“The tactics allegedly used here are some of the worst of the worst in the debt collection business," said Attorney General Cuomo. “The defendants’ alleged lies, deceit and intimidation caused many innocent people to pay money they didn't owe just to stop the terrifying calls. My office will continue to seek out and punish companies that prey on consumers and violate clearly written laws regarding debt collection.”
According to the felony complaints, the defendants stole thousands of dollars from consumers from across the country by using the threat of criminal charges and incarceration to collect debts that often did not exist, had passed the statute of limitations or had been previously discharged through bankruptcy. The collectors also regularly inflated the amount owed on an actual debt and would falsely tell consumers that they were being sued in civil court.
The complaints allege that the collectors used false law enforcement identities to coerce and cajole terrified consumers into agreeing to make the payments. Frightened at the prospect of arrest and humiliation, consumers authorized withdrawals from their checking accounts, wired money, or sent money orders to the collectors. Consumers were intentionally given misleading names, addresses and telephone numbers that led them to believe the businesses were located far from the Buffalo area.
The 12 individuals were charged in Town of Cheektowaga Court with multiple counts of grand larceny in the 4th degree (class E felony), which carries a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison for each count. The following individuals were charged today:
- Tina Almond, 30, of Marsdale Road, Cheektowaga
- Marcus Brown, 32, of Hoyt Street, Buffalo
- Andrew Brzyski, 25, of Mary Lou Lane, Depew
- Boris Burch, 49, of Kenmore Avenue, Buffalo
- Rhonda DeSousa, 44, of Thornton Avenue, Buffalo
- Jeremy Hapka, 22, of E. Rouen Drive, Buffalo
- Kenneth MacGregor, 33, of Hodge Avenue, Buffalo
- Danielle Miller, 33, of Highgate Avenue, Buffalo
- Tracey Pritchett, 39, of Humboldt Parkway, Buffalo
- Jammiea Simpson, 35, of Elmer Avenue, Buffalo
- Bennie Davis, 47, Howard Street, Buffalo
- Meghan Williams, 30, of Hussey Avenue, Buffalo
According to the criminal charges and a civil lawsuit filed by Cuomo’s office in June, Boyland and three other individuals - Kayla Pritchett, Dellian Sharp and Dorian Wills - operated numerous collection companies in at least four locations in Western New York. The debt collection agencies operated under several names across the Buffalo area, including: Central Resource Management, Final Claims Asset Locators, Final Control Asset Locators, Interchange Payment Solutions, Next Step Services, Portfolio Asset Assurance, Silverbay Services, and Teleport. Boyland was recently indicted by an Erie County Grand Jury on weapon charges.
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the New York State debt collection and consumer protection laws prohibit the following conduct: posing as an attorney, threatening lawsuits or other legal action which cannot be taken, saying a consumer committed a crime or will be arrested, and talking with third parties except to get location information. The law further requires collection agencies to send a written notice within five days of initial communication with the consumer explaining how he or she can dispute the debt. If properly disputed, the collection agency must stop all collection attempts and send verification.
The arrests and charges are part of an ongoing investigation by Attorney General Cuomo into unlawful debt collection practices. In recent months, Cuomo has shut down multiple debt collection companies and required others to reform their deceptive practices. Lawsuits against several other collection companies are pending.
Cuomo urges consumers to visit www.NYDebtHelp.com to learn their rights. The site allows victims of debt collection and debt settlement companies quick access to the Attorney Generals office to file complaints, and outlines the stages of the Attorney General’s investigation.
The criminal case is handled by Assistant Attorney General Paul F. McCarthy under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau Richard Ernst and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Robin L. Baker. The investigation was handled by Investigators Michael G. McCartney, Paul R. Scherf, Jr. and Sandra Migaj under the supervision of Deputy Chief Investigator James Domres. Staff from the Attorney General’s Buffalo Regional Office is assisting in the case. The Attorney General thanked the Erie County Sheriff’s Office for their help during the execution of the court ordered search warrants and the arrests of the defendants.
The charges against the defendants are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.