Erie County Process Server Accused Of Defrauding Court System Through False Affidavits

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 29, 2008) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the arrest of an Erie County woman who allegedly filed false affidavits of service of legal papers with the Cattaraugus County Clerk, causing default judgments to be entered against unsuspecting individuals.

The Attorney General’s Office alleges she claimed to serve papers on individuals when she had not, leaving those individuals with no notice of pending court actions against them. This led to default judgments that could include wage garnishment, the seizure of bank accounts and other assets or negative impact on credit ratings.

“These victims had no idea that a court action had been brought against them, and because of that, were unable to defend themselves,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “The integrity of our court system requires that all people involved be truthful in their testimony and in their sworn affidavits. My office will make every effort to investigate the circumstances surrounding affidavits filed by this defendant in any court or county in New York State.”

Annette Forte, 34, of Broadway in Alden was charged today in Little Valley Town Court in Cattaraugus County with two counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree (class E felony) and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the Second Degree (a class A misdemeanor).  The maximum sentence for Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree is 4 years in prison. Forte was released on her own recognizance pending further court action.

According to court papers, from approximately August 2007 to April 2008, Forte was a process server and filed numerous sworn affidavits of service with the Cattaraugus County Clerk, as well as with Allegany, Chautauqua, and Wyoming Counties. In these affidavits, Forte claimed that she served and attempted to serve copies of legal papers regarding lawsuits against citizens who allegedly owed money to creditors. The criminal complaint against Forte charges that she did not actually serve or attempt to serve various legal papers in Cattaraugus County as she claimed.

The Attorney General’s office is investigating the circumstances behind affidavits filed by Forte in any county in the state. Anyone with additional information is urged to contact Investigator Migaj at (716) 853-8468.

Before a creditor seeking to collect a debt can garnish a debtor’s paycheck or seize bank accounts and personal property, the law requires that the creditor obtain a judgment. A judgment may only be filed with a court when a debtor has been served with legal papers, has had the opportunity to respond and contest the creditor’s claims, and then fails to do so. Unless service of the legal papers is made in accordance with this proper procedure, the resulting judgment may be invalid. The process server must provide the court clerk with an affidavit detailing the manner and method by which service was made. If a process server falsely claims that they provided legal paperwork to the opposing party, a subsequent judgment would be wrongfully based upon the debtors’ failure to appear and contest the claim about which he or she actually knew nothing.

Attorney General Cuomo thanked Cattaraugus County Clerk James Griffith and other Cattaraugus County personnel for their instrumental help in the investigation of this matter.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Cydney Kelly of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Richard Ernst.  The investigation was conducted by Investigators Paul R. Scherf, Jr., Harold Frank, and Sandra J. Migaj under the supervision of Deputy Chief of Investigations James L. Domres.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.