A.G. Schneiderman Sues Northern Leasing Systems, Inc. For Deceptive Business Practices And Abuse Of Judicial Process

Attorney General Schneiderman Sues Northern Leasing Allegedly For Trapping Small Business Owners Through Deceptive Practices In Unconscionable Lease Agreements And Suing Them For Failure To Pay

The Lawsuit Seeks To Vacate Judgments Obtained By Northern Leasing, Provide Additional Relief For Consumers, And Dissolve The Company

Schneiderman: We Will Not Allow Companies To Hold Small Businesses For Ransom By Using Lies And Forgery

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the filing of a lawsuit against Northern Leasing Systems, Inc., a New York company, and several of its affiliated companies, including Lease Finance Group LLC, MBF Leasing LLC, Pushpin Holdings LLC and others (collectively, “Northern Leasing”), as well as principal, Jay Cohen a/k/a Ari Jay Cohen, law firm Joseph I. Sussman, P.C., and other individuals involved in Northern Leasing’s operations, for their fraudulent and deceptive practices that trap small business owners across the country. The lawsuit alleges that Northern Leasing trapped small businesses into never-ending lease agreements for over-priced credit card processing equipment and abused the judicial process by suing to collect on these leases in the Civil Court of the City of New York, regardless of whether the debt is fraudulent, the claim is timely or legitimate efforts to terminate the lease were ignored. The Attorney General on behalf of the People of the State of New York, and Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Fern A. Fisher are joint petitioners in this proceeding.

The Attorney General’s office secured a temporary restraining order restraining Northern Leasing from selling, assigning or transferring any equipment finance lease for less than fair market value.  Northern Leasing and principal Jay Cohen are also restrained from transferring, converting or otherwise disposing of any asset owned, possessed or controlled by them for less than fair market value. Northern Leasing and Cohen also must provide a list of all assets to the Attorney General within five days of service of the order.

“Small business owners – many of whom are immigrants, elderly, or veterans – are the cornerstone of the economy and deserve to be treated honestly and fairly,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “We allege that Northern Leasing not only deceived consumers, but used the New York court system to perpetrate their harassing, fraudulent, and deceptive debt collection practices. We will not allow companies to hold small businesses for ransom by using lies and forgery.”

The lawsuit seeks to vacate default judgments obtained by Northern Leasing against consumers, many of whom were not even aware that they had been sued by Northern Leasing until they learned of the default judgment when they checked their credit reports.  The lawsuit also seeks additional relief, including but not limited to a permanent injunction prohibiting Northern Leasing, its related entities, and its owners and officers from continuing their deceptive business practices, ordering Northern Leasing to pay restitution to consumers, dissolving Northern Leasing Systems, Inc. and directing Northern Leasing to notify all three national credit reporting agencies that the default judgments have been vacated and should be removed from consumers’ credit reports. Attorney General Schneiderman previously reached a multimillion agreement with Northern Leasing in 2013 for similar deceptive practices for siphoning over $3.6 million in unauthorized fees from the bank accounts of nearly 110,000 former customers without warning and up to eleven years after their leases had expired. 

The Attorney General conducted its investigation with the assistance of the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for New York City Courts and Administrative Authority of the Civil Court of the City of New York, Fern A. Fisher.  

The Attorney General’s investigation found that Northern Leasing has targeted small business owners across the country through its deceptive practices, which include inducing individuals to sign lease agreements without realizing they are doing so, falsely representing that the lease is “free” or that the individuals will save money, and falsely stating that the consumer can cancel the lease at any time.  In hundreds of instances, it is charged that consumers discovered that the signatures on the leases are not theirs or that material terms were added to the lease without their knowledge. 

Northern Leasing’s lease terms are onerous and totally one-sided in favor of the company.  The credit card equipment leased to consumers by Northern Leasing is valued at only a few hundred dollars (at most) when new, yet over the course of a Northern Leasing lease consumers pay thousands of dollars for the equipment.  Further, the lease agreements are printed in miniscule typeface, require any lawsuit under the lease to be brought in New York, regardless of where the consumer lives, and requires the consumer to pay for Northern Leasing’s attorney fees in the event the lawsuit is found meritless (but not the other way around). 

It is charged that once a consumer is trapped in a Northern Leasing lease agreement, Northern Leasing refuses to cancel the lease under any circumstances -- even if the equipment never worked or if the consumer’s signature was forged.  Also, based on tiny print in the contracts – which many consumers were never given an opportunity to read – Northern Leasing continues to deduct lease payments from consumers’ bank accounts for months or years after the lease’s initial term.

Northern Leasing also includes a personal guaranty in all of its lease agreements, which traps the individual business owner (or whoever else may have signed the lease) into assuming personal responsibility for making payments under the lease agreement. 

When a consumer stops making payments on his or her lease, Northern Leasing, through its own employees and the law firm of Joseph I. Sussman P.C., then bombards the consumer with harassing phone calls and letters threatening to sue the consumer in New York. The law firm of Joseph I. Sussman P.C. then commences collection actions in New York Civil Court, knowing that many of the debts are not collectable, and that the cost of travelling to New York and hiring a lawyer to defend such a lawsuit would be prohibitive for many consumers, many of whom live as far away as Texas and California. Northern Leasing and its related entities filed more than 30,000 collection actions between 2010 and 2015 in NYC Civil Court. The company has also obtained more than 19,000 default judgments against individual consumers since 2010 in NYC Civil Court, often because the consumer either was not aware of the lawsuit or could not appear in court to defend him or herself because he or she did not live in the New York area.

Also named in the lawsuit are attorneys Joseph I. Sussman and Eliyahu R. Babad, who are the attorneys of record on the actions filed in New York City Civil Court, and who sign the complaints and other legal documents in those actions.  The suit further names Neil Hertzman, who is the Vice-President of Customer Services and Collections for Northern Leasing and Principal Jay Cohen.

Consumers who believe they have been a victim of Northern Leasing’s deceptive practices are urged to file complaints online or call 1-800-771-7755.

For more information about the Attorney General’s lawsuit, please visit http://ag.ny.gov/NLFAQ.

This investigation and proceeding is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Lydia Keaney Reynolds, Volunteer Assistant Attorney General Ross Bratin, Special Counsel Mary Alestra, Deputy Bureau Chief Laura J. Levine and Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia, all of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, and Chief Deputy Attorney General Janet Sabel.