By Matt Glynn  |  The Buffalo News  |  5/21/15

Operations of two area debt collectors halted

Federal judges have halted operations at two area debt collectors at the request of the Federal Trade Commission, which alleged the firms violated federal law by “threatening and deceiving” consumers through text messages, emails and phone calls.

The FTC filed complaints against Unified Global Group in Amherst and Premier Debt Acquisitions in North Tonawanda, as well as affiliates of those two companies. Also named as defendants in the Unified case were Domenico D’Angelo and Anthony Coppola. In the Premier Debt case, Charles Glander and Jacob E. Kirbis were also named as defendants.

The commission also filed a complaint against a third company, in Georgia, whose operations were also halted. The future of all three firms is in question, since the court’s action halts their operations until the cases are resolved.

The FTC claims the defendants used different messages to “falsely threaten arrest or sue consumers.” The complaints also alleged the companies unlawfully contacted friends, family members and employers; withheld information that consumers needed to confirm or dispute debts; and failed to identify themselves as debt collectors, as required by law.

“Legitimate debt collectors know the rules,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. “They can’t harass or lie to you, whether they send a text, email or call you.”

The FTC said it seeks to “permanently end the unlawful practices,” accusing the three companies of violating the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Representatives of the two companies could not immediately be reached to comment.

Christopher Koegel, assistant director of the FTC’s division of financial practices, said in previous cases similar to these, the FTC has sought to ban the individuals who led the companies from participating in the debt collection industry. “We want to make sure these people never do this kind of thing again,” he said.

The complaint against Unified Global also cited ARM Western New York and Audubon Financial Bureau as defendants, which were identified as predecessor companies with Amherst addresses. Court documents said Unified Global collects past-due payday loans and other consumer debt nationwide.

Local attorney Raymond Fink, the court-appointed receiver for Unified Global, said the company employed about 20 people at the time of its shutdown.

The complaint against Premier Debt Acquisitions also lists Prizm Debt Solutions and Samuel Sole and Associates, which were described as related companies. The FTC claims the defendants relied “heavily on using false threats to extract payments from consumers, particularly false threats of arrest and false threats of a debt collection lawsuit.”

The court-appointed receiver for Premier, attorney William J. Brown, in court documents said he learned that Premier had moved out of two locations in North Tonawanda about two months ago while continuing to pay rent. But he also learned Premier Debt was operating from another location, in City of Tonawanda. Brown in his court filing said he and his team found about 14 employees working there, before shutting it down. They also found “telephone scripts” using language consistent with FTC’s complaints, at employee workstations.