New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced criminal charges against Lamont Cooper, 38, formerly of Heritage Drive in Lancaster, for allegedly operating his Buffalo-based debt collection agency while incarcerated in federal prison on unrelated charges. Cooper was previously barred by court order from the debt collection industry in 2009 after Attorney General Cuomo’s Office determined that his operation regularly used threats and intimidation against consumers.
According to the felony complaint, Cooper continued to operate CMC Recovery Services, Inc., d/b/a Legal Action Recovery located on Bailey Avenue in Buffalo in violation of a May 2009 court order barring him from the business. Cooper and CMC Recovery Services were charged in Buffalo City Court with Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (class E felony) and Cooper was charged with Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree (class A misdemeanor). Today’s action is the latest development in Attorney General Cuomo’s ongoing probe into unlawful debt collection practices.
“This suspect is accused of continuing to run an abusive debt collection operation despite a court order barring him from doing so and despite being an inmate in federal prison,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “Such disregard of the law will not be tolerated and we will hold him accountable for the harm he has caused to families throughout the country.”
According to the felony complaint, consumers have complained that Cooper’s employees continue to engage in the debt collection business despite the court order barring the practice. The complaint also alleges that Cooper’s collectors continue to routinely pose as law enforcement officials and threaten to arrest consumers and throw them in jail unless they made arrangements to pay the company immediately.
The complaint alleges that Cooper’s involvement in the scheme continued even after he was taken into federal custody in October 2009 for being found in violation of the terms of his release from a 1997 drug conviction. An investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies included the monitoring of his correspondence during his incarceration at a federal detention facility in Batavia. The surveillance determined that Cooper was still actively involved in the debt collection business, including instructing employees on how to manage accounts and personnel matters, and requesting that he be kept abreast of “all banking activity.”
According to information obtained during the civil investigation into these actions, Legal Action Recovery collectors regularly demanded payment for non-existent debts and demanded payments for debts that had already passed the statute of limitations or were discharged in bankruptcy. Using false law enforcement identities, collectors coerced and cajoled terrified victims into agreeing to make payments. Frightened at the prospect of arrest and humiliation, many victims were asked to pay by credit/debit card, authorize withdrawals from their checking accounts, and/or send Western Union money grams. More details about the judgment and order against Cooper and his companies can be found here.
Cooper will be arraigned on the charges once he is returned from federal custody. Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree carries a maximum sentence of up to four years in prison and Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree carries a penalty of up to one year in jail. CMC may be fined up to $10,000 or double the amount of the corporation’s gain.
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