The Benning-Smith Group Informative - NY Attorney General Shuts Down Collection Agency

Review by D. on 2009-08-19
BUFFALO, NEW YORK -- NY AG Sues to Shut Down Collection Agency Accused of Sexual Harassment

August 19, 2009 Embedded video from CNN Video

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that he had filed a lawsuit to close down a group of debt collection agencies that allegedly used intimidation – including sexual threats – to collect debts from New Yorkers.

Cuomo’s office said that the lawsuit seeks specifically to shut down a Buffalo-based debt collection operation consisting of 13 companies run by Buffalo residents Omar Smith, Narvell Benning and Keith Marshall (collectively, the Benning-Smith Group). The AG’s office said that consumers in New York have filed more than 850 complaints against various companies in the Benning-Smith Group with the Office of the Attorney General, the FTC and the Better Business Bureau.

“This company made lies, threats and abuse their calling cards in their efforts to manipulate and take advantage of consumers already facing tough economic times,” said Cuomo. “They did everything they could to demean and humiliate their targets, stooping so low as to sexually harass and verbally abuse individuals nationwide.”

Cuomo’s statement also noted that the announced action was the latest in his “ongoing investigation of unlawful debt collection practices.”

In a press release announcing the actions, Cuomo’s office offered lurid details of the companies’ alleged behavior. According to the suit, collectors representing the group frequently posed as police officers and threatened bodily harm to debtors. The suit alleges that there was an ongoing and widespread pattern of verbal abuse within the group.

In one instance, a Benning-Smith collector kept repeating the name of a consumer’s daughter, describing various sexual things he would do to her unless the debt was paid. Another collector told a female consumer that if both she and her husband would engage in sexual acts with him, he would pay their debt himself. Collectors routinely called consumers “drunks,” “scumbags,” “deadbeats,” and, in one instance, “a low-life piece of trash.”

Attorney General Cuomo’s investigation revealed that collectors regularly demanded payment for non-existent debts or substantially inflated the amount owed on an actual debt. Using their false law enforcement identities, collectors coerced and cajoled terrified consumers into agreeing to make payments. Frightened at the prospect of arrest and humiliation, consumers authorized withdrawals from their checking accounts, sent Western Union MoneyGrams and/or money orders out of fear.

The Benning-Smith Group operated under several names, including: Abrams, Burke & Associates; Benning and Smith Acquisitions, Inc.; Brady and Caruso, LLC; DebtPayments.com; DebtPayments.com, LLC; Fredericks, Goldstein & Zoe; Graham, Noble & Associates Bookkeeping; Graham, Noble & Associates LLC; Graham, Beagle & Associates LLC; Kingman, Cole and Associates, LCC; Marshall and Ziolkowski Enterprise, LLC; Marshall Ziolkowski Acquisitions, LLC; Lansky, Goldstein, Zoe; OLS Payment Services; and University Debt Collection.

Repeated attempts to contact various companies in the group were unsuccessful.
Comments:21 Replies - Latest reply on 2009-08-23
Posted by D. on 2009-08-19:
THIS is the reason I took so much pride in the FDCPA training that I did.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-19:
THIS is the reason I took so much pride in the FDCPA training that I did...to prevent collectors from acting this way! I'm glad they were closed down, we don't need people like this in business. And no, I don't feel sorry for those who lost their jobs because the collectors who collected in this manner, SHOULD lose their jobs and those who may not have participated in this behavior, but allowed it to continue, is just as guilty...I feel sorry for NONE of them!
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-19:
What a despicable bunch.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-19:
They would NEVER have gotten away with that if I was monitoring their calls...but then again, agencies like that wouldn't even bother monitoring their collectors for the sake of the FDCPA, they'd probably monitor them so they can tell him how to harass them better on the next call.
Posted by MSCANTBEWRONG on 2009-08-19:
What a bunch of low life individuals...
Posted by BokiBean on 2009-08-19:
"In one instance, a Benning-Smith collector kept repeating the name of a consumer’s daughter, describing various sexual things he would do to her unless the debt was paid."

Shutting down the ops is one thing, but for that right there...that should be a criminal charge.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-19:
I just wonder if any of those collectors got fined by the AG as well. When they violate the FDCPA, they can be fined $1,000.00 for each violation.
Posted by MRM on 2009-08-19:
As Superbowl would say, they are the lowest of the bottomfeeders.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-19:
Mr. Mike...$207 Million, coming right up! I won on the Megaball lastnight...but ONLY the Megaball...Two bucks!
Posted by madconsumer on 2009-08-19:
next should be nco!!
Posted by MRM on 2009-08-19:
I havent check my ticket yet. I hope I win something.
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-19:
powerball is at 250 million, yaaaa boy
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-19:
Like I said before, most folks wouldn’t give a shyt if all the collection agencies went under.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-19:
There's been people who had all five lottery numbers, but they didn't have the megaball number...I think they get $250 grand.
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-19:
I find out tonight, If I'm a millionaire or a loser lol.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-20:
And here's another company...people NEED to know their rights!

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced Tuesday that he has filed lawsuits against two accounts receivable management companies working accounts in his state that he claimed were “operating scams.” But the two companies tell insideARM that they had no idea the suits were coming and were totally blindsided by the announcement.

Koster’s office issued a press release Tuesday announcing a lawsuit against Portfolio Recovery Associates (PRA), the publicly traded debt buyer located in Norfolk, Va., and collection agency Professional Debt Management (PDM), based in Kansas City. The two companies are not related and the suits are separate.

The Attorney General said in his release that the companies “are operating scams to collect debts from citizens who do not owe the money.”

He alleges that both companies attempted to collect on debts that were paid off or discharged in bankruptcy. Koster also accused the firms of using illegal collection tactics, such as threatening to garnish Social Security wages or scaring debtors into calling back by claiming there is an emergency.

Judy Scott, EVP and General Counsel at Portfolio Recovery, told insideARM that her company found out about the lawsuit from reporters. “We were quite surprised to hear from reporters that we were the subject of a lawsuit,” said Scott. “We were not served and given no advance notice.”

Scott noted that she thought PRA enjoyed a “fairly positive relationship” with the Missouri Attorney General. She could not comment directly on the lawsuit, as the company had not yet had a chance to read it. But she did say that the statements made in Koster’s press release did not reflect PRA’s business practices and that the company believes it complies fully with Missouri law.

When contacted by insideARM, PDM told a very similar story. A person speaking on the condition of anonymity said that the company likewise had not been served and had not read the lawsuit. The person was “shocked and disturbed” to learn that the company was the subject of a lawsuit.

Koster’s announcement was very short on specific allegations and investigation findings. The announcement said that the office was “asking that the court impose monetary penalties and require the companies to pay all court costs,” but did not indicate how many consumers were impacted.

Nanci Gonder, press secretary in the AG’s office, told insideARM that their office received 37 consumer complaints against PRA and 21 against PDM, and that "these complaints would have prompted our investigation and eventual suit."

Posted by MSCANTBEWRONG on 2009-08-20:
What a bunch of scum bags...
Posted by Soaring Consumer on 2009-08-20:
Voted helpful. This company was featured in the video I saw earlier.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-21:
The embedding of the video didn't work :(
Posted by Soaring Consumer on 2009-08-21:
You will have to use the URL:
Posted by D. on 2009-08-23:
Thanks Soaring!

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