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