The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has asked a federal district court to enter a consent order requiring debt settlement agency Premier Consulting Group LLC to pay a fine of $69,075 for charging consumers illegal upfront fees for settlement services they never received.
The settlement comes one month after a larger case involving Mission Settlement Agency, another debt settlement firm, closed with a nine-year prison sentence for its owner, Michael Levitis.
Premier's settlement, announced Thursday, represents the amount of advance fees the companies took from consumers who did not have any debt settled. The CFPB alleged the illegal fees and the failure to provide services often caused consumers to fall further into debt and harm their credit history in the process.
In May 2013, the CFPB filed a complaint in federal district court against Premier and Mission Settlement, as well as several related entities, including the Law Office of Michael Lupolover.
Premier and the Lupolover firm, which also is named in Thursday's settlement, are New Jersey-based firms with customers in several states. Consumers harmed by the violations may be eligible for relief from the CFPBs Civil Penalty Fund, according to CFPB officials.
The settlement prohibits Premier and the Lupolover firm from any future violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule, which the CFPB has authority to enforce. The Lupolover firm was not fined.
Earlier this year, the CFPB settled its case against Mission Settlement. In November, owner Michael Levitis, 38, received a nine-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges of mail and wire fraud.
Law enforcement officials said the scheme victimized 1,200 people with false promises of relief from credit card companies and banks. U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe ordered Levitis to pay $2.2 million in restitution jointly with Mission Settlement, which while out of business previously was ordered to pay $4.39 million.
Mission Settlement's scheme took in nearly $2.2 million in fees from consumers nationwide, without paying anything to creditors, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors argued that Mission Settlement - from 2009 to 2013 - touted its ability to help customers reduce their credit card and other consumer debt.
Levitis and his employees were arrested in May 2013 and charged with mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy in what prosecutors at the time called a four-year criminal scheme that bilked customers of money funneled to pay expenses at a nightclub, luxury car leases and credit card bills. Levitis pleaded guilty in April.