A Georgia-based collection agency and seven employees are facing fraud charges after a federal investigation revealed tactics that prosecutors believe convinced more than 6,000 people to pay the firm an estimated $4.1 million in purported debts, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court.
Williams Scott & Associates LLC, based in Norcross, Ga., allegedly threatened people with arrest and claimed it was working for the U.S. Justice Department to collect debts and fees for nonexistent offenses such as "check fraud." According to the complaint, victims often were told that WSA stood for "Warrant Services Association." The illegal credit card payments were collected between 2010 and early 2014.
FBI agents arrested the seven people charged - including owner John Todd Williams and six employees - on Tuesday, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Employees allegedly used aliases such as "Mr. Cline" and "Investigator Ace Rogers," to falsely inform victims the "national check fraud center" had filed complaints against them and they were facing jail time.
The employees read from a script containing phrases that sounded like official legal language, according to the complaint.
Successful collectors were paid 30% of the actual amount owed, and 40% of anything collected beyond that, according to the complaint.
Victims allegedly were told to either pay up or a warrant would be issued for their arrest and their drivers licenses would be suspended. In some cases, victims were supplied bogus documents with government seals.
"After years of threatening false arrest, these defendants are the ones who now find themselves in handcuffs, facing the loss of their own liberty," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. "We are far from finished looking at the seedy side of debt collection."
One defendant, Benita Cannedy, identified herself as "Chief Investigator Sharon Wright" in a May call to a pregnant woman demanding $819.04. Cannedy, according to the complaint, told the victim that Los Angeles County would issue a warrant for her arrest if she didnt pay.
When told the victim was in her eighth month of pregnancy, Cannedy said, "I wouldnt care if you are nine months pregnant. I have a job to do here," the complaint says.
The FTC froze the agency's assets in May and took it into receivership, according to federal court documents. The FBI before the shut down had searched its offices and found evidence of fraudulent collection techniques, according to the complaint.
In July, the firms owner registered another collection company, this one in California, that uses many of the same tactics, according to the complaint. The name of the California agency was not immediately available. Williams could not be immediately reached for comment.
Hundreds of complaints against the company have been filed, mostly with the FTC.