New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo has announced criminal charges against a man who allegedly ran a collection agency while in federal prison on unrelated charges.

Lamont Cooper, 38, formerly of Lancaster, N.Y., allegedly operated CMC Recovery Services Inc. of Buffalo from prison in violation of a May 2009 court order barring him from the collection industry, according to Wednesday's felony complaint. He was barred after an earlier investigation reported that his business regularly used threats and intimidation.

The complaint alleged that Cooper's collectors routinely pose as law enforcement officials and threaten to arrest people unless they make arrangements to pay immediately. It also alleged that Cooper's involvement in the scheme continued after he was taken into federal custody in October 2009 for violating the terms of his release on a 1997 drug conviction.

An investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies included monitoring his correspondence while he was in the federal detention facility at Batavia, N.Y. The surveillance found that Cooper remained actively involved in the collection business, which does business under the name Legal Action Recovery. His involvement included telling employees how to manage accounts and personnel matters and asking that he be kept abreast of "all banking activity."

Cooper and CMC Recovery Services were charged in Buffalo City Court with a scheme to defraud in the first degree, which has a maximum sentence of four years in prison upon conviction. He also was charged with criminal contempt in the second degree, with a penalty of up to one year in prison. CMC may be fined up to $10,000, double the amount of the corporation's gain.

Investigative information said Legal Action Recovery collectors regularly demanded payment for nonexistent debts as well as debts that had passed the statute of limitations or had been discharged in bankruptcy. Using false law enforcement identities, collectors coerced people into agreeing to make payments, the probers found, and many were asked to pay by credit or debit card, to authorize withdrawals from their checking accounts or to send money by Western Union.

Attempts to reach Cooper's attorney for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

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