New York regulators filed felony criminal charges against the owner of a collection agency that targeted military personnel and harassed active military members and their families.
Stephanie Lowinger of Buffalo, N.Y., owner and operator of Neimen, Rona & Associates, was charged with Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (a class E felony). The maximum penalty is four years in prison.
The charges follow an investigation by New York's Attorney General's office, which now seeks to permanently shut down Lowinger’s collection businesses and require restitution to those defrauded - as well as penalties and costs to the state. The company previously was known as Morgan, Stone & Associates and now is doing business as Gordon, Cappolli & Associates.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo also filed a civil lawsuit seeking to shut down Lowinger’s operation and secure restitution, penalties and costs.
The investigation found that Lowinger specifically targeted military personnel, referring to their alleged debts as “special accounts.” Lowinger instructed employees to find out where the military members were stationed and identify their commanding officers. Lowinger had employees threaten to call and, in some cases, actually did call the commanding officers, both of which are illegal collection tactics.
According to a former employee, Lowinger also contacted the military personnel’s family members in order compel them to pay, another illegal tactic. The investigation further uncovered that Lowinger falsely told military members or their families that she worked for the Department of Justice and illegally demanded immediate payment.
She allegedly said that if payment was not made immediately, the active duty family member would be arrested by the military police and would face a dishonorable discharge.
Among the allegations detailed in Attorney General Cuomo’s court papers, Lowinger and her collectors:
- Falsely claimed to be lawyers, investigators, detectives, and mediators
- Threatened consumers with arrest, jail, and lawsuits
- Threatened to seize the assets of consumers
- Inflated the amount allegedly owed
- Attempted to collect debts from consumers not knowing if the consumer actually owed the debt
- Targeted family members of consumers, wrongfully disclosing the existence of alleged debts to family members, and attempted to collect the alleged debts from family members
- Harassed consumers through repeated and constant calls, using abusive language
- Levied unauthorized charges on the credit card accounts of consumers
Lowinger operated Morgan, Stone & Associates in Buffalo starting in May 2009. After complaints began to mount, she shut down and then reopened as Neimen, Rona & Associates using the same address, contact information and even the same logo.
Last month, Lowinger changed the name of the company to Gordon, Cappolli & Associates. All three firms are controlled by Lowinger.