A debt collection operation that used fake names and threatened consumers into paying debts they often did not owe can no longer perform any collection work under a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

The defendants in the case include Tobias Boyland, a former fugitive debt collector captured in March 2011 outside a Red Roof Inn near downtown Pittsburgh.

Pinnacle Payment Services LLC, Boyland and defendants Lisa J. Jeter, Nichole C. Anderson, Hope V. Wilson, Demarra J. Massey, Dorian Wills and Angela J. Triplett were fined $9.4 million as part of the settlement. The penalty was suspended because of the defendant's inability to pay, the FTC said Tuesday.  

The defendants ran the scam out of Atlanta and Cleveland, using fictitious business names implying an affiliation with a law firm or a law enforcement agency - such as Global Legal Services, Allied Litigation Group and Dockets Liens & Seizures, according to the FTC.

They allegedly collected and processed millions of dollars in payments for phantom debts. The operation generated nearly 3,000 complaints with the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel.

According to court documents, a typical message from the scam involved a script similar to this: "[T]his is the Civil Investigations Unit. We are contacting you in regards to a complaint being filed against you, pursuant to claim and affidavit number D00D-2932, where you have been named a respondent in a court action and must appear. There is a contact number on file which you must call, 757-301-4745. Please forward this information to your attorney in that the order to show cause contains a restraining order. You or your attorney will have 24 to 48 hours to oppose this matter."

Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said Pinnacle and the other defendants "threatened many consumers by telling them their bank accounts would be closed, their wages garnished, they would face felony fraud charges or they would be arrested if they failed to pay the phantom debts." The offenses are all violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

The FTC added Boyland as a defendant last December, several months after the agency filed its original complaint. Investigators had learned the Pinnacle operation was a branch of various illegal collection operations Boyland had led.

Boyland's legal troubles are lengthy. He was convicted on weapons charges in 2010 and was facing 15 years in state prison when he fled, skipping out on bail between his trial and sentencing. He later pleaded guilty to bail jumping and received four years added to the sentence on weapons charges. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, Boyland is not currently in prison but it was not immediately clear whether that is accurate information.

Boyland at the time was the central figure in a larger investigation, started in 2009, into his former companies' collection tactics. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, while serving as the state's attorney general, had shut down Boyland’s operations - including nine companies in the Buffalo area, Cleveland and Pittsburgh - following a six-month investigation that revealed his employees used violence and threats to collect debts. Boyland's employees also had posed as uniformed police officers.

Boyland previously served 13 years in prison for attempted robbery.

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