Michael Levitis, the owner of a New York debt settlement company, was sentenced to nine years in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty in a fraud scheme that law enforcement officials said victimized 1,200 people with false promises of relief from credit card companies and banks.
Mission Settlement Agency committed crimes that resulted in damaged credit reports, foreclosure and sometimes bankruptcy for clients, U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe said at a hearing in Manhattan.
Judge Gardephe also ordered Levitis, 38, to pay $2.2 million in restitution jointly with Mission Settlement, which while out of business previously was ordered to pay a $4.39 million fine.
The prosecution stemmed from the first criminal case to come from a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau referral.
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.
Mission Settlement's scheme took in nearly $2.2 million in fees from consumers nationwide, without paying anything to creditors, prosecutors said.
Five other Mission employees have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.
In a separate case, Levitis was sentenced in 2011 to three years of probation and fined $15,000 for lying to federal agents during an investigation into former New York State Senator Carl Kruger, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges in 2011.
Levitis at his latest sentencing said he apologized to his customers for his "terrible crimes."
"I promise I will work the rest of my life to repay you," he said.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said his office is looking to build more cases in the consumer debt arena. On Tuesday, he announced another prosecution stemming from a CFPB referral involving Georgia debt collection firm Williams Scott & Associates LLC.