Cuomo sues debt collection operation

Ashley Stinnett Aug. 18, 2009, 4:30pm

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against a Buffalo-based debt collection operation over allegations the organization violated federal and state laws.

The lawsuit seeks to shut down 13 debt collection companies run by Buffalo residents Omar Smith, Narvell Benning and Keith Marshall (collectively, the "Benning-Smith Group").

More than 850 complaints have been filed with Cuomo's office, the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau, according to Cuomo.

The complaints allege Benning-Smith Group employees routinely posed as law enforcement officials threatening to arrest or to physically harm consumers unless they made arrangements to pay the company.

In addition, the group allegedly sexually harassed and verbally abused customers, according to Cuomo.

"This company made lies, threats and abuse their calling cards in their efforts to manipulate and take advantage of consumer's already facing tough economic times," Cuomo said.

"They did everything they could to demean and humiliate their targets, stooping so low as to sexually harass and verbally abuse individuals nationwide."

The Benning-Smith Group operated under several names, including: Abrams, Burke & Associates; Benning and Smith Acquisitions, Inc.; Brady and Caruso, LLC;, LLC; Fredericks, Goldstein & Zoe; Graham, Noble & Associates Bookkeeping; Graham, Noble & Associates LLC; Graham, Beagle & Associates LLC; Kingman, Cole and Associates, LCC; Marshall and Ziolkowski Enterprise, LLC; Marshall Ziolkowski Acquisitions, LLC; Lansky, Goldstein, Zoe; OLS Payment Services; and University Debt Collection.

Cuomo's office claims the defendants used their false law enforcement identities to coerce customers to make payments on inflated prices.

In addition, collectors allegedly called consumers "drunks," "scumbags," and "deadbeats" on several occasions, according to Cuomo.

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the New York State debt collection and consumer protection laws prohibit individuals or entities from posing as law enforcement officials.

The law also prohibits individuals from using deceptive and harassing tactics to collect unpaid debt.

Tuesday's lawsuit comes on the heels of several other lawsuits aimed at breaking up allegedly fraudulent debt collection practices. In June, Cuomo obtained a court order shutting down another Buffalo-based debt collection firm over allegations of racketeering.

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