BUFFALO, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) - New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that he has filed a lawsuit against a lawyer who is alleged to have sold the use of his name to debt collectors.
The debt collectors then allegedly used the name to intimidate consumers with bogus legal action. Cuomo says John P. Nicolia collected $141,000 in fees for allowing Eastern Asset Management to threaten consumers nationwide by using his name and his law firm's name.
Nicolia never actually provided any legal services for the debt collection company, it is alleged.
"The lawsuit alleges that this attorney knowingly allowed a debt collection firm to use his name to threaten, intimidate, and harass consumers, while he sat back and profited without having to do any actual work," Cuomo said.
"Our investigation into illegal debt collection practices has uncovered layer upon layer of abusive acts, and we will continue to root out the bad players in this industry."
Despite payments of $69,000 in 2008 and $72,000 in 2009, Cuomo's investigation revealed, Nicolia holds no records showing that any legal services were provided to debt collection companies. The collectors, however, employed Nicolia's name, with his knowledge, in attempts to collect debts, Cuomo claims.
Consumers, Cuomo's suit alleges, who were called by collectors on debts were told that the collectors were calling from, or working with "the Law Office of John Nicolia." Standardized "settlement" letters were sent to consumers believed to owe debts by the collectors that cited non-existent judgments, Cuomo says, and they claimed "...our legal counsel, John Nicolia, Esq. may review the status of your particular case at anytime."
Cuomo's lawsuit seeks a court order barring Nicolia from allowing debt collection companies to use his name. The suit also seeks significant civil penalties against Nicolia for the violations.
The lawsuit comes as part of Cuomo's ongoing probe into unlawful debt collection practices. Since the probe began in May 2009, 14 debt collection and affiliated process serving companies have been shut down. Others have been required to reform their deceptive practices.
Additionally, criminal convictions have been levied against 10 collectors who engaged in especially egregious and threatening actions against consumers.
Lawsuits against several other collection companies are pending as part of the ongoing investigation.