HARRISBURG, Pa. (Legal Newsline) - Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett announced on Friday that he is suing a debt collection company that allegedly engaged in fictitious court proceedings in a company office that was decorated to look like a courtroom.
Unicredit America, Inc., also known as Unicredit Debt Resolution Center, allegedly used deceptive tactics to mislead, confuse or coerce consumers.
The bogus courtroom was decorated with furniture similar to those used in actual court offices, including a judge's bench, tables for attorneys and defendants, a simulated witness stand, seating for spectators, and legal books, Corbett says. Witnesses say that in some proceedings, an individual dressed in black was seated where the judge should have been.
Corbett alleges that the hearings were used to intimidate consumers into providing access to bank accounts, making immediate payments or surrendering vehicle titles or other assets. Company employees were allegedly often sent to consumer homes to retrieve documents as a result of these "hearings."
"This is an unconscionable attempt to use fake court proceedings to deceive, mislead or frighten consumers into making payments or surrendering valuables to Unicredit without following lawful procedures for debt collection," Corbett said.
"Consumers also allegedly received dubious 'hearing notices' and letters - often hand-delivered by individuals who appear to be Sheriff Deputies - which implied they would be taken into custody by the Sheriff if they failed to appear at the phony court for 'hearings' or 'depositions.'"
Corbett also filed a petition for special and preliminary injunctions against the company in an attempt to freeze all Unicredit assets.
He also wants the court to prohibit the company from engaging in any debt collection, require the company to immediately halt all bogus hearings or depositions, and to have it provide detailed information about company bank accounts, assets and business records.
Because of its actions, Corbett said Unicredit violated the state's Consumer Protection Law and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. It also failed to comply with state and Erie County court rules in order to extract payments from consumers, he says.
Corbett seeks restitution for all consumers who were tricked by the company's unfair trade practices, along with civil penalties of up to $1,000 for each violation.
He is also seeking a $3,000 penalty for each violation involving a victim 60 years of age or older. Additionally, Corbett wants the court to prohibit Unicredit from conducting any debt collection or asset recovery in the state until all consumer restitution and penalties have been paid.
A hearing on the petition for special and preliminary injunction is scheduled for Dec. 13.