NEW YORK, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- The co-owner of Buffalo, N.Y.-based 4 Star Resolution debt-collection firm and 13 other company employees pleaded guilty to the largest debt collection scheme ever prosecuted, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Friday.
Maurice Sessum, 40, the co-owner, chief financial officer and chief operating officer of the company, along with company managers Jimmy Stokes, 39, and Tacoby Thomas, 34, pleaded guilty to their roles in the $31 million scheme that convinced thousands of consumers they would be arrested, among other things, because of outstanding debt. All 14 people who have been charged for their participation in the fraud have pleaded guilty, officials said.
"Now that all of the 14 defendants behind the largest debt collection scheme ever prosecuted have admitted their guilt, the process of restitution to the thousands of victims across the country can begin," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
Officials said between 2010 and February 2015, Sessum and co-owner Travell Thomas oversaw four debt-collection offices operated by the company with teams of managers and debt collectors. They falsely inflated debt balances to collect more money than owed, prosecutors said.
Sessum also approved scripts used by debt collectors "that contained a variety of misrepresentations and instructed his collectors to make those misrepresentations to consumers over the telephone." Stokes told consumers he would have a bench warrant issued for their arrest, would contact local officials to initiate legal proceedings and never revealed he was calling from a collection agency, prosecutors said. Thomas told consumers he was a "process server" from "U.S. Couriers" with "legal documents" and accused the consumers of committing check fraud, officials said.
From January 2010 to November 2015, the company collected some $31 million from thousands of people across the United States, officials said.
Sessum and Stokes each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and three years of supervised release. Sessum and Stokes will be sentenced in March and May, respectively. Tacoby Thomas was sentenced to 70 months in prison, three years of supervised release and was ordered to repay nearly $900,000.
Others involved in the scheme pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.