More than a dozen employees of a Buffalo, NY, firm are accused of lying to, threatening, and bullying thousands of people across the US in what officials say is the biggest debt-collection fraud ever prosecuted. Some 15 employees of Four Star Resolution have been charged with fraudulently collecting $31 million, NBC News reports. An indictment states that the firm's "elite" team used "particularly aggressive and egregious tactics," including sending fake legal documents, "in attempting to trick consumers into paying debts." In some cases, collectors tried to squeeze more money out of the victims than they owed, according to the indictment.
US Attorney Preet Bharara says the firm took "ruthless advantage of the desperate situation in which the victims found themselves." Court papers describe how the firm's collectors told victims or their relatives that failing to pay debts was a felony and threatened to do things like issue arrest warrants and suspend driver's licenses, reports the Buffalo News. According to court papers, some of the money collected funded the gambling habit of the collection agency's owner, as well as cosmetic surgery for his wife, NBC notes. Four of the 15 employees have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, the News reports.