Story Series: debt settlement

Debt Settlement Mastermind of MCA Industry Finally Caves, Pleads Guilty to Criminal Charges

March 30, 2019
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The mastermind that pioneered debt settlement in the merchant cash advance industry ended his career with a whimper last week. Sergiy Bezrukov pled guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering. Bezrukov has been in jail for two years awaiting trial, which had been repeatedly postponed because he kept on firing his court-appointed attorneys. Eventually the judge and the prosecutors had enough and advised him the trial would begin whether he liked it or not.

Evidently, Bezrukov did not like it. With the help of his fifth and last court-appointed attorney, he pled guilty to charges that will carry a prison sentence of 57 to 71 months.

do not pass goDuring Bezrukov’s reign of terror, which began in 2015, he used at least 30 different business names (such as Corporate Restructure Inc.) and directed the processing and movement of funds through at least 10 different banks, federal agents alleged, while promising small business owners that he could reduce the cost of their MCAs or business loans by as much as 75% in return for a fee. Bezrukov carried out this scheme using several aliases, did not attempt to negotiate any debts, and pocketed the fees, leaving struggling small business owners in desperate situations.

Several layers of the scheme that deBanked uncovered, including his bizarre strategy of filing lawsuits in merchants’ names without their knowledge or consent and his attempt to legally shield himself behind Native American tribes, never resulted in any charges. Instead, prosecutors built a case around mail fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering, simple concepts that a jury would likely be able to understand.

Mailers from Bezrukov advertised that businesses prequalified for a substantial reduction in their merchant cash advance debt and that it could happen in as quick as 6-12 hours with the help of his restructuring service. Why would someone believe it? Well because he claimed he was a debt counselor that had resolved debts over 40,000 times before.

The end result is that Bezrukov and several co-conspirators, who have also since pleaded guilty to their own crimes, managed to swindle more than a million dollars while constantly changing their names to cover their tracks.

Bezrukov agreed to forfeit assets seized by law enforcement officials including but not limited to $393,000 in cash he had hidden inside computer hard drives. This and other recovered funds became the subject of intense discussion with the judge in Bezrukov’s last court hearing before pleading guilty. During that proceeding, Bezrukov begged the judge to release all of that money back to him so that he could replace his lawyer yet again and hire big firms to defend himself. He did not realize that the funds were being held to partially repay his victims.

Trial of Debt Settlement Mastermind Sergiy Bezrukov Postponed, Again

January 13, 2019
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The trial of debt settlement mastermind Sergiy Bezrukov has been postponed until April 1, 2019, court records indicate. The planned January 14 start date was just the latest in a series of postponements.

Bezrukov is charged with conspiracy to defraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine.

Several of his co-conspirators have already pleaded guilty.

Bezrukov has been sitting in jail for more than 2 years waiting for the trial to begin. Bail was not granted because he refused to surrender his Ukranian passport to authorities, one of the two countries he shares dual-citizenship with. Bezrukov claims he lost it.

Trial of Debt Settlement Mastermind Sergiy Bezrukov Postponed

December 13, 2018
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The trial of debt settlement mastermind Sergiy Bezrukov has been postponed until January 14, court records indicate. The trial was supposed to begin on Dec 17 but a possible scheduling conflict with another complex trial taking place in Buffalo right now may be the reason for delay.

Bezrukov is charged with conspiracy to defraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine.

Another Debt Settlement Defendant Pleads Guilty, Faces 30 Years in Prison

November 11, 2018
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behind barsMark Farnham, a co-conspirator in a high profile merchant cash advance debt settlement fraud case, pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiracy to commit bank fraud. He faces a sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

According to the Department of Justice, Farnham, along with others, used a number of fraudulent companies to mail solicitations to small business owners (victims) which fraudulently informed the victims that one or more of the fraudulent companies could assist the Victims with restructuring debts they had with other lenders.

Farnham is merely the latest to plead guilty in the scheme.

Vanessa Cardona – pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Facing 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
Dustin Walker – pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Facing 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

The ringleader of the debt settlement scheme, Sergiy Bezrukov, is scheduled to begin trial next month on December 17 in Buffalo, New York. Bezrukov has been in jail for over a year.

Bezrukov and his associates operated under many business names including Corporate Restructure Inc.

War on Debt Settlement Continues: 16 Defendants Sued in RICO Case

September 6, 2018
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war

Fourteen individuals and two companies (including Decision One Debt Relief) were sued by Funding Metrics in Federal court last month for allegedly “conducting a nationwide illegal debt restructuring scheme through numerous acts of mail and wire fraud.”

The suit, which stems from the defendants’ interference with Funding Metrics’ merchant cash advance customers, makes six claims, among them financial damages resulting from state and federal crimes. Per the complaint:

“Defendant Decision One (along with its affiliate/alter ego D1 Servicing) fraudulently presents itself as being able to renegotiate and restructure merchant agreements with Plaintiff and other funding companies. It has established a deceptive business practice of making misleading and often outright false representations to merchants under contract with Plaintiff promising that, with its help, these merchants will save money on those contracts by defaulting on them. Decision One tells merchants that they can safely stop paying cash advance funding companies like Plaintiff; that it will go to work for them promptly; that it can reduce their debt by 60-80% or more; and that they will be provided with a Veritas insurance plan to cover legal expenses arising from their defaults, once cash advance companies exercise their rights under agreements with their merchants, as they inevitably will. Based on these misrepresentations, the merchants default on their contracts with their funders – that is, at Decision One’s direction, they stop paying their funders and instead pay Decision One – although Decision One does not even expect to achieve results for the merchants. The result is a fraud on the merchants and tortious interference with the contracts Plaintiff have with them.”

The suit is just the latest bomb dropped on the exploding debt settlement industry. deBanked began covering the controversy surrounding debt settlement in late 2016 after the owner and employees of an upstate New York debt settlement company were arrested for charging merchants to restructure their merchant cash advances and then not actually performing any services. The owner, Sergiy Bezrukov, was charged with money laundering, bank fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud. Bezrukov has been locked away in jail for almost two years awaiting trial. He is facing a maximum of 30 years. Two of his employees pled guilty, Vanessa Cardona to bank fraud and Dustin Walker to conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Since then, nearly a dozen major lawsuits have been filed by merchant cash advance companies against other debt settlement companies that are alleged to be carrying out similar schemes. One of those sued companies, NJ-based Corporate Bailout LLC, was featured on the cover of the New York Post last summer for being “the craziest office in America.” Corporate Bailout was sued by both Yellowstone Capital and Everest Business Funding which later resulted in a very public settlement agreement that forced Corporate Bailout to fork over $500,000 to the two MCA companies.

Decision One Debt Relief, sued now by Funding Metrics, was also originally a co-defendant alongside MCA Helpline in a lawsuit filed by Everest Business Funding earlier this year. In February, after determining the two were not related, Everest dropped the claims against Decision One only. The suit against MCA Helpline is still pending.

Around that same time, a representative for Decision One revealed to deBanked that the company was on track to be doing more than $100 million a year in business.

Bezrukov, by contrast, who currently resides in a Niagara County New York jail, is accused of having only obtained $1.2 million throughout his entire debt settlement venture’s existence. Although Decision One is not being charged criminally, the private civil suit alleges damages caused by a violation of criminal statutes including RICO.

The Funding Metrics suit against Decision One was filed in the Southern District of Florida under ID# 9:18-cv-81061.

READ MORE DEBT SETTLEMENT CASE BRIEFS AND STORIES HERE

Decision One Complaint

Details Emerge in Florida Lawsuit Against Corporate Debt Advisors

August 9, 2018
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debt cureA debt settlement company being sued by Itria Ventures in Miami-Dade County, FL was asked to prove its claim that it has managed over $1.5 billion in total debt, court records show. That company, Corporate Debt Advisors (CDA), advertises that it provides debt relief for small business owners.

CDA responded to Itria’s request on June 29th with information relating to just two employees, Tony Shea and John Philbin, who combined through their previous experience have purportedly managed $1,584,000,000 of debt.

Not mentioned in their response is that each individual is prohibited from engaging in debt settlement services with Florida consumers where Corporate Debt Advisors is located.

According to the Office of the Attorney General, both Shea and Philbin previously and independently settled with the State after being investigated for running questionable debt settlement businesses. (See here and here)

In the lawsuit filed against CDA by Itria, it’s alleged that CDA is advising merchants to commit fraud by moving money owed to Itria to a new secret hidden bank account at a local bank in Florida where it will be out of reach from Itria.

This is not the first time Corporate Debt Advisors has been sued. In early July, a competitor to Itria, High Speed Capital, petitioned a New York court to turn over funds it believes CDA has in its possession for unlawful budget planning services rendered to a Florida-based business.

MCA Funder Says Debt Settlement Company Operating Illegally Without a Budget Planning License

July 11, 2018
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lawsuit over moneyMerchant Cash Advance companies are on the warpath against debt settlement companies. In the latest legal offensive, High Speed Capital alleges that Corporate Debt Advisors’ debt settlement business is really just an unlicensed Budget Planning operation, a misdemeanor criminal offense in New York.

High Speed’s petition cites New York General Business Law § 455. “So-called ‘debt negotiation’ and ‘debt settlement’ companies that negotiate settlements between debtors and creditors on behalf of the debtors and which may coordinate or supervise payment by the debtors to the creditors in exchange for fees from the debtor are engaged in Budget Planning,” they say. “Budget Planning agreements with unlicensed entities are void for illegality and cannot be upheld by the Court.”

At issue in this action is that the transfer of funds from the merchant to Corporate Debt Advisors is allegedly fraudulent. High Speed won a judgment against the merchant in October 2017 and believes those funds belong to it. Corporate Debt Advisors has refused to send the funds in its possession to High Speed and has instead tried to negotiate. High Speed’s petition before the Court asks that Corporate Debt Advisors turn over the funds immediately to High Speed.

The case can be found in the New York Supreme Court, Erie County under Index #: 810673/2018. You can view the petition here.

Collector Says “No” to Debt Settlement Companies That Want His Data

June 19, 2018
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Shawn Smith - Dedicated Commercial Recovery

Debt settlement companies often find their leads by scouring through UCC filings, or publicly available forms that a creditor files to give notice that it may have rights to the property of a debtor. In the case of a small business, perhaps the refrigerators in a restaurant.

“[Looking through UCC filings] is a way of getting access to businesses that obviously owe somebody some money for their business,” said Shawn Smith, founder and CEO of Dedicated Commercial Recovery, a commercial collections company in Roseville, Minnesota.

But Smith told deBanked about another approach that debt settlement companies have taken to obtain leads of struggling businesses. He said they come to him.

“Who has a ton of accounts of struggling business owners?” Smith said. “Debt collection agencies that are working on behalf of funding sources. So [we] have like a list of all lists.”

Smith said that he gets approached by debt settlement companies looking for the contact information of struggling companies.

He always says “no.”

“They’re coming to me and saying ‘Hey, you know, for any merchant you send us that’s struggling, if we start working with them to help settle their debts, we will give you a large portion of the fee we make on settling that debt,’” Smith said. “And we of course would never do that.”

Dedicated works in two areas of collections: merchant cash advance and equipment leasing. In both cases, its goal is to recoup money for its clients, either merchant cash advance companies or equipment leasing companies.

Unlike this arrangement, a debt settlement company is not hired by a funding company. Instead, according to Smith, the debt settlement company searches for a struggling company, instructs the merchant to stop paying the funder and then approaches the funder with a settlement deal for often a fraction of what the funder is entitled to under the agreed upon deal. Smith said that settlement companies almost always propose to the funder: 20 percent of the value of the deal over five years.

Smith said he does work with debt settlement companies if they approach him representing a small business that can’t pay its bills, as long as what’s offered is within the range of what the funding company client would accept. Otherwise it’s a no-go. While Smith doesn’t share the names of struggling small businesses in exchange for kickbacks in the event of repayment, he’s convinced that this happens as he continues to be approached.

Founded by Smith in 2015, Dedicated has a staff of 18.

Settling Up: Debt Settlement Companies Paid Yellowstone Capital and Everest Business Funding a Half Million Dollars to End Lawsuit

June 12, 2018
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money exchangeA group of debt settlement companies and ISOs have entered into a settlement they’re unlikely to forget. A lawsuit that accused Corporate Bailout, Protection Legal Group, Mark Mancino, Michael Hamill and others of tortious interference with merchant cash advance contracts has led to a settlement in which the defendants agreed to pay Yellowstone Capital and Everest Business Funding $500,000. They also agreed not to offer any services to Yellowstone or Everest merchants in the future, deBanked has learned.

The original complaint alleged that ISOs had partnered with companies that purport to offer debt relief services to merchants with MCAs. In practice, the complaint said, debt relief was a code word for deceiving merchants to breach their existing agreements so that they could pay fees instead to the debt relief companies.

When asked to comment, Yellowstone Capital CEO Isaac Stern said that there were companies that offer this kind of service the right way but that was not the case here. “The way they’re going about it is really wrong,” he said.

Of note is that the bound parties were not just debt settlement companies but also ISOs and a law firm (Mark D. Guidubaldi & Associates, LLC dba Protection Legal Group).

Additional companies not named in the original complaint but nonetheless bound to the settlement are Mainstream Marketing Group and Corporate Client Services LLC. Websites for both companies say that they offer small business debt relief services.

Coast to Coast Funding LLC, who the defendants represented they had no control of, did not participate in the deal.

The settled matter is not the first of its kind. Everest and Yellowstone have been hammering debt settlement companies with lawsuits this year, according to court records examined by deBanked. In January, Everest sued MCA Helpline and Todd Fisch for tortious interference, and just last month Yellowstone filed a Petition to recover funds that were allegedly fraudulently transferred by Settle My Cash Advance.

In the latter case with Settle My Cash Advance, the defendants are alleged to have actively coached a merchant to hide his money in new bank accounts and hide the paper trail rather than pay the money owed to Yellowstone.

Speaking about no case in particular, Stern said “Imagine getting a commission on a deal [where you help a small business get funding] and then sending it to a debt settlement company. If there are ISOs that are doing that, we’re going to come after you hard.”

Sneaky Debt Settlement Company Temporarily Restrained by Judge

May 20, 2018
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lawyer going to the courthouseA debt settlement company has sunk to new lows, according to a petition filed by Yellowstone Capital in Nassau County. Defendants SMCA, Inc. DBA Settle My Cash Advance, Thassos.com Corp DBA Thassos.com, and George Alexander, have been accused of fraudulently transferring funds owed to Yellowstone Capital to themselves while trying to mask the evidence in the process.

Unlike other purported debt settlement schemes, the Settle My Cash Advance defendants are alleged to have first actively coached a merchant to hide his money in new bank accounts rather than pay his judgment. This, according to emails attached as exhibits, included instructions by the defendants on how to cover up the paper trail so that the money could not be traced. Once this was successfully carried out, the defendants then absconded with the merchant’s money, leaving him broke and the judgment still unpaid.

According to the merchant’s sworn affidavit, Settle My Cash Advance lured him into believing that they not only had a relationship with Yellowstone but that they would also reduce the judgment entered against his business by 25% – 70%.

“SMCA (Settle My Cash Advance) told me to transfer all funds, as my business and I earned them, to SMCA to hold them for us so that Yellowstone could not collect on its judgment,” the merchant wrote. “The deal that SMCA represented to me was that SMCA would take the funds, hold them in trust, and use them to settle our obligations with Yellowstone for a small contingency fee.”

What happened instead is that the defendants ran off with the money held in trust and did nothing to help with Yellowstone, the documents say.

Presented with the facts laid out before it, the Court ordered that the funds held by Settle My Cash Advance be restrained pending a May 30th hearing.

The Petition filed in the matter can be viewed here.

Decision One Debt Relief, MCA Helpline Not Related, Company Says

February 7, 2018
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Everest Business Funding has voluntarily withdrawn claims against one of three named defendants in a debt settlement tort lawsuit in Florida, court records show. The case against Decision One Debt Relief was withdrawn without prejudice on February 2nd.

That leaves MCA Helpline, LLC and Todd Fisch individually as the remaining named defendants.

Everest had originally alleged that Fisch was the individual behind both MCA Helpline and Decision One Debt Relief. Decision One Debt Relief, however, told deBanked that the two companies had no ties to each other. “Decision One has no relation with Todd Fisch or MCA Helpline,” Decision One’s president wrote as part of an emailed statement about the dismissal.

Everest is still seeking damages for the remaining Defendants’ tortious interference with at least a dozen of its merchant contracts.

Law Firm Sued for Tortious Interference With Loans and MCAs

January 31, 2018
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Rhode Island Superior Court has a tortious interference case on its hands. Small Business Term Loans, Inc., and BFS West, Inc. v Christopher M. Mulhearn, and Law Office of Christopher M. Mulhearn, Inc. is yet another front in the debt settlement war enveloping the alternative finance industry.

Here, the plaintiffs (known to many as BFS Capital), allege that Mulhearn and his law office attempt to persuade BFS Capital’s customers to breach their obligations to BFS Capital while routinely making misleading representations to their customers, including by promising to save them money by settling their obligations to BFS Capital for a discounted amount when they have no legitimate basis for being able to make such promises.

At least seven customers are alleged to have breached their agreements as a result of the defendants’ actions.

BFS Capital v. Christopher Mulhearn

COMPLAINT BELOW (or click here)



The defendants have not yet responded to the complaint. The suit is registered in Providence/Bristol County Superior Court of Rhode Island under case # PC-2018-0094.

Other such companies that have found themselves on the receiving end of a tortious interference lawsuit include MCA Helpline, Protection Legal Group, and Creditors Relief.

MCA Helpline, A Debt Settlement Company, is Sued For Tortious Interference

January 25, 2018
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Broward County Courthouse
The Broward County Courthouse. Photo by Georgia Guercio

Debt settlement is under fire again. This time it’s a trio of defendants, namely MCA Helpline, LLC, Decision One Debt Relief, LLC and Todd Fisch individually, according to a complaint filed by plaintiff Everest Business Funding on Wednesday in Broward County, Florida.

Everest is seeking damages for Defendants’ tortious interference with at least a dozen of its merchant contracts.

“Defendants have engaged and continue to engage in the business practice of making misleading representations to Everest’s customers; namely, promising to save the merchants money on their existing contracts with Everest when they have no intention or ability to uphold such a promise,” the complaint states. “In so doing, Defendants tortiously interfere with Everest’s merchant agreements by inducing the merchants to breach their contractual obligations to Everest in favor of entering a new payment relationship with the debt relief company.”

Fisch is alleged to be the mastermind behind both MCA Helpline and Decision One Debt Relief.

PARAGRAPH 35 OF THE COMPLAINT:

complaint snippet

Complicit ISOs were also put on notice. “To the extent any specific ISOs or their affiliates who have ISO Agreements with Everest have leaked information about Everest’s merchants to Defendants, or to any other third party, such conduct constitutes both a breach of the ISO Agreement and tortious interference with Everest’s merchant contracts,” it reads. “Through the course of discovery in this lawsuit, Everest plans to add as additional Defendants, as yet unidentified ISOs, which have been working with Defendants to target Everest’s merchant accounts in violation of their contractual agreements.”

COMPLAINT BELOW (or click here)

Everest has been vigorously pursuing debt settlement companies. In September, they, along with Yellowstone Capital, filed a lawsuit against eight defendants (later amended to include 1 more) in New York.

Another lawsuit examining similar issues was also filed last year in New York. In Pearl Gamma Funding and Pearl Beta Funding v Creditors Relief, Pearl tacked on a defamation claim in addition to tortious interference. That case is still pending.

Law Firm or Law Fail? Debt Settlement Company’s Legal Footing Called into Question

December 6, 2017
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Above: Michael Hamill gets a lap dance at the office of New Jersey-based telemarketing firm Corporate Bailout.   PLG, a purported Illinois law firm, says that they hire Corporate Bailout to perform tasks for them and that this in effect makes Corporate Bailout a law firm too.   Plaintiffs Yellowstone Capital and Everest contend that neither Corporate Bailout or PLG are valid law firms.

The first major volley in the lawsuit filed by plaintiffs Yellowstone Capital and EBF Partners (“Everest Business Funding”) against a debt settlement company and their alleged ISO partners has been exchanged. And it’s a doozy.

Three of the eight defendants, Mark D. Guidubaldi & Associates, LLC (d/b/a Protection Legal Group) aka PLG, Corporate Bailout, LLC, and PLG Servicing, LLC have sought to collectively dismiss the complaint on the grounds that they are attorneys “engaged in the practice of law with the Merchants as their clients.”

PLG, a self-described “multi-jurisdictional law firm that practices law in various jurisdictions nationwide,” argues in their motion papers that those employed by Corporate Bailout and PLG Servicing carry out certain administrative and support tasks for PLG. And it’s okay that no one at either of those companies are attorneys, they claim, because PLG supervises it all. That enables them to be covered as attorneys in an attorney-client relationship, they assert.

If true, they might want to try harder at supervising. As you might remember, Corporate Bailout, a telemarketing debt settlement firm, was featured on the cover of the New York Post earlier this year after being sued for running an operation “so sexually aggressive, morally repulsive, and unlawfully hostile that it is rivaled only by the businesses portrayed in the films ‘Boiler Room’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’”

Corporate Bailout’s principal office is in New Jersey. PLG, the law firm, is based in Illinois. Can it really be that the former is considered a law firm through a relationship with the latter?

Whoa, not so fast, says an amended complaint filed by the plaintiffs on Tuesday, which argues that not even PLG is a legitimate law firm. “In fact, none of the Debt Relief Defendants is a law firm engaged in the provision of legitimate legal service,” they contend. “PLG is not even registered as a law firm in Illinois, as required by the rules of the Illinois courts,” they add.

If true, then this case could potentially have far-reaching consequences beyond simple tortious interference.

Some excerpts from this bombshell allegation:

PLG has one employee who is a lawyer, but does not as a rule advise or represent its customers. The advice those merchant customers receive is given by non-lawyers at Corporate Bailout and PLG Servicing, who approach and recruit merchants in ways no lawyer subject to the Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3 would ever be permitted to solicit clients. The non-lawyer personnel at Corporate Bailout and PLG Servicing are not supervised by the solitary lawyer at PLG, but by [Mark] Mancino and [Michael] Hamill, who are not lawyers – an arrangement that, if PLG were a law firm engaged in the provision of legitimate legal services, would violate Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3. To the extent that any of the advice the non-lawyers at Corporate Bailout and PLG Servicing give to merchants in furtherance of the Debt Relief Defendants’ tortious activity is legal advice at all, giving it violates the prohibition on the unauthorized practice of law. PLG orchestrates this activity, which damages the merchants as well as their Merchant Cash Advance Providers, in flagrant and deliberate disregard of the law.

[…]

Although the merchants are told that they are paying the funds into an “escrow account,” in reality PLG does not treat the funds like client escrow funds; it pays itself from them from the beginning, regardless of whether it is providing any services, and with no differentiation between client funds and funds payable to PLG. If PLG really were a law firm engaged in the provision of legitimate legal services, its practices with respect to client funds would be barred by the Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15.


– plaintiffs in the Amended Complaint (<-- click to download a copy)

Plaintiffs have also added Michael Hamill as an individual defendant. Fellow co-defendants Mark Mancino, American Funding Group, Coast to Coast Funding, LLC, ROC Funding Group, LLC, and ROC South, LLC did not file a response to the original complaint.

ISOs Alleged to Be Partners in Debt Settlement “Scam” in Explosive Lawsuit

September 28, 2017
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cartoonISOs and brokers referring deals to debt settlement companies should pay attention to a lawsuit that was filed in the New York Supreme Court on Wednesday. In it, plaintiffs Yellowstone Capital and EBF Partners (“Everest Business Funding”) allege that certain ISOs are culpable partners in a scam that nefarious debt settlement companies are perpetrating on small businesses.

The debt settlement companies “mislead the merchants as to the services they will perform and the cost to the merchant, and they also conceal their relationships with the ISO Defendants and the fact that they or their affiliates are introducing these same merchants to merchant cash advance providers like Plaintiffs only to later induce those merchants to breach their agreements with their cash advance providers,” the complaint states.

Among the named defendants are:

  • Corporate Bailout, LLC
  • Mark D. Guidubaldi & Associates, LLC dba Protection Legal Group
  • PLG Servicing LLC
  • American Funding Group
  • Coast to Coast Funding, LLC
  • ROC South, LLC
  • Mark Mancino

Several defendants are already best known for running an office “so sexually aggressive, morally repulsive, and unlawfully hostile that it is rivaled only by the businesses portrayed in the films ‘Boiler Room’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’” according to a salacious story that graced the back cover of the New York Post last month.

One paragraph of the complaint summarizes the allegedly collaborative scheme like this:

American Funding, Coast to Coast, […] (the “ISO Defendants”) are independent sales organizations (“ISOs”), companies that ostensibly support the merchant cash advance industry by brokering merchant agreements for companies like Plaintiffs. The ISO Defendants are anything but the proverbial “honest brokers.” As alleged below, they have partnered with companies that purport to offer debt relief services to merchants who have agreements with merchant cash advance companies like Plaintiffs. In practice, for these companies, “debt relief” is a code word for deceiving merchants to breach their existing agreements with Plaintiffs and to instead pay fees to these debt relief entities. In short, they scam merchants into believing that they can save them money when, in fact, they leave these merchants in financial shambles, while causing Plaintiffs to suffer millions of dollars in losses and future los[t] profits.

“’DEBT RELIEF’ IS A CODE WORD FOR DECEIVING MERCHANTS TO BREACH THEIR EXISTING AGREEMENTS”


Back cover of the NY Post on August 11th, 2017 that showed a scandalous photo taken at the office of American Funding Group and Corporate Bailout

Central to the plaintiffs’ claim is that they have ISO agreements with the defendants and that the defendants’ conduct is a breach of those agreements. The three causes of action alleged are tortious interference with contract, conversion, and breach of contract. Plaintiffs claim that 100 merchants with more than $3 million in outstanding balances are in breach of their contracts because of the defendants’ conduct.

The complaint was prepared and filed by attorneys at Proskauer, a 142-year old law firm founded in New York City.

Debt Relief Under Fire

The small business debt relief industry has been marred by scandal in recent years. In an unrelated criminal matter being handled in the Western District of New York, the owner of Corporate Restructure Inc. (no ties to Corporate Bailout) is currently residing in the Niagara County Jail awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering for failing to deliver the debt relief services it charged for. In that case, United States vs. Sergiy Bezrukov, Bezrukov advertised that he could reduce a merchant’s short term debt by up to 75%. He is facing up to 30 years in prison. He was also previously a merchant cash advance ISO.

Two other MCA funding companies, Pearl Gamma Funding and Pearl Beta Funding, filed a lawsuit last November against another debt relief company that calls itself Creditors Relief. The complaint in that case also alleges tortious interference with contract and is still pending.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed in May by famous TCPA litigant Craig Cunningham against Corporate Bailout and Mark D Guidubaldi & Associates LLC went unanswered, according to court records. Cunningham, who alleged violations of telemarketing laws, filed for a default judgment against Corporate Bailout on September 12th.

Taking Advantage

Both Yellowstone Capital and Everest would not comment on the lawsuit they filed, citing pending litigation. Sources close to them, however, contend that both companies take matters that involve merchants being taken advantage of very seriously.

“When our own ISOs work directly in concert with companies that induce merchants to breach our contracts, that’s a problem,” said one source who did not wish to be named and was speaking generally about the recent introduction of debt relief service companies to the industry. “They’re taking advantage of businesses that can’t afford to be taken advantage of.”

An email sent by deBanked to Mark Mancino early Thursday afternoon, an individually-named defendant alleged to be affiliated with the other defendants, has not yet received a response. This story may be updated if a reply is received.

A COPY OF THE COMPLAINT CAN BE VIEWED HERE.

lawsuit against ISOs and debt settlement companies

Is The End Near For This Debt Settlement Firm?

August 11, 2017
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Wall Street WolfCorporate Bailout, a New Jersey based firm that purports to help businesses lower the monthly payments on their debts, is back in the news. This time it’s for allegedly running a sex-fueled office with stripper parties, sex dolls, and sexual harassment, according to the New York Post who published video footage of the debauchery. Warning: the New York Post link is not safe for work.

deBanked has written about Corporate Bailout previously, in one case recently where the company is alleged to be robo-dialing out of control. Corporate Bailout never responded to the lawsuit and the court entered a default against the company this past Monday, according to the docket.

Back in April, deBanked also received the recording of a call purportedly between a representative of Corporate Bailout and a small business owner. We had the lengthy dialogue transcribed and it appears below with the names between the parties changed.

Of note, the alleged Corporate Bailout representative in the call makes several references to a partner law firm named Protection Legal Group. There are several lawsuits pending against Protection Legal Group, one of which alleges the firm didn’t have a lawyer licensed to practice in the state they claimed to offer defense in. In that situation, a merchant had to hire another lawyer to sue his lawyer at Protection Legal Group.

Person Answering Phone: Hello.
Robo Agent: Hello. How are you today?
Person Answering Phone: I’m good.
Robo Agent: Great! Can I speak to the business owner please?
Person Answering Phone: Who is this please?
Robo Agent: This is Alex from Corporate Bailout. Are they available?
Person Answering Phone: Yeah. One second please. One second.
Robo Agent: Thanks.
John: Hello.
Robo Agent: Can I speak to the business owner please?
John: Speaking.
Robo Agent: This is Alex from Corporate Bailout. I know your time is valuable. So, let me get straight to the point. We help small business owners eliminate their unsecured debts. If your business has taken a merchant cash loan or advance, a high interest credit card debt, accounts payable debt, or any other unsecured business debt, you are now able to settle your outstanding balances for just a fraction of what you owe. I just need to ask two qualifying questions. Okay?
John: Sure.
Robo Agent: What type of entity is your business registered as? LLC, Corp, etc.? Hello?
John: LLC.
Robo Agent: Do you have at least $25,000 in unsecured debt?
John: Yes.
Robo Agent: Great! It looks like you may qualify. Hold on one second while I get a specialist on the phone who can explain further.
[Phone Ringing]
Derrick: Hello. Hi.
Robo Agent: Hi, I have someone here that is interested in moving forward. I will let you take it from here.
Derrick: Thank you for that. My name is Derrick by the way. Who am I speaking with?
John: John.
Derrick: John, it’s a pleasure, John. So, John, go ahead and tell me a little bit. What kind of unsecured debt are you experiencing? Is this with cash advances?
John: Yes.
Derrick: All righty. And that’s our cup of tea. So, I wanna give you an example—
John: What exactly—
Derrick: …of exactly how this would work for you.
John: Okay. Perfect. Yeah.
Derrick: All right. Tell me how many advances do you have. Do you have one or a couple out there?
John: I have 3.
Derrick: 3. Okay. And what do you owe approximately in combined balances?
John: About $85,000.
Derrick: Okay. And lastly, what are they charging you daily?
John: Total of about $2,000.
Derrick: At this day?
John: Yeah.
Derrick: Okay. Obviously, they’re overextending you for sure. Now, you open these advances yourself? Is this your business, John?
John: Yes.
Derrick: Okay. What is it that you do? I just wanna get a better grasp of what’s going on.
John: We’re a trucking company.
Derrick: Oh okay. Yeah. Yeah. I work with a lot of trucking clients. All right. So, here’s the deal. I mean, at 85,000, knowing that these are cash advances, we’re able to reduce that down to about 63,000. Saving you well over 21,000 just on principal.
John: How do I do that?
Derrick: That’s very simple. I mean, what we do is we appoint you a power of attorney that represents the association. And what they’ll do is that by power of attorney they’ll contact your creditors in a form of hardship for you. Okay? And that’s the key word there because by law— And it doesn’t matter if it’s a cash advance or a Capital One Visa. Whoever that creditor is, whatever obligations you have to that creditor comes to an immediate halt. That means no more interest accruement. That means that whatever number I’m telling you by the time you hire us let’s say by today, that’s the number. Yeah.
John: One second. Why does it come to a sudden halt if I have a contract with them? Like can’t they sue me for this? I mean, I signed a contract with them and everything. How is it legal to go and say that I can’t pay them? I’m not understanding you.
Derrick: Well, #1, these are cash advances, which is highly unregulated. Everyone knows if you look into it. Okay? Everyone knows—
John: I did.
[Crosstalk]
Derrick: Okay. Yeah. There you go. Well, they’re tiptoeing the line of legalities here by pressing [0:04:55][Inaudible] laws. That’s why we’re able to snatch them and nip them in the butt. Okay? When you are charging on a daily basis an overextended amount way past 25% APR, this is abuse. This comes to abuse now and we have to come at them in a form of hardship. By law, that’s what happens and everything comes to a halt right then and there. Now, they have to settle. Now, here’s the thing. I know you’re saying can they sue you. You know, they can. They can. Probability is very low.
John: Why would I take the risk of getting sued? I mean, I’m just trying to understand. Is what you guys doing also legal? I mean, no offense, it sounds a little—
Derrick: Oh yeah.
John: This sounds a little less legal. What you’re doing sounds a little more illegal than what they’re doing because I really have a contract with them that I signed and I notarized. I mean, that is like legal documents.
Derrick: Yeah. We give you a legal contract. It needs to be notarized and all that too. Okay? But here’s the thing. It is legal here. You’re working with the law firm. Okay? The law firm will then take that responsibility and make sure that they do reduce your debt size. Okay? It’s a cash advance. It’s a slam dunk every time. Who do you work with by the way?
John: [0:06:15][Inaudible] I’ll give it to you in a couple minutes. Where did you get my information from? ‘Cause I usually get calls from them. Like this is the first call I’m getting from this type of company. Where did you guys get my information from?
Derrick: So, we essentially look through UCC filings and UCC filings are only liens that are basic entry companies that normally take out cash advances. Normally.
John: Right.
Derrick: 9 times out of 10 when I see a UCC file that looks like yours and, you know, I’m usually right it’s a cash advance, so yeah.
John: Which business were you referring to though?
Derrick: I don’t know. I don’t know. Your phone call got transferred to me. So, we have several ways of finding new clients and one of them is that we have a database. People make outbound calls. I’m the one on the receiving end. I work with my clients one-on-one to get them enrolled, have them feel good about the program, and then I pass them along to the law firm. That’s my role here. So essentially, it happens like this, John. Right? Let’s say hypothetically today you’re like “You know what? This makes sense. I am in a hardship. I need to get out of this crap. All right, what do I need to do today?” I get you on board today just hypothetically. By Thursday because today is Tuesday— We need at least 48 hours. By Thursday, the law firm contacts you and they say, “You know, John, we reviewed everything. You know, you’re good to go. Let’s now help you stop making those payments so that way your bank no longer honors the ACHs you’re making daily. So essentially, by Thursday, we’ll put a stop, a complete halt to your payments. And then we can culminate maybe a week to 2 weeks before there’s any expense. And by the way, it will be a fraction of that cost. We’re talking at least 50% less in those payments. That’s how overextended they have you on. We don’t have to have that start for at least 2 weeks from today or whenever—
John: So, in essence, I will still have to pay them. Just in a longer period of time you’re saying?
Derrick: Right. Yeah. Well, we can work that out, but the whole point of this program is not to stress anybody. And that’s where the idea of a scam needs to be thrown out of the window. Okay?
John: So, they’re scamming me you’re saying?
Derrick: Yeah. I would say so. You don’t feel like you’re being highway robbed right now paying 2,000 a day? And I can give you even better numbers if I look at— you know, if I take a peek at the contract just to see the real numbers ‘cause on average they’re charging anywhere from 30 to 60 percent on a borrowed amount. That’s an average. I know you’re in that category.
[Crosstalk]
John: I understand, but I didn’t know about it that’s why I’m saying if I knew about all this, I can’t deny in court if they sue me. They do have a legal document against me. I mean, it is an issue.
Derrick: Right. Well, here’s the good thing. I mean, people are in such a worse shape than you, John, that they’ll hire any company who’s gonna promise them that they’ll be able to negotiate, but the greater thing why this is such a more wise decision for you is that you’re not hiring a middle man. As a matter of fact, I can show you, okay, any agreements that we have. We provide litigation defense services on top of the settlement. So, if ever anything should happen, which being at 85,000 likely not, but if ever anything should happen, you have attorneys there that will show up in court for you, that will battle, that will counter lawsuit if we have to, whatever, drag out the process, whatever it takes. Whatever it takes. But at the end of the day if they wanted to sue you, you know how long a sue takes place or takes to convert?
[0:09:59]
John: I know, but—
Derrick: It takes a long time.
John: At the end of the day, I would still be found guilty that I did sign the contract. What defense could I possibly have for that? I’m just trying to understand what the legality is.
Derrick: The defense is #1 it’s a hardship. If you look into that, hardships create a big deal in the law system. So, that’s #1. Number 2 is that this is technically not even a debt that you have. Check in on technicalities. They only purchase future receivables at expect it let’s say 2,000 a day.
John: Yeah. And they also have a judgment against me though.
Derrick: That is all scare tactics. That’s all. Confession of judgments you’re talking about, right?
John: Yeah. Yeah.
Derrick: Confession of judgment that you signed. Yeah. Yeah. Almost everybody signs a confession of judgment now. They just started implementing that the last 3 years.
John: They can’t do anything with that?
Derrick: Not when you have a power of attorney reaching out to them for settlement against the hardship cost. They can’t do that.
John: Oh.
Derrick: And if they use that–
John: And also like with this document, they can like freeze accounts and they can freeze assets and stuff like that. But if you guys trick them and they can’t do that–
Derrick: Yes. They won’t be able to. But if we need to take any preventative actions, your law firm, your adviser there will tell you to possibly change.
John: So, you guys have a lawyer? You are the lawyer then?
Derrick: I’m not the lawyer. I’m not the lawyer. I don’t do the negotiation. I told you my role here is just to get you on board so I can pass you to the law firm. That’s it. That’s my role. Give you the information–
John: what’s your charge?
Derrick: Okay. Good question, John. So, let me look at this number here again. I wanna give you something real. So let’s say it’s 85, right? 85,000 you owe. That gets reduced down to $63,340. That 63,000 is going to cover absolutely everything. That covers paying back your cash advances. That will cover for our services and fees all inclusive. Okay? The only reason why we’re able to do that, John, is because we are a nationwide law firm that does negotiations for cash advances specifically. That’s what Protection Legal Group does. And so, are you familiar with a class action lawsuit? Are you familiar with that?
John: Yeah.
Derrick: Okay. So, we approach settlements in that same format. Class action settlement is what we call it. So, essentially you’re one drop in the ocean. Right? And that’s why I wanted to ask you who you work with so I can give you references. But guaranteed we have, you know, up in the hundreds of clients in those cash advances that we have already control such a large portion of their funds. So, because we’re going to– Who do you have? do you have Swift? [inaudible]
John: I’m not gonna reveal that information yet until I look into your company a little more only because it’s my first time hearing about this. I will look into this. I wanna speak with my lawyer about it and everything. But you were telling me it would be lowered to 63,000. That’s fine.
Derrick: Yeah. That’s at most.
John: What’s your fee?
Derrick: Our fees are inclusive, John. I can’t tell you what it is until we submit everything, until we submit all the hard copies into the law firm
John: What’s the percentage range? I mean, there’s gotta be some sort of number that I can go by.
Derrick: Yeah. Yeah. I can give you a percentage. So, let’s say we reduce it down to 70 cents on the dollar, right? 42 cents of the dollar will go to your creditors. Okay?
John: And the 28?
Derrick: And 28 cents gets [0:13:58][Inaudible] up between the law firm and your attorney. It’s like 4 cents in a dollar to the attorney, 24 cents to the law firm. So, that’s how it works. Normally, that’s what they look to negotiate.
John: So, you’ll get the 24, they get the 4?
Derrick: That’s if they agree to that term. Yeah. The whole point is for your attorney to figure that out with the lender. At the end of the day–
John: Isn’t that 24% on the dollar also?
Derrick: No. No. On the 70 cents on the dollar that we reduce it. So, you have 85,000. Reduce it to 70 cents on the dollar let’s say. In that 70 cents, 42 goes to them. The remainder of the 28 is split. Right? 4 cents to your attorney, 24 to the law firm. So that’s the numerology of how it gets distributed.
John: That’s 40%
Derrick: Right. That’s how it gets– What is?
John: The 28 cents on the 70 cents is 40%.
Derrick: 40%?
John: Yeah.
Derrick: No. No. It’s smaller than that.
John: Do the math.
Derrick: If it were 40%–
John: Do the math. You said 28. Do 28 divided by 70.
Derrick: 28 divided by 70, 0.4. Yeah. 40%. So, what are we getting off here?
John: So basically, you’re charging me 40% and they’re charging me the same 40%. So what’s the difference? I’m just trying to understand why–
Derrick: No. Yeah. We’re making 40– Hold on. We’re making 40% of that 70%. They’re making 60% out of that 70 cents. I mean, if you wanna get in detail, that’s what it works down to. At the end of the day, the whole program cost for you is only 63,000. So, you make the decision whether you pay 63,000 or 85,000.
John: And run the risk of getting sued.
Derrick: No one touches–. No. You have a law firm that will fight and give you the litigation defense.
John: Right. That’s not a–I understand that. I understand they’ll give it to me. But I also run the risk of losing. And if I lose, I would have to pay all their legal fees and that extra money that I know, you know, what trying to get out of. So, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna have to look into this a little more ’cause I’m not just gonna give all my information in a second. Can you send me some–
Derrick: Yeah, that’s fine.
John: …information so I can look it over?
Derrick: What’s your best email, John?
John: It’s [address redacted]
Derrick: @gmail.com. Do you happen to be in front of a computer now?
John: I do. Yeah.
Derrick: All right. I just wanna make sure that you at least get it. I’m putting in the subject heading, ATTENTION John. This should be easy to find. So, you know, you can loo at–
John: I just wanna make sure what it’s about. what is this for? What’s it called?
Derrick: Debt relief I can put in there. Is that okay?
John: Yeah. That’s fine.
Derrick: I’ll put debt relief as well. Yeah.
John: And this is from Mason & Hanger?
Derrick: Mason & Hanger?
John: Yeah. That’s where you’re calling from?
Derrick: What’s that? No. No. Protection Legal Group is the name of the law firm. Protection Legal Group.
John: Oh, it’s not Mason & Hanger?
Derrick: No. I don’t know where you got that name.
John: From the caller ID
Derrick: Really? Mason & Hanger? I don’t know. That’s strange. You know, when I make calls out of the office, sometimes it comes out like–
John: Are you gonna have your contact number over there or no?
Derrick: Yeah, it’s in the email. Tell me if you have it now ’cause it says that it’s sent
John: [Name redacted]?
Derrick: [Name redacted]. Yup. that’s me. All right. So, there’s a summary of what we went over and then those things in bold would be what we need in order— if you wanna proceed forward, but the very first thing you’ll see in bold is the current cash advance agreement signed or unsigned. Very important. That’s what’s gonna help us approve you or not and see if we can fit you in the program. We have to look over the verbiage in there. You see one document attached. Right?
John: Right. Right.
Derrick: Do you see what’s in bold? Yeah, I have a few things in bold there that we require from you. Okay? The hardship letter is one of them that’s attached in there. But before all of that, we wanna take a look at a copy of the agreements you have with the 3 cash advances. It could be signed or unsigned. Your personal information is not gonna do us any good. We wanna see if we can approve you first. Okay? That’s all. It’s just by procedure. And then what we find in there, which only takes about 20 to 30 minutes to approve you, I can tell you, “Hey, John, you know, here are the real numbers, what we found based on your contract. Here’s what we can offer and here are your options.” And then we can come into an agreement together. The whole point of this is to get you off from paying— You’re paying 10 grand a week, man, you know. To get you off of 10 grand. Maybe down to 5,000. Whatever that number is that’s more comfortable for you and obviously is realistic for the law firm. Okay?
John: You are basically just the broker for the law firm?
Derrick: I’m their spokesman, you know. I’m their marketing arm. Not a broker or anything. If I were a broker, I’d have countless sources of different law firms that does this.
John: I assume you have one law firm that you work with?
Derrick: I only represent them.
John: Who do you work with?
Derrick: What was that?
John: Who is the law firm that you work with?
Derrick: Protection Legal Group. Protection Legal Group. You can put that down.
John: Can you email me that information? I wanna make sure. It is in the email?
Derrick: Yeah. It’s in the email. Yeah. Yeah. It’s all in there.
John: Okay. Protection Legal Group
Call trails out into goodbyes…

In the follow up email that came up from a corporatebailout.com address, Derrick said, “We have teamed up with nationwide law firm, Protection Legal Group, who will negotiate with lenders on your behalf. By enrolling in our program, we would reduce the total advance balances down to 70 cents on the dollar! But more importantly, we turn your daily payment into a ONCE a week payment, and reduce that amount by up to 50%!”

‘Debt Relief’ Company is Allegedly Robo-dialing Out Of Control

July 18, 2017
Article by:

phoneA lawsuit brought by famous serial TCPA plaintiff Craig Cunningham against defendants who allegedly robo-dial with offers for small business debt relief services, has a new twist, according to recent court records. That is that the defendants allegedly continue to robo-dial Cunningham despite having been served with the suit from him. All told, Cunningham says he has received at least 105 automated calls for the defendants’ business debt relief services despite the fact that he doesn’t even own a business.

Cunningham filed an amended complaint that also added new defendants alongside Mark D. Guidubaldi, Corporate Bailout and Protection Legal Group. They include Sanford J. Feder and Cashflow Care, LLC.

Cunningham was one of several TCPA litigants referenced in a featured story deBanked published about TCPA lawsuits last October.

Protection Legal Group, meanwhile, was cited in another brief where a small business owner sued them for allegedly not providing the debt relief services promised. According to the docket, Protection Legal Group has yet to file an answer to it.

Debt relief and debt settlement services have become a booming business as of late, but it’s a risky endeavor. Earlier this year, four individuals were arrested when they did not actually attempt to negotiate the MCAs or business loans they were paid to assist with. One of those arrested is still in prison awaiting trial. He is facing a maximum of 30 years.

‘Debt Collection Terrorist’ Sues Protection Legal Group and Corporate Bailout

May 13, 2017
Article by:

Debt Collection Terrorist Meets Debt Relief

phone bombA new crop of supposed debt relief companies are beginning to take fire from all sides. In this latest case, Mark D. Giubaldi & Associates, LLC DBA Protection Legal Group and Corporate Bailout LLC, have once again found themselves on the receiving end of a complaint. On Wednesday, May 10th, Craig Cunningham, a once self-proclaimed debt collection terrorist and famous TCPA litigant, filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Texas to seek out more than $1 million in damages for alleged unsolicited robocalls to his cell phone.

Cunningham, who goes by the screen name Codename47 on the fatwallet.com forum, previously authored a post titled, “TCPA enforcement for fun and for profit up to 3k per call” and is well known in the TCPA plaintiff community. In the complaint against Protection Legal Group and Corporate Bailout, he claims that they called him more than 50 times to ask about supposed “merchant cash advance loans” he had outstanding. The deeply troubling problem with that, according to the complaint, is that Cunningham doesn’t have any such thing.

When the calls connected to an agent, the Plaintiff was told that he was called by the defendants and told that according to UCC filings, they had noticed the Plaintiff had several merchant cash advance loans out. In reality, there are no UCC filings, and the Plaintiff has no merchant cash advance loans outstanding. In every call, the Plaintiff noticed a delay between answering the phone and the call connecting with a live person, which is characteristic of an automated telephone dialing system.

These are just some of many harassing calls the Plaintiff has received and as Defendants are just content to knowingly call what could be wrong numbers, or uninterested individuals and are blanketing the nation with these unsolicited calls.

[…]

Additionally, in the above referenced telephone calls, Defendants and their agents falsely claimed to have information regarding alleged UCC filings of Plaintiff, which don’t exist and were never made.

These calls were knowingly and willfully placed and the Defendants had or should have ascertained they were calling the wrong person.

Additional lawsuits currently pending against Protection Legal Group allege that the company is practicing law without a license in New York and interfering with merchant cash advance contracts.

Update 9/27/17: Protection Legal Group was sued by two small business financing companies in New York for allegedly working in concert with brokers to carry out a debt settlement scam.

Craig Cunningham v. Mark D. Guidubaldi & Associates LLC DBA Protection Legal Group, and Corporate Bailout LLC was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas under case # 3:17-cv-01238-L.

A Tale of “Debt Restructuring”?

April 19, 2017
Article by:

law booksHere’s a doozy for you: A merchant signed an agreement with a purported law firm on September 29, 2016 for assistance with restructuring their debts. As part of that agreement, the law firm, which goes by the name Protection Legal Group, LLC, also offers “Litigation Defense Services” in case the merchant gets sued for non-payment of debts. The basic “non-legal” services alone, however, required that this merchant pay approximately $100,000 to Protection Legal Group, according to court filings. That’s a pretty hefty service fee for a business that was only claiming $400,000 in debts, most of which it improperly classified as debt since they were actually sales of future receivables.

The very next day, a merchant cash advance (MCA) company sued the merchant in New York for breach of contract, claiming that they were owed more than $300,000. And three months later, the merchant, represented by an attorney named Amos Weinberg, sued the first law firm that they hired. According to that complaint, filed on January 6, 2017, Protection Legal Group never even contacted the MCA company even though they were hired to negotiate with them specifically. Stranger yet, the merchant alleges that Protection Legal Group could not even have defended them in litigation because the MCA agreement’s jurisdiction was New York and Protection Legal Group has no lawyers that are licensed in that state. Naturally, the complaint further alleges that Protection Legal Group accepted payments anyway and has refused to return it.

The merchant’s new attorney, Amos Weinberg, is no friend to MCA companies, according to New York court records. Nevertheless, he offers harsh words for these new purported debt restructuring companies on his blog. “A growing industry that preys on people all over the country who are sued in New York is the debt resolution industry,” he wrote. “These companies promise to settle lawsuits for a portion of the sum sued by inducing the client to stop paying the creditor and instead pay sizeable weekly sums into an escrow account.” He then goes on to call out Protection Legal Group by name.

To summarize, a merchant hired a lawyer for an exorbitant fee to restructure their debts that weren’t debts, got sued and then had to hire a lawyer to sue their lawyer.

Protection Legal Group is also being sued by Forward Financing, an MCA company, for interfering with its contracts. That story has made the news in legal circles.

Court documents show that Protection Legal Group is fighting on another front as well since less than three weeks ago, a class action lawsuit (Case: 1:17-cv-02445) was filed against them for violating the TCPA. According to the complaint, they are allegedly marketing their services via pre-recorded voice messages to cell phones.

As an aside, most MCA contracts already permit merchants to have their payments lowered in the event that their revenues drop. Typically, they just need to send in their recent banking activity to demonstrate the drop and the MCA company will reimburse the merchant for anything collected above the specified percentage of sales. As this is a fundamental part of the agreement, the merchant shouldn’t require a debt negotiator or an expensive attorney to aid them with this.

4th Alleged Co-conspirator in Fake Debt Settlement Company Arrested

April 14, 2017
Article by:

handcuffs and moneyA 4th individual has been arrested in connection with the alleged business loan debt settlement fraud perpetrated by Corporate Restructure Inc.

Vanessa Cardona a/k/a Emily Goldstein, was arrested right outside of Scardale, NY in February and charged with mail fraud. According to the criminal complaint, she and her main accomplice, Sergiy Bezrukov a/k/a John Butler, represented themselves “as a ‘debt restructuring business’ which target small businesses (Victims) that had ‘short-term high interest loans’ from a number of other companies.”

The three other individuals including Bezrukov, were arrested in October and November 2016.

The scheme worked as follows: Once a merchant responded to them, they created a debt restructuring plan for the Victim. “As part of the agreement, the Victim business owners had to authorize Corporate Restructure to make daily, weekly or monthly withdrawals from their business accounts,” the complaint says. “The Victims were told that the withdrawn funds would be used to pay down the Victims’ original debt with their lender, while Corporate Restructure worked with the lender to improve the terms of the original loan, namely, lower interest rate, longer terms and a different payment structure that would benefit the Victims.”

No such payments to the lenders were actually made, nor any efforts to negotiate with them.

Cardona worked with Bezrukov for companies with various names including Community Legal Aid Services, Corporate Restructure, Seneca BPO, SBC Telecom Consulting, Inc., SBC Financial Corp., Nationwide Advance Corp. LTD, AKS Associates I, LLC, Hosted Called Center, Open Source BPO, Inc., Michaels and Michaels Partners, Inc., Clear Call Systems, Inc., Single Process Integration, Inc., and WebLogic II, LLC.

The two attempted to mail out 2,500 solicitations per day, claiming that they could reduce a merchant’s short term debt by up to 75% within 48 hours. When merchants signed up, the funds were instead diverted to Corporate Restructure and the merchants inevitably ended up in default on their loans or MCAs.

More than 100 victims are alleged to have been defrauded for a total of more than $1 million.

deBanked obtained a copy of a letter (which we have not authenticated but appears legitimate) that the US Department of Justice sent out to merchants two weeks ago to alert them that they were the victim of a crime.

Corporate Restructure victim letter

Corporate Restructure victim letter 2

Cardona was released on a $50,000 bond while awaiting trial. Bezrukov, however, is currently a resident of Niagra County Jail. Two weeks after Cardona was arrested, Bezrukov sent a handwritten letter to the judge, to explain that he had fired his attorney for acting against his explicit instructions and that he was now representing himself. He also demanded a speedy trial.

The pair are also co-defendants in at least two civil cases in New York State filed by merchant cash advance companies.


All of the accused are innocent until proven guilty