Jason Nocera anticipated law enforcement authorities might raid his debt collecting business. So he set up surveillance cameras to view the entrance leading to his second-floor business, JCN & Associates, above an Amherst liquor store, federal prosecutors said in court records.
In 2018, Homeland Security Investigations agents got a search warrant and seized $242,088 from Nocera’s business and personal bank accounts, after convincing a judge there was probable cause to believe the funds were derived from unlawful debt collecting and wire fraud.
The government alleged that Nocera gave his debt collectors drugs to make them more aggressive. And to convince people to pay JCN, Nocera tuned a police scanner to the busy Chicago Police Department’s frequency as his collectors made calls. He also brought a German Shepherd “attack dog” to work, the court papers allege.
Nocera hasn’t been charged with a crime, but the feds still have his money three years after they seized it.
Nocera’s attorney, Herbert L. Greenman, said Nocera “denies any wrongdoing.” Nocera is fighting in court to get his money returned, Greenman said.
Here are snapshots of some other cases against debt collectors in Western New York that the State Attorney General’s Office, Federal Trade Commission and other law enforcement agencies have pursued in the past decade:
In 2019, debt collector Douglas MacKinnon and his Buffalo area companies, Northern Resolution Group, and Enhanced Acquisitions, agreed to pay $60 million to resolve a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the New York State Attorney General’s Office over his unlawful debt collection practices.
MacKinnon and his companies were also permanently banned from debt collection.
The lawsuit against MacKinnon alleged he and his companies set up more than 250 debt collecting “shops,” most of which were in the Buffalo region.
MacKinnon has not paid on the judgment, and the Attorney General’s Office recently filed a lawsuit to seize his family’s $1.6 million Clarence residence.
The 2019 stipulated judgment also required a MacKinnon business associate, Mark Gray, and his company Delray Capital LLC, to pay $10,000 toward a $6 million judgment against them, and banned them from the debt collection industry.
Gregory MacKinnon, Angela Burdorf, Joseph Ciffa
In 2018, three area debt collection companies were permanently banned from the industry and two were required to pay a total of $27 million in restitution and damages.
Vantage Point Services of Amherst and owner Gregory Mackinnon of Grand Island agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle the case. Payment Management Solutions of Amherst and owner Angela Burdorf, a former Buffalo resident, agreed to pay $4.4 million.
A judgment of $22.5 million was also filed against Bonified Payment Solutions Inc. of Niagara Falls and its owner Joseph Ciffa of Grand Island, but the judgment was suspended.
Gregory MacKinnon is the brother of Douglas MacKinnon.
In a lawsuit filed in early 2015, the Attorney General’s Office and FTC alleged the defendants “misrepresented themselves to consumers as attorneys or officials working for law enforcement agencies and the courts,” threatened consumers by falsely telling them they would face felony arrests and be sent to jail if their debts were not paid, and failed to provide written information about the supposed debts.
Andrew Shaevel, Jon Purizhansky
In 2019, Hylan Asset Management of Amherst and its owners, Andrew Shaevel and Jon E. Purizhansky, agreed to pay $676,575 toward a $6.75 million judgment to resolve a lawsuit filed by the FTC and attorney general. The settlement also permanently banned them from debt collection.
Hylan was accused of buying fake debts and selling lists of those “phantom debts” to debt collection agencies.
The FTC and attorney general also reached a stipulated order with Frank A. Ungaro Jr. and his company Worldwide Processing Group, which were accused of using illegal tactics to collect on false debts provided by Hylan.
Ungaro and his company were banned from engaging in unlawful collection practices. In addition, a $118,000 payment was also required from them.
In 2020, the FTC and attorney general’s office entered a stipulated order that permanently banned Robert Heidenreich from the debt collection industry. He was required to pay $30,000 to settle the lawsuit.
The companies too have been banned from debt collection and a default judgment of $1.7 million was imposed on them.
To pressure debtors, he and his companies allegedly called consumers and falsely claimed to work in law enforcement, typically coupled with false claims that the consumers had committed a crime or were about to be arrested on a warrant.
The companies associated listed in the complaint were identified as Campbell Capital LLC; Kahl, Heidenreich, and Nemmer LLC; Urban, Heidenreich, Melendez, and Associates LLC; J & V Receivables LLC; Rich Financial LLC; and BCH & Associates Ltd.
Kelly S. Brace
In 2016, Kelly S. Brace of Buffalo was permanently barred from debt collection. An $18.4 million judgment was issued against Brace and his companies. He was ordered to pay $151,893 to the FTC and state attorney general.
The authorities sued Brace and Braclaire Management LLC in 2015.
The agencies accused Brace’s company of “collecting on fake payday loans they knew consumers did not really owe, and using deceptive and abusive tactics to get them to pay, including false threats of lawsuits and arrest.”
Mark M. Miller
In 2020, federal agents seized $90,385 from Kenmore debt collector Mark M. Miller. Prosecutors allege he owned several debt collection businesses “which engaged in a wire fraud scheme related to unlawful debt collection activities involving victims across the United States,” according to court papers.
No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the investigation. Miller has denied any wrongdoing and is contesting the government’s seizure of his money.
Federal court documents identified Miller’s businesses as American Elite Contractors, American Elite Recovery, AME Professionals, East Coast Business Solutions and Oak Barnes and Associates.