All 14 Defendants Convicted in Largest Debt Collection Scheme Ever Prosecuted
Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that MAURICE SESSUM, the co-owner and chief financial officer of Four Star Resolution (“Four Star”), a Buffalo, New York-based debt collection company, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court to 90 months in prison for orchestrating a scheme to coerce thousands of victims across the country, through misrepresentations and false threats, into paying a total of more than $31 million to Four Star to resolve debts these victims purportedly owed. All 14 individuals charged in connection with the Four Star scheme have been convicted. SESSUM pled guilty on November 18, 2016, to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud before U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla, who also imposed today’s sentence.
Acting U.S. Attorney Kim said: “Maurice Sessum was a driving force behind the largest criminal debt collection scheme ever prosecuted. Using outrageous threats and blatant lies to take advantage of vulnerable Americans, Sessum and his co-conspirators defrauded victims out of $31 million. For victimizing others to enrich himself, Sessum will now serve a significant term in federal prison.”
According to the Indictment and other filings in Manhattan federal court, and statements made in connection with SESSUM’s sentencing and other court proceedings:
Between 2010 and February 2015, SESSUM was the co-owner, chief financial officer, and chief operating officer of the Four Star. In that capacity, SESSUM, together with his co-defendant and co-owner, Travell Thomas, oversaw four debt collection offices operated by Four Star in Buffalo as well as a team of managers and debt collectors. As part of the scheme, SESSUM and Travell Thomas falsely inflated the balances of debts owed by consumers in Four Star’s debt collection software so that debt collectors could collect more money from the victims than the victims actually owed.
As co-owner of Four Star, SESSUM approved debt collection scripts that contained a variety of misrepresentations and instructed his collectors to make those misrepresentations to consumers over the telephone. At the direction of SESSUM and Thomas, Four Star’s debt collectors, using a variety of aliases, attempted to trick and coerce thousands of victims throughout the United States into paying millions of dollars in consumer debts through a variety of false statements and false threats, including that: (1) Four Star was affiliated with local government and law enforcement agencies, including the “county” and the district attorney’s office; (2) the consumers had committed criminal acts, such as “wire fraud” or “check fraud,” and if they did not pay the debt immediately, warrants or other process would be issued, at which point they would be arrested or hauled into court; (3) the victims would have their driver’s licenses suspended if they did not pay their debts immediately; (4) Four Star was a law firm or mediation firm and that Four Star’s employees were working with lawyers, a law firm, mediators, or arbitrators; and (5) a civil lawsuit would be filed, or was pending, against the victims for failing to pay their debts. SESSUM and Thomas also approved an abusive and coercive “mailing campaign,” in which Four Star sent mailers to victims across the country that purported to be from courts and government agencies.
In total, from about January 2010 through November 2014, Four Star collected more than $31 million from thousands of victims across the United States. Of the money that Four Star took in from victims, millions of dollars were paid in cash to SESSUM and Thomas, and hundreds of thousands of dollars were used to pay for SESSUM’s personal expenses, including for gambling and season tickets for professional sports games.
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In addition to his prison term, SESSUM, 40, of Buffalo, New York, was sentenced to three years of supervised release, and ordered to forfeit $31 million.
In total, 14 individuals associated with Four Star have been charged and pled guilty to defrauding consumers as part of this debt collection scheme. In addition to SESSUM, co-owner and chief executive officer Travell Thomas, managers Jimmy Stokes, Tacoby Thomas, Heather Gasta, Mark Lavin, and John Salatino, and debt collectors Anthony Caba, Jessica Mann, Charles Starks, William Clark, Columbus Simmons, Michael Calandra, and Jennifer Sherk each pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud for their roles in the scheme.
Travell Thomas, Tacoby Thomas, Starks, Caba, Clark, Simmonds, Calandra, and Mann were sentenced by Judge Failla to prison terms of 100 months, 70 months, 37 months, 36 months, 30 months, 28 months, 15 months, and one year and one day, respectively. The sentencing of the other defendants who have pled guilty is pending.
Mr. Kim praised the efforts of the Office’s Criminal Investigators, who led the investigation of this matter. Mr. Kim also thanked the Federal Trade Commission for referring the case and for its assistance.
The prosecution of this case is being overseen by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Edward A. Imperatore, Jennifer L. Beidel, and Jordan L. Estes are in charge of the prosecution.