Montgomery County Man Pleads Guilty to Deceptive Telemarketing Fraud Scheme that Defrauded Clients of $2.9 Million
Engaged in Deceptive Practices To Offer Debt Settlement Services
Greenbelt, Maryland - Richard A. Brennan, age 42, of Clarksburg, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to two counts of mail fraud, and to making a false statement on a tax return.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge William P. McMullan of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - Baltimore Field Division; Acting Postal Inspector in Charge David M. McGinnis of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service - Washington Division; Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Kelly of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office; and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.
According to his plea agreement, until January 2009, Brennan was a licensed attorney in Maryland. In late 2005 or early 2006, Brennan established the Law Offices of Richard A. Brennan (LORAB) to perform debt settlement services. “Debt settlement” differed from “debt management” services. In debt management, debtors continue to make payments on accounts on negotiated terms, while debt settlement involves allowing debt accounts to go delinquent and making a lump sum offer to settle the account. While debt management services – and the fees that could be charged customers – were closely regulated in Maryland, debt settlement services were not.
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office and the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission both received a high number of complaints from Brennan’s customers reporting that they were deceived by telemarketers who convinced them of the high probability of success by engaging Brennan and his debt settlement program, but who reported seeing little success in having their debts resolved. When the clients complained to LORAB, their calls frequently went unreturned and they were typically told their payments would not be refunded as they constituted Brennan’s attorney fees.
In October 2007, Brennan agreed with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office to cease engaging in a number of business practices, including misuse and commingling of his clients’ funds. Despite this agreement, Brennan continued to recruit new clients without making the disclosures required under the agreement with the Attorney General’s office, and omitting any mention of his restrictions under the agreement, which included a requirement that he maintain a surety bond in order to continue to provide debt settlement services.
To evade the restrictions in the agreement, Brennan changed his business entity name several times in quick succession, to include doing business for a few months as the Capital Law Group, then the Frederick Law Group and later as theMetro Law Group. Brennan did so in an effort to keep new clients from researching the large numbers of complaints posted online about his practices, and also instructed telemarketers working for him to deny the new entities’ relationship with Richard Brennan.
In January 2009, Brennan surrendered his license to practice law by signing a joint petition with the Attorney Grievance commission. In that document, Brennan admitted that he had used client trust money for purposes other than its intended use. In June, 2009, Brennan appeared before the Circuit Court of Frederick County and acknowledged that he continued to debit funds from client bank accounts even after his surety bond had been revoked. Brennan was ordered to pay a $2.58 million money judgment in restitution to clients from whom he collected money up until October 2007. The Court also briefly jailed Brennan for contempt after he failed to provide the Attorney General’s Office a list of clients or accounting for funds as he had promised.
Even after losing his license to practice and this judgment, Brennan continued to attempt to defraud debt clients. On November 6, 2009, Brennan mailed an existing Frederick Law Group client a letter under the business entity name “International Debt Solutions.” In that letter, Brennan acknowledged that Frederick Law Group’s “web site and call center have been closed” “[d]ue to unforeseen circumstances” and attempted to dissociate himself with that firm by claiming that that “[Frederick Law Group] has forwarded us your information.” Brennan asked the client to fill out a new representation agreement, power of attorney, and electronic funds transfer authorization, which the victim returned by mail to an address two houses away from Brennan’s.
Brennan’s debt management fraud scheme caused the loss of approximately $2.9 million to his clients between October 18, 2007, and 2010, and involved more than 250 victims.
Brennan also admitted that he filed false tax returns in 2006 and 2007, underreporting his income in both years. For example, in 2007, Brennan reported an adjusted gross income of negative $576,273.10 when he had unreported business receipts that year of at least $9,229,802. Additionally, Brennan received a total of $5,387 in tax refunds based on his knowingly false returns submitted for 2006 and 2007. Brennan filed no tax returns for the tax year 2008, despite receiving over $6 million into business bank accounts he controlled. The total approximate tax loss to the United States is $297,087.
Further, Brennan knowingly possessed unregistered machineguns and short-barreled rifles and also engaged in the unlicensed manufacture of the machineguns. Specifically, in February 2011, a search warrant executed at Brennan’s home in Clarksburg, Maryland, yielded evidence that Brennan unlawfully converted 10 semiautomatic rifles into fully automatic weapons, and modified another rifle so that it had a barrel length of less than six inches. Brennan failed to register those modified weapons, as required by law.
Brennan faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for mail fraud and a maximum of three years in prison for the tax charge. U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang has scheduled sentencing for September 3, 2015, at 10:15 a.m.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised ATF, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, IRS-Criminal Investigation, and the Maryland Attorney General’s Office for their work in the investigation and thanked the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission for its assistance. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Adam K. Ake and Joseph R. Baldwin, who are prosecuting the case.