Former Sales Manager Pleads Guilty In Manhattan Federal Court To Multi-Million Dollar Scheme That Targeted Debt-Ridden Consumers
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that DENIS KURLYAND, the former Vice President of Sales for Mission Settlement Agency (“Mission”), pled guilty to fraud charges for his role in a multi-million dollar scheme that victimized more than 1,200 debt-ridden individuals across the country. KURLYAND, who was charged in May 2013, pled guilty today in Manhattan federal court before U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe. He is the third defendant to plead guilty in the case.
According to the allegations contained in the Indictment against Mission, KURLYAND, and two other Mission employees and its owner, other documents filed in Manhattan federal court, and statements made at related court proceedings:
Mission offered “debt settlement” services to financially disadvantaged individuals who were struggling or unable to pay their credit card debts. Like other purported debt settlement providers, Mission held itself out as a company that could successfully negotiate to lower the overall debt its customers owed to credit card companies and banks.
The defendants targeted financially disadvantaged individuals known to be struggling to pay credit card debt and reached out to them through telemarketing and mail solicitations. Thereafter, Mission’s sales representatives typically spoke to the prospective customers on the phone, describing Mission’s work and its ability to renegotiate debt.
From 2009 through May 2013, the defendants systematically exploited and defrauded over 1,200 financially disadvantaged individuals across the country who were struggling to pay their credit card debts. They tricked people into paying Mission for purported debt settlement services by lying to prospective customers about the agency’s ability to help settle their debts, the fees that Mission charged, and its purported affiliation with the federal government. In connection with the scheme, Mission received over $6.6 million in fees. For more than 1,200 of its customers, Mission took fees totaling nearly $2.2 million and has never paid a penny to the customers’ creditors.
KURLYAND served as Mission’s Vice President of Sales from 2009 through 2012. In that capacity, he provided instructions to Mission’s sales representatives, who in turn lied to prospective customers about the agency’s fees to induce them to become customers of Mission. KURLYAND also helped arrange for solicitation letters to be sent on Mission’s behalf to prospective customers that falsely suggested that the agency was acting on behalf of or in connection with a federal governmental program. The letter included an image of the Great Seal of the United States and indicated that it was coming from the “Reduction Plan Administrator” of the purported “Office of Disbursement.”
KURLYAND, 30, of Brooklyn, New York, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, and one count of wire fraud. He faces a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison. KURLYAND is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Gardephe on December 20, 2013 at 2:30 p.m. As part of his guilty plea, KURLYAND agreed to forfeit $2,196,522 to the United States.
Mission and six individuals – including KURLYAND and Mission’s owner, Michael Levitis – were charged in connection with the scheme. Defendants Felix Lemberskiy and Zakhir Shirinov pled guilty to Informations in April 2013 in connection with this case. The charges against the remaining defendants are merely allegations, and they are all presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the United State Postal Inspection Service. He also thanked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for referring this case to this Office and for their assistance in this matter.
The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Nicole W. Friedlander and Edward A. Imperatore are in charge of the prosecution. Assistant United States Attorney Carolina A. Fornos of the Office’s Asset Forfeiture Unit is responsible for the forfeiture aspects of the case.