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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, November 10, 2016

Owner Of Debt Collection Company Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court To Five Years In Prison For Massive Debt Collection Fraud

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that JOHN TODD WILLIAMS, a/k/a “JT,” a/k/a “Joe Steele,” was sentenced today to five years in prison for perpetrating a multi-year debt collection fraud scheme that defrauded more than 6,000 victims around the country out of millions of dollars.  WILLIAMS owned and operated a debt collection company based in Norcross, Georgia, called WILLIAMS, SCOTT & ASSOCIATES, a/k/a “WSA,” a/k/a “Warrant Services Association,” (“WSA”).  WILLIAMS and his co-conspirators, whom he employed as debt collectors at WSA, tricked and coerced victims into making payments to WSA by making false threats and telling a host of lies.  These threats included falsely claiming that warrants had been issued for the victims’ arrest or that criminal charges were pending against them.  A jury convicted WILLIAMS of conspiracy to commit wire fraud on July 12, 2016, after a five-day trial.  WILLIAMS was sentenced today in Manhattan federal court by the Honorable Richard J. Sullivan, who also presided over WILLIAMS’s trial.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:  “As the jury found in convicting him, John Todd Williams was the ring-leader of a ruthless and predatory fraudulent debt collection operation that victimized thousands of people across the nation.  His criminal network of collectors used lies and threats, including false claims of being law enforcement who would arrest them, to get vulnerable victims to pay up.  For his callous crime, Williams himself now has been sentenced to prison.”

According to the evidence presented at trial:

Between approximately 2009 and May 2014, employees working for WSA, led by WILLIAMS, routinely 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.  Employees of WSA typically used aliases, sometimes referring to themselves as “Detective” or “Investigator,” falsely advised consumers they had committed purported crimes such as “check fraud” or “depository check fraud,” and told consumers that if they failed to make immediate payments to WSA to resolve the matters, warrants would be issued for their arrest.  WSA employees also falsely claimed that WSA had contracts with, or was otherwise affiliated with, certain federal or local law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Among other false statements, WSA employees also claimed that WSA was a law firm or otherwise worked with lawyers, and that they would have the victims’ driver’s licenses suspended if those victims did not make payment to WSA.  To falsely create an appearance of legitimacy, and further trick their victims into making payments, WSA employees routinely used legal terminology to invent legitimate-sounding, but completely bogus, explanations for the supposed imminent arrest of the victims, including for example, that the “statute of limitations” on the victims’ “civil legal rights” had expired and therefore the matter was now a criminal matter that could be resolved only by voluntary payment to WSA, or arrest.  WILLIAMS and WSA employees also attempted to collect debts from victims who had already paid off their loans.  When victims told WSA employees that they had already paid their debts, they were told, at WILLIAMS’s instruction, that “you can’t pay a debt with a debt instrument,” i.e., a credit card.

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In addition to the prison term, Judge Sullivan ordered WILLIAMS, 50, of Norcross, Georgia, to pay over $3.9 million in restitution to his victims.           

Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI.  He also thanked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) for referring this case to this Office, and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) for its assistance in this investigation.  Mr. Bharara also acknowledged with appreciation the extraordinary partnership between this Office and both the FTC and CFPB in the Office’s ongoing effort to combat consumer fraud.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

If you believe you were a victim of this crime, including a victim entitled to restitution, and you wish to provide information to law enforcement and/or receive notice of future developments in the case or additional information, please contact the Victim/Witness Unit at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, at (866) 874-8900.  For additional information, go to:

http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/nys/victimwitness.html

If you wish to report a crime by another debt collector, you may contact the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP.  For guidance on coping with debt, and information about dealing with debt collection companies in particular, consider the following link to publications issued by the Federal Trade Commission:

http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0149-debt-collection

The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Sarah E. Paul and Benet J. Kearney represented the Government at trial and at sentencing.

16-299
Topic: 
Consumer Protection
Financial Fraud
Updated November 10, 2016