A lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office claims attorney John P. Nicolia sold a collection agency the use of his name and his law firm's name in 2008 and 2009, which the agency then used to threaten bogus legal action against consumers across the U.S. Nicolia, of Williamsville, N.Y., received a total of $141,000 for selling his name, according to Cuomo's office.
Nicolia never provided actual legal services for the collection agency, Eastern Asset Management.
Collectors who called consumers to collect on debts claimed that they were calling from, or working with, "the Law Office of John Nicolia." According to Cuomo's office, collectors sent standardized settlement letters citing non-existent judgments to consumers believed to owe debts, claiming "...our legal counsel, John Nicolia, Esq. may review the status of your particular case at any time."
The collection agency, after invoking Nicolia's name, often falsely stated that the consumers: would be charged with a crime; would be imprisoned or lose their property if they didn’t pay; had lawsuits filed against them; and would have their driver’s licenses suspended.
The suit seeks a court order barring Nicolia from allowing collection companies to use his name. It also seeks to impose civil penalties against Nicolia for the violations.
"The lawsuit alleges that this attorney knowingly allowed a debt collection firm to use his name to threaten, intimidate, and harass consumers, while he sat back and profited without having to do any actual work," according to a statement from Cuomo's office. "Our investigation into illegal debt collection practices has uncovered layer upon layer of abusive acts, and we will continue to root out the bad players in this industry."
Since May 2009, Cuomo has shut down 14 debt collection, see story, and affiliated process-serving companies, see story, and required others to reform their deceptive practices. His office also has garnered criminal convictions against 10 collectors who engaged in egregious and threatening actions against consumers. Lawsuits against several other collection companies are pending.
Nicolia was not immediately available for comment.