Lockport Company Drops Challenge to Federal Government Seizure of Nearly $400,000 | Local News
A Lockport company has ended its legal battle to recover $392,495 seized nearly two years ago by federal agents investigating allegations of fraud and money laundering by local debt collection companies.
Market Street Debt Partners officials admitted no wrongdoing when they recently signed a court document pledging not to seek the money back. The company waived its right to the money seized from a company bank account.
According to court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Market Street was contracted to process payments from debt collection companies run by Mark M. Miller, 49, a Kenmore businessman.
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No criminal charges have been filed against Miller, who denied any wrongdoing Thursday in a brief message to a News reporter.
Miller said he was no longer involved in debt collection and was still seeking to recover $90,385 that federal agents seized from his home in May 2020.
“I walked out,” Miller told The Buffalo News. “And fight for the money.”
“My client has not admitted any wrongdoing. If there was fraud, it has nothing to do with Market Street,” Market Street attorney Herbert L. Greenman said Friday. “The company handled Mr. Miller’s payments in good faith. I think you can safely say that the company intends to sue Mr. Miller.”
When Department of Homeland Security investigators seized the $392,495 from Market Street Debt Partners in May 2020, Greenman filed a legal challenge, saying the company is conducting legitimate business, broke no laws, and should recover. his money.
But on Jan. 25, Greenman, company owner Joseph Torriere and a federal prosecutor all signed a court document saying Market Street had agreed to let the government keep the money.
Torriere “knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waives his right to a jury trial on the asset forfeiture,” the court document states.
While not admitting any wrongdoing, Torriere and company agreed in the filing that federal agents “had probable cause to bring this action regarding any alleged criminal activity by a third party.”
Miller is not mentioned in the Jan. 25 document, but prosecutors said in two previous court documents that debt collection companies run by Miller were being investigated for alleged wire fraud and money laundering. .
Law enforcement officials and other sources told The News that the Miller investigation was part of an ongoing effort to crack down on suspected fraud by Western New York debt collectors.
The National Consumer Law Center has called Buffalo “the epicenter of unscrupulous debt collection practices,” and over the past six years government investigations have shut down several multimillion-dollar collection agencies in the area.
The state Department of Labor told The News last year that 157 collection agencies were registered to do business in Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Allegany counties. The ministry said these agencies had 3,441 employees.
In court documents filed last year, Assistant U.S. Attorney Grace M. Carducci described Market Street as a “debt processor” for five companies run by Miller that were involved in illegal debt collection activities.
“The payment processor is a necessary entity that facilitates a wire fraud scheme/illegal debt collection operation by providing the debt collection company with the ability to accept debit/credit cards as payments,” said the prosecutor said in court documents.
Barbara Burns, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Buffalo, declined Thursday to comment on the latest developments in the Market Street seizure or provide an update on the Miller investigation.
Prosecutors said last year they were investigating nearly $2.8 million in transactions related to debt collection companies run by Miller.
They alleged that Miller’s companies engaged in “illegal debt collection practices”, including the use of “profane” language, “threats and scare tactics”.
Miller has denied any wrongdoing in interviews with The News, saying he was unfairly targeted by law enforcement.
“Federal agents in army suits, pointing machine guns, raided my home and business nearly a year ago,” Miller said last year. “They didn’t charge me with anything…because my companies follow the law.”