A Lockport company has ended its court battle to recover $392,495 that was seized almost two years ago by federal agents investigating alleged fraud and money laundering by local debt collection firms.
Officials of the Market Street Debt Partners admitted no wrongdoing when they recently signed a court document agreeing that they will no longer seek return of the money. The company has relinquished its claim to money seized from a company bank account.
According to court papers filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office, Market Street was hired to process payments for debt collection companies run by Mark M. Miller, 49, a Kenmore businessman.
No criminal charges have been filed against Miller, who denied any wrongdoing Thursday in a brief message to a News reporter.
Miller said he is no longer involved with debt collections and is still seeking to recover $90,385 that federal agents seized from his home in May 2020.
“I’m out,” Miller told The Buffalo News. “And fighting for money.”
“My client has made no admission of any wrongdoing. If there was any kind of fraud involved, it had nothing to do with Market Street,” Herbert L. Greenman, the attorney for Market Street, said on Friday. “The company processed payments for Mr. Miller in good faith. I think you can safely say the company intends to sue Mr. Miller.”
When investigators from the Homeland Security Department seized the $392,495 from Market Street Debt Partners in May 2020, Greenman filed a court challenge, saying the company conducts a legitimate business, broke no laws and should get its money back.
But on Jan. 25, Greenman, company owner Joseph Torriere and a federal prosecutor all signed a court document stating that Market Street has agreed to let the government keep the money.
Torriere “knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waives his right to a jury trial on the forfeiture of assets,” the court document states.
While not admitting any wrongdoing, Torriere and his company agreed in the document that federal agents “had probable cause to institute this action regarding any alleged criminal activities by a third party.”
Miller is not mentioned in the Jan. 25 document but prosecutors stated in two previous court documents that debt collection companies run by Miller were under investigation for alleged wire fraud and money laundering.
Law enforcement officials and other sources told The News that the Miller probe is part of a still-ongoing effort to crack down on alleged fraud by Western New York debt collectors.
The National Consumer Law Center has called Buffalo “an epicenter of unscrupulous debt collection practices,” and over the past six years, government investigations have shut down several multimillion-dollar collection agencies in the region.
The state Labor Department told The News last year that 157 collection agencies were registered to do business in Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Allegany counties. The department said those agencies have 3,441 employees.
In court papers 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/unlawful debt collection operation by providing the debt collection business with the capability of accepting debit/credit cards as payments,” the prosecutor said in court papers.
Barbara Burns, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Buffalo, declined Thursday to comment on the Market Street seizure latest developments in the or to provide any update on the Miller investigation.
Prosecutors said last year they were investigating almost $2.8 million in transactions related to debt collection firms 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, claiming that he has been unfairly targeted by law enforcement.
“Federal agents in Army suits, pointing machine guns, raided my home and my business almost a year ago,” Miller said last year. “They have not charged me with anything … because my companies follow the law.”
The smart way to start your day. We sift through all the news to give you a concise, informative look at the top headlines and must-read stories every weekday.
News reporter, Watchdog Team
Email notifications are only sent once a day, and only if there are new matching items.
Mark M. Miller, 48, denies any wrongdoing in his debt collection practices, claiming he has been unfairly targeted by lawyers, prosecutors and federal agents.
Here are snapshots of some cases against debt collectors that the State Attorney General’s Office, Federal Trade Commission and other law enforcement agencies have pursued in the past decade.
Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.