Home > Managing Debt > “Fake Court” Collections Victim Wants Money Back

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When Marilyn Johnson’s husband died, she couldn’t afford the entire bill for the funeral, leaving her with an unpaid debt of $2,142 to the funeral home. The bill went to a debt collector, and soon Johnson found herself facing a judge in a courtroom.

By then, Johnson owed $4,047 in debt plus fees, the judge said. Johnson had a choice. Either pay the money now, or go to prison.

To prevent that, Johnson’s son, Howard D. Johnson III, signed over the title to his car, a green 2002 Chevy Cavalier, to Unicredit America Inc.

“If I didn’t come up with the title to my car, they were going to put my mother in jail,” Johnson told the Erie Times-News.

Later, he discovered some disconcerting untruths: The “judge” wasn’t really a judge. And the court was just a regular office, converted to resemble a courtroom. Johnson and his mother had been duped by Unicredit, an Erie, Pa.-based debt collection company that ran the fake courtroom as a scam to intimidate people into paying their debts. Lawrence D’Ambrosio, Unicredit’s lawyer, told Johnson and his mother they were in Superior Court and the woman at the front of the room, dressed in black and seated on a high bench, was a judge.

[Resource: Top Ten Debt Collection Rights for Consumers]

“No one has seen anything like this before,” Johnson’s lawyer, Andrea Amicangelo, told Credit.com. “I had the opportunity to see the courtroom in operation, and in fact it looked nicer than some of our real district courtrooms. Some of our courtrooms are in strip malls, so it wouldn’t be unusual for an individual to go someplace that doesn’t look like a courthouse.”

Now Johnson is asking a real judge to give his car back. Unicredit America faces a lawsuit by the Pennsylvania Attorney General for fraud, intimidation and impersonating law enforcement officers. In addition to the fake judge, Unicredit allegedly sent people dressed up as sheriff’s deputies to drive to debtors’ homes and deliver fake summonses, as we reported here.

Unicredit President Michael Covatto, who did not appear at Unicredit’s previous court hearing, attended a hearing this week in Erie County Court, according to this Times-News report.

Image: Jonathon Narvey, via Flickr.com

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  • Bettie Fletcher

    Hello, I have receive several calls this man telling me that I will going to jail if I didn’t pay this payday loan from cash advance America on loan. I told him I never did a payday loan online with cash advance America, they got my information because I did an online before but not with them and that company has been paid and I guess he think I’m stupid enough to sent him my pic id, credit card number and other stuff. I told him to stop calling me. This is the number ( 360) 326-2386 this his name as he say Gary Kelso. They always say you need to get your lawyer to call or get on the phone, I have deal with people if I owe them they never threaten to take me to court or nothing like that, I will set up an payment arrangement if I did not have all the money. These people really get on my nerve I’m thinking about change my phone number and etcc. Thank you! I hope you all can stop them they are sick. Thank you! Bettie Fletcher

  • Christopher Maag

    Thank you for sharing your story, Betty! That sounds like a definite scam. Good for you for not responding.

  • Elizabeth Runkel

    I have also been a “victim” of Unicredit America. I was unable to pay my mom’s full funeral bill too, and was placed with Unicredit for collections. They were very abusive, and wouldn’t accept any terms I could do. Ultimately, I received a judgement notice and actually have it on my credit report as such. I live in North Carolina and my mom was very sick and had to move with us here for her end days. They played on the fragile emotional state that and I finally just couldn’t deal with them.

    I am now trying to finance my home and I can’t because of this “judgement” on my credit history. I called the Attorney General’s Office and they said that I have to contact a lawyer in order for it to be considered to be a part of this investigation. Really? And how am I suppose to pay for that too? Shouldn’t the state have a “class action” lawyer that will group all of these issues together??

    If anyone knows of anyone I can contact, I would really appreciate it! I have all my paperwork and a copy of the “judgement” too.


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