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1 of 2 accused in fraud pleads guilty

One of two men accused of running an illegal, lucrative and mean-spirited debt-collection business pleaded guilty Friday to felony charges of mail fraud and tax evasion at federal court.

Neil G. Wieczkowski, 42, of Buffalo, was arrested in October 2009 after an investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and criminal agents from the Internal Revenue Service.

Wieczkowski and Timothy G. Arent, 38, of West Ferry Street, were accused of running an illegal debt-collection firm that scared people by telling them they owed money.

Over a period of three years, Wieczkowski and Arent "deposited approximately $6.8 million in checks written by over 1,000 victims from all over the country, for payment of completely fictitious debt," Assistant U.S. Attorney MaryEllen Kresse said in court papers.

The prosecutor said Wieczkowski admitted that he and Arent paid employees at another Buffalo debt-collection firm thousands of dollars to steal lists of debtor names and contact information from their employer.

Arent called himself "the Beast" because of his skill at illegally harassing and intimidating people, the prosecutor said. Charges against Arent are still pending, but he is scheduled to take a guilty plea next week.

Under advisory sentencing guidelines, Wieczkowski faces a prison term of at least five years and three months. District Judge William M. Skretny scheduled sentencing for April 26.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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