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Editorial: Prison time for corrupt debt collector should be a lesson to others

Yet another unscrupulous debt collector has been sentenced to prison, this time a well-deserved 78 months, for employing illegal methods that amounted to harassment of his tormented victims.

Alan Ceccarelli did not just go after those in debt – he went after those not in debt. To him, there was no distinction. Thanks to local, state and federal law enforcement, Ceccarelli’s lawbreaking eventually came to an end.

The Buffalo man, now 32, started his white-collar criminal career at a relatively young age. His business used multiple names and he used multiple aliases. He pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

The depth of his criminal activity was described by prosecutors. They said Ceccarelli used illegal means to coerce victims throughout the United States into paying debts they owed. He also used such illegal methods as false statements and threats on people who owed nothing.

Officials say Ceccarelli’s collectors falsely posed as government and law enforcement officials. The grand jury indictment shed light on another aspect in his twisted business, accusing Ceccarelli of using “spoofing,” making it appear to victims that the collector’s telephone call originated from a police department or the office of a government official or local private attorney.

Sometimes Ceccarelli’s collectors would say that they were calling from a location near the victim’s home or business and would then add the fear-inducing claim that they were en route to serve the victim with court papers unless the victim made an immediate payment.

Ceccarelli blamed a decade-long addiction to cocaine, heroin and crack cocaine for being behind his crimes. His greed caused untold anguish among his victims. Now he is the one who must pay.

Last November Travell Thomas of Orchard Park pleaded guilty to two felony charges in connection with his collections firm, 4 Star Resolution. Prosecutors said he ran a scheme that coerced thousands of victims into overpaying their debts by at least $31 million.

Debt collection is not an inherently illegal or improper business. When done properly it fulfills a necessary economic function. Someone who is owed money has the right to get it back, and may turn to a debt collector. It is when unscrupulous debt collectors use extreme and illegal methods that the industry gets an undeserved black eye.

Law enforcement will have to remain vigilant in making sure that the debt collection industry is not smeared by the criminals seeking a quick buck.

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