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Orchard Park debt collection mastermind faces prison for $31 million scam

The owner of a Buffalo-based debt-collection company who pleaded guilty last November to scamming thousands of victims across the country out of more than $31 million in payments was sentenced Thursday in Manhattan federal court to serve 8 1/3 years in prison.

Travell Thomas, the owner, chief executive officer and president of Four Star Resolution, was the mastermind behind the largest criminal debt collection scheme ever charged, according to Joon H. Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

"Using abusive and outrageous threats to take advantage of vulnerable Americans, Thomas and his co-conspirators defrauded victims out of $31 million and Thomas made a small fortune for himself. Thomas will now serve a significant term in federal prison," said Kim.

Between 2010 and February 2015, Thomas, along with a team of managers and debt collectors, oversaw four debt collection offices operated by Four Star in Buffalo.

On Nov. 1, 2016, Thomas, 38, of Orchard Park, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud before U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla, who also imposed Thursday's sentence. In addition to prison, Thomas was sentenced to three years of supervised release, and ordered to forfeit $31 million.

Thomas manipulated Four Star's debt-collection software to falsely inflate the balances of debts owed by victims his company went after. As a result, debt collectors took in more money from victims than they actually owed, a practice that was known within Four Star as “juicing” balances, according to federal authorities.

Thomas also placed debts with more than one of his offices, so several collectors from Four Star could coerce a victim to repay debt more than once.

Authorities also said Thomas drafted scripts used by collectors that made misrepresentations to debt holders over the telephone. Under Thomas’ direction, the government said, Four Star debt collectors used a variety of aliases to trick and coerce victims into paying millions dollars they did not owe to the company.

Authorities also said Four Star debt collectors misrepresented themselves as being affiliated with the local government and law enforcement agencies – or a legal or mediation firm.

The collectors also threatened victims with arrest, falsely accusing them of criminal acts such as wire fraud or check fraud. Thomas also approved an abusive and coercive “mailing campaign,” in which Four Star sent mailers to victims across the country that purported to be from courts and government agencies.

Of the money that Four Star took in from victims, about $1.5 million was paid in cash to Thomas and his co-owner and co-defendant, Maurice Sessum, $1.4 million was withdrawn from banks and ATMs and hundreds of thousands of dollars paid for Thomas's gambling expenses, season tickets for professional sports, wedding reception and jewelry, authorities said.

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