A Kenmore man pleaded guilty Thursday to wire fraud as part of a debt collection scheme, the U.S. Attorney Western District of New York Office announced.
Carmelo Collana, 49, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maura K. O’Donnell, who is handling the case, stated that between January 2014 and February 2017, Collana conspired with others in a debt collection scheme that was spearheaded by co-defendant Joseph Ciffa. Ciffa pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and other charges in February 2018 and faces a recommended sentence of up to 97 months in prison.
In the past, investigators have estimated that the fraudulent activity committed by Ciffa and others resulted in $22 million in income over a four-year period ending in 2015. Collana and Ciffa were charged along with four other defendants.
Between February 2015 and December 2016, approximately $788,961 from fraudulent collection activities was deposited into Collana's accounts, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors said that Collana opened various corporations and bank accounts that were used to process and facilitate payments used by debt collection agencies operating under various names. With the knowledge and assistance of Collana, prosecutors said, these debt collection agencies placed fraudulent telephone calls to individuals throughout the United States "in an attempt to collect money, and utilized fraudulent tactics, including false threats of arrest, false claims that the callers/collectors were attorneys, and false claims as to criminal charges pending against the 'debtors.' "
Prosecutors said the employees of the debt collection agencies directed the individuals to make payment into or through bank accounts owned or operated by Collana.
Prosecutors also said that Collana maintained an account with TLO, an online commercial database, used to gather personal information about individuals, such as address, employer and date of birth, which was used to contact and collect from the individuals they called.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 13 at 12:30 p.m.