Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Hackensack Debt Collector Claims Attorneys Using Mafia Tactics

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Hackensack Debt Collector Claims Attorneys Using Mafia Tactics

Article excerpt

A Hackensack-based collections company has filed a federal class- action lawsuit against five attorneys from three New Jersey firms, claiming they have been "operating a classic, Mafia-style racketeering" enterprise that targets collection agencies with baseless lawsuits.

David Hoffman, of Basking Ridge, attorney for plaintiff Jeffrey Winters of Collection Solutions, Inc., alleges that the attorneys have filed more than 500 federal lawsuits against companies such as Winters' and accounts receivable departments for law firms, fitness centers and other businesses.

His client agreed to pay $12,000 to settle one of those lawsuits last year.

Attorneys for the defendants have called Hoffman's claims "completely frivolous."

In a phone interview Friday, Hoffman said that the class-action lawsuits filed by the defendants show no damages and are filed and settled within a matter of months by defendants who would rather pay a settlement of, on average, $50,000 or less to avoid a lengthy court case and an even costlier legal battle.

For that reason, Hoffman said, he believes this own class-action suit could win damages for the more than 500 defendants in his adversaries' cases at a rate of about $50,000 each.

"The civil suit is the first step," Hoffman said. "In my view, they should be sanctioned by the bar."

Hoffman lodges his accusations against attorneys Laura Mann of Riverdale, Joseph K. Jones and Benjamin J. Wolf of Fairfield, and Ari H. Marcus and Yitzchak Zelman of Ocean Township.

"We truly believe there is no basis in law or fact for (Hoffman's) claims," Robert Modica, attorney for Jones and Wolf, wrote in an email response.

Attorneys Louis A. Uccello and Craig J. Compoli Jr., representing Mann, said "we view the entire complaint to be frivolous and we will be filing motions to dismiss and requesting sanctions."

Meredith Stoma, an attorney for Marcus and Zelman, said in a statement to the media that she would ask the court to throw out the lawsuit and sanction Hoffman.

She said her clients' uses of the Fair Debt Collections Act to protect consumers from "overzealous debt collectors are doing a public service."

"It's the height of hypocrisy for debt collectors to claim they are the ones being harassed," Stoma said. …

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