Crime & Courts

6 charged in debt collection fraud scheme

U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose
U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose

Five Charlotte residents and a Concord man are accused of running a $6 million debt collection scheme that targeted thousands of victims nationwide.

Those charged in the scheme threatened people with imminent civil and criminal charges and harassed their family members and friends to get the victims to pay, according to a criminal bill of information filed in U.S. District Court in Charlotte on Wednesday.

The scheme involved a fraudulent, Mecklenburg County-based debt collection company that operated as Capital Solutions Agency, Berkeley Hughes and Associates and Vortex Group, according to the criminal bill. The scheme operated from November 2011 through May 2015.

Cedric Clark, 35, of Concord owned the company, court records show. Debt collectors and company team leaders were Charlotte residents Michael Boughner, 48, Isaac Humberto Gonzalez, 31, Cynthia Martinez, 47, Benjamin Murray, 28, and Felicia Shaw, 46.

Each is charged with one count of engaging in a fraudulent debt collection conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, which carries up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Clark also is charged with one count of money laundering, which carries a maximum 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine.

All six have acknowledged participating in the conspiracy and have agreed to plead guilty to the charges, according to the plea agreements also filed Wednesday.

The FBI’s Charlotte office led the investigation.

“It is difficult enough for many Americans to make ends meet and pay their bills on time,” said John Strong, special agent in charge of the FBI in North Carolina. “For criminals to prey on these hard-working people is inexcusable. The FBI is working to uncover these fraudulent companies and hold those accountable for their predatory and criminal actions.”

U.S. Attorney Jill Rose cautioned consumers that “just because the collector has personal information about you, it does not mean the claim is legitimate. If you do not recognize the debt or the company, be careful and verify the information before you decide to pay.”

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak