In these hard times, New York’s future governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, has made a point of standing alongside consumers who are down on their luck. As attorney general, he conducted a statewide crackdown on debt collectors who ran afoul of consumer protection laws, and his office encouraged consumers with their own tales of woe to contact it.
“Too often consumers find themselves in over their heads,” reads one section of the attorney general’s Web site. “If you are one of those consumers, you may be feeling overwhelmed trying to make ends meet while paying off your bills. You may be experiencing calls from people demanding that you pay a certain debt.”
So, it may come as a jolt to learn that the office of the attorney general, consisting of the state’s chief lawyers, also does a brisk business collecting debts from consumers who owe money to many state agencies and authorities — returning about $100 million a year to the state’s coffers.
And it may come as an even bigger jolt to learn that New York State is seriously looking at handing over responsibility for some collection activity to outside bill collectors who, like many of those prosecuted by Mr. Cuomo over the last four years, would be chasing profits above and beyond the return of taxpayer money.
The outreach to private debt collection companies began last May, according to the New York State Division of the Budget’s Web site, and the division could award a contract any day.
New York State “did terrific work in going after debt collectors, and now they’re going to hire these same people and have no control over what they’re going to do?” said Johnson Tyler, a lawyer who works with the indigent for South Brooklyn Legal Services.
The industry, though, has regularly found itself a target of investigation. Spying an opportunity midway through his term as attorney general to burnish his credentials as the consumer’s champion, Mr. Cuomo directed his staff to take on the bad actors in the private collection business aggressively.
At last count, 14 debt collection enterprises had been put out of business by Mr. Cuomo’s office, including one whose chief official was a gun-toting felon and another who singled out servicemen, threatening their families and calling their commanders. The office also helped obtain criminal convictions against a dozen or so of the worst offenders, people who intimidated consumers by posing as law enforcement officers and even one man who continued to run his debt collection business from inside a federal prison.
At least six more debt collection companies signed agreements promising to mend their ways. Along the way, the attorney general’s SWAT team also shut down or sued affiliated law firms, process servers and debt consolidators whose services turned out to be shams.
“At a time when New York families are already struggling with unprecedented levels of debt, unscrupulous collection agencies add salt to an open wound,” Mr. Cuomo said in May 2009, after taking on the debt collectors.
What gives, Little Andy?
First you go after these crooks as attorney general, now you hire these same crooks to collect money when you're governor?
You must want that money for the state pretty badly!
Heck, if you want the state money that much, why not go all the way and skip right past the unscrupulous private debt collectors and just hire Gambino and Genevose crime family associates to get the money for you?
I can see it all now.
"Hey, tax deadbeat - give us Cuomo's money or we'll break your legs..."