BUFFALO, N.Y.-U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. announces that a federal grand jury has returned a 41 count indictment charging Alan Ceccarelli, 30, of Buffalo, NY, with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and distribution of alprazolam and buprenorphine. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maura O’Donnell, who is handling the case, stated that according to the indictment, Ceccarelli was the owner and managing member of a debt collection business known by multiple names including G&B Check Services, Check & Arbitration Services, Dudley & Associates, National Check Services, Regional Mediation, Regional ACH Services, Franklin & Ruggiero, and ACH Regional Debt & Recovery Services. The defendant used a variety of aliases including Steve Jantrowski, Daniel Hamilton, Scott Richmond, Seth Galbert, Matthew Pacifico, Joshua Gable, Raymond Foy, Robert Header, Kyle Thill, William Starnes, Robert Laroski, Andre Spencer, and Sean Wagoner.
The indictment further states that between January 2013 and January 2016, Ceccarelli routinely tricked and coerced thousands of victims throughout the United States into paying debts whether or not the debts were actually owed. The defendant and collectors working for him caused victims to send money in various ways including credit and debit card payments, and prepaid debit cards such as Western Union. The indictment alleges that Ceccarelli’s company collected approximately $1,022,000 during the course of the scheme. Some of the money was paid to “collectors” working for the defendant.
In order to coerce victims into paying the purported debts, “collectors” falsely told victims:
- The Company was affiliated with local government and law enforcement agencies;
- The victims had committed criminal acts, and if they did not pay the debt immediately, warrants or other process would be issued, at which point they would be arrested or summoned to court;
- The Company was a law firm or mediation firm and/or that the Company's employees were working with lawyers, a law firm, mediators, or arbitrators;
- A civil lawsuit would be filed, or was pending, against the victims for failing to pay their debts; and
- The caller was physically located in the vicinity of the victim’s home or place of business, and would be coming to the home or office imminently to serve the victim with process if the victim did not immediately make payment arrangements.
As part of the scheme, the company utilized a technique known as “spoofing” which made it appear to victims that telephone calls originated from police departments, government offices, and attorney offices located within the geographical vicinity of the victim. In addition, the defendant frequently collected debts that the company did not actually own or have the right to collect. As a result, when a victim made a payment to the company or to Ceccarelli, the payment did not satisfy any debt actually owed by the victim.
Ceccarelli obtained what is known as preview lists from debt brokers. These lists are not intended by the brokers to be used to collect debts, but rather to determine whether a collection agency wants to purchase a particular debt portfolio. The defendant kept the lists and used commercial databases to find and fill in the missing data from the lists, such as social security numbers, dates of birth, telephone numbers, and other personal information.
According to the indictment, the defendant also preyed upon individuals who had filed bankruptcy in an attempt to collect on debts owed by those individuals. Ceccarelli utilized “spoofing” techniques making it appear to victims that calls were originating from the office of the victim’s bankruptcy attorney. The defendant or his collectors told victims:
- The caller was a representative of the office of the victim’s bankruptcy attorney or an associate of that attorney;
- The victim had an outstanding debt which had not been included in their bankruptcy filing;
- As a result, the victim would be subject to criminal charges and/or have a warrant issued for his or her arrest if they did not pay the debt or make arrangements to pay the debt immediately; and
- The victim could satisfy the outstanding debt by making an immediate payment in accordance with the instructions given.
It is also alleged in the indictment that the defendant distributed alprazolam, a Schedule IV substance, and buprenorphine, a Schedule III substance.
The defendant was arraigned this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder and is being detained pending a detention hearing on March 14, 2016 at 2:00 p.m.
The indictment is the result of an investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James C. Spero, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, under the direction of Shantelle P. Kitchen, Special Agent in Charge, and the Buffalo Police Department, under the direction of Commissioner Daniel Derenda.
The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.