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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court grants MTD in CFPB, NY AG debt collector case

Federal Issues CFPB FDCPA State Attorney General Enforcement Debt Collection New York State Issues

Federal Issues

On October 27, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York denied a motion to dismiss an action brought by the CFPB and the New York attorney general against the operators of a debt-collection scheme, rejecting the defendants’ argument that they did not have fraudulent intent and their actions were taken for legitimate reasons. As previously covered by InfoBytes in April, the CFPB and the AG filed a complaint against the defendants for allegedly transferring ownership of his $1.6 million home to his wife and daughter for $1 shortly after he received a civil investigative demand and learned that the Bureau and the AG were investigating his debt-collection activities. The complaint further alleged that the transfer of the property was a fraudulent transfer under the FDCPA and made with the intent to defraud (a violation of the New York Debtor and Creditor Law), and that the owner-defendant “removed and concealed assets in an effort to render the Judgment obtained by the Government Plaintiffs uncollectable.” In 2019 the Bureau and the AG settled with the debt collection operation to resolve allegations that the defendants established and operated a network of companies that harassed and/or deceived consumers into paying inflated debts or amounts they may not have owed (covered by InfoBytes here).

The court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding that the CFPB and AG raised sufficient allegations that the debtor’s transfers and mortgage on his property were knowingly fraudulent. The court determined that fraudulent intent under the FDCPA may be determined by several factors, sometimes called “badges of fraud,” including whether “‘the transfer or obligation was to an insider,’ ‘the debtor retained possession or control of the property transferred after the transfer,’ ‘before the transfer was made or obligation was incurred, the debtor had been sued or threatened with suit,’ ‘the value of the consideration received by the debtor was reasonably equivalent to the value of the asset transferred or the amount of the obligation incurred,’ and ‘the transfer occurred shortly before or shortly after a substantial debt was incurred.’” The court held it was reasonable to infer that the defendant was aware “that he would likely face civil prosecution” and judgments “would be beyond his ability to pay.” The court noted that the defendant engaged in transferring a personally significant asset—his $1.6 million residence—to two insiders for nominal consideration, which was considered to be “highly unusual.” Additionally, the defendant alleged that he continued to “’reside at and exercise control over’ the property and is now unwilling or unable to pay off the judgment,” which indicated the conveyance was also part of a sham divorce. Further, the court noted that “the complaint plausibly alleges that the mortgage ‘was not granted in good faith’ and was ‘made with the intent to make it appear that the Property was encumbered.’”

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