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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Process Server Pleads Guilty to Fraud, Faces 1-Year Prison Term

The owner of a Long Island process serving business that put thousands of New Yorkers at risk of default by failing to notify them that they had been sued pleaded guilty Friday to felony fraud, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Friday.

William Singler, the president of Lynbrook, N.Y.-based American Legal Process, will receive a jail term of one year for the Class E felony of first-degree scheme to defraud. [Read the criminal complaint (pdf).]

When Singler was arrested in April, his attorney, Corey Winograd of Winograd & Winograd in Manhattan, told the New York Law Journal that his client acknowledged that some of his process servers had not done their job, but claimed his client had not been aware of what was happening.

"He trusted those process servers," Winograd said last spring. "We now know today that some process servers breached that trust."

But in an appearance Friday before Acting Supreme Court Justice Alan L. Honorof of Nassau County, Singler admitted he had signed phony affidavits of service, swearing that court papers had been served on defendants in debt collection suits even though he knew many of his employees had broken the law.

Winograd, in an interview after the plea, said his client is
"taking responsibility for what occurred at his company and the actions of the many process servers who worked for American Legal Process, and he's looking forward to putting this episode behind him and moving on with his life."

As a result of Singler's fraud, many defendants had costly judgments entered against them, according to a statement by Cuomo.

Cuomo said Singler's crime
"impacted lives and caused financial hardship for thousands of New Yorkers,"
many of whom had their bank accounts frozen, their wages garnished and liens put on their homes.

Still pending is a civil action in Erie County against Singler and American Legal Process.

Filed in April, the suit, Cuomo v. Zmod Process Corp., dba American Legal Process, 4228-09, contends that between January 2007 and October 2008, Singler and American Legal Process
"persistently and repeatedly failed to serve New Yorkers in the manner prescribed by law, and have filed, or caused to be filed, thousands of false affidavits of service representing that service was proper."

During this time, there were 13,040 instances in which 55 servers reported they had attempted to deliver papers to a defendant before receiving the documents, according to the felony complaint against Singler.

And on 3,512 occasions, employees of American Legal Process claimed they tried to serve documents, but in fact they would have to have served different defendants in separate locations at the same time, Cuomo said.

Employees also claimed to have made process-serving attempts that would have required them to drive more than 10,000 miles in a single day.

In addition to the civil and criminal actions against Singler, Cuomo brought suit in July against dozens of law firms and two debt collectors seeking to vacate 100,000 defaults throughout New York.

Filed in Erie County Supreme Court on behalf of Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau, the suit seeks to vacate all default judgments where the only evidence that a defendant received service notifying him of being sued was based on an affidavit from American Legal Process, Pfau v. Foster & Garbus (pdf), 2009-8236.

The parties are working to resolve the case, according to a spokesman for the Unified Court System.

Under CPLR §308, servers must try to deliver papers three times before being allowed to mail a copy of the suit or "nail" a copy to a defendant's door.

Singler is due to be sentenced on March 24.

Meanwhile, in a separate federal case filed at the end of December, a group of civil rights advocates accused a network of debt collectors, including the law firm of Mel S. Harris and Associates, of civil racketeering, deceptive business practices, and violating federal debt collection law.

Sykes v. Harris and Associates, LLC, 09-civ-8486, was filed on behalf of a class of defaulting lawsuit defendants by the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, MFY Legal Services Inc. and the law firm of Emery Celi Brinckerhoff & Abady. The suit claims the defendants used fraudulent debt collection practices to obtain tens of thousands of default judgments against New York residents.

The defendants in the case could not be reached for comment.

Republished with License 01-20-2010 - ALM - Noeleen G.Walder