Oakland County lawyers charged with skirting laws in debt-collection scheme
APR 7, 2021
Three lawyers from an Oakland County law firm were charged Tuesday with racketeering and other charges in an alleged scheme to illegally collect money from people being sued.
The scheme allowed the lawyers to claim improper judgments worth more than $1 million from at least 1,000 people, authorities allege.
Marc Fishman, 70, his son Ryan Fishman, 32, and Alexandra Ichim, 33, were each charged with one count of conducting a criminal enterprise, also known as racketeering, a 20-year felony, and one count of obstruction of justice, a five-year felony.
In addition, Ichim and Ryan Fishman each face 30 counts of forgery, a 14-year felony, “related to their filing at least 30 forged Proof of Service and Affidavits of Service in 67th District Court between January 2018 and March 2021,” said a news release from the Genesee County prosecutor.
The three were charged in Genesee County, but investigators
“have uncovered hundreds of fraudulent court filings”
by the same lawyers in Oakland County, and the counties of Calhoun, Ingham, Kalamazoo and Livingston, according to a news release.
The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office
“has referred the matter to the relevant law enforcement agencies for investigation,”
said a statement Tuesday from Oakland County officials.
The three lawyers may also have operated the alleged scheme in other states, investigators said.
The trio specialized in collecting bad debts on behalf of credit card companies and other creditors, but they were taking “a fraudulent shortcut” to accelerate their earnings, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said.
“They put a dagger in the heart of due process and victimized some of the most vulnerable people in our state. It pains me to charge fellow members of my profession, but nobody is above the law,”
According to Leyton, Michigan’s procedure in debt collection requires that lawyers working on behalf of a creditor hire process servers to attempt an in-person delivery of court papers to the debtor, either at home or any known address.
If after several attempts there is no contact with the debtor, the process server signs an affidavit stating that the debtor could not be notified, after which the lawyer involved must seek a court order from a judge, then publish a notice about the debt in a local newspaper, and finally seek a default judgment.
Only then can the debt collector garnish a debtor’s wages or seize other assets, Leyton said.
“But these lawyers took a shortcut” by forging paperwork to claim that process servers had managed to contact the debtors, he said.
“They even superimposed the process servers’ bar codes” on court documents, aimed at misleading judges,
he said, adding that it was legitimate process servers who tipped off investigators about the lucrative alleged scheme.
After the three were arraigned Tuesday in Flint, “Ryan Fishman’s wife showed up with $16,000 in cash and bailed him out,” Leyton said.
At about the same time, Marc Fishman was released.
“The dad (Marc Fishman) had a lesser bond plus he just had hip surgery, so we didn’t want him in the jail anyway,” Leyton said.
It was unclear Tuesday evening whether Ichim posted bond for her release.
The Fishman Group law firm is based in an office building on Long Lake Road near Telegraph in Bloomfield Township. None of the three lawyers responded to messages left for them following their arraignments.
The firm’s answering machine tells callers,
“Please be advised, this is a debt collection law firm. This communication is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose. All calls are monitored and recorded.”
According to court documents, Ryan Fishman lives at the address of a 5,000-square-foot house with seven bedrooms that is just south of Upper Straits Lake in Bloomfield Township.
His father is listed as being a short distance away in a more modest house but one with a four-car garage. Ichim’s address is in Waterford.
Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson said at a news conference Tuesday that anyone who believes that she or he was victimized by the Fishman Group should gather any records and court documents they possess related to debt collection and contact their county prosecutor.