Debt-Relief Scammer Gets 9 Years in Prison

NEW YORK (AP) -

The owner of a company that posed as a rescuer for more than 1,200 debt-ridden people nationwide, while ripping them off with exorbitant fees, was sentenced Wednesday to nine years in prison.

Michael Levitis, 38, of Brooklyn must also pay restitution of $2.2 million and a $15,000 fine.

“There is something special and extraordinary about the crimes here: the fact that they were directed at desperate people, hundreds of desperate people drowning in debt, trying to find a way out of their problems,” U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe said. “The determination to extract from these people their last few dollars makes this crime extraordinary.”

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Levitis preyed upon vulnerable people by claiming he had a quick, guaranteed cure to their serious financial problems. But Levitis actually created a nightmare of spiraling debt and plummeting credit scores for them instead.

Bharara said the owner of Mission Settlement Agency claimed his service cost $49 per month but then took thousands of dollars in fees that clients thought would go to creditors.

Levitis lived lavishly as his company collected over $6.6 million in fees from 2009 through May 2013.