Athena Maldonado and Christopher Harati Guilty of Scamming Debt Relief Customers
Two Orange County residents pleaded guilty this week to having roles in a scam where what was supposed to be payment assistance for credit card debtors was diverted to upfront fees customers were not aware of, according to federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C.
Athena Maldonado, 30, and Christopher Harati, 31, who worked for Nelson Gamble & Associates of Irvine and Jackson Hunter Morris & Knight LLP of Newport Beach, copped to conspiracy, prosecutors said.
A sentencing date has not been set. Co-defendants Jeremy Nelson, Elias Ponce and John Vartanian, who were indicted in December on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, are scheduled to go on trial in February of next year.
The government alleges the convicted and accused falsely told customers they worked for law firms and that they could negotiate favorable settlements of their debts with creditors. The clients paid monthly to erase their debts, but what they did not know was the first six months' worth of payments, or at least 15 percent of the total to be paid, was entirely diverted to Nelson Gamble & Associates and Jackson Hunter Morris & Knight. The Federal Trade Commission sued the companies in civil court in September 2012, alleging they falsely claimed to reduce debt by 50 percent and made unauthorized charges to client bank accounts.
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