Florida debt buyer arrested in bribery of U.S. Bank exec

Leonard Potillo, owner of United Credit Recovery, faces federal charges of fraud, bribery and money laundering.

The Florida owner of a major debt-buying company that’s been sued by the state of Minnesota was arrested and charged with bribing a U.S. Bank official to get inside information on the sale of debt portfolios.

Leonard G. Potillo III, who runs Florida-based United Credit Recovery LLC, allegedly paid the bank employee $1 million for details on the sale of overdrawn checking and savings accounts it had charged off, according to a federal indictment unsealed Monday.

A federal grand jury in Florida has charged Potillo with seven counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of bribery of a bank official and 16 counts of money laundering in connection with the alleged $76 million scheme.

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank declined to comment for this article.

The indictment identifies the U.S. Bank employee by the initials “W.T.”

The multiple bribes paid to W.T. enabled Potillo’s company to buy about 11 portfolios of overdraft debt from U.S. Bank. Potillo paid $31 million, or less than four cents on the dollar, for the portfolios of old debt that had a combined face value of $820 million, according to the indictment.

A person familiar with the matter said that W.T. is former U.S. Bank employee Wilbur Tate, who left the bank in 2011.

Last year, a former U.S. Bank assistant vice president named Wilbur Tate III was named as a subject in a federal conspiracy and bribery case in Connecticut. In that case, Tate allegedly took bribes from a collection agency called Oxford Collection Agency in cigar boxes stuffed with cash, which the complaint said were “euphemistically described as getting Wilbur Tate III his ‘cigars.’ ” Court documents show that Tate, who had addresses in Ohio and Georgia, talked with government officials last year about cooperating with ongoing investigations. The outcome was not immediately clear.

In the latest case, authorities in Florida arrested Potillo Monday. He wasn’t able to hire a lawyer and was assigned a federal public defender.

The government intends to forfeit the 48-year-old businessman’s bank accounts that hold about $3.9 million, his Maserati, Ferrari, Jaguar and Aston Martin, as well as his three homes in Florida, as well as a residence in Montreal and a flat in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Potillo’s company was a major buyer of overdraft debt from Minnesota banks, including Wells Fargo & Co. and Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp. Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson sued United Credit Recovery, or UCR, last fall for mass-producing reams of fake bank affidavits to collect the old charge-off debts from people and businesses.

UCR used the electronically robo-signed documents for years to persuade people that they actually owed the debts and try to convince courts to award judgments, as well as to hike the value of the debt for its potential resell to other debt collectors.

The company allegedly sold the old debts to more than 100 third-party debt buyers and collections agencies including one in Minnesota called Bradstreet & Associates. In January, Swanson’s office sued Bradstreet & Associates for tacking illegal interest onto the old debts, which caused the amounts to balloon.

UCR is one of the largest debt buyers in the country, boasting on its website that it bought more than $10 billion in overdraft debts from banks such as U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo. Swanson has said that Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank stopped selling overdraft debt to debt buyers in 2012 due to compliance concerns.

 

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683

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