Feds accuse debt collector of fraud

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING
  • Star Tribune
  • August 10, 2012 - 9:03 PM

As if debt collectors didn't have a bad enough reputation, federal investigators say a rogue Twin Cities debt collector has been using his access to credit bureaus and consumer databases to steal identities and defraud financial institutions around the country.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce stripped Khemall "Kenny" Jokhoo, 34, of his debt collection and real estate licenses and fined him and his company $100,000 in May 2011. An administrative law judge had found earlier that Jokhoo had misrepresented himself as a lawyer, harassed debtors over extremely old, uncollectible accounts, made unauthorized withdrawals from debtors' financial institutions, cashed forged checks and concealed a prior criminal record on at least seven state license applications since 2005.

Federal agents say the loss of his licenses didn't stop Jokhoo.

He ran an unauthorized credit check with the Experian credit bureau as recently as January, and has been seen working from his Burnsville apartment this summer, according to an affidavit filed to obtain search warrants for his apartment and former home in Lonsdale, Minn. Investigators seized computer equipment, financial records, notes, a cellphone and mail, according to court documents unsealed this week in St. Paul.

Investigators said they have evidence implicating Jokhoo in aggravated identity theft and bank fraud.

Jokhoo did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Jokhoo, whose aliases include Kevin Smith, Kevin Day and Mike Lee, operated a one-man collection agency called First Financial Services from 2002 until November 2009, when the Commerce Department revoked its license for unfair collection practices.

Allegations about Jokhoo's aggressive collection tactics surfaced publicly in October 2007 when Eugene R. Myers of Janesville, Wis., sued him and his employer in federal court. Myers said that Jokhoo had threatened to embarrass him by having him arrested and by serving him with court papers at the church where he worked. The defendants denied wrongdoing and quickly settled the case.

The complaints about Jokhoo continued to pour in. Edwin Galestian of La Crescenta, Calif., said he reported Jokhoo to the police for unrelenting harassment, and worse. He said Jokhoo worked through a credit bureau to change Galestian's mailing address to Minnesota, though he's never been in the state.

"That's the most annoying debt collector I've ever seen in my life," Galestian said.

The judge hearing Jokhoo's licensing case found that Jokhoo or someone working with him had tricked Galestian's bank into sending him a $40,000 check, that Galestian's signature had been forged and the check deposited in an account under Jokhoo's control. The signature on the check bore a strong resemblance to Jokhoo's writing, the judge noted.

The judge found that Jokhoo misrepresented himself as an attorney and had threatened to have Jill and Keith Diffey of Elk Grove, Calif., arrested. The judge also found that Jokhoo had tricked the couple's bank into wiring his company more than $5,100 and caused their credit card company to transfer $3,900 to his firm's bank account without their approval.

The judge made similar findings about Jokhoo's dealings with a man in Colorado and another in Illinois.

Federal investigators say in court filings that Jokhoo, because he was a licensed debt collector, accessed a LexisNexis product called Accurint for Collections, giving him Social Security numbers, birth dates, employment history, credit, banking and other personal information.

Jokhoo used information from LexisNexis and credit bureaus to contact people and demand money, and to impersonate them when calling their financial institutions. Several of the banks' caller ID systems captured Jokhoo's phone number.

Lonsdale police fielded complaints about Jokhoo and he was arrested in Lakeville in 2009 as he tried to open a bank account with an unauthorized check from a Kansas victim, said U.S. Postal Inspector Troy Sabby. Lonsdale police and investigators with the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force searched Jokhoo's home and seized checks, financial documents and two computers that contained the personal information of victims and business records for Jokhoo's firm.

Sabby began investigating Jokhoo in February 2010, "and determined that he continued to exercise and modify his scheme" despite his previous law enforcement contacts.

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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