State regulators have ordered a Chicago company to close up its debt settlement business in Minnesota, saying the company was using its affiliation with a law firm to illegally squeeze excessive fees from financially struggling consumers.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce announced the cease-and-desist action against Legal Helpers Debt Resolution LLC on Monday.

The company doesn't have a state license to operate as a debt settlement provider in Minnesota, according to a copy of the enforcement order, and has violated state rules governing debt collectors, such as collecting excessive upfront and monthly fees and misleading customers about its services.

The cease-and desist order also names James Agosto, a Minnesota lawyer it lists as an affiliate of the company with the same address as the company's Roseville office. Neither the company nor Agosto could immediately be reached for comment.

The enforcement order, signed in August, cites nine cases in which Minnesotans paid Legal Helpers to help settle debts, without any progress being made. In one case from 2011, a couple paid more than $9,000 for help but received none and continued to receive notices from creditors of actions against them, including garnished wages.

Legal Helpers claimed to use its own staff and lawyers for debt settlement services when the work was shopped out to non-lawyers at the following unlicensed debt settlement companies: CDC Client Services Inc., Lynch Financial Solutions Inc., Legal Services Support Group LLC, JEM Group Inc., American Debt Services and Eclipse Financial Services Inc.

Legal Helpers is affiliated with the law firm Macey, Aleman, Hyslip & Searns, which claims to be a national debt resolution law firm.

In July the firm agreed to pay $2.1 million in restitution to Illinois victims to settle similar accusations by the Illinois attorney general that it was bilking strapped consumers.

The Minnesota attorney general's office has sued a number of debt settlement companies in recent years for preying on vulnerable consumers, and issued cautions for people seeking to find reputable credit counselors.

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683