Three Oakland County attorneys face racketeering charges in Genesee debt collections
Three Oakland County attorneys were charged Tuesday with running a scheme in Genesee County to collect debts from people who may not have owed them and lying to court officials about their efforts to contact the alleged defaulters.
Arrested Tuesday were Marc A. Fishman, 70, president and CEO of the Fishman Group in Bloomfield Township; his son, Ryan J. Fishman, 32, of Bloomfield Township, and a third firm attorney, Alexandra Ichim, 33.
The elder Fishman was charged with maintaining a criminal enterprise and obstruction of justice and his son and Ichim were each charged with conducting a criminal enterprise, 30 counts of forgery and one count of obstruction of justice.
Conducting a criminal enterprise — more commonly known as racketeering – is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Conviction of forgery carries up to a 14-years in prison and obstruction of justice is punishable by five years behind bars.
Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton and Sheriff Chris Swanson announced the charges at a news conference in Flint.
The alleged victims in all of the named offenses live in Genesee County, but officials said the investigation indicates there are “hundreds and hundreds” of others victimized in that county plus Oakland, Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Ingham counties, with damages totaling more than $1 million.
The two Genesee County officials said the case could have “national" reach, noting the Fishman Group has offices in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and Aspen, Colorado.
“These people, this firm, took advantage of the most vulnerable people in the state who weren’t familiar with the legal process or may have believed they needed to pay on debts they never owed,” said Leyton, adding that as an attorney, it “pains me” to say this about others in his chosen profession.
Leyton said there has been no evidence or allegations that “anyone in the (court) system was involved in this.” Swanson said investigators believe the three co-defendants “were the driving force” — at least in the Genesee County cases.
Leyton said officials in Kalamazoo County have pursued at least one case there and that he had spoken with Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald. A spokesman for McDonald said Tuesday she had contacted the “relevant law enforcement agencies to investigate" possible cases in that county.
According to investigators, in at least 30 cases dating to August 2019, the firm allegedly forged and filed paperwork in courts stating the firm had properly served debtors. However, investigators determined in all of the cases, process servers had been unable to locate people who allegedly owed debts, according to authorities.
Under the law, at that stage, the law firm was required to file additional paperwork with the courts seeking substitute service of some kind — such as newspaper ads, texts, mail or door postings — because its representatives were unable to make face-to-face contact, the prosecutor said.
“They never followed due diligence,” said Leyton. “They took a shortcut and lied to the court.”
Those allegedly owing debts had funds attached from wages and other income.
The elder Fishman received a bond of $40,000/10% at his arraignment while his son and Ichim both received bonds of $160,000 bonds/10%. It was unclear whether any of the three made bond Tuesday. None could be reached for comment.
The Fishman Group, in business since 1976, is headquartered in Bloomfield Township. Calls from The Detroit News to the business were not returned Tuesday.
Swanson said there were four classes of victims in the scheme in which the defendants “stole, embezzled, lied and forged documents.”
“First (victims) were the people who didn’t know they had been served — some were living in (Adult Foster Care) homes or hospitals,” the sheriff said. “They went after their wages, Friend of Court checks, IRS distributions and more.
“Secondly, process servers who did it right but the process service (of non-reporting) was usurped,” Swanson said. “Then the courts were defrauded. And finally the original plaintiffs themselves that relied on the law firm and its debt collection, to obtain what they felt entitled to.”
When asked for the motivation behind the alleged scheme, Swanson said: “It's greed, simple greed. And taking from people without a voice. Making them pay bills they didn’t owe.”