The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the New York attorney general filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a New Jersey law firm and its owner for allegedly luring 9/11 first responders and football players with brain injuries into taking out loans with high interest rates as advances on settlements.
The CFPB and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman allege that RD Funding, based in Cresskill, N.J., its owner Roni Dersovitz, and two related companies, RD Legal Finance and RD Legal Funding Partners, engaged in deceptive and abusive practices by falsely marketing and misrepresented up-front advances to consumers.
Regulators allege the high-cost loans offered to 9/11 first responders and NFL players were illegal because they exceeded New York state usury limits. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“It is unconscionable that RD Legal scammed 9/11 heroes and NFL concussion victims out of millions of dollars,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said on a conference call with reporters. “RD legal had no authority or ability to change the timing of when settlement payouts would occur, they promised consumers would receive the money in several days, but delivered in several months, and they violated interest rate caps in New York."
RD Legal's general counsel, Phillip Kwon, did not return a call seeking comment.
The exact number of consumers impacted and the amount of relief will be determined through litigation, said Chris D'Angelo, the CFPB's associate director for supervision, enforcement and fair lending.
"We look forward to proving this in court," Cordray added.
RD Legal targeted police, firefighters, paramedics and other first responders to the World Trade Center attack as well as former NFL players who were diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases.
Many of the 9/11 victims were awarded money from the Zadroga Fund, which was established by Congress to provide monetary assistance to first responders suffering from cancer and respiratory illnesses. The NFL players were often entitled to payments from settlements of class action lawsuits, the CFPB said.
The law firm typically contacted the victims after they were awarded money, but before they received most of it, and claimed to "cut through red tape," to obtain the settlement payouts faster than normal, the CFPB said. In fact, RD Legal had no authority or ability to change the timing of when settlements were paid, the lawsuit stated.
The CFPB and New York attorney general allege that RD Legal created convoluted contracts that deceived consumers, and interfered with their understanding of the terms, costs and conditions of the agreements.
The loans also were usurous and illegal in New York, regulators alleged. For example, one 9/11 victim who received an $18,590 advance from RD Legal had to repay $33,800 to the company six months later, the lawsuit stated.