SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, a consumer-protection law firm, today announced that United States District Court Judge Benjamin Settle issued a $1.45 billion default judgment in the firm’s lawsuit against Noteworld LLC (“Noteworld”), which has since changed its name to Meracord. Hagens Berman, along with co-counsel the Paynter Law Firm, filed its lawsuit in 2011, on behalf of consumers nationwide, claiming the company violated Washington law and the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) by conspiring with debt settlement providers to defraud consumers through trust accounts related to useless debt-settlement programs.
Following years of plaintiff victories in the District Court and in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, Judge Settle granted plaintiffs’ motion for class certification and default final judgment against the Tacoma, WA company after Meracord ceased defending itself from plaintiffs’ claims.
“Meracord was the lynchpin in a broad criminal enterprise which directly facilitated the fleecing of hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting consumers who only wanted to pay the debts they owed,” said Steve Berman, managing partner at Hagens Berman. “Meracord sent hundreds of millions of dollars in exorbitant and unearned fees to fraudulent debt-settlement companies and charged its own inflated fees on each and every transaction. This judgment will help to put those fees back in the pockets of consumers who were misled while trying to settle their debts.”
“While it is unlikely Meracord, which is now defunct, will provide funds directly to consumers under the judgment, it does serve two important purposes,” added Hagens Berman Partner Thomas Loeser, who managed the litigation. “First, it sends an unmistakable message to companies that knowingly facilitate consumer fraud that they will be held accountable. And second, with this judgment, Hagens Berman will pursue class members’ damages through the surety bonds that various states required Meracord to maintain.” Hagens Berman has identified about $20 million in bond coverage, and those amounts could be substantially increased through insurance bad faith and interest claims.
Mr. Loeser added, “In the end we hope that we will be able to return some portion of the losses to these consumers who, while struggling financially, only wanted to do the right thing.”
According to the lawsuit, Meracord claimed to act as a fiduciary, independent from front-end debt settlement companies (“front DSCs”). In reality, the complaint argues, the front-DSCs used predatory tactics to sign up distressed borrowers for debt settlement plans, and then Meracord conspired with the front DSCs to loot consumers’ debt settlement accounts through exorbitant up front and per-transaction fees, leaving little or nothing for actual debt settlements.
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with offices in nine cities. The firm has been named to the National Law Journal’s Plaintiffs’ Hot List eight times. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.