Team 4: Debt Collectors Accused Of Fake Courtroom, Judge
Pa. Attorney General Sues Unicredit In Erie | October 29, 2010

ERIE, Pa. -- A sign in the front of a building on West 39th Street tells visitors that it's the Unicredit Debt Resolution Center in Erie.

Once debtors got inside, they were fooled into believing they were in a courtroom with a judge, but the whole thing was a fake, according to a lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania attorney general.

Team 4's Jim Parsons reported that Unicredit America is accused in the lawsuit of deceiving, misleading and coercing hundreds of consumers into paying off their debts.

Inside the building is a pair of locked oak doors with brass handles resembling a courtroom entrance. The company is accused in the lawsuit of building a mock courtroom complete with a judge's bench and witness stand.

Unicredit President Mike Covatto declined to comment on Friday.

"Can I look at your fake courtroom?" Parsons asked.

"First of all, that's an allegation that supposedly someone said, so talk to the attorneys," Covatto said. "You guys have a nice day. That's all I got to say."

The Attorney General's Office told Team 4 that Unicredit lured debtors to the building by sending employees who appeared to be sheriff's deputies to their homes, implying that they would be taken into custody if they failed to appear at the phony court hearings.

"It really galls me that someone would stoop that low," Erie County Sheriff Robert Merski said. "This certainly seems to be a scam, and it upsets me that they are trying to play on the integrity of this office, the office of sheriff. We've been here since the beginning of the United States."

The lawsuit accuses Unicredit of intimidating debtors into revealing their bank account numbers, even turning over the titles to their cars once they got them inside the building.

The Attorney General's Office is asking a judge to freeze the company's assets and order it to cease operations.