AmeriDebt founder's wife settles

FTC says she will cooperate in lawsuit against spouse

December 31, 2005|By EILEEN AMBROSE | EILEEN AMBROSE,SUN REPORTER

The estranged wife of AmeriDebt Inc. founder Andris Pukke has agreed to cooperate with the Federal Trade Commission in its civil lawsuit against her husband and forfeit assets she allegedly received from the Maryland credit counseling agency.

The FTC announced the settlement with Pamela Pukke, 37, yesterday, less than two weeks before the trial in her husband's case is set to begin in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

"Essentially, we thought the government had an overpowering case and we were at the mercy of the evidence," said Robert M. Adler, Pamela Pukke's lawyer.

The government sued AmeriDebt and Andris Pukke two years ago, seeking $172 million in damages.

Regulators accused the Germantown- based nonprofit of charging excessive and poorly disclosed fees to consumers seeking help managing their debt and then channeling millions to Pukke's for-profit company, DebtWorks.

AmeriDebt once was one of the nation's largest credit counselors but is now out of business.

Pamela Pukke was named in the FTC's lawsuit as a relief defendant, or someone who didn't participate in the deception but benefited from it. She was listed in incorporation papers as one of AmeriDebt's original directors, although she has told the FTC she was not involved in the operations, court filings state.

The FTC claims that she received as much as $4 million from AmeriDebt's misleading practices. Pukke, who has four daughters with her husband, has filed for divorce.

The settlement must be approved by the court. Under the terms, she has agreed to forfeit her interest in the couple's two homes in Maryland and Florida and to give up all rights to assets now held by a receiver. A federal judge appointed the receiver in April to track down Andris Pukke's assets after the FTC alleged he was transferring money to family, friends and offshore accounts to keep it out of reach of creditors.

Any money collected from Pamela Pukke will be used for consumer restitution, the FTC said.

"Ultimately, it's important for consumers. It means more money is available, we hope, for refunds to consumers," said Alice Saker Hrdy, assistant director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

If regulators discover she misrepresented her finances, she will be subject to a $4 million judgment, the FTC said.

Pamela Pukke, who was expected to be an FTC witness in her husband's trial, also agreed to cooperate with government officials in his personal bankruptcy case filed in July. She also is named in a private class action lawsuit against her husband on behalf of former AmeriDebt clients but is expected to settle that case, too, the FTC said.

The FTC and private lawsuits will be heard together. Pamela Pukke could not be reached for comment. Andris Pukke's lawyer also did not return a phone call seeking comment. Gregory Duncan, a lawyer for the class action plaintiffs, declined to comment.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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