Pukke said to violate order

Receiver alleges AmeriDebt founder is concealing assets

August 15, 2006|By EILEEN AMBROSE | EILEEN AMBROSE,SUN REPORTER

A receiver tracking down the assets of AmeriDebt founder Andris Pukke intends this month to seek a hearing to determine whether Pukke is in contempt of court for hiding funds that should be returned to consumers.

In a filing last week with the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Robb Evans & Associates, the receiver appointed to collect Pukke's assets for a restitution fund, charged Pukke was violating a court order designed to stop him from concealing or transferring assets to friends and relatives. The receiver has made similar allegations before.

"We don't believe we have gotten the full story from Mr. Pukke and that has made our jobs more difficult," said Gary Caris, an attorney for Robb Evans in California.

Pukke's lawyer denies the allegations.

"We think the allegations of contempt are baseless," said lawyer John Williams. "He has cooperated with the receiver. He has done everything he's been asked to do."

The Federal Trade Commission sued AmeriDebt and Pukke in 2003, claiming that the Maryland-based credit counseling firm used deceptive practices and overcharged debtors for services never rendered. That money was channeled to Pukke's for-profit company and supported his lavish lifestyle, the FTC claimed.

AmeriDebt is now defunct. Pukke, without admitting any wrongdoing, settled the FTC's $172 million case against him in January. He agreed to turn over up to $35 million that will be disbursed to hundreds of thousands of consumers.

Currently, the receiver has nearly $16 million on hand from assets it has recovered. "We have been very successful in liquidating many assets," Caris said. "We think there is a lot more out there."

In a receiver's report filed in June, Pukke is accused of using relatives and friends to conceal his ownership in assets. These include a 60 percent stake in a $20 million housing development in Belize, a house in Laguna Beach, Calif., and stock in an Internet gambling venture, the receiver claimed.

Williams said the receiver's report is inaccurate and Pukke isn't hiding anything. "He has disclosed everything he knows about," Williams said.

In a filing late last month, Pukke's lawyers accused the receiver of having a "clear bias" against Pukke and a "personal grudge" against them. Pukke's assets also have dwindled to below $20 million, far less than the $35 million the receiver estimates, Pukke's lawyers said. Meanwhile, the receiver's bill is nearing $2 million, they said.

"It's time to bring this investigation to a close. It has been expensive. Consumer funds are being wasted, and the receiver has manifested an agenda beyond that authorized by the court," said Pukke's lawyers.

Caris said that claims that the receiver has "personal animus" against Pukke is "beyond ludicrous."

"We are trying to recover [assets] for the benefit of defrauded consumers," Caris said.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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