Pukke alleged to hide assets

Receiver puts value at up to $40 million

October 24, 2006|By Eileen Ambrose | Eileen Ambrose,Sun reporter

AmeriDebt founder Andris Pukke, with the help of friends and family, continues to hide millions of dollars in assets that should go to consumers and deserves to be held in contempt of court, according to a filing yesterday by a court-appointed receiver.

The receiver, Robb Evans & Associates, is asking U.S. District Court in Greenbelt to order Pukke to appear in court to prove that he hasn't violated an asset freeze and a lawsuit settlement agreement with the Federal Trade Commission.

The receiver says Pukke has real estate interests in Belize; a $6.45 million house in Laguna Beach, Calif; stock in an online gambling venture; and money in bank accounts in Latvia, his family's native country.

"They have failed to disclose assets which in the aggregate may have a value of $40 million," said Gary Caris, an attorney for Robb Evans in California. "The evidence is compelling and overwhelming."

The receiver is collecting money that will be put into a restitution fund for hundreds of thousands of consumers burned by AmeriDebt's practices. AmeriDebt, once one of the nation's largest credit counselors, is defunct.

Lawyers for the receiver and Pukke have been sparring since the receiver was appointed in April 2005. Pukke's lawyer has denied that his client is concealing assets.

"I welcome the hearing ... because it will be an opportunity to show that none of these things are accurate," said John Williams, Pukke's lawyer. "It's time to bring these allegations to a head. The receiver has been basically sniping at us without putting any proof on."

The receiver also said that Pukke's childhood friend Peter C. Baker should be held in contempt. The receiver claims that Baker helped Pukke conceal his ownership in properties. Baker's lawyer, Roger Friedman, declined to comment.

Pukke founded Maryland-based AmeriDebt in the 1990s, and it grew rapidly through a blitz of TV and Internet advertising.

In 2003, the FTC sued AmeriDebt and Pukke, claiming that the credit counseling business had deceived consumers and overcharged them. It also claimed that millions of dollars from the nonprofit were diverted to Pukke's for-profit company and used by him to finance a lavish lifestyle.

Pukke settled the $172 million FTC case early this year without admitting wrongdoing. He agreed to turn over as much as $35 million that would eventually be returned to consumers.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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