A circuit judge has decided that a Florida businessman who defrauded hundreds of West Virginians through his debt relief companies must repay them more than $126,000.
The hard part comes next -- actually getting the money from the elusive James Armstrong and back into their hands.
Assistant Attorney General Norman Googel asked Judge James Stucky to decide the 2009 consumer case in favor of the state, and Stucky did. He ordered an injunction against Armstrong to pay back the illegally collected fees and monthly service charges paid by consumers desperate to get their debts settled.
He operated debt-relief companies under the name of Family Credit Counseling Corp., and others. Armstrong is no longer conducting business in West Virginia.
Armstrong did not appear, and has never appeared here, in court.
He operated both for-profit and non-profit companies in this state and other states that promised to manage repayments to creditors for debt-ridden consumers. Enrollees paid a monthly amount to him that was to be distributed to creditors, plus monthly service fees.
Legally, those kinds of companies are permitted to charge up to 7 percent for fees. But Armstrong charged more than he was allowed, and he charged some "upfront" fees that were illegal.
Googel told the judge that the companies took more than $95,000 in illegal upfront fees and more than $30,000 in monthly service fee overcharges. About 250 West Virginia consumers were affected, he said.
Not only did he cheat those consumers, Armstrong cheated his own company. Florida authorities charged him with taking $3 million from a trust account.