The fake life and real death of a fraudulent collection agency


Some things to keep in mind about the defunct (and totally unethical) Unicredit America, Inc. (which we’ve covered in the past, here and here): They built and used a fake credit room. hearing to sue the debtors. Also, Unicredit America President Michael Covatto is related to the very real Erie 6th Ward District Judge Dominick DiPaolo (they’re cousins; that second point will become relevant in a moment.)

More recently, Unicredit America used its fake courtroom to withdraw money from Marilyn Johnson, who owed a funeral home just over $4,000 after her husband died. What they managed to get was $2,000 and the title to Howard Johnson’s 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier. Howard Johnson is the son of Marilyn Johnson.

Unicredit was able to coerce Johnson into giving up his car title by threatening to put his 73-year-old mother in jail. Johnson was able to get his car title back after suing Unicredit.

The Johnsons went to court against Unicredit on May 3, alleging deceptive practices and improperly filed judgments. The Johnsons live in Erie’s 5th Ward; The judgment was filed in Erie’s 6th Ward – which also happens to be the neighborhood where the Unicredit America Chairman’s cousin, Judge Dominick DiPaolo, sits.

Unicredit relied on a plot on Judge DiPaolo and the 6th Ward – even when the debtors lived up to 45 miles away. Like Lisa Thompson, who covered the story thoroughly for the Erie Times-News, points out, the ethics of this family affair are murky. DiPaolo and Covatto are cousins. Pennsylvania laws only prohibit magistrates from hearing cases involving close family members, such as spouses, parents, children, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews.

Judge DiPaolo was not involved in the fake courtroom. He’s a real judge who’s actually running for re-election. (Good luck.) He is the judge, however, who signed the orders on more than half of Unicredit America’s debt collection efforts.

The fake courtroom was just another effort to collect a debt.

It was mainly used to threaten debtors who did not respond to first contact or judgments. It was dressed to look like a real courtroom, with a woman pretending to be a judge. (Unicredit America would later suggest that they never said the woman was a judge; she was simply a notary public dressed in black as notaries want them to be.)

Unicredit America was shut down in November 2010, along with the fake courtroom. Judge Michael E. Dunlavey cited “the need to protect debtors and preserve the integrity of the Erie County court system”.


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