A lending company promised 9/11 and NFL concussion victims attractive advances on payouts — then cheated them out of millions with “unlawfully high” interest rates, the New York State Attorney General alleged Tuesday.
RD Legal Funding, based in Cresskill, N.J., markets advances to people entitled to money from victim compensation programs and other legal settlements.
The company allegedly tricked 9/11 first responders suffering from cancer and other Ground Zero-related illnesses, as well as former pro football players reeling from traumatic brain injuries, “out of millions of dollars by luring them into costly advances on compensation fund and settlement payouts by lying about the terms of the deals,” said State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who filed a federal lawsuit in Manhattan on Tuesday.
Their civil claim seeks to stop RD Legal’s allegedly illicit activity as well as hit the firm with penalties.
RD Legal is accused of contacting 9/11 and football victims after they won their claim to relief money, but hadn’t yet received the full amount.
“RD Legal then swooped in with a ‘deal,’ offering the victims an upfront payment of some of the money they had not yet received which would be paid back when they received the balance of the payout,” Schneiderman said. “Through confusing contracts, RD Legal misrepresented to consumers their obligation to repay these expensive transactions, often collecting from the consumer more than twice what RD Legal had advanced only months earlier.”
Due to the short time between RD giving customers an advance to when they get their award, the agreements “cost consumers amounts that are equivalent in some cases to rates over 250%,” court papers state.
RD also misled customers by “RD falsely claims to expedite funding and 'cut through red tape,’” the suit also claims.
NYPD officer Elmer Santiago was one of RD Legal Funding's victims, said his lawyer, Michael Barasch.
Santiago had to retire from the NYPD because he had developed interstitial lung disease from working at Ground Zero. Santiago learned in 2014 that he would receive $3.9 million for his 9/11-related injuries, but wouldn't get the money until 2016.
But Santiago was already struggling financially — even living in his jeep at one point — as he waited for the payout. So when Santiago found out about RD Legal Funding, he took a $355,000 advance on his settlement to buy a house in Florida, where the weather wouldn’t exacerbate his lung problems.
When Santiago finally received his settlement, he was shocked that his debt had skyrocketed to $855,000, meaning the interest rate had swelled to 67%.
“They’ve taken advantage of a lot of people, a lot of 911 victims,” Barasch said. "RD deserves to be put out of business once and for all."
Roni Dersovitz, who owns RD, is also being sued, according to court papers. Dersovitz did not respond to calls seeking comment. RD's lawyer declined to comment on the case.
RD Legal Funding recently hit Schneiderman's office with a lawsuit. Schneiderman had previously told the company to stay away from 9/11 victims and return $1.6 million in fees.Send a Letter to the Editor