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Assemblyman Michael Blake earned thousands working for debt collector

2019-09-17

Assemblyman and wannabe congressman Michael Blake recently worked for one of the country’s harshest debt collectors, The Daily News has learned.

He also failed to report earning tens of thousands from the firm on one ethics filing.

Blake, who serves as vice chair for the Democratic National Committee, got between $20,000 and $50,000 from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson for consulting work in 2013, records show. The firm said he also worked there in 2012.

Linebarger is one of the nation’s largest government debt collectors and reportedly one of the most ruthless – helping inspire federal legislation to combat deceptive tactics used by the industry.

Blake unsuccessfully ran for New York City public advocate earlier this year and is now among 10 Democrats vying for the state’s 15th Congressional district in the Bronx.

When Blake first ran for public office in New York during a 2014 special election for state assembly, he initially failed to report his income from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson.

A July 2014 financial disclosure with the Legislative Ethics Commission only noted he consulted for the firm but didn’t list any income over $1,000. Blake only amended the paperwork to include income in February 2015, after he was already sworn in as assemblyman.

Blake didn’t dispute the shoddy paperwork and defended his work for the firm.

“Five years ago, I advised a national law firm seeking to collaborate with county officials outside of New York," he said in a statement to The News. "This work was approved and permitted.”

Blake worked for the debt collector in both 2012 and 2013, according to the firm.

“Assemblyman Blake did provide marketing services for the firm for a brief period of time in 2012 and 2013, prior to his being elected to public office,” Linebarger spokesman Joe Householder said. “Since then we have had no business relationship with him.”

Blake has previously said he worked for the firm for just three to four months and earned a fixed fee, according to a transcript from an August 2014 deposition for an unrelated election law dispute.

“I was helping them make introductions to elected officials around the country,” Blake said at the deposition. “They represent municipalities around the country and given my previous work at the White House they were looking for someone who had relationships with elected officials around the country as well.”

In 2012, the city hired Linebarger to send a bill to the grieving mother of a 27-year-old man killed by an NYPD squad car for the $710 worth of damage to the vehicle that took her son’s life.

The city eventually said she didn’t have to pay after the Daily News wrote about the notice she was sent. The collection firm said the case was referred to them in error and they’ve since implemented a review process for all NYPD property damage cases to prevent a similar bungle.

Linebarger was also among firms found to have sent people “scary debt collection letters – threatening arrest, suspension of their driver’s license or garnishment of their wages,” according to a CNN report.

Reports of Linebarger’s practices led U.S. Sen. Cory Booker to introduce legislation in 2015 prohibiting firms hired by the federal government from using abusive, unfair or deceptive means to collect what’s owed.

“From unpaid traffic tickets to overdue student loans, debts owed to the government have too often become a license for debt collectors to harass and intimidate well-meaning families who are struggling to get by,” Booker said at the time.

The Linebarger spokesman said CNN’s reporting was biased.

“We are in the business of collecting government receivables such as delinquent taxes, fees and fines,” Householder said. “Our collection work helps governments build roads, pay the salaries of police officers, and provide public schools with much needed funding for education.”

Blake said that bringing up his history with the firm was “silly” and painted the revelation about his side-gig as a smear campaign by his political enemies.

“While opponents try to divide the community with silly attacks, we will focus on our recent Congressional endorsements for our campaign, building more momentum among community leaders and bringing Bronxites together who believe in our vision,” he said.