Allegations of fake loans, lies and threats finally caught up with Chantelle Dickey. The Federal Trade Commission and the Illinois Attorney General filed suit against Dickey and her husband, Charles Dickey, accusing them of a nationwide scheme to defraud consumers.
"We got hundreds of complaints, we've got thousands of victims,” says FTC Midwest director Steve Baker. “We believe this enterprise is taking at least $3.4 million from consumers over the last five or six years they've been operating."
NBC Chicago first reported on Dickey last fall as complaints against the Aurora-based business came in by the hundreds. Insiders told NBC 5 Investigates they believed the tactics Dickey used were deceptive and illegal, and targeted victims across the country -- many of whom say they were harassed for debts they never owed.
Darlene Petroski said she got the call at work.
"He was threatening me," Petroski recalled. "I was going to be arrested, my drivers license was going to be suspended. I felt so bullied. I was anxious. I actually started to cry."
A similar scenario played out at Sandy Lipowski’s place of employment.
"She [Dickey] said I owed a balance of $735. But they were willing to settle with me for $301.22. I have no idea where they got that number from," Lipowski said.
A former employee said Dickey stayed one step ahead of law enforcement by changing the name of her business whenever complaints stacked up.
"Change the name, reinvent yourself, and now you can collect debts under a different name," the insider told NBC 5 Investigates.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Dickey did just that at least nine times over the last five or six years.
"It's completely outside the law and the volume of people they've contacted making these illegal claims is just enormous," said Madigan.
Authorities have temporarily shut down the Dickeys’ business and have frozen its assets, pending the outcome of the civil case. The pair faces civil penalties of $50,000 for each violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act and an additional penalty of $50,000 for each violation committed with the intent to defraud. The FTC said cases like this one are uncommon in Illinois.
"We don’t really see boiler rooms in Chicagoland, so this is a bit of a new one on us," explained Baker. "We’re usually suing people in Florida or California, or Canada or Jamaica. To have them sitting in our own backyard here is a fairly unusual thing."
Chantelle Dickey did not return calls seeking comment.