A Houston debt collection lawyer has been hit with a $25 million judgment after being sued by the Texas Attorney General’s Office for filing abusive lawsuits against hundreds of people in Harris County and failing to protect their sensitive information.
The lawyer, Joseph Onwuteaka, is a Houston attorney who owns a debt collection company called Samara Portfolio and uses his own solo law firm to file thousands of debt collection cases, according to the Attorney General’s complaint.
The AG’s Consumer Protection Division sued Onwuteaka in 2014 in state court alleging violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) by filing lawsuits against hundreds of people in debt collection cases in Harris County — a venue that had no connection to the debtors — in hopes they would not respond to the lawsuits and secure default judgement.
In June, a Harris County jury found that Owuteaka had violated not only the DTPA but also the Texas Identity Theft and Prevention Act, which requires lawyers to take reasonable procedures to protect sensitive information in the pleadings they file in court, such as social security and driver’s license numbers.
A July 11 final judgment signed by 80th District Judge Larry Weiman orders Onwuteaka, his business and his law firm to pay a total of $25 million for violating the DTPA and related laws and permanently prevents him from collecting debts against the 898 people he sued in Harris County.
Onwuteaka did not return a call for comment.