Jon Campisi Sep. 9, 2013, 9:49am


A former employee of Alpha Centurion Security has filed a class action complaint against the company over claims that the defendant is violating federal law by levying a large finance charge on workers who request an advance on their pay.

Jonathan J. DiBello, who resides in Drexel Hill, Pa., filed suit on Sept. 4 at the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia against Delaware County-based Alpha Centurion, which provides security guards to private and governmental entities, as well as the company’s owner and chief executive, Joanna Small, and its chief of operations, Patrick A. Panetta.

Small and Panetta are husband and wife.

DiBello, who began working for the defendant in December 2006, first as a security guard and later as a field supervisor, claims in the lawsuit that the defendants are unlawfully imposing a 20 percent finance charge on employees who take pay advances.

The complaint questions whether a pay advance fee is usurious interest, whether liability arises under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act for the collection of an unlawful debt, whether the company is liable for failing to make material disclosures under the Truth-in-Lending Act, and whether Alpha Centurion is liable under the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law for failing to pay employees their full wages.

According to the complaint, the defendant, which pays its employees once every two weeks, has a policy of allowing employees to obtain payment advances on their wages, but only if the employee agrees to a 20 percent finance charge.

On an annualized basis, the 20 percent finance charge equates to an interest rate of 1,042.85 percent A.P.R. on a seven-day loan or 521.42 percent on a 14-day loan, the suit states.

DiBello often took pay advances, in each instance paying the 20 percent finance charge.

For each pay advance, the complaint states, Alpha Centurion deducted the amount of the advance plus the 20 percent finance charge from the plaintiff’s paycheck.

Over a one-year period, provided that DiBello took a $200 advance each pay period, the plaintiff would have paid an aggregate finance charge of $1,040, nearly all of which would be usurious interest, the complaint alleges.

DiBello seeks to represent a class of plaintiffs consisting of all present and former Alpha Centurion employees who took pay advances within four years prior to the filing of the civil action.

The company is believed to regularly employ between 100 and 200 workers, many of whom have apparently taken pay advances.

“A class action is a superior means to fairly and efficiently adjudicate this dispute,” the suit reads. “Without a class action it is unlikely anyone would ever obtain a recovery.”

Alpha Centurion has made “usurious payday advances” for years, the suit states, although to date no employee has ever brought an individual action to recover the interest charges.

“In the absence of a class action, the defendants will be able to retain funds wrongfully withheld from employees’ wages without having to refund it and will likely continue an unlawful lending practice into the future,” the complaint reads.

The suit seeks an award of damages equivalent to three times the amount of unlawful debt withheld from employees’ pay, attorney’s fees, litigation costs and other court relief.

The complaint was filed by Bala Cynwyd attorney Robert F. Salvin.

 

The federal case number is 2:13-cv-05146-JD. 

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