Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist has filed a lawsuit against New Leaf Associates, LLC, and several associated businesses and individuals for their participation in an allegedly phony "debt termination" scheme.

The lawsuit alleges that New Leaf and the other civil defendants took in more than $8 million from late 2003 until early this year by claiming they had a legal "administrative process" by which they could completely eliminate credit card and student loan debts for their clients as an alternative to bankruptcy.

An investigation conducted by the Attorney General's Economic Crimes Division revealed that New Leaf collected fees starting at almost $4,000 from approximately 2,200 clients who were lured by the promise that not only would their debts disappear but their credit scores would not be damaged.

No debts were actually terminated by the program, and numerous consumers suffered financial losses as a result, the state's lawsuit asserts. The Attorney General's Office has received some 185 consumer complaints regarding the New Leaf scam, the highest total for any single complaint subject this year.

"Too many consumers are mired in debt and are desperate to find a way out of their financial dilemma," said Crist. "These defendants took advantage of their victims, who were seeking assistance to solve their financial problems. Floridians should always remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

The defendants are charged with violating Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. They could be ordered to pay restitution to their victims and also ordered to pay civil penalties of $10,000 per violation or $15,000 for victims who were disabled or senior citizens, as well as attorney fees and costs.