The Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs has convinced a Superior Court Judge to permanently shut down a bogus legal services provider accused of exploiting prison inmates and their families.

The Final Judgment by Default and Order, entered by Superior Court Judge Kenneth S. Levy, bars defendants Bruce Buccolo, of West Orange, and his organization, The Project Freedom Fund, from offering legal services in the Garden state, after they allegedly misled inmates and their loved ones into paying hundreds of dollars for legal services, then often pocketing the money for personal gain after failing to perform the promised work.

State Attorney General Jeff Chiesa says “the defendants have preyed upon an especially vulnerable and disadvantaged group of victims: inmates seeking to return to society, and their supportive family members, many of whom had very little money and an incomplete understanding of the law - we will aggressively pursue anyone who assumes the guise of a non-profit organization in order to exploit the needy.”

Eric Kanefsy, the Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs, says “indigent inmates and their family members are entitled to the full protection of New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act, as are any other residents of our state.”

The Court found that Buccolo and The Project Freedom Fund engaged in conduct which comprises 210 violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and the Advertising Regulations.  The defendants have been  ordered to pay 2-point-2 million dollars, including 26 thousand in consumer restitution, 2-point-1 million in civil penalties, 51thousand for the State’s attorney’s fees, and 13 thousand for the State’s investigative costs.

An investigation was launched after the Division of Consumer Affairs received complaints from 34 inmates, or relatives of inmates, affected by the defendants’ actions.

Jersey consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website, or by calling 1-800-242-5846.