The founder of Germantown-based AmeriDebt has pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, admitting that he concealed assets during court proceedings against the now-defunct debt counseling company. Prosecutors alleged that Andris Pukke deliberately transferred millions of dollars in assets to his father, estranged wife and girlfriend in order to conceal them from authorities after AmeriDebt was accused of cheating debtors.

The company was founded in 1996 to help clients lower payments and receive counseling. It became one of the country's largest debt counseling services before the Federal Trade Commission claimed in a 2003 lawsuit that the company charged debtors $172 million in hidden fees, which Pukke allegedly used to fund a lavish lifestyle for himself.

A settlement with the FTC in 2006 required Pukke to turn over all assets to a $35 million restitution fund to pay back the victims.

But from 2005 to 2007, court documents say, Pukke lied about and concealed assets, including an Internet gambling site, bank accounts in Latvia and Liechtenstein, and properties in California and Belize.

Pukke was charged by information -- which indicates that a plea deal is in the works -- in federal court in Greenbelt in December, but the details of the allegations against him were not made public until the plea agreement was signed last week.

Barry Coburn, Pukke's attorney, said he had no comment on the case.

Pukke is scheduled to be sentenced on May 16. He could face up to 10 years in prison.

Court records say that during bankruptcy and FTC proceedings related to AmeriDebt, Pukke didn't disclose his stake in a Internet gambling site, maintained bank accounts in his father's name in Latvia and Liechtenstein, used his girlfriend to purchase a $6.5 million home in Laguna Beach, Calif., undervalued his interests in development project near a Belize game preserve and denied ownership of a holding company.

In court papers, FTC lawyers estimated the total amount of concealed assets as nearly $40 million.

The criminal charges aren't the first time Pukke has faced trouble over those funds.

He was jailed for about a month in 2007, when U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte found him in civil contempt of court for using family and friends to hide the money.

The FTC agreed to Pukke's release after he turned over $4.5 million.