Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Screwed Over But Undeterred By Erroneous Ruling In Foreclosure Case Involving Standing-Lacking Bankster & Knowledge-Lacking Florida Trial Judge, Justice-Seeking Pro Se Homeowner/Couple Score Win On Appeal!

  1. another standing-lacking bankster,
  2. another erroneous ruling by a Florida trial judge (the guilty party this time is a Walton County, Florida Circuit Court judge) in a foreclosure case,
  3. another appeals court reversal,
  4. lost promissory note,
  5. successor-in-interest failed to prove original plaintiff was entitled to enforce the note at the time possession was lost.
I think that's it.

For the court ruling, see Seidler v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 1D14-2569 (Fla. 1st DCA Nov. 12, 2015) (reversed).

Oh, and by the way, the homeowners represented themselves in court, at least on their appeal.

Salesperson For Outfit That Screwed Over 4,000 Homeowners Peddling Bogus Loan Modifications Gets Six Years & Ordered To Pay Back $6M+, Joining Several Other Confederates Earning Prison Stays For Roles In Nationwide Mortgage Relief Racket

From the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP):
  • Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) announced that Michael Lewis Parker, of Pomona, Calif., who worked at a Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. based business that offered bogus loan modifications was sentenced in California [] to serve a federal prison term of six years, and to pay restitution of over $6 million.

    “Michael Lewis Parker, as a 21st Century salesman, lured in distressed homeowners with a money-back guarantee and by convincing them that the company employed a team of lawyers who would ensure a successful mortgage modification,” said Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP).

    “Parker and his co-conspirators used a variety of means to deceive homeowners and string homeowners along, including filing for bankruptcy, charging legal fees for services not performed, collecting mortgage payments that were never provided to lenders, and directing homeowners to cease communications with their lender. Claiming to be associated with a loan modification program sponsored by the U. S. government, Parker and others defrauded over 4,000 homeowners, many of whom ultimately lost homes to foreclosure, out of more than $7 million. It is fitting that these criminals will serve time in federal prison and will have ample opportunity to reflect on the pain and suffering inflicted on so many innocent citizens already strained by the financial crisis.

    SIGTARP stands united with our law enforcement partners to stop all TARP-bailout related crime.”

    21st Century

    A total of 11 defendants linked to 21st Century have been convicted of federal charges involving fraud against more than 4,000 homeowners across the nation, many of whom lost their homes to foreclosure.

    Previously, Christopher George, a co-owner of 21st Century, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison; Crystal Buck, a sales “closer” who persuaded numerous victims to pay fees to 21st Century received a sentence of five years; Albert DiRoberto, handled sales and marketing – which included making a commercial for 21st Century and preparing talking points to respond to negative publicity – was sentenced to five years in prison;, Yadira Padilla, who handled client complaints and refund requests, and who posted bogus reviews of the company on the internet – was sentenced to four years in prison, and Michael Bates, a sales employee for the company was sentenced to one year and one day in prison.

Co-Owner Of Southern California Outfit That Ran Nationwide Loan Modification Racket Gets 10+ Years, Ordered To Pay $1.4 Million In Restitution

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (South Bend, Indiana):
  • United States Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, David Capp, announced that Brian M. Kandefer, age 37, of San Diego, California, was sentenced [...] after his guilty plea of wire fraud and money laundering.

    Brian Kandefer was sentenced to 121 months imprisonment and ordered to pay $1.4 million dollars in restitution.

    According to documents in the case, K2 Capital Management Inc. did business as US Mortgage Bailout and USMortgageBailout.com with physical offices located in La Jolla, California. Brian Kandefer was a 50% owner of K2 Capital Management Inc. dba US Mortgage Bailout and dba USMortgageBailout.com (hereafter "US Mortgage Bailout").

    US Mortgage Bailout purported to be and advertised as mortgage "loan experts" which had "helped thousands of homeowners avoid foreclosure." US Mortgage Bailout sold mortgage loan modification products and services to persons, located all over the United States, including the Northern District of Indiana, who were in trouble with their home mortgage loans.

    As part of the fraud scheme that lasted from 2009 through 2010, US Mortgage Bailout which included Kandefer, used false advertising to defraud clients (victims) out of monies for loan modifications. They also did not properly communicate or represent client interests in the scheme. If they did represent clients for loan modifications, documentation was falsified regarding income and other financials. US Mortgage Bailout had a 100% refund policy for clients who did not receive favorable outcomes, yet clients did not receive any refunds despite requests.
Source: Brian Kandefer Sentenced To 121 Months Imprisonment (Ordered to Pay $1.4 Million in Restitution).

Monday, November 30, 2015

Probe Into Northern California Foreclosure Sale Bid Rigging Racket Hitting A Bump In The Road? Defandants' Lawyers Accuse Sneaky Feds Of Planting Bugs Inside Metal Sprinkler Box, Planter Box & Vehicles Parked On Street Near Courthouse Entrance

In San Francisco, California, The Recorder reports:
  • You might want to watch what you say on your way in and out of court.

    According to court papers filed [two weeks ago], federal agents placed secret recording devices in at least three locations around the entrance to the San Mateo County courthouse in Redwood City without first getting judicial approval.

    The courthouse bugs were used in 2009 and 2010 to investigate bid-rigging at public foreclosure auctions. Their existence surfaced in a motion from defense lawyers for a group of five real estate investors accused of colluding to deflate prices at the auctions, which were held on the courthouse steps.

    The defense lawyers, led by Latham & Watkins partners Daniel Wall and Ashley Bauer, are asking U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer to suppress more than 200 hours of recorded conversations and all evidence gained from them. They maintain that their clients had a reasonable expectation of privacy when they gathered to speak in hushed voices away from other auction participants.

    "Imagine, as a judge, if you find out that the stairs that you walk up and down all the time are bugged," said Doron Weinberg, one of the defense lawyers on the case. "We believe that Judge Breyer will take the issue seriously and we have confidence that he'll make a wise decision."

    The San Mateo County case is part of a sweeping antitrust sting by federal prosecutors in the Northern District of California targeting real estate investors who allegedly conspired to manipulate public auctions during the height of the foreclosure crisis. Prosecutors have secured more than 50 guilty pleas in similar cases springing from auctions in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

    According to Weinberg, Louis Feuchtbaum at Sideman & Bancroft figured out that the recordings were not made by federal agents or informants wearing body microphones—something that the defense contends would have been allowable. "Lou began to realize that these were not consensual overhearings," Weinberg said. "They were somehow being recorded by an outside force."

    The defense motion claims that beginning in December 2009 government agents planted microphones in three locations near the entrance of the courthouse at 401 Marshall Street in Redwood City: inside a metal sprinkler box attached to the wall, in a large planter box and in vehicles parked on the street. The hidden microphones were activated at least 31 times through September 2010, according to the filing.

    The only authorization came from attorneys working for the FBI and Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the motion states.

    "The government apparently decided that it could record all conversations that occurred near the courthouse without any concern that it would capture communications protected by the Fourth Amendment and Title III," the defense lawyers wrote, pointing out that the courthouse steps are regularly the site of privileged conversations between lawyers and their clients. "What the government did here is not unlawful only because it occurred outside a courthouse, but that fact makes it all the worse," they wrote.

    The defense team includes Matthew Jacobs of Vinson & Elkins and Jeffrey Bornstein of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, in addition to Weinberg, Feuchtbaum and the Latham lawyers.

    A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment.

    Sideman's Feuchtbaum said that the courthouse recordings have significance that extends beyond the San Mateo foreclosure case.

    "If this is allowed to stand," he said, "I and every other lawyer who knows about this is on notice that they can never have an expectation of privacy on the courthouse steps since the government has assumed for itself the right to plant hidden microphones there."

Illinois Jury Hammers Sticky-Fingered Real Estate Broker For Swiping $239K In Client Cash From Brokerage Escrow Account

In DuPage County, Illinois. the Daily Herald reports:
  • In the time leading up to his arrest, after confessing to co-workers to stealing potential homebuyers' earnest money, Harry "Bud" Simons told an investigator he knew the hammer would drop soon.

    A 12-member DuPage County jury swung that hammer [last week], convicting the former Burr Ridge real estate broker of all five counts of theft he was charged with. The jury deliberated for little more than an hour after the four-day trial. Simons now faces between four and 15 years in prison.

    Prosecutors said that between February 2013 and February 2014, Simons accepted earnest deposits totaling $145,300 from clients who wished to purchase homes being sold by his real estate agency, County Line RE/MAX in Burr Ridge.

    But once business slowed and the former Willowbrook resident began having trouble paying the agency's bills, prosecutors said, he began transferring money from the agency's escrow account that holds the buyers' earnest money into the agency's operating fund. In all, more than $239,000 was transferred among the accounts in 68 transactions.

    Closings on homes ranging in price from $1.6 million in Oak Brook to $55,000 in Berwyn were in jeopardy as agents and their clients began to discover their money was gone.

    "Twelve people put money down to secure their purchase of a home and to live the American dream, only to have it taken from them by a man who they'd never even met," Assistant State's Attorney Shanti Kulkarni told jurors during his closing arguments. "(Simons) left the buyers, sellers and agents scrambling to clean up his mess."(1)

    Several buyers and their agents testified that in several of the cases, the agents made up for the loss by taking the money from their own commissions because "it was the right thing to do."

    Simons' attorney, John Paul Carroll, maintained throughout the trial that prosecutors' account of events is accurate and put on no defense, but he said Simons wasn't guilty of the theft because he never intended to deprive his customers of their earnest money permanently.

    "He did what he wasn't supposed to do. He was bad. He was naughty," Carroll told jurors in his closing arguments. "He never took (the money) without believing he could put it all back. But in 2013 things started to get a little rocky, and he just couldn't keep up."

    An investigator testified during the trial that Simons told him he knew in March 2013, when it was clear the business was failing, that he would never be able to pay back the money.

    "You cannot pay back $239,000 on hope," Assistant State's Attorney Diane Michalak said in her closing rebuttal.

    Michalak requested Simons be taken into custody, but Judge Robert Miller denied her request. Simons is next due in court on Jan. 6, when a sentencing date would likely be set.
Source: Burr Ridge real estate broker guilty on all theft counts.
(1) The Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation maintains a real estate brokerage ripoff reimbursement fund (aka Real Estate Recovery Fund), from which a limited amount of losses may be recovered by a victim of a real estate agent. Losses from embezzlement of money or property, or losses resulting from money or property being unlawfully obtained from any person by false pretenses, artifice, trickery, or forgery or by reason of any fraud, misrepresentation, discrimination, or deceit by or on the part of any real estate licensee or the unlicensed employee of a licensee and that results in a loss of actual cash money, as opposed to losses in market value, can be recovered.

Recovery is limited to $25,000 per victim, together with costs of the lawsuit a victim must bring to secure a money judgment and attorney's fees incurred in connection therewith of not to exceed 15% of the amount of the recovery ordered paid from the Fund. The maximum liability against the Fund arising out of the activities of any one real estate licensee or one unlicensed employee of a licensee is currently $100,000. Source: Illinois Compiled Statutes - 225 ILCS 454/20-85.

Federal Judge Gives Green Light To Class Action Lawsuit Against Presidential Candidate, Trump University Alleging Violations Of State Deceptive Practices Laws In Connection w/ Peddling Real Estate Seminars Teaching "Insider Success Secrets" To Consumer Public

A post from Rebecca Tushnet's 43(B)log (False advertising and more) reports that the class action lawsuit against Donald Trump & Trump University (a purported educational program intended to teach enrollees how to succeed in the real estate business) has been allowed to continue by a federal court in California. An intro to the post:
  • Charlatan and budding fascist Donald Trump failed to get rid of many consumer protection claims against him and his “Trump University” (now renamed). Can’t wait to see how he’ll explain why this means he’s great.

    In 2004, Trump helped found Trump University, a private, for profit entity offering real estate seminars and purporting to teach Mr. Trump’s “[i]nsider success secrets.” TU shifted to live events in 2007. Consumers were first invited to a ninety-minute Free Preview, preceded by an orchestrated marketing campaign:   
  • [excerpted from the court ruling] For example, consumers were sent “Special Invitation[s] from Donald J. Trump” which included a letter signed by Mr. Trump that stated “[m]y handpicked instructors and mentors will show you how to use real estate strategies.” Newspaper advertisements displayed a large photograph of Mr. Trump, stating “[l]earn from Donald Trump’s handpicked expert,” and quoted Mr. Trump as saying: “I can turn anyone into a successful real estate investor, including you.” 
  • Similarly, TU’s website displayed large photographs of Mr. Trump and included statements such as “Learn from the Master,” “It’s the next best thing to being his Apprentice,” and “Insider success secrets from Donald Trump.” Further, TU advertisements “utilized various forms of recognizable signs to appear to be an accredited academic institution” such as a “school crest that was ubiquitous and used on TU letterhead, power point presentations, promotional materials and advertisements.” Plaintiffs have provided evidence that Mr. Trump reviewed and approved all advertisements.
For more, see If only the last Trump would sound: Trump University case continues.

For the court ruling, see Makaeff v. Trump University, LLC, 2015 WL 7302728, No. 10cv0940 (S.D. Cal. Nov. 18, 2015).

For more on this lawsuit, see Makaeff v. Trump University, LLC - Frequently Asked Questions.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Head Manhattan Fed To Local Real Estate Developers: Don't Think You Can Build Rental Apartments Inaccessible To Persons w/ Disabilities, Then "Hide Behind Opaque Corporate Structures To Evade" Fair Housing Act Obligations, Or "Avoid Liability For Violating That Act"

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (New York City):
  • Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced [] that the United States has reached a settlement that resolves a federal civil rights lawsuit against THE DURST ORGANIZATION, INC. (“DURST”), a major real estate developer based in New York City, and DURST’s affiliates and subsidiaries.

    The lawsuit alleges that DURST engaged in a pattern and practice of developing rental apartment buildings that are inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Under the settlement, DURST agrees to establish procedures to ensure that its ongoing and future development projects, such as the 2,400-unit Halletts Point development in Queens and the 709-unit VIA 57 West development in Manhattan, will comply with the accessibility requirements of the federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”).

    DURST also agrees to make two apartment buildings in Manhattan containing more than 1,000 units – The Helena and The Epic – more accessible to individuals with disabilities.

    Finally, DURST agrees to provide up to $515,000 to compensate aggrieved persons and pay a civil penalty of $55,000. The settlement was reached after the court denied DURST’s motion to dismiss the government’s lawsuit and was approved yesterday by U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams.

    Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “This is the ninth in a series of lawsuits that this office has brought against real estate developers and architects who fail to design and construct new apartment buildings accessible to people with disabilities. When the government filed this lawsuit, Durst claimed that it should not be held responsible for inaccessible conditions at The Helena and other rental buildings – despite the fact that Durst’s own website trumpets its role in developing those buildings. It was only after the Court rejected Durst’s argument that Durst finally accepted its obligations under the law.

    [This] settlement with Durst makes clear that real estate developers cannot hide behind opaque corporate structures to evade their obligation to comply with the Fair Housing Act or avoid liability for violating that Act.”

Civil Rights Feds, Housing Authority Of Baltimore City Agree To Extension, Amendment To Consent Decree Requiring Remedies For Failure To Provide Accessible Housing To Persons w/ Disabilities

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department announced [] that a federal district court has approved a supplemental consent decree between the United States, the Maryland Disability Law Center and the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC). The original consent decree contained remedies for HABC’s failure to provide accessible housing to persons with disabilities. The supplemental consent decree, [...] continues and amends certain terms in the original consent order in United States v. HABC, and Bailey v. HABC, entered on Dec. 20, 2004.

    “We are pleased with the significant progress made by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City to implement the terms of the original decree,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “We look forward to working with the Housing Authority to create new accessible housing opportunities for persons with disabilities and enhancing their quality of life.”

Ex-Tenant Who Got Booted For Subletting His NYC Apartment Gets Hammered By Landlord w/ $3 Million Libel Suit For Allegedly Posting Sexist, Libelous Comments Directed Toward Managing Agent

In New York City, the New York Post reports:
  • A tenant who was evicted from his luxury apartment vented his rage on the building’s managing agent, calling the woman a “drug-addicted harlot who sucks and f–ks for money and drugs” on two Web sites, according to court papers.

    So the landlord of 95 Wall St., UDR Inc., is suing former resident Andrew Watroba for $3 million in a libel suit.

    UDR hauled Watroba to Housing Court last December after he refused to leave when he was caught illegally subletting, the suit says.

    Watroba, 36, agreed to leave, but not before making the libelous posts at complaintsboard.com and liarscheatersrus.com , according to the Manhattan Supreme Court suit.

    The screeds also blame managing agent Tara Dexter for turning the building into “a veritable den of prostitution and drugs and debauchery,” the suit says.

    Watroba did not return a call for comment.

Bakersfield Man Faces Discrimination-Based Charges Of Interfering w/ Another's Housing Rights For Allegedly Shouting Racist Slurs At Latino Man Outside Victim's Home, Firing Sawed Off Shot Gun In Attempt To Intimidate & Interfere w/ Victim's Occupancy Of His Home Because Of Race, Color, Or Nat'l Origin

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • A federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment [] against Justin Whittington, 24, of Bakersfield, California, charging him with interfering with a person’s housing rights because of his race, color or national origin by use of force or threat of force, use of a firearm during a crime of violence, unlawful possession of a prohibited firearm and making a false statement to a special agent of the FBI, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and U. S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner of the Eastern District of California.

    According to court documents, on Dec. 19, 2012, Whittington shouted racist slurs at a Latino man outside the Latino man’s home in Oildale, California, and fired a sawed off shot gun in an attempt to intimidate and interfere with the victim’s occupancy of his home because of his race, color or national origin.

    This case is the product of an investigation by the FBI and the Kern County, California, Sheriff’s Office. Trial Attorney Samantha Trepel of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U. S. Attorney Brian K. Delaney of the Eastern District of California are prosecuting the case.

    If convicted, Whittington faces a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Home Equity Thefts By Naughty Children Not Limited To U.S.: Son 'Shanghais' $250K Loan Proceeds Using Forged Docs Pledging Unwitting Parents' Home As Collateral; Gets 10+ Years In Chinese Prison

In Shanghai, China, the Shanghai Daily reports:
  • A MAN who used forged documents to secure a 1.6 million yuan (US$250,000) mortgage against his parents’ home has been sentenced to 10 and a half years in prison, Jing’an District People’s Court said [].

    The 33-year-old defendant, identified only by his surname Li, was found guilty of contract fraud after employing a forger to replicate a title deed and other documents.

    The counterfeiter, surnamed Fu, was given a 10-month prison sentence for his part in the crime, while Li’s girlfriend, surnamed Tao, was jailed for three years for aiding and abetting after posing as the defendant’s wife during the loan application process.

    Prosecutors said in court that Li was a gambling addict who turned to crime after running up debts of more than 2 million yuan. The court did not say which company extended the loan, but said the fraud came to light in January of this year when officials from the lender noticed the repayments were not being met, and contacted the defendant’s father.

    The father was unaware of the crime, but pointed police in the direction of his son who was living in Chongming County.

    Li was detained soon after, while Tao surrendered herself to the police in April and provided information that led to Fu’s arrest.

Habitual Criminal Who Professed Her Love For 88-Year Old Man Gets 200 Years In Prison For Taking Advantage Of Him; Victim Spent Thousands, Put Up His Home As Collateral To Continue Bailing Her Out Of Jail

In Arvada, Colorado, KUSA-TV Channel 9 reports:
  • A woman who took advantage of an elderly man was sentenced to more than 200 years behind bars [last week].

    Jack Woods, 88, posted an ad in the paper for a housekeeper.

    Jana Bergman, who was in jail at the time, answered the ad. Not long after, Bergman confessed her love for Woods. Bergman was a habitual criminal and was in and out of jail frequently. Woods continued to bail her out, spending thousands of dollars.

    At one point, Woods put his house up as collateral to bail her out.

    Bergman was physically abusive. Officials say she punched and kicked Woods down the stairs. Bergman was found guilty on numerous charges including attempted manslaughter and robbing an at-risk adult. Bergman still has five criminal cases pending in the Denver metro area.

Accused Cop Killer Who Successfully Fended Off Murder Charges Gets Convicted Years Later For Threatening To Kill His Criminal Defense Attorney When Latter Foreclosed On His Home Over $200K+ In Unpaid Legal Fees

In Knoxville, Tennessee, the Cleveland Daily Banner reports:
  • A Roane County man has been convicted on charges of threatening to kill a Cleveland attorney.

    Leon Houston was found guilty by a jury [] in the U.S. District Court in Knoxville on the charge of making a threat via interstate commerce.

    Houston had been defended by attorney James Logan during two trials on state murder charges in the killings of Roane County Deputy Bill Jones and former law enforcement officer Mike Brown.

    A mistrial was declared in the case in 2008; however, a jury acquitted Houston during a second trial in 2009.

    Logan eventually foreclosed on Houston’s property, which had been held as security of payment of services, after the attorney sought payment for his services.

    The attorney had previously testified his cost for representing Houston was more than $200,000.

    Houston was in the Blount County Jail when, as stated in his charge, he called his girlfriend and repeated said either he or any of “his people” would kill Logan.

    Houston had said the remarks in the conversation were only made in jest.

    The maximum sentence for the charge is five years, but Houston will get credit for the three years he has already been in custody when he is sentenced later next month.

    Last year Logan purchased three of the available tracts of land for $150,000 at a foreclosure sale in 2011.

    He later donated two of those tracts, which totaled 75 acres and were valued at $296,000, to the Roane County Habitat for Humanity.

Fresno Feds Score Guilty Verdict Against Crackpot Who Harassed Two Bankruptcy Judges By Filing Bogus Liens On Their Personal Property

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Fresno, California):
  • After a one-day bench trial, Barry Halajian, 56, of Fresno, was found guilty of two counts of filing false liens on federal bankruptcy judges, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

    According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, in 2010, Halajian initiated a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Fresno. Two years later, he initiated a Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceeding in the same court. On June 29, 2012, the Chapter 9 bankruptcy was dismissed. On July 17, 2012, Halajian filed with the California Secretary of State a series of liens on the personal property of two federal bankruptcy judges in the Eastern District of California, listing them as debtors and himself as the secured party

    “Filing bogus liens against federal officials for purposes of harassment is a crime,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “Those who commit it are asking to be prosecuted.”

Friday, November 27, 2015

City Of Dallas Files Suit In Renewed Effort To Put Notorious Slumlord Out Of Business; Similar Suit Filed Twenty-One Years Earlier Fell Flat; Ongoing Battle Dates Back Over Thirty Years

In Dallas, Texas, The Dallas Morning News reports:
  • “In the City of Dallas, the name ‘Topletz’ is synonymous with dilapidated and often crime-ridden, single-family rental property located primarily in the southern area of Dallas.”

    So begins a lawsuit filed [] by Dallas city attorneys trying once and for all to chase Dennis Topletz and his relatives out of the business of low-income rentals in southern Dallas.

    The lawsuit, filled with exhibits cataloging drug busts and code violations at Topletz-owned properties, echoes countless newspaper, TV and magazine reports over two decades documenting the hundreds of citations the family has received from City Hall.

    Despite efforts to crack down on their business practices, the family has continued to operate a substandard business and paid pennies on the dollar in fines, city officials argue.

    And Dallas City Hall says that must end: The lawsuit asks for the court to appoint a receiver to “take charge and possession” of the 190 properties owned by Dennis Topletz, family members or one of his myriad subsidiaries. That receiver would be tasked with repairing properties, collecting rents and evicting residents who refuse to pay their rents — all the duties normally associated with a landlord. The receiver would only be prohibited from actually selling the properties, including a handful of houses cited as havens for drug sales.

    Dennis runs the family business started by his late father Harold and uncle Jack, who died in 2013.

    The city says it’s asking for a receiver due to “the Topletz Defendants’ ongoing and repeated mismanagement of the Topletz Properties through placement of tenants in substandard conditions; failure to provide the necessary repairs and maintenance of the Topletz Properties while collecting rents from tenants, the mistreatment of tenants in contravention of tenants’ rights provided by state law; and the substantial danger of injury or adverse health impact to the Topletz’ tenants and adverse effects to neighboring properties.”
    When reached at his office on Inwood Road Wednesday afternoon, Dennis Topletz said he had not yet seen the just-filed suit and suggested calling back for comment sometime next week, after he and his lawyers had reviewed its contents. But he didn’t seem overly concerned when informed of the city’s request for a receiver to seize control of the rent houses.

    The city has “deep pockets,” says Topletz, who’s tussled with city attorneys for decades. “I don’t see where it would go, other than the lawyers need something to do. I am really surprised they would spend the effort to do it. We’ll have to address it when they come forward. It’s one more thing to do.”

    The family has long escaped punishment and defended its actions. Jack Topletz, who died in 2013 at the age of 100, told D in 1987 that “we’re in the investment business, not the rental business.”

    Twelve years later, in a cover story headlined “How the Slumlord Beats the City Every Time,” the Dallas Observer chronicled how the Topletzes beat back the city’s crackdown efforts — by fighting every ticket and appealing every verdict, sometimes to the Texas Supreme Court, and waiting out a city attorney’s office trying to put out bigger fires than drug houses in South Dallas.

    Twenty-one years ago, the city filed a massive lawsuit against the Topletzes and other relatives that isn’t much different from the one taken to the courthouse today. It too sought an injunction stopping the Topletzes from renting out their properties; it too tried to force them to repair their rotten homes. But the case never went anywhere, and by 1997 it was tossed by a judge for “want of prosecution.” Tom Korosec, then writing for the Observer, noted that “the lawsuit hardly got off to a fast start, and as the file shows, the city did almost nothing to push it along.”

    [Dallas Mayor Mike] Rawlings says this time, things will be different.

Bail Bondsman w/ Dubious History Gets Pinched After Allegedly Filing Fraudulent Deed To Customer's Property, Then Rent Skimming Premises & Allowing Home To Go Into Foreclosure

In Farmington, New Mexico, the The Farmington Daily Times reports:
  • Daniel Goldberg Sr. has been charged for a third time in magistrate court with fraud in connection to his alleged activities as a bail bondsman.

    The 55-year-old former candidate for San Juan County sheriff was charged [] in Farmington Magistrate Court with eight counts of fourth-degree felony fraud.

    He was previously charged in two separate cases filed in July and August in Aztec Magistrate Court with an additional eight counts of felony fraud, four counts of extortion, five counts of misdemeanor fraud and racketeering.

    Goldberg was arrested Thursday and is being held at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center on a $80,000 bond, according to court records.
    [T]he Daily Times requested and received a copy of the arrest warrant affidavit from the court [].

    Police allege in the affidavit that Goldberg filed a fraudulent quitclaim deed with the San Juan County Clerk's Office on September 26, 2013, to seize a property at 2807 E. 30th St. in Farmington.

    The property was owned by Christie Donnelly, the affidavit states. Donnelly, 44, contacted Farmington police detectives in April 2015 to report the alleged fraud, the affidavit states.

    She told detectives she had signed an agreement with Goldberg in September 2013 that allowed Goldberg to collect rent and make mortgage payments at the property, which would provide him a net monthly sum of $298.

    In exchange, Goldberg would post a $6,000 cash bond for her husband, according to the affidavit. Instead, Goldberg filed the quitclaim deed and sold the property to himself for the sum of $10, the affidavit states.

    According to the San Juan County Assessor's website, the property is currently owned by Daniel Goldberg Sr. and his son, Daniel Goldberg Jr. It has an actual value of $170,440, according to the county assessor.

    Donnelly told detectives she never signed a quitclaim deed, but she did sign the contract that allowed Goldberg to collect rent at the property. Donnelly said she learned the property had been seized in August 2014 after she received a foreclosure notice for it.

    Police learned from the property's tenants that Goldberg had collected $11,500 in property rent between October 2013 and August 2014.
    Goldberg Sr. is not authorized by the state of New Mexico to act as a bail bondsman after regulators refused to renew his license in 2007, according to state records. He previously had a Florida bail bondsman license suspended in 1991 after he was accused of issuing bail bonds while employed as a police officer.

    In November 1990, He was also criminally charged for issuing a bail bond while employed as a law enforcement officer and pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor offense.

    An investigation by The Daily Times in October also showed Goldberg used the alias "Daniel Zbras" to conduct business and register to vote in Florida.

Having Signed Contract To Unload Dilapidated Foreclosed 25-Unit Jackson Hole Motel, Bank Sends Dozens Of Long-Term Tenants Onto The Street Scrambling For Shelter After Giving Them The Boot; Dispossessed Join Ex-Trailer Park Residents As Casualties Of Local Affordable Housing Shortage, Increased Development

In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reports:
  • Dozens of long-term tenants have been forced out of a dilapidated motel on North Cache Street because the building was deemed unsafe by the owner, the Bank of Jackson Hole.

    Residents of the Pioneer Motel reported regular power outages and, at times, no running water. The bank had been warning people for months that they would have to move soon because of the motel’s condition. Chief Executive Pete Lawton said there were a variety of code violations. “It’s truly a safety issue,” Lawton said.

    Social workers from the Community Resource Center helped some of the displaced people over the past few weeks and said the motel was potentially dangerous for tenants. “A lot of them didn’t have electricity,” said Carmina Oaks, a case manager with the nonprofit. “Some of them were telling me they had holes in the floor. Others didn’t get water all the time.”

    The tenants, who were all Latino, have been scrambling to find places to stay. Some landed with family members, Oaks said, while others found rooms in other motels.

    The Pioneer, which was built in 1958, has 25 units spread out through several buildings and is located just blocks from upscale hotels and Jackson’s historic Town Square. Some of the motel rooms have broken window panes that are covered with plastic.

    While the conditions weren’t ideal, some tenants said they didn’t mind the motel because of the low rent. And given Jackson Hole’s housing shortage, it at least offered a roof to sleep under.


    Former tenants of the Pioneer Motel are just the latest casualties in Jackson Hole’s housing shortage. Earlier this year residents of a downtown trailer park were given short notice to move because of the impending development of a 121-room Marriott Hotel. Another cluster of mobile homes was cleared [...] to make way for new apartments, which will rent for an estimated $1,800 a month.


    The fate of the Pioneer Motel remains uncertain. The bank owns the property and several nearby parcels because of a 2013 foreclosure. Lawton pointed out that the bank never set out to be a landlord or developer. The property is under contract, but uncertainties about zoning have made it difficult to close a deal in the past, Lawton said. The Jackson Town Council has gone back and forth debating new zoning rules, and housing has been at the crux of the issue. Town officials have butted heads with each other and community organizations about how much more commercial development should be allowed versus housing.

    Unsure of the motel’s future, bank officials warned tenants several times over the past few months that they might soon have to leave. The Community Resource Center distributed a list to tenants in September listing other motels around the valley that had openings. That gave some people a chance to relocate, but Oaks said many of the motel rentals around town only last through the spring. People may soon have to look for housing again.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Ohio AG Files Civil Suit Targeting California-Based Loan Modification Racket That Held Itself Out As Law Firm Using "Legal Aid Services" Moniker For Allegedly Using False Promises To Fleece Homeowners Seeking Mortgage Help

From the Dayton [Ohio] Business Journal:
  • Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine [] announced a lawsuit against a California company accused of failing to deliver promised mortgage loan modification services to Ohio consumers.

    The lawsuit accuses Legal Aid Services Inc., last operating in California, of violating Ohio's Consumer Sales Practices Act and Debt Adjuster's Act.

    "Consumers paid this company thousands of dollars thinking they would receive assistance from a professional law firm," DeWine said. "Instead, they received no meaningful help and were left in a worse financial position."

    According to the lawsuit, Legal Aid Services Inc. promised mortgage loan modification services, including interest rate reductions, to Ohio consumers and represented itself as a law firm, even though it did not employ attorneys who were licensed in Ohio.

    Three Ohio consumers filed complaints saying they paid Legal Aid Services Inc. more than $3,000 each but the company failed to provide the promised services or to return the money.

    The Attorney General's lawsuit, filed yesterday in the Delaware County Common Pleas Court, seeks damages for affected consumers, civil penalties, and an end to any violations of Ohio consumer protection laws from the business and its owner, Floyd George Belsito.

    Consumers who want help modifying their mortgage loan or avoiding foreclosure should not trust companies that charge upfront fees before providing any services.

    Consumers who suspect unfair business practices should contact the Ohio Attorney General's Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515.

    A copy of the lawsuit is available on the Ohio Attorney General's website.

Elderly Breast Cancer Victim Speaks Out On Since-Shuttered Loan Modification Racket That Fleeced Her Out Of $2,100+ & Duped Her To Stop Making Mortgage Payments

In Round Rock, Texas, KXAN-TV Channel 21 reports:
  • Clara Howerton, 72, has lived in her house in Round Rock for 26 years. “I just fell in love with it. It was just the kind of home I liked. I’ve been very comfortable here for all the years,” said Howerton.

    The last few years haven’t been easy though. Breast cancer forced her to quit her job and she has been struggling to pay the bills ever since. A call came in from Legal Educators USA in Beverly Hills offering Howerton a solution to her financial problems. The company told her they could lower her monthly mortgage payments and her interest rate for a small fee.

    As told, she had to act fast and soon wrote the company three checks, each more than $700 and agreed to stop making her regular mortgage payment.

    “I thought this is a godsend. This is really going to help me get on my feet and get my house taken care of.”

    Six months went by and letters from the bank were piling up. $6,000 behind on her payment and close to losing her home, she finally heard back from the person in charge at Legal Educators USA, Veronica Sesma.

    “She told me I want you to quit worrying about this, I want you to settle down, you just need to be patient.” Howerton trusted the woman on the other line. “I guess I just got suckered, really suckered.”
    KXAN discovered dozens of complaints across the country and multiple variations of Sesma’s company. To avoid detection, it appears Sesma renames the company repeatedly to approach new, unsuspecting homeowners. After a recent nation-wide investigation, the Federal Trade Commission finally shut her down this fall, revealing the total amount authorities believe she took from consumers over several years tallied up to nearly $900,000.

Foreclosure Assistance Phone Scam Claims Another Casualty, Costing Foreclosure-Facing Victim $1,000

In Reedley, California, The Reedley Exponent reports:
  • A Reedley resident recently was scammed out of $1,000 by a man who texted and claimed to work for a foreclosure assistance company.

    Reedley police Sgt. John Cates said the incident happened on Oct. 24, when the victim received a text message from a Sean Ferrero saying he’s with a company called Nationwide Rapid Refunds. The 954 area code on the telephone number is in Florida.

    The victim said that Ferrero told him his company could help the Reedley resident avoid foreclosure on the resident’s home, and promised immediate cash assistance. Ferrero allegedly told the victim to either deposit money in his account at a bank in Bakersfield or pay him through prepaid PayPal cards. After the victim sent off the $1,000 and called the phone number given earlier, there was no record of the company.

    An Internet search of the company’s name came up with a Bizapedia listing for Nationwide Rapid Refunds Corporation. It is listed as a California Domestic Corporation filed on June 8, 2010 and based out of the community of Jamul, east of San Diego. The business’ filing status is listed as suspended.
Source: Foreclosure assistance phone scam proves costly to resident (Victim is out $1,000 after company lures a payment).

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

New Haven Feds Bag Real Estate Operator Who Allegedly Ran Rent Skimming Racket After First Duping Financially Distressed Homeowners Into Signing Over Title, Control Of Their Homes Under False Pretense That Suspect Would Pay Off Mortgages

In New Haven, Connecticut, the Connecticut Post reports:
  • A 64-year-old Easton man - using 13 different alias names - has been arrested in what federal officials call a long-running fraud scheme that targeted distressed homeowners.

    Timothy W. Burke was arrested [] for a using a scheme he alllegedly created to defraud individuals, mortgage lenders and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by falsely representing to homeowners who were in, or facing, foreclosure on their homes that he would purchase their homes and pay off their mortgages.

    How it worked

    Federal officials said the distressed homeowners agreed to sign various documents, including quit claim deeds, indemnification agreements, management agreements and third-party authorization letters, which Burke presented to them on the understanding that, by signing the documents, they would be able to walk away from their homes without the burdens of their mortgage or other costs associated with home ownership.

    Burke also told homeowners that the process of negotiating with the lenders “can take time and that, in the meantime, to ignore any notices regarding foreclosure.”

    Sounds too good to be true? According to federal investigators, it was.

    After he gained control of these houses, Burke rented out the properties to tenants by advertising the properties on craigslist.com and other means and falsely representing to tenants that Burke owned the property.

    The complaint further alleges that Burke - or one of his agents - then collected rent from tenants, in person, and Burke used the funds for his own benefit.

    Federal investigators say Burke failed to negotiate with the homeowners’ mortgage lender or pay expenses associated with the home, including the homeowner’s mortgages, taxes, insurance, association dues, or other expenses. And he failed to pay any rental income he was collecting to the homeowners, who thought he was helping them out.

    The investigation also revealed that homeowners often discovered on their own, and to their surprise, that Burke had rented out their houses.

    In the end, many of the properties Burke purportedly purchased were ultimately foreclosed upon by the mortgage lender.
For the U.S. Attorney (New Haven) press release, see Easton Man Charged with Defrauding Distressed Homeowners.

South Florida Man Gets 30 Months, Agrees To Forfeit 10-Acre Residential Property After Getting Bagged For Duping Bank Into Taking $1.2 Million 'Haircut' In Deal Purporting To Be Arms-Length Short Sale

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Miami, Florida):
  • A defendant was sentenced to 30 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release for arranging a fraudulent short sale of a 10-acre residential property in Southwest Ranches, Florida. A restitution hearing is scheduled for January 22, 2015.
    Jaime Olaya Marroquin, a/k/a Jaime Olaya, 53, previously pled guilty to one count of bank fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1344. As part of his plea agreement, Olaya agreed to forfeit the 10-acre property involved in this transaction.

    According to court documents, in 2005, Olaya purchased a 10-acre residential property in Southwest Ranches, Florida. In 2008, he quitclaimed ½ of the property to AJZ Investments (AJZ), a company he controlled. To avoid having to continue making payments on the $1.6 million mortgage debt, Olaya submitted a request to the bank for a short sale on the property while intentionally excluding the portion of the property he quitclaimed to AJZ.

    Olaya arranged for his family member to make a written offer to purchase the property for $430,000, but he did not inform the bank that the buyer was a family member. The defendant represented to the bank that the buyer would be putting her own money into a cash purchase of the property, but in reality the buyer did not put any money into the purchase. Olaya wired the money to the U.S. from a bank in Colombia after telling the bank that he did not have sufficient assets to pay the original mortgage debt.

    The bank approved the short sale of the property for $430,000, and canceled Olaya’s remaining $1.2 million debt and released the mortgages encumbering the entire 10 acres. As a result of the fraud, Olaya was successful in preventing the bank from obtaining the benefit of the approximately $421,000 value of the property that was quitclaimed to AJZ.

Real Estate Operator Cops Guilty Plea For Role In Bay State Short Sale Leaseback Racket; Duped Banksters Into Taking 'Haircuts,' Releasing Mortgages At Discount While Believing Transactions Were Arms-Length Deals, Losing Million$

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Boston, Massachusetts):
  • A Methuen business executive pleaded guilty [] to participating in a conspiracy to defraud banks and mortgage companies by engaging in sham “short” sales of residential properties in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts.

    Dahianara Moran, 40, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel scheduled sentencing for Feb. 17, 2016.

    Moran conspired with others – including a Methuen loan officer and a Haverhill real estate agent who were not identified in the charging document – to defraud various banks via bogus short sales of homes in Haverhill, Lawrence and Methuen.

    A short sale is a sale of real estate for less than the value of any mortgage debt on the property. Short sales are an alternative to foreclosure that typically occur only with the consent of the mortgage lender, and that generally result in the lender absorbing a loss on the loan and releasing the borrower from the unpaid balance. By their very nature, short sales are intended to be arms-length transactions in which the buyers and sellers are unrelated, and in which the sellers cede their control of the subject properties in exchange for the short-selling bank’s agreement to release them from their unpaid debt.
    As part of the scheme, Moran and her co-conspirators submitted materially false and misleading documents to numerous banks in an effort to induce them to permit the short-sales – and thereby to release the purported sellers from their unpaid mortgage debts – while simultaneously inducing the purported buyers’ banks to provide financing for the deals. In fact, the purported sellers simply stayed in the homes, with their debt substantially reduced. In some cases, the conspirators then re-sold the properties in genuine arms-length transactions for a profit. Meanwhile, the short-selling banks lost millions of dollars.

    As part of the conspiracy:

    The conspirators falsely led banks to believe that the sales were arms-length transactions between unrelated parties, when in fact, the transactions were not arms-length, and the sellers retained control of (and frequently continued to live in) the properties after the sale. For example, Moran purported to sell two properties she owned to third parties who were, in fact, her close relatives, while actually maintaining control of both properties.

    The conspirators submitted phony earnings statements that Moran prepared in support of loan applications that they submitted to banks in order to obtain financing for the purported sales.

    The conspirators submitted phony HUD-1 Settlement Statements to banks, as well as to the Federal Housing Administration, that did not accurately reflect the disbursement of funds in the transactions. (A HUD-1 Settlement Statement is a standard form, developed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, that is used to document the flow of funds in real estate transactions.HUD-1 Settlement Statements are required for all transactions involving federally related mortgage loans, including all mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration.)

    Hayacinth Bellerose, a real estate attorney from Dunstable, Mass., pleaded guilty last month to the same charge and is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 4, 2016.
For the U.S. Attorney press release, see Methuen Executive Convicted in Mortgage Fraud Conspiracy.

Attorney For Defendant Accused Of Bid-Rigging At Foreclosure Auctions Urges Judge To Supress Certain Evidence, Accusing Feds Of Illegally Bugging Courthouse So It Could Capture Alleged Conspirators' Conversations

In Los Angeles, California, Law360 reports:
  • Latham & Watkins LLP has told a California federal judge that the FBI illegally bugged a courthouse so it could capture conversations proving its allegations of bid-rigging at real estate foreclosure auctions, and urged the judge to block any evidence from the alleged eavesdropping.

    [Last week], in a motion to suppress evidence, Latham — which is representing one of the defendants who allegedly rigged bids to obtain properties at public auctions — argued that FBI agents planted electronic recording devices outside the San Mateo County courthouse...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Washington Post To D.C. City Council: You Did Wrong! Now Do Right & Quit Fighting Class Action Lawsuit & Compensate Ex-Homeowners Who Got Screwed Out Of Their Home Equity By Your Abusive Tax Lien System

From an editorial in The Washington Post:
  • D.C. OFFICIALS wasted no time in reforming the city’s tax collection system in the wake of an exposé detailing abuses that resulted in people losing their homes. Clearly, they knew they were in the wrong — and yet they still refuse to compensate the people they victimized. Instead of spending taxpayer dollars on a court fight, city officials should explore ways to settle the claims of vulnerable residents who were taken advantage of by an unfair system.

    An investigation by Post reporters in 2013 revealed that the city’s tax lien system for collecting delinquent taxes resulted in disastrous consequences for residents vulnerable because of their age or mental capacity. Residents who owed even small sums in property taxes lost their homes altogether through foreclosure by private investors who had purchased property liens imposed by the city. Among those featured was Benjamin Coleman, a 76-year-old retired Marine sergeant who suffered from dementia and was turned out of his home after he neglected to pay a $133.88 property- tax bill.

    After the Post series, the D.C. Council put safeguards in place , but they are no help to Mr. Coleman. He lost his home and all the equity he had poured into it to a private investor who resold it for a big profit; Mr. Coleman now lives in a group home.

    A class-action lawsuit seeking redress for him and about 30 similarly affected residents has been filed in U.S. district court. The D.C. attorney general’s office is vigorously fighting the suit, arguing unsuccessfully for summary dismissal. The District contends that the constitutional bar against unlawful taking doesn’t apply in the lien cases because home equity is not really property, and these residents forfeited their rights when they failed to pay taxes.

    “Doubling down on the dispossessed” was the apt characterization of this position in a recent essay in The Post’s Local Opinions section. A spokesman for D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine stressed that his office’s job is to protect the interests of the city, which could be on the hook for millions of dollars if the unfortunate former homeowners prevail. But surely it’s also his job to do the right thing. We urge Mr. Racine to reassess decisions about this suit and consult with the mayor and D.C. Council about how to compensate these residents for their losses.