Saturday, July 07, 2007

New Jersey Man Charged In Alleged Distressed Property Scam

Michael Weinberg, 53 of Sparta, New Jersey and who allegedly collected more than $200,000 from his real estate clients for access to properties on the foreclosure and tax liens lists, was charged with theft by deception by Morris Township police after an investigation revealed he did not provide the services for which he was being paid, according to The Sparta Independent. Weinberg was also charged with theft by failure to make the required disposition of property received and issuing back checks. For more, see Morris Township police nab white collar criminal.

Alleged Theft Of Back Tax Money Results In Foreclosure For NJ Homeowner

The Express-Times reports that Northampton County, New Jersey detectives have arrested Philip A. Simonetta and have charged him with stealing $2,500 earmarked to pay a local woman's back taxes and prevent a mortgage foreclosure on her home. Reportedly, Simonetta, who told the homeowner that he worked for Apex Mortgage, was given the $2,500 with the understanding that he would wire her money to the mortgage lender. He subsequently told her that he wired the money to the lender and that her home would not be listed for sheriff's sale. About a week later, an agent for a local real estate brokerage showed up at the woman's front door, advising her that the brokerage bought the home at the sale. For more, see Police say man stole woman's tax payment.

Illinois Feds Indict Realtor In Mortgage Fraud

The Rockford Register Star reports:
  • "A 41-year-old Caledonia man was charged in federal court Tuesday with doctoring documents so borrowers could receive commercial and Federal Housing Administration-insured loans to boost his own real estate commissions. Raymond S. Talan is facing two counts of interstate carrier fraud, five counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements to a federal agency."
Talan is a member of the Rockford (Illinois) Area Association of Realtors and affiliated with RE/MAX Property Source of Rockford. For more, see Realtor charged with mortgage fraud.

Montana Feds Charge Loan Officer In Mortgage Fraud

The Associated Press reports that Scott Hilgers, who has a history of theft, bad checks and probation violations (and who currently resides in Montana State Prison), is now facing Federal charges in connection with his mortgage lending practices in Helena. Last month, 34-year-old Hilgers was indicted by a grand jury on charges of scheming to defraud mortgage companies and conspiracy. Similar charges are pending against Todd Rice of Boulder. It's alleged that Rice applied for four residential mortgages, which were arranged by Hilgers, allegedly using fraudulent information.They are also accused of using false statements to obtain $686,000 in mortgages.

For more, see Ex-mortgage agent facing fraud charges (Billings Gazette).

For story update, see Men plead guilty to mortgage fraud (10-6-07).

Colorado Man Victimized In Identity Theft / Mortgage Fraud Scam

The Rocky Mountain News reports on the story of Eric Krueger and how he had his identity ripped off and then used by Tremayne Miller to obtain loans from different institutions to purchase three homes before being nabbed by Aurora, Colorado police in December. Miller, 29, pleaded guilty in Denver Federal Court this month to fraud and money laundering. His sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 14. As part of his plea bargain, Miller agreed to pay Krueger for any cost related to the ID theft. Miller faces a sentence that could range from 24 to 63 months. For more, see Up and Down 17th Street: Tale of ID theft bizarre, alarming.

St. Pete Loan Officer In More Hot Water

St. Petersburg, Florida area mortgage loan officer Victor Thomas Clavizzao, a convicted felon who spent years in prison for fraud and grand theft, and who is still in the lending business, now faces a new grand theft charge stemming from an $805, 000 condo purchase in March, according to The St. Petersburg Times. Reportedly, he is also being sued over his alleged mismanagement of a Quiznos sub shop, where he repeatedly bounced checks and ruined the owner's credit; he also faces accusations by his first wife that his three other marriages - the most recent in Las Vegas this year - are invalid because she and Clavizzao never divorced. For the story, see New chapter, same sordid story (A felon real estate wheeler-dealer faces theft and bigamy accusations).

For story update, see Felon changes tune on mortgage fraud (8-23-08; In filings made public this week in U.S. District Court in Tampa, Clavizzao agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to fraudulently obtain nearly $6-million in mortgage loans on the Venetian Isle house and 12 other homes and condos in Pinellas County).

For links to other stories on Victor Clavizzao, see Multi-Flipped St. Pete Home Raises Suspicion.

California Man Gets Five Years In Federal Prison For Scamming $32 Million From Clients In Ponzi Scheme

Salvatore Favata (aka Sam Favata) was sentenced Monday in a Santa Ana, California Federal Court to five years in prison for stealing $32 million from more than 200 investors through a real estate related Ponzi scheme, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. He was also ordered to compensate his victims at a rate of $10,000 a month when he is released from prison. A one-time owner of Orange-based National Consumer Mortgage,

  • "Favata had persuaded clients to refinance their homes and use the cash, and other assets, to invest in another arm of the company, promising investment returns of 30% to 60% a year. An investigation, triggered by tips to the Securities and Exchange Commission, revealed that little of the money was invested. Instead, Favata was paying earlier investors with funds from new investors in what is known as a Ponzi scheme."
Present at the sentencing in support of Favata were former Los Angeles Dodger stars Steve Garvey and Maury Wills. For more, see Ex-athlete gets 5-year sentence in Ponzi scheme (A Cal State Fullerton baseball star convicted in a real estate scam also is ordered to compensate victims).

Friday, July 06, 2007

Foreclosure Eyesores May Be Tell Tale Signs Of Mortgage Scams In One Community

In Central Florida, the St. Petersburg Times recently ran a story on the 533 home, Venetian Isles subdivision, reportedly one of the most attractive waterfront communities in southern Pinellas County. The story reports on the eyesores being caused by three homes in the homeowner association-run community that are currently vacant, abandoned, and not being maintained, and the possible badges of mortgage fraud that are associated with each home.

The Times found that in one case, the homeowners are an elderly couple who say their signature was forged without their knowledge on $930, 000 in loans. The lawn is nearly dead and the house, now vacant, is in foreclosure proceedings.

In the two other cases, The Times found that the current owners of record can't be found, and that the former owners of each home both have said they dealt with a man named Tommy Watts who, according to The Times, has a criminal record that includes convictions for larceny, armed robbery and dealing in stolen property. Watts also couldn't be located by The Times. Along with the suspicious nature of the recorded transaction documents on file with the county involving these homes (which is described in detail in the article), the liklihood is that the two homes were used in a straw buyer mortgage fraud scam. Meanwhile, the plant beds are full of weeds and there are dead shrubs lining the sidewalk entrance.

For more, see Weeds sprout, as do suspicions.

Housing Feds Investigating Baltimore-Area Mortgage Company

City Paper reports:
  • "A federal law-enforcement agency has demanded loan documents from a local mortgage company whose prominent frontman, David Carey, was profiled by City Paper ("Where Credit Is Due," Feature, Feb. 21). The subpoena, served at Equitable Trust Mortgage Corp.'s White Marsh headquarters, asks for records pertaining to about 20 loans the company made during the past three years, according to Equitable Trust co-owner William Scott Lucas. [...] Instead of a cordial informal request, agents of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General subpoenaed the records, Lucas says. HUD's Office of Inspector General is an independent agency that investigates HUD programs to prevent waste and fraud. [...] Equitable Trust is a seven-year-old mortgage brokerage with offices in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Harford County."

For more, see HUD-aches (HUD Inspector General Opens Investigation of Equitable Trust Mortgage Corp.).

Beazer Homes Faces Another North Carolina Homebuyer Lawsuit

The Charlotte Observer reports:
  • "More Charlotte-area homebuyers are suing Beazer Homes, alleging a litany of misdeeds and claiming the company "fraudulently qualified" them for loans they couldn't afford.
    A lawsuit filed Tuesday by 10 homebuyers in northern Charlotte's Oak Hill development says a Beazer sales agent, Roderick D. Williams, falsified documents to help buyers get loans for Beazer homes. Williams and Beazer Mortgage, which arranged five of the loans, are also named as defendants."

Charlotte, North Carolina attorney Ken Davies, whose firm represents the mostly first-time homebuyers, calls the litigation "an abuse-of-trust case." His clients claim that that they were told they could afford the homes and could qualify for the financing. "They had a right to rely on the professionals to guide them appropriately," says Davies. For more, see Beazer facing new suit (Oak Hill homebuyers say they weren't properly advised about loans).

Go here for other posts on Beazer Homes, including links to investigative reports on Beazer by The Charlotte Observer.

California Regulators Investigating Defunct Real Estate Company's Ties With Sour Loans

The Bakersfield Californian reports:

  • "It's impossible to know what state regulators are looking for as they examine files of the former Crisp & Cole Real Estate company. Two former staffers recently told The Californian that investigators from the state Department of Real Estate have been asking questions and requesting files. Meanwhile, default notices continue to pile up for properties related to Crisp & Cole. [...] Californian research has uncovered a pattern of property turnover among Crisp & Cole associates, steep price increases and 100 percent financing by subprime lenders in many of the properties now defaulting."

Quick flips involving some of the homes now sitting empty that are described in the article may point to possible improprieties that underlie the transactions.

For more, see Crisp defaults pile up (Latest notice on $1.75 million loan for Seven Oaks mansion).

Wall Street Investment Bank Helped Defraud Subprime Borrowers, Says Federal Jury

A Wall Street Journal article appearing in the St.Louis Post-Dispatch reports:
  • "Twelve years ago, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. sent a vice president to California to check out First Alliance Mortgage Co. Lehman was thinking about tapping into First Alliance's lucrative business of making "subprime" house loans to consumers with sketchy credit. The vice president, Eric Hibbert, wrote a memo describing First Alliance as a financial "sweat shop" specializing in "high-pressure sales for people who are in a weak state." At First Alliance, he said, employees leave their "ethics at the door." The big Wall Street investment bank decided First Alliance wasn't breaking any laws. Lehman went on to lend the mortgage company roughly $500 million and helped sell more than $700 million in bonds backed by First Alliance customers' loans. But First Alliance later collapsed. Lehman landed in court, where a federal jury found the firm helped First Alliance defraud customers."

For more, see Subprime lending problems ensnaring big Wall Street firms.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Change In Maryland Ground Rent Law Results In Flurry Of Lawsuits

(original post 7-2-07; revised 7-5-07)
A new Maryland law that changes the way ground rent lawsuits are handled and which went into effect on July 1 has resulted in a flurry of lawsuits being filed before the law became effective, reports The Baltimore Sun. According to the article:
  • "The [Maryland state legislature] overhauled the ground-rent system after The Sun published an investigative series that showed how a small number of investors had used their extraordinary power under the law to seize hundreds of homes over back rent as meager as $24. In many other cases, ground-rent owners have extracted fees of 20 to 50 times the amount of rent owed to settle cases."
Owners of more than 80,000 Baltimore City homes must rent the ground under their houses; smaller numbers of ground rents exist in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. For more, see Ground-rent owners rush to file suits (Flurry of ejectment cases logged before law changes).

For links to the entire series of stories on the ground rent issue reported by The Baltimore Sun, see The Sun's ground rent series.

See also, In Baltimore, Sun Shines On "Ground Rent" Outrage (Columbia Journalism Review).

Straw Buyer Scam "Quote Of The Day"

In their July 2, 2007 edition, Florida Trend Magazine declared the following their "Quote Of The Day" (made by one of the mortgage fraud straw buyers claiming the "dupe defense" that I wrote about in my 7-3-07 post, Straw Buyers Assert "Dupe Defense" In Reports To Cops In Suspected South Florida Mortgage Fraud Scam):
  • "'As smart as I am, I had no clue that this was a scam because my best friend is telling me his cousin is doing it.' -- John Oral, an insurance claims investigator and straw buyer of a house in Miami who discovered he had been duped and his credit ruined in a mortgage deal gone bad."

I would simply add that, according to the Miami Herald article in which this quote appeared, after the FBI declined to investigate Mr. Oral's fraud complaint (made jointly with another straw buyer), Mr. Oral (who reportedly received a "$7,000 fee [which] was delivered by courier to his home in two neat bundles" for being a straw buyer) and his fellow straw buyer "victim" (who reportedly received an $11,000 "straw buyer fee") ultimately relieved themselves of their unaffordable properties by reportedly unloading them onto another unwitting straw buyer.

See Quote of the Day - What You Need to Know About Florida Today.

Dallas District Attorney On Local Mortgage Fraud: “The Criminals Are Running The Show”

Texas television station KDFW Channel 4 in Dallas-Fort Worth reports:
  • "[D]allas County District Attorney, Craig Watkins says he has not yet prosecuted a mortgage fraud case in his six months in office. Watkins says his office has received more than 600 mortgage fraud cases it is currently investigating but he has no prosecutors able to handle them. Watkins says he also needs more funding approved by County Commissioners to fight the problem. “We don’t have the prosecutors that can go forth and prosecute these cases because we don’t have the resources,” Watkins told Fox 4."

  • "But in neighboring Collin County, there is a much different story. Assistant District Attorney, Chris Milner says the problem ‘has to be taken over by local DA’s offices.’ “There has been a landslide of reported cases and we are running as fast as we can to prosecute them,” Milner told Fox 4. Milner says Collin County has prosecuted more than a dozen people in recent mortgage fraud cases and ordered them to pay thousands in restitution. Milner wants to send a message."

  • If you want to perpetuate mortgage fraud, don’t do it in Collin County,” said Milner. Fox 4 asked Dallas County DA Craig Watkins what message his office is sending by not prosecuting mortgage fraud cases. Watkins replied, “…the criminals are running the show.”"

According to the Fox4 story, the local FBI office isn't doing too much either. Because of the mortgage fraud which was followed by subsequent foreclosures, residents have watched their neighborhood go downhill, while seeing their tax appraisals skyrocket.

For more, see New Station Investigation: Mortgage Fraud Presents Challenge for Dallas D.A.

Coercion To Inflate Property Appraisals Alive & Well In South Florida

The Miami Herald recently ran a story on the pressure exerted on local real estate appraisers to meet the expectations of mortgage originators and others when preparing a property appraisal. According to the story:
  • "The temptation to tinker with the numbers can be intense in a market where the workflow for many has slowed to a trickle. Appraisers are the least paid in the chain of professionals involved in a real estate transaction -- a typical appraisal costs about $350. The consequences for not bending the rules can be severe. Appraisers complain bitterly of being blacklisted or not getting paid for appraisals that don't match what a buyer, seller or broker wants."

On the private website, South Florida appraisers reportedly logged 20 attempts in less than a month to get them to misrepresent the value of a property.

For more, see Appraisers feel heat to inflate property's value (Inflated appraisals can send prices rippling up through neighborhoods and raise property taxes).

Disbarred Northern Florida Lawyer Cops "No Contest" Plea

The Pensacola News Journal reports:

  • "A disbarred Pensacola attorney who admitted stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of his clients' money for his personal use faces at least four years in state prison. Vince Whibbs Jr., 62, known as "Vinnie," pleaded no contest Tuesday to charges of racketeering, grand theft and mortgage fraud involving the theft of more than $680,000. A second grand theft charge was dropped."
For more, see Whibbs Jr. awaits sentence (Disbarred attorney pleads no contest to bilking clients). For a prior story on Vincent J. Whibbs, see Whibbs faces fourth charge (Disbarred attorney also is accused of racketeering).

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Suspicious House Fires In South Florida Rising; Any Link To Foreclosures?

This is the question being asked by officials with the State Fire Marshal's office in Lee County, Florida, according to a report by NBC2 (Channel 2 - Fort Myers). According to the story:
  • "Through just the first six months of 2007, the number of suspicious fires under investigation in Lee County has more than tripled compared to all of 2006. [...] Officials with the Fire Marshal's Office say this is a problem all over South Florida and they're keeping an eye on the growing number of fires."

"Are they behind on their mortgage payments and they're trying to get out of a bad house deal?' This is a key question being asked in arson investigations, according to one fire official.

For more, see Number of suspicious fires on the rise, or watch Channel 2 TV report (by reporter Josh Davidsburg).

Oregon Townhomes Sinking Into The Ground; Lawsuits Are Flying

The Oregonian is reporting on one heck of a mess going on involving six Washington County, Oregon townhomes that are literally sinking into the ground.

County officials have declared the homes unfit and ordered the residents to evacuate and are concerned about gas lines bursting or electrical lines shorting.

Some of owners of the six townhomes are struggling to make payments on homes they can't live in anymore; others are facing foreclosure and bankruptcy because they can't afford to pay mortgages, rent and fees to lawyers fighting for them.

The association is suing the builders for what it claims are defects in the homes and townhouses throughout the community.

The homeowners have sued eight entities for damages. The eight entities named in the suit took action against 17 other companies. They, in turn, brought action against four more, and those four brought in four additional companies. All told, there are 35 parties involved in all the related litigation, according to one attorney involved in the matter. He says that the cases have generated about 40,000 pages of documents, 30 to 50 depositions and hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

Meanwhile, the banks holding the mortgages on the sinking townhomes are pressing the homeowners into foreclosure. For more, see Hope of simple solution sinks with homes.

Detroit Deed Thief Sentenced To 3-20 Years In State Prison

A state court judge in Detroit, Michigan sentenced local man Russell Jenkins Daniels last week to serve 3-20 years in prison for his involvement in a deed theft scam in which dozens of people unwittingly bought homes based on bogus quit claim deeds, The Detroit News reports. According to the story:
  • "Prosecutors said Daniels, 61, of Detroit, would target mostly unoccupied homes, research their title history at the Wayne County Register of Deeds office and then create phony paperwork, including mortgage releases and quit claim deeds to sell the properties to legitimate buyers. Daniels pleaded guilty to uttering and publishing, forgery, obtaining money under false pretenses over $1,000 and 4th time habitual criminal, which could have earned him a life sentence."

The criminal investigation began when the sheriff's department was tipped off about Daniels' frequent visits to the register of deeds office; his visits attracted the attention of office employees. Before sentencing, Daniels was required to sign 52 affidavits admitting fraud and nine quit claim deeds involving 43 properties in an attempt to assist the true owners of the properties straighten out their property titles.

For more, see Detroiter gets prison in deed fraud.

Go here for Wayne County Prosecutor's Press Release - Prosecutor, Register of Deeds and Wayne County Sheriff Announce Deed Fraud conviction.

Go here for other deed theft posts. deed theft zorro

Convicted Connecticut Home Repair Scammer In More Hot Water; AG To Get Involved

The Hartford Courant reports that Richard Koslik of Springfield, who has a past record of convictions for home improvement scams, is now facing additional charges of such severe home improvement fraud that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal may personally handle part of the criminal cases against him.

Koslik is accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars from five homeowners and then abruptly abandoning the remodeling jobs he'd promised. Homeowners in Bristol, New Britain, Enfield, and West Hartford complained to police last year, according to police. He is already on probation for home improvement convictions in 2002, and Blumenthal plans to ask a court to put Koslik back in prison, who served only six months of his three year sentence for his previous escapades.

"Clearly he has violated his probation, and his latest arrests show he violated the conditions of his probation. We'll also pursue the pending fraud cases," said Blumenthal, who expects to handle the July 3 hearing himself rather than assign it to an assistant.

For the details of the current charges, see Man Accused In Multiple Cases Of Home Improvement Fraud.

Another New York Lawyer In Hot Water

In Westchester County, NY, The Journal News reports:
  • "Denise Cooper ... has been disbarred after admitting she could not successfully defend herself against complaints that she misappropriated more than $137,000 worth of client funds. [...] The state's Grievance Committee began the probe into allegations that she converted $40,000 worth of client funds from her attorney escrow account on one occasion, and $97,592 from a foreclosure sale in another. Cooper had an office in Elmsford."

For more, see Elmsford lawyer disbarred.

Go here for stories on other alleged escrow agent mishandling of funds. sneaky slick escrow agents alpha

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Minnesota Mortgage Broker Pleads Guilty In Cash Back Fraud

Prior Lake, Minnesota mortgage broker Ronald C. Joseph, 49, pleaded guilty yesterday in a Minneapolis Fedreral Court to federal mail fraud and money laundering charges stemming from a cash back, mortgage fraud scheme whereby he concealed $2.5 million in payments from lenders to himself and others, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Reportedly, the money was fraudulently obtained from lenders through about 40 real estate transactions in which phony loan applications and closing statements were used to dupe the lenders into making loans. For more, see Prior Lake mortgage broker guilty in loan scheme.

See also, Another Prior Lake mortgage broker pleads guilty to fraud (Shakopee Valley News).

Federal Appeals Court Stops Government From Taking Wife's Interest In Marijuana Grow House

An Associated Press article reported on the ABC News website reports on a decision by a Federal Appeals Court that stopped the Federal government from taking, by forfeiture, a wife's one half interest in her Branford, Connecticut home in which her husband was growing marijuana.

The home was owned by a husband and wife. The police raided their home and found 65 marijuana plants, glass smoking pipes and other items associated with operating an indoor pot farm. The wife claimed she was unaware that her husband was growing pot in the home. The lower Federal trial court ruled that the entire home was to be forfeited to the Federal Government.

On appeal, the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed that portion of the trial court's decision that required the wife to forfeit her half of the home. The appeals court found that the court record was devoid of any evidence indicating her use of drugs or her involvement in any criminal activity whatsoever. It did, however, note that the jury found that the wife did become aware at some point of her husband's activities, and upon becoming aware, did nothing. Accordingly, the appeals court ruled that forfeiture of her half of the home was a constitutionally excessive fine, given her lack of involvement in the pot cultivation and sent the case back to the lower court to determine to what extent forfeiture should be imposed on her if at all for, what the appeals court described as, "her minimal culpability or any harm she caused." It affirmed that portion of the lower court ruling ordering forfeiture of the husband's half to the government.

For more, see Court: Feds Allowed to Seize Only Half Conn. House in Drug Case, Woman Gets Other Half.

For court decision, see von Hofe vs. United States (2nd Cir., June 27, 2007). pot grow ops alpha

Straw Buyers Assert "Dupe Defense" In Reports To Cops In Suspected South Florida Mortgage Fraud Scam

In Miami, Florida, the story of Dayalin Zayas, 36, and her husband, Marlon Gonzalez, 31, was featured in a recent investigative report by The Miami Herald. The couple found their way into the lucrative mortgage lending industry by becoming loan officers which is simple in Florida, since licensing of loan officers is not required (Florida mortgage brokers, however, do need to be licensed).

The report details how the couple proceeded to recruit (and reportedly dupe) straw buyers for home purchases and who were ultimately left holding the bag.

For example, in little more than a month, one straw buyer couple (a husband and wife) was approved for six mortgages worth $3.67 million, according to property records. A second straw buyer agreed to provide his signature and Social Security number on loan documents, in exchange for $7,000. A third straw buyer was signed up for $1.32 million in loans for two homes, public records show, and said he was paid $11,000 for the use of his personal information in obtaining the loans.

According to The Herald, two of the straw buyers (the second and third straw buyers above) reported the matters to the FBI (presumably claiming they were dupes). The FBI reportedly is not investigating the complaint because, according to the story, it has only two agents in its Miami field office working on mortgage fraud cases (maybe the FBI's lack of interest in these cases had something to do with the fact that these straw buyers pocketed $7,000 and $11,000, respectively, in the scams). Police reports have also been filed with several other agencies.

The Herald reports that the properties owned by the two straw buyers who went to the cops were ultimately unloaded onto another straw buyer found by loan officer Zayas; the new straw buyer was Zayas' housekeeper's husband. Reportedly, Zayas arranged the deal to dump the properties onto the new straw buyer to placate the old straw buyers (possibly to keep them from pressing criminal charges in the event the local Miami-Dade cops investigate the matter).

The Herald concludes its report by stating that the company owned by the couple at the heart of the dubious deals, SeaSide Advantage, is still around; it has changed its focus to making both home and commercial loans, according to its website. For more, see Home buyers duped into foreclosure.

Lax Mortgage Underwriting Standards Result In Headaches For One Identity Theft Victim

The Miami Herald ran a story recently about a Miami-area executive who says negligent underwriting on the part of JP Morgan Chase allowed him to become a victim of mortgage fraud. Reportedly, his home was broken into and thieves made off with a jewelry box containing his social security card. About a year later, he learned that two homes had been purchased in his name and JP Morgan Chase, who ended up holding the mortgages, was suing him for foreclosure. After obtaining copies of the loan documents, he says he discovered that the only correct information on the mortgage application was his Social Security number. He believes that the mess could have all been prevented had the mortgage underwriter simply made one phone call.

Reportedly, a spokesman for Chase Home Lending says the loan was bought from another originator, and that Chase acted quickly to address the identity theft once they learned of it. For more, see Lax lending fuels fraud, foreclosures (The mortgage underwriting process has been criticized for lax standards).

Monday, July 02, 2007

Rent-To-Own, Lease-Purchase Offers Gaining In Popularity (Uh Oh, Here We Go Again!)

The Detroit Free Press reports:
  • "Michigan's sour housing market is pushing more sellers to slap rent-to-own signs in their front yards to lure buyers. At the same time, more purchasers are opting to get into homes using this nontraditional method, some real estate agents say. [...] Agents say the surge in rent-to-own deals in the region can be attributed to the increase in foreclosures, bad credit resulting from job cuts, homes sitting on the market too long and people not having enough money for a down payment."

The article gives a brief explanation of what the elements of a rent-to-own contract are. For more, see Rent-to-own gains appeal in slow market (Nontraditional option can benefit both sellers and buyers).

Editorial Note

What the article doesn't emphasize is that, as "rent-to-own offers" gain in popularity, so will "rent-to-own scams." One common scam is using a "rent-to-own offer" as bait to lure an unwitting tenant/prospective purchaser into an equity skimming / rent skimming scam. In such a scam, the property owner (either a "professional" equity skimmer, a participant in a straw buyer, mortgage fraud scam, or an honest real estate investor or homeowner who simply got in over his/her head) is either in, or about to go into, foreclosure and is trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the house as possible before unloading the home on the mortgage lender, leaving both the lender and the "rent-to-own" victim holding the bag.

Homeowners can unwittingly find themselves with problems as well if they are not careful both (1) with the paperwork that is signed when doing one of these deals, and (2) in who they select as their prospective tenant/homebuyer. For example, if a rent-to-own offer is structured as purchase contract with a "deferred or delayed" title closing (say 1 to 3 years, for example), whereby the rent-to-own purchaser gets immediate possession of the home and agrees to make monthly payments to the selling homeowner until the deal ultimately closes and the "legal title" is actually transferred, the law in some states (I suspect many states) treats the arrangement as a transfer of "equitable title", and the unwitting selling homeowner is treated, not as a landlord, but as a lender holding a "seller financed" mortgage with a "balloon payment" due on the date set for closing in the contract. In such a situation, if the rent-to-own purchaser decides to stiff the selling homeowner on the agreed upon monthly payments, the selling homeowner will not be legally able to evict the rent-to-own purchaser. The selling homeowner's only recourse would be to initiate a foreclosure action (the same way any mortgage lender would) to regain possession and legally wipe out the rent-to-own purchaser's "equitable title."

In the meantime, the rent-to-own purchaser has use of the home until foreclosed upon, during which time he can use the home to live in, or find an unwitting tenant and pocket the rent money. For the selling homeowner's sake, just hope the rent-to-own purchaser doesn't use the home as a marijauna grow house. In that case, the rent-to-own purchaser may actually pay the monthly payments for part of the time, and when the home can no longer be effectively used as an indoor pot farm because of the mold contamination in the home common to these illicit operations, the rent-to-own purchaser can simply stop making the payments and let the selling homeowner take the house back, mold and all (with the possibility of having to explain his/her negligence to the mortgage holder as to why the loan collateral was allowed to be destroyed).

In my view, entering into a rent-to-own arrangement is much more complicated than getting a mortgage. It should go without saying that to thoroughly perform all the necessary due diligence that such a deal requires (ie. review recent sales history for the property for evidence of flipping, title search to determine who actually has title to the property and that it is not currently in foreclosure - look for recorded lis pendens, notice of default, etc., prepare the terms of the deal which are unique to lease-purchase, rent-to-own transactions) will probably require the assistance of an experienced, competent real estate attorney (not one whose law practice consists primarily of "doing simple house closings" or "selling title insurance" in the capacity of a title insurance agent - common for attorneys in some regions). The paradox here is that the consumers who are the most likely to be offered rent-to-own opportunities are probably the least likely to be able to afford the services of such an attorney.

I think it is reasonable to predict that, at least to the extent that the people to whom rent-to-own offers are targeted have the same level of business, legal, and financial sophistication as the people who recently got hammered in the subprime mortgage debacle, we will be starting a new chapter (actually, we'll be re-starting a very old chapter) in the "Book of Real Estate Scams" (You don't need to be clairvoyant to see this coming, folks - just a novice real estate "historian").

For more on equity skimming / rent skimming, For posts on other stories of tenants unwittingly renting homes in foreclosure, go here and go here, and go here; and also, see Equity Skimming Foreclosure Rescue Scams. alpha

Manipulation Of Realtor's MLS May Play Part In Cash Back Mortgage Fraud Scams

The Miami Herald ran a story on Sunday on the possible use of the Realtor's Multiple Listing Service as a tool for fraud. According to the article:
  • "[R]eal estate agents say they are sometimes asked to raise the list price of a home. In mortgage fraud cases, that allows a broker to pay the seller at the original list price and keep the rest of the money as cash back at closing."

One member of the Florida Real Estate Commission, who is also managing broker of Coldwell Banker in Coral Gables, Florida says that the practice has become alarmingly common. For more, see Real estate sales listings are easy targets for abuse (Real estate professionals say the Multiple Listing Service can be manipulated by unscrupulous agents).

Zsa Zsa Gabor Battling Daughter In Another Alleged Intra Family Home Equity Theft

KABC-TV Channel 7 in Los Angeles ran a story last week about an ongoing (two years and counting) legal battle involving 90 year old actress Zsa Zsa Gabor who, along with her ninth and current husband, Frederick Prinz von Anhalt, are suing Ms. Gabor's daughter, Francesca Hilton. The claim is that Ms. Hilton allegedly stole $2 million by taking out a loan on the "modest" mansion in the Bel Air seection of Los Angeles that her mother and stepfather call home with forged powers of attorney.

One of the less important highlights in this story, which was reported in the Entertainment section of the KABC website, is that Ms. Hilton is also the daughter of hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, which reportedly makes her a distant aunt of everyone's favorite socialite, Paris Hilton. Another less than compelling highlight is that Gabor's current husband recently staked his claim to fame by being an "also ran" in his unsuccessful attempt at claiming to have fathered the child of the late Anna Nicole Smith.

If anyone's interested, see Court Drama for Gabor's Husband and Daughter (Zsa Zsa Gabor Entangled In Court Battle With Daughter), along with the KABC Channel 7 TV report which, depending on your sense of humor, may be worth a chuckle or two.

For story update, see Bizarre Tale of Gabor, Hilton and the Faux Prince: Case Closed? (9-24-07).

Mortgage Servicer "Has Standing" To Bring Foreclosure Actions, Say Three Courts

The national mortgage servicer Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. ("MERS") has recently been determined to "have standing" to bring foreclosure actions on behalf of mortgage lenders by three state appellate courts in two states. For the longer version of this post, see Mortgage Servicer "Has Standing" To Bring Foreclosure Actions, Say Three Courts (The Home Equity Theft Reporter Cases & Articles).

Sunday, July 01, 2007

More On Foreclosure Eyesores

The Daily Tribune reports on the "tall grass" problem of Royal Oak, Michigan. Many of the problem properties involving overgrown grass in the area are in various stages of foreclosure. One homeowner who lived next to a home with an overgrown lawn that has since been cut now reports on a related problem. The wild animals that were once living in the uncut brush of the house next door have moved and have now taken up residency under her porch. For more, see City tackles foreclosure blight (Commissioner calls for steps to address overgrown yards).

The Cleveland Free Times has a story of the Cleveland, Ohio area community known as Slavic Village and the blight of hundreds of homes with peeling paint, boarded-up windows, and littered and weed-choked lawns, most of which being foreclosures owned by banks that once held the former owners' mortgages. Banks are reportedly considered among the most negligent property owners in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. The foreclosed houses they now own are reportedly left vacant, unattended and unmaintained, resulting in arrest warrants against some 30 banks for not showing up in court to answer criminal code violations. For more, see Stealing Home (Slavic Village Combats The Effects Of Foreclosures At The Street Level While Waiting For Solutions).

KFSN-TV Channel 30 in Fresno, California has a story on the danger that abandoned houses create for the community at this time of year. With the 4th of July (and the expected use of fireworks) coming up, Atwater, California officials are especially concerned this year because of the number of homes people have moved out of, leaving them abandoned with dead, bone dry lawns, creating a major fire hazard. Like many Valley cities, foreclosures in Atwater are on the rise. The other neighbors that surround these homes, are very concerned about their homes. For more, see Abandoned Homes Causing Concern for Atwater Residents.

The Washington Post has a story about the rise in foreclosures in D.C.-area suburbs. In addition to abandoned homes with untended yards, wind-borne trash, peeling and faded paint, and torn screens, homes are beginning to be used by their owners as transient lodging, taking in boarders to generate enough rent to make mortgage payments. For more, see Area Suburbs See Rise in Foreclosures (Even Affluent Neighborhoods Feel Effects of Subprime Mortgage Free Fall).

CBS13 (TV Channel 13 - Sacramento, California) reports that the local county mosquito control officials are seeking the help of local real estate agents to notify the county office of abandoned pools, which serve as breeding grounds for mosquitos. For more, see Foreclosed Homes Turn To Be Mosquito Haven, or watch the Channel 13 TV report (by reporter Edmundo Aguilar).

The Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, California) has a story of a local couple who moved into what they thought was their dream home in November, 2005, only to shortly discover that their dream was turning into a nightmare (ie. homes in the subdivision sitting empty for months at a time, green lawns turning to brown, tall weeds sprouting in place of neatly landscaped front gardens, "For sale" signs popping up throughout the neighborhood, replaced later by "for rent" signs, pigeons roosting on top of abandoned homes, leaving a mess below, tenants that throw loud late night parties moving in). For more, see Lodi homeowners find dream neighborhood not so charming.