Saturday, January 05, 2008

Florida Roofer Notorious For Leaving Trail Of Unsatisfied Customers Faces Criminal Charges

In Broward County, Florida, media reports say that Florida roofer Randolph Maya has been arrested and charged in connection with homeowners complaints that he repeatedly violated contracts and didn't perform the services contracted for. According to the reports:

  • Police said Maya did the same thing over and over again. They [the homeowners] said he contracted work, started a job, took two of three payments from his clients and then left town.


  • Polk County Sherriff's Office arrested Randolph Maya on January 3rd and has been charged with an organized scheme to defraud. Detectives said Maya was the owner of Randolph Maya LLC, which he owned and operated from December 2005 to September 2006. Investigators reported Maya took about $109,000 deposits from homeowners, but never returned to do the repairs.


  • The Coral Springs Police Department suspects there are other victims of Maya and asks victims to call Detective Shawn Hines at 954-346-1323.
For more, see:
For complaints against Randolph Maya, see:

NY AG Hits Heating Contractor With Civil Suit For Pocketing Customer Cash Without Doing Work

From the Office of the New York State Attorney General:
  • Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced that his office has sued a Buffalo-area heating and cooling contractor who defrauded consumers out of thousands of dollars. The Attorney General is seeking restitution for consumers and penalties and costs against the contractor. [...] As alleged in the suit, Daniel Myers, 45, of Hunt St. in Buffalo required customers to make advance payments to install furnaces. However, he repeatedly failed to provide the work for which he had been paid, and he failed to deposit the advance payments into a trust account, as required by New York State law. The Attorney General’s suit seeks to bar Myers from the home improvement business until he posts a $20,000 performance bond.

Past customers of Myers who believe they may have been victims of similar actions should contact the Attorney General’s Buffalo Regional Office at 716-853-8400.

For more, see Attorney General Cuomo Sues Buffalo Heating Contractor For Defrauding Homeowners Out Of Thousands Of Dollars (AG’s suit seeks $20,000 performance bond; Judge signs temporary restraining order barring contractor from taking any new jobs).

For other posts on homeowners left in the lurch due to actions by builders/contractors, go here, go here, and go here. contractors stiff subs customers yelbow Cuomo hammers contractors

Phoenix Pool Builder Publicizing Alleged Kickback Scam Between New Home Builders, Pool Companies Costing Consumers Million$

In Phoenix, Arizona, The Arizona Republic reports:
  • One of Arizona's largest pool builders has taken to the air waves claiming that home buyers are being duped into spending thousands of extra dollars to put swimming pools in their new homes. Ron Ostlund, owner of Riviera Pools in Phoenix, has launched an advertising and Internet campaign to publicize what he describes as a "kickback scheme" between new home builders and several pool companies. Ostlund estimates that agreements between home builders and pool companies to act as "preferred pool builders" have cost 70,000 homeowners as much as $250 million in overpayments since 1997.

For more, see Pool builder: 'Kickbacks' cost homeowners millions.

Two Bribe-Taking Judges Report To Jail; Join Bribe-Paying Attorney

In Jackson, Mississippi, The Associated Press reports:

  • Two former judges report[ed] to federal prison [last week] to begin serving lengthy sentences for their roles in a judicial bribery scandal that entangled one of the state's most prominent plaintiffs attorneys. Former Circuit Judge John Whitfield and former Chancery Judge Wes Teel, both of Harrison County on the Mississippi coast, were convicted in March of bribery and mail fraud. Whitfield, 45, was sentenced to more than nine years. Teel, 57, was sentenced to almost six years. Paul Minor, who was convicted of bribing the judges, is already serving an 11-year sentence in a federal prison in Tallahassee, Fla. The 61-year-old Minor was once considered among the top trial lawyers in Mississippi, amassing a fortune from tobacco, asbestos and other litigation.

The men were found guilty at the end of a second trial. The first trial in 2005, which ended with the acquittal of Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., ended in a hung jury as to them. Diaz was the only one cleared of all charges and has since returned to the bench.

Minor and the former judges are appealing their convictions, claiming to be victims of a political witchhunt by a Republican controlled [U.S.] Justice Department that wanted to bring an end to Minor's financial support of Democratic candidates.

For more, see Former Miss. judges report to jail.

Go here for other posts on judges and their "judicial misjudgments". naughty judges knuckleheaded judges zeta

Upstate NY Man Gets 3 To 6 Years For Fleecing 80+ Year Old Grandmother Of $875K

The New York State Attorney General's Office recently reported:
  • Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo [recently] announced the guilty plea of a Delaware County man who stole more than $875,000 from his grandmother. Michael Schmitt, 38, of Franklin, pleaded guilty to Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (class C felony) [...] .“My office is committed to protecting New York’s elderly population from those who would seek to victimize them for financial gain,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “This case is especially egregious since this defendant stole from his very own grandmother.”

For more, see:

Go here , go here , and go here for other posts on elder financial abuse. xero

Friday, January 04, 2008

Subprime Mortgages, Home Equity Scam Artists Hammering Prince George's County

Buried in a story on the foreclosure problem in Prince George's County, Maryland, WRC-TV Channel 4 reports:
  • State and county leaders said the [foreclosure] problem is bad and getting worse. Prince George's County had just more than 1,200 foreclosures in the entire 2006 fiscal year.
    In the first three quarters of the current fiscal year, the number has totaled more than 3,300. Labor, Licensing and Regulation Secretary Tom Perez said the county primarily suffers from two problems: a disproportionate amount of homeowners with subprime loans and a high number of scam artists. "Our investigators are spending a lot of time in Prince George's County investigating cases involving scam artists who are swindling very hardworking Prince Georgians out of their homes," Perez said.
For more, see PG Officials Hold Forum To Discuss Foreclosure Problem (read story) (watch video).

Colorado Man Nailed With 62 Count Indictment Alleging Theft Of Million$ From Dozens In Foreclosed Home Investment Scam

In Denver, Colorado, KUSA-TV Channel 9 reports:

  • A Colorado man is accused of stealing millions from would-be investors through an elaborate real estate fraud. A Denver grand jury indicted 64-year-old Kenneth Germain on January 2 on 62 counts, including theft and securities fraud. Prosecutors say Germain scammed dozens of people into buying foreclosed properties from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and then kept the money for his own benefit. An arrest warrant has been issued for Germain and the Denver District Attorney's Office says he has made arrangements to turn himself in to authorities in the next few days. The indictment lists 60 victims with 167 properties involved in the alleged scam. [...] An economic crime unit for the Denver District Attorney's office investigated Germain, along with the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In addition to the theft charges and multiple counts of state securities fraud, Germain faces state racketeering charges. Reportedly, the damage caused by the alleged scam includes loss of savings, ruined credit, homes in foreclosure due to inflated appraisals, illness, divorce.

For more, see Man accused of scamming 60 different people.

Go here for the Indictment - State of Colorado v. Germain.

Bankrupt Mortgage Company Proposal To Destroy 490,000 Mortgage Loan Files Draws Heavy Criticism

(originally posted 1-3-08)
In light of the recent stories about stalled mortgage foreclosure actions attributable to the foreclosing lenders' inability to produce original loan documents establishing ownership, and other stories on homeowners invoking their Truth In Lending rights to undo bad loans, a recent story reported by The Associated Press caught my eye:

  • American Home Mortgage Investment Corp.'s plan to destroy 490,000 hardcopy mortgage loan files has drawn fire from federal bankruptcy monitors, who say it could hurt homeowners' ability to sue the failed lender. The company, once one of the country's largest mortgage lenders, says it can no longer afford the $45,000-per-month rental on warehouse space to preserve hard loan files. Its bid for court permission to destroy the files has been criticized by Kelly Beaudin Stapleton, the U.S. Trustee monitoring the case.

  • Destruction of the paper files could mean big trouble for American Home borrowers, compromising their ability to file lawsuits against the Melville, N.Y., company, Stapleton said in papers filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del. American Home, which collapsed into bankruptcy in August, is selling its assets and going out of business. "Homeowners may have claims against (American Home) and/or third parties stemming from the origination of their mortgage loans," Stapleton said in court papers filed last week. "These homeowners may need access to the original copy of the loan file to prove their claim."

  • John Kalas, American Home's deputy general counsel and chief compliance officer, said Thursday that the planned destruction would not affect homeowners, because the paper copies are duplicates. "The only loan files that we are destroying or seeking to destroy have been fully imaged," Kalas said. "Anything related to consumer concerns or loan fraud or anything like that, the information would be available on American Home servers."

  • Investors who own the loans also have protested the plan to destroy the files, complaining in court papers that they have had trouble getting full documentation from American Home, and don't want to see the paper files destroyed.

For more, see American Home Under Fire Over Loan Files.

For other posts that reference the failure of some mortgage lenders and their attorneys to file the required loan documents when starting foreclosures, Go Here, Go Here, Go Here and Go Here. missing mortgage foreclosure docs alpha undo mortgage loans TILA alpha

Title Insurance Companies Targeted In Class Action Lawsuits For Miniscule Overcharges In Real Estate Closings

In Kansas City, Kansas, The Kansas City Star reported last month:
  • Two Kansas residents who sued Chicago Title for charging $6 more in recording fees than it paid have lost their bid to bring the case as a class action. James A. and Aimee Doll alleged that when they refinanced the mortgage on their house in 2002, Chicago Title, which acted as the settlement agent, charged them recording fees of $45 for the mortgage and release. The company, however, paid only $39 to record the documents, the Dolls contended, and failed to refund the excess charge.

  • The couple sought to have the case certified as a class action on behalf of residents of Kansas, 17 other states and the District of Columbia. But in a 29-page decision last [month], U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum ruled that the Dolls’ claims were not typical of all claims in the would-be class — a prerequisite for class-action certification.


  • [The Doll's attorney Kirk] May and his law firm have already filed similar suits against title insurance companies in other jurisdictions. Pending in Jackson County Circuit Court are four such actions — against Chicago Title, Nations Title, Kansas City Title and Old Republic Title. Yet another action against several firms, including Chicago Title, is pending in Texas. Although all the pending suits involve minuscule amounts of money on an individual basis, multiplied by thousands, or even millions, of transactions, the sums at stake are considerable.

  • It’s death by a thousand cuts,” May said. “For the one person, we’re not talking about much. But when you have 5 million, 7 million transactions, it turns into some real money.”

For more, see Lawsuit against title company won’t be a class action (if link expires, try here).

Go here for other posts involving legal issues related to title insurance. title insurance legal issues

Maryland Class Action Suit Alleging Illegal Mortgage Prepayment Fee Allowed To Continue

In Baltimore, Maryland, reported recently:

  • A class-action lawsuit against Provident Bank’s alleged charging of prepayment fees on mortgages will go forward after the state Court of Appeals [last month] overturned a lower court’s decision in favor of the bank. The Court of Appeals ruled 7-0 that the Circuit Court of Baltimore City erred in ruling against Andrew Bednar, who filed suit in 2005 against Provident alleging that the bank charged him a penalty in violation of state law after he paid off a second mortgage within three years of taking out the loan. In an opinion, retired Judge John C. Eldridge wrote that state law “unambiguously and flatly” forbids a prepayment charge, and to find an exception to the law “would be to violate the most basic principle of statutory construction.”


  • Bednar claims he was charged $681 by Provident when he refinanced with another lender and paid off a $17,000 second mortgage two years after taking it out with the bank. According to court documents, in taking out the loan, the bank waived closing costs on the condition that Bednar not close the account for a minimum of three years. At the settlement of his refinanced loan, Bednar said the bank collected $681 in a variety of fees from his original closing cost. Provident argued, and the lower court maintained, that the charge was imposed not at the time of Bednar’s refinancing but when he closed the second mortgage in 2003. The Court of Appeals disagreed.

The Maryland prohibition against charging prepayment fees apparently applies to Provident Bank, a state chartered bank, and other non-federally chartered lenders. One gripe about the law is that since it doesn't apply to federally chartered institutions, those lenders arguably have a competitve advantage over lenders like Provident.

For more, see Court of Appeals allows class-action lawsuit against Provident.

See also, The Baltimore Sun: Md. mortgage fee lawsuit reinstated (State high court finds against Provident Bank).

Maryland Law Students To Volunteer Services To Gulf Coast Residents Facing Foreclosure reports:
  • University of Maryland law students plan to travel to the Gulf Coast this week — and give up their winter vacation — to offer their legal smarts and rebuild broken lives. [...] The project’s participants have more than tripled from 25 to 80, and for the first time this year, Welch and other students will work pro bono at the Mississippi Center for Justice to aid residents at risk of losing their homes after falling behind on mortgage payments.

For more, see Law students to help victims of Katrina to keep their homes.

Grand Rapids Homeowner Victimized In I.D. Theft / Refinance Scam, Says Federal Lawsuit

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, WOOD-TV Channel 8 reported last month:
  • Identity theft through mortgages is enough of a problem these days that an FBI agent went to a local group of real estate professionals and warned them of the consequences. In one such case - in which a federal lawsuit was filed in Grand Rapids - the victim says someone who she thought she could trust took her advantage of her because she doesn't speak English.

  • Artemia Maldonado's son got sick last fall so she wanted to sell her Grand Rapids home to go live with her son. She then went to Adriana Salazar. "She was familiar and she could speak Spanish, so it was a lot easier," Artemia Maldonado's interpreter said of Salazar. "Said she was going to help sell her home, that she was going to sell it to some investors."

  • But Salazar didn't sell it. Instead, according to the lawsuit, Salazar conspired with a couple of Ottawa County brothers working in real estate and made Maldonado sign documents that refinanced her home, and bought another one [...] . Maldonado says she was told they were sale documents. She couldn't read them because she doesn't speak English.
For more, see Woman claims she's a mortgage ID theft victim. (watch video) (read story transcript).

Editor's Note: The lawsuit includes allegations of civil racketeering (RICO - involving alleged conduct constituting mail fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud), fraud, civil conspiracy, violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, breach of fiduciary duty, among others.

To view the lawsuit, see Complaint - Maldonado v. Salazar, et al.

Go here and go here for other posts on deed theft by forgery, swindle, etc. deed theft yahtzee

Thursday, January 03, 2008

$3M Bond Sustained In 147 Count Akron-Area Mortgage Fraud Indictment

In Akron, Ohio, the Akron Beacon Journal reports:

  • A Summit County judge denied a defense request on Wednesday to reduce the $3 million cash bond for Evergreen Corp. President David B. Willan. Willan, 37, was among 17 suspects named last month in a 147-count indictment in connection with a two-year investigation into Akron-area mortgage fraud. [...] Defense lawyer Brian J. Williams called the bond ''utterly ridiculous'' and told [Summit County Common Pleas Judge Thomas A.] Teodosio that bond for a defendant in a pending Summit County murder case is $1 million for the most serious crime under Ohio law. By contrast, Williams said, Willan is charged with a ''white-collar'' crime, has no previous criminal history, was born in Barberton, still lives here and, therefore, should not be considered a flight risk.

For more, see Bond upheld for mortgage fraud suspect (Evergreen president's lawyer says $3 million is ridiculous for white-collar crime case).

In a related story, see Homebuyers trapped (Inflated prices, double mortgages lead to problems)

  • "[A Stark County, Ohio homeowner] wonders if she’s caught in the same mortgage-fraud trap that Summit County prosecutors say ensnared at least 300 properties near Akron. One Summit County prosecutor thinks so. And he says Hammond likely isn’t the only Stark County resident affected." [Homeowner purchased house from David Willan's Evergreen Homes.]

Go here for other posts on the Akron-area 147 count mortgage fraud indictment.

35 Of 37 Plaintiffs Bail Out Of Pennsylvania Ponzi Scheme Class Action

In eastern Pennsylvania, Lancaster Online reports:
  • Thirty-five homeowners stung in a mortgage scheme operated by bankrupt mortgage broker Wesley A. Snyder have voluntarily withdrawn their claims in a class-action lawsuit filed against a group of banks with which Snyder did business. But attorneys who are seeking to have a federal judge revoke the more than 800 mortgages — which ballooned collectively by about $40 million when Snyder's business collapsed in September — say they are still seeking to establish a class-action suit against the 27 banks that hold the mortgages. [...] A Lancaster attorney said [last week] it's likely Snyder's customers will file hundreds of other lawsuits against the banks.

For more, see Mortgage suit loses 35 of 37 parties (But class-action push not dead, lawyers say).

Go here and go here for other posts and links to earlier media reports on the Pennsylvania wrap around mortgage Ponzi scheme involving OPFM, Image Masters, and other companies operated by Wesley Snyder.

Nebraska Foreclosure Rescue Operator Back In The News

In Omaha, Nebraska, The Associated Press reports:
  • Foreclosure fraud is a concern in many states because of the growing number of foreclosures. One Omaha company, Mid-America Financial Investment Corporation, was already ordered to return title to 11 homeowners and pay $378,000 in fees to the victims' lawyers for using fraudulent tactics. Now Mid-America will be back in the state Supreme Court to argue that it shouldn't have to pay damages to two other homeowners. Mid-America executives defended their business practices in court. But the courts ruled their testimony wasn't credible. Mid-America no longer buys properties from the owners right before foreclosure auctions. At least eight states have adopted laws designed to help protect consumers from the questionable practices some foreclosure consultants use. Nebraska's Legislature considered but did not pass such legislation last year.

Source: Foreclosure fraud is a concern in many states.

See also, The Associated Press: Neb. Foreclosure Fraud Cases in Court for additional details.

For a prior post on Mid-America Financial, see Foreclosure Rescue Operator Ordered To Return Homes To A Dozen Victims.

Las Vegas Man Facing Multiple Felony Counts In Rent Skimming, Rent To Own Scam; Targeted Homeowners Facing Foreclosure & Unwitting Renters

The fact that many homeowners facing foreclosure in today's market have minimal or no equity in their homes (many actually owe more on their mortgage than the value of the home - ie. "upside down") is no deterrent to scam artists looking to victimize them for financial gain under the guise of a foreclosure rescue, as the follwing story shows.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, KVBC-TV Channel 3 reports:
  • It's a housing scam so big investigators admit the cases they know about may be just the tip of the iceberg. A Las Vegas man is behind bars accused of preying on those who were about to lose their homes. He said he could save them from foreclosure. [...] Matt Marlon has gone by plenty of names: Andrew Johnson and John Alson, among others. If you recognize him, the Secretary of State's Office wants to hear from you.


  • At least sixty valley homeowners thought Marlon could help them. He offered to save them from foreclosure. "He would locate victims by doing a search of the public records on the Recorder's Office (website) for notice of default that are recorded then contact the victims saying he was interested in purchasing your home," [Nevada Secretary of State spokesperson Carolyn] Ellsworth explains.

  • "He'd come to the house with a notary in tow," Ellsworth continues. "He'd give them documents saying he'd take care of everything. Take care of the payment, take care of paying off the mortgage and I'll pay you some cash too. He'd have them sign a contract of sale." Despite how official the forms signed by the homeowners might look, Marlon didn't really buy the house and he didn't pay off the mortgage. "After he would get the rightful owners out of the house under false pretenses, he would put renters in the houses in many cases. And those people... my investigators talked to one renter who felt they were leasing to own," Ellsworth said.
Reportedly, he used at least four different aliases, created at least 45 different corporations in his alleged scam, and used a post office box as his office. Marlon faces multiple felony counts of:
  1. offering a false document for filing or recording,
  2. theft of property by false pretenses,
  3. theft of property by false pretenses from victims over the age of 60, and
  4. forgery.

See Criminal Complaint - State of Nevada v. Marlon (if no longer available online, drop me a line at and I'll e-mail it to you - please put "State of Nevada v. Marlon" in the subject line).

For more, see Accused foreclosure scam artist behind bars (read story) (watch video).

See also, KLAS-TV Channel 8 report: Local Businessman Arrested in Massive Mortgage Fraud Case (read story) (watch video).

For more on "Rent To Own" and Lease / Option real estate scams, see "Rent To Own" Scams I.

For other posts involving rent / equity skimming scams, see Tenants Unwittingly Renting Homes In Foreclosure I , II , III , and IV.

Editor's Note: As the number of "upside down" homes going into foreclosure increase, you can watch the number of incidents involving this scam to increase as well. rent to own lease purchase option scams zebra; equity skimming unwittingly gamma

Alleged Rent-To-Own / Rent Skimming Scams Among Those Linked To Jailed Twin Cities-Area Mortgage Broker

In Oakdale, Minnesota, the Pioneer Press reports:
  • An east metro mortgage broker imprisoned for defrauding co-workers and customers across the Twin Cities metro area is being investigated for similar accusations in Oakdale. Oakdale police have searched U.S. Bank in Oakdale for documentation of transactions involving Christopher James Whidby, 32, his alleged victims and the companies he did business under, according to documentation supporting a search warrant executed by Oakdale police. Investigators believe the Woodbury man might have swindled more than half a dozen people out of tens of thousands of dollars in the past 2½ years.


  • According to documents related to the search warrant, police are looking into five separate scams. In one, Kari Lynn Mueller, 34, and her husband entered into a rent-to-own agreement with one of Whidby's companies for a residence on Upper 24th Street in Oakdale. The Muellers made monthly home payments to Whidby's company, and Whidby assured them he was applying the payments to their home loan. But in April, the couple learned their house was going into foreclosure and their property taxes were delinquent, the documents state. Whidby, they say, never paid them. "It has devastated our lives," Mueller said Friday. She said she and her family have had to move out of the house. According to an affidavit, the couple lost more than $20,000 in the deal. [...] Another couple told police they lost about $2,800 in a similar scam with Whidby involving a residence in Somerset, Wis.

For more, see Oakdale / Broker may have scammed others (Woodbury man already serving three years for fraud).

For more on "Rent To Own" and Lease / Option real estate scams, see "Rent To Own" Scams I.

For other posts involving rent / equity skimming scams, see Tenants Unwittingly Renting Homes In Foreclosure I , II , III , and IV. rent to own lease purchase option scams zebra; equity skimming unwittingly gamma

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

State Appeals Court Hands California Foreclosure Investors Big Win

A California state appeals court in a decision handed down last month held that, under the California Home Equity Sales Contract Act, the bond requirement under Civil Code Section 1695.17 for an equity purchaser's [foreclosure investor's] representative is "void for vagueness under the due process clause and may not be enforced."

The case involved a homeowner facing foreclosure who sued to void a deed in a transaction in which he sold his home to an investor the day before a foreclosure sale. The sale was one that fell within the scope of the California Home Equity Sales Contract Act which, among a slew of other things, requires that a representative acting as intermediary on behalf of a foreclosure investor be bonded for an amount equal to twice the fair market value of the property being sold. The trial court agreed with the homeowner, ruled in favor of voiding the deed, and the foreclosure investor filed an appeal.

In reversing the lower court decision, the California appeals court analyzed the provision in the law requiring the bond, and ultimately ruled as follows:
  • We are convinced that the amorphous requirement of section 1695.17, requiring proof the representative is "bonded by an admitted surety insurer in an amount equal to twice the fair market value of the real property which is the subject of the contract," provides no guidance on the amount, the obligee, the beneficiaries, the terms or conditions of the bond, the delivery and acceptance requirements, or the enforcement mechanisms of the required bond. Instead, persons of ordinary intelligence must necessarily guess at what the statute requires for them to comply with its obligations. Under these circumstances, the bond requirement of section 1695.17 is void for vagueness under the due process clause and may not be enforced.
After additional analysis, the appeals court further ruled that its finding of unconstitutionality was limited strictly to the bonding requirement found in Section 1695.17. The other provisions of the statute remain unaffected.

This decision becomes effective on January 14, 2007. However, should the homeowner appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court (and the court decides to hear the case), the decision will not go into effect until the state high court rules on the matter.

To view the court's decision, see Schweitzer v. Westminster Investments (may require free registration; available online courtesy of

Editor's Note:

The importance of this decision to those in California can be measured by looking to those who jumped into the litigation as "friends of the court" in this case. The office of the California Attorney General filed a "friend of the court" brief supporting the homeowner's position; on behalf of those intermediaries (ie. real estate agents) who represent foreclosure investors as well as the foreclosure investor itself, the California Association of Realtors filed an amicus brief.

Does this case now mean that it's "open season" on California homeowners facing foreclosure, with licensed real estate agents and unlicensed foreclosure investor "bird dogs" coming out of the woodwork on behalf of investors (both investors who buy property outright with no strings attached, as well as the foreclosure rescue operators who offer the sale leaseback arrangements that the FBI around the country has been quite interested in lately)?

If the California Supreme Court decides to hear an appeal (assuming one is filed), and the state legislature acts quickly enough to correct the perceived constitutional infirmities in the statute while the appeal is pending, then maybe not. Otherwise, ... ???

Thanks to Ontario, California attorney Tim Liebaert, with the firm Ritchie, Klinkert, McCallion & Liebaert for the "heads-up" on this case and his input for this post. For more on Tim Liebaert, see Southern California Woman Alleged Victim Of Home Theft, Mortgage Broker Arrested.

Free Legal Services Offered To Eligible Ohio Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

In Ohio, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports:
  • Ohio homeowners in need of a free lawyer to represent them in a foreclosure lawsuit can call the Ohio Attorney General's consumer complaint office at 877-244-6446. The state is taking those requests after Ohio's chief justice told lawyers last month that representing indigent homeowners pro bono (for free) was part of their professional obligation to work for the public good. Since then, more than 200 lawyers have volunteered to help, either by representing homeowners or mediating disputes with mortgage companies. Ken Brown, a spokesman for the Ohio State Bar Association, said non-profit groups and state agencies are still working out details on who will be eligible for the free legal services, but encouraged homeowners to call early in the foreclosure process.

Source: In foreclosure? Get free lawyer.

Go here for earlier posts on Ohio Chief Justice's call for volunteer attorneys to assist Ohio homeowners in foreclosure. Thomas Moyer

Florida Homestead Exemption Waiver Obtained By Attorney From Client Declared Invalid; Some State High Court Justices Express Ethical Concerns

In Florida, The Associated Press reports:
  • A 1985 amendment to the Florida Constitution does not allow debtors to waive a long-standing ban on the forced sale of their homes to pay off unsecured creditors, the state Supreme Court ruled [last month]. The justices unanimously rejected an appeal by Miami lawyer Deborah Chames. She had obtained a $33,206.76 judgment for legal fees against a former divorce client, Henry DeMayo, and a lien against his home. The 3rd District Court of Appeal reversed the lien even though the retainer agreement DeMayo signed included a waiver of a constitutional provision exempting primary homes from forced sales.

  • For more than a century, the [Florida] Supreme Court has held that the exemption cannot be waived. In the new opinion the justices wrote the amendment that expands the exemption to any "natural person," not just heads of families, doesn't change the legal precedent prohibiting waivers.

  • Chames argued the amendment also turned the exemption into a personal right that can be waived. Justice Raoul Cantero wrote for the court that there's no indication voters intended to do that when they approved the amendment. "We find the amendment to the homestead exemption a slim reed on which to recede from 123 years of precedent," Cantero wrote.

Source: Ban remains on forced home sales by unsecured creditors.

To view court decision, see Chames v. DeMayo (Fla. 12-20-07).

Go here to watch the oral arguments in the Florida Supreme Court, in which some members of the court, among other things, expressed concerns about the possible ethical and conflict of interest problems that may arise when an attorney asks a client to waive (ie. sign away) their homestead rights when entering into a retainer agreement.

For the long version of this post, see Homestead Waiver Declared Invalid; Big Win For Florida Homeowners As State Exemption From Forced Sale Dodges Bullet.

County Considers Closing Courthouse Door On Foreclosing Lenders Lacking Proof Of Mortgage Ownership, Says Proposed Rule

(originally posted 12-30-07)
In Hamilton Couny, Ohio, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports:
  • Hamilton County could become the first in Ohio to adopt court rules closing the courthouse door - at least temporarily - to some financial institutions seeking to take homes through foreclosure. The proposed rule would target lenders who file foreclosure cases but can't prove they own the mortgages. Court officials say the rule would slow foreclosures by weeks or months, while the lenders get the paperwork in order to demonstrate their right to take the properties.


  • The proposed local rule must be agreed to by a majority of judges, who meet next month. The rule would prohibit lenders from filing a foreclosure action unless they sign a sworn statement that they also own the mortgage. That could be just a paperwork issue, but it could delay a foreclosure filing by weeks or even months. [...] One national study suggests that 40 percent of foreclosure cases in bankruptcy lack the required paperwork to demonstrate that the lender is what's known in the law as "the real party in interest."

  • The proposed rule would effectively expand the scope of a decision by Judge Steven E. Martin last month that threw out a foreclosure brought by Wells Fargo Bank against a North College Hill couple. The bank, Martin ruled, didn't have standing to bring the case when it filed the lawsuit. Martin was the first state judge to throw out a foreclosure case after three federal court judges in Ohio made similar rulings. "Why would we let somebody file a lawsuit to take someone's house unless they're the real party in interest?" Martin told his fellow Common Pleas Court judges Wednesday. Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann is seeking to expand Martin's precedent to courts all over Ohio. Dann has asked judges to throw out existing foreclosure cases over the "real party in interest" issue.

For more, see County may ask mortgage proof (Rule would slow foreclosure rate).

For other posts that reference the failure of some mortgage lenders and their attorneys to file the required loan documents when starting foreclosures, Go Here, Go Here, Go Here and Go Here. missing mortgage foreclosure docs alpha

87-Year Old Ex-Chicago Cop Victimized In Foreclosure Rescue Scam; Fights To Stave Off Eviction

(originally posted 12-29-07)
In Chicago, Illinois, the Chicago Defender recently reported on the story of 87-year old Tellie Howard, a former Cook County, Illinois Sheriff's Deputy facing foreclosure who was reportedly scammed out the equity in his home of almost 46 years by foreclosure rescue operator Anthony Deveaux [aka Antonio Deveaux] in a transaction that was intended to be nothing more than a simple refinance of his home so that he and his wife could take care of an existing mortgage in default and have some home improvement work done. Not long after signing the purported refinance papers, a woman showed up at his front door, told him she was the new owner of the home and that she wanted him out, giving him a month to vacate.

According to the story, the matter forced Howard to place his 82-year-old wife, Addie, who is of ill-health and needs dialysis three days a week plus other care, in a nursing home until the nightmare with his home can be straightened out. An excerpt from one of the articles:

  • According to a lawsuit filed by the Cook County Public Guardian’s office on behalf of Howard’s disabled wife Addie Howard -- who is now a ward of the state and living in a nursing home -- Anthony Deveaux [aka Antonio Deveaux] bought the property from Howard and his wife for $230,000. “Mrs. Howard is deemed disabled and mentally incompetent, therefore ruling out any assertions that she signed a real estate sales contract. Mrs. Howard was not present to sign any documents. Mr. Howard said he didn’t sign his property over to Deveaux. Mr. Howard thought he was signing a mortgage refinance contract, nothing else. Deveaux knew that Mr. Howard didn‘t know he was signing his home away,” Dawn Lawkowski-Keller, an attorney in the public guardian’s office said.


  • Lawkowski-Keller also said Deveaux is making his living on scamming the elderly out of their homes and speculates that the more than $100,000 in proceeds from the alleged fraudulent scheme to buy the Howard’s home financed a Bentley automobile that Deveaux reportedly owns. “He conducts get rich quick real estate seminars and has videos on You Tube about his lifestyle. You can see him driving his Bentley on there,” Keller said.

For the whole story, see:

Go here , go here , and go here for other posts on elder financial abuse.

Go here and go here for other posts on deed theft by forgery, swindle, etc.

For related posts, see:

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Reverse Mortgages: Niche Product Or Mainstream Solution?

The AARP Public Policy Institute has issued their research report, "Reverse Mortgages: Niche Product or Mainstream Solution? Report on the 2006 AARP National Survey of Reverse Mortgages Mortgage Shoppers" last month. According to the Institute, this survey provides the first detailed look at consumer interest in reverse mortgages, consumer experiences with lenders and counselors, why some consumers decide against these loans, how borrowers use the loan proceeds, and how well reverse mortgages address borrower needs.

For more, see:

For other posts related to reverse mortgages, go here , and go here. reverse mortgage yak

Reverse Mortgages: The Next Subprime? Part 2

Last month, the U.S Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing to address the concerns arising from reported financial abuses against the elderly in connection with the reverse mortgage industry. The hearing essentially reinforced two basic points:
  1. When used wisely and carefully, a reverse mortgage is a great tool for senior citizens to tap into their home equity, tax free, the funds from which can be used for any purpose - thereby making their lives easier,
  2. When sold recklessly by careless, untrained sales agents (or unscrupulously by sleazy sales agents), peddling reverse mortgages is a great way to screw elderly homeowners out of their home equity, leaving them in jeopardy of losing their homes.

In other words, it may not be the reverse mortgage itself that's bad, it's the person selling it that will ultimately determine whether (1) or (2), above applies (although watch out for "equity sharing, contingent interest" reverse mortgages, which may be available through non-HECM connected lenders).

Among some of the problems raised at the hearing:

  1. unscrupulous sales agents convincing seniors to get a reverse mortgage and then use some of the proceeds to purchase a deferred annuity [some sales agents, working in tendem with home improvement contractors, will convince elderly homeowners that it is mandatory to use some of the proceeds to make overpriced, unnecessary home repairs],
  2. reverse mortgage companies heavily recruiting sales agents, offering opportuinites to "double their commissions" by selling elderly homeowners reverse mortgages contemporaneously with annuity products,
  3. no suitablity standards to determine if a reverse mortgage is right for a particular homeowner,
  4. so-called "independent" HUD counselors that may not be all that independent,
  5. no training, certification, or background checks required for HUD counselors; the counseling agency is required to have a HUD certification, but they can then turn around and hire anybody to actually do the counseling (ie. convicted felons, con artists, sleaze bags OK),
  6. no real counseling requirements; face-to-face counseling not required - can be done over the phone; the "counseling" is limited to conveying an understanding of the loan terms - not of whether getting a reverse mortgage is actually a suitable arrangement for the particular senior considering the mortgage,
  7. there are many ways for senior homeowners to lose their homes after getting the reverse mortgage that are never addressed during the sales pitch (contrary to what respected actor Robert Wagner and other paid celebrity spokespeople say on TV commercials and DVD marketing propaganda put out by the companies peddling reverse mortgages),
  8. deceptive and misleading (without necessarily being technically incorrect) use of terms to describe reverse mortgages (ie. "HUD-regulated," "government insured" and " a benefit from the Federal government") to instill in the senior citizen homeowner trust and confidence in the product,
  9. selling reverse mortgages to unmarried seniors who may be bound for a nursing home (spending 12 months in a nursing home by an elderly homeowner is enough to cause a due date acceleration of the reverse mortgage, thereby forcing a sale of the senior's home if they can't otherwise pay it off by cutting a check or refinancing it).
Written statements were submitted by witnesses who testified at the hearing:
  • Statement of Carol Anthony, daughter of a victimized elderly homeowner of an unscrupulous sales agent selling a reverse mortgage tied to an annuity, resulting in significant loss of home equity,
  • Statement of Prescott Cole, Senior Staff Attorney, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform on behalf of Coalition to End Elder Financial Abuse, on the abusive marketing practices engaged in by some selling reverse mortgages,
  • Go here for links to the written statements submitted by other witnesses, as well as the opening statements from the committee chairman, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI.) and the ranking member, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR).

To watch the actual webcast of the hearings, see Reverse Mortgages: Polishing not Tarnishing the Golden Years (requires Real Player media player).

Go here for Reverse Mortgages: The Next Subprime? Part 1.

Go here , go here , and go here for other posts on elder financial abuse.

For stories related to Reverse Mortgage Problems, go here , and go here. xero zebra reverse mortgage yak

Now-Deceased Cheating Husband Took Mortgage Out On Florida Home Without Telling Wife; Leaving Her Facing Foreclosure

In Boynton Beach, Florida, The Palm Beach Post reports:
  • After 55 years of marriage, Rosalyn Spiegel thought she knew everything about her husband. But shortly before he died, she discovered he was leading a double life — one that has caused her scores of sleepless nights and could ultimately cost her the 1,300-square-foot condo she has called home for 12 years. "I'm so ashamed," the 75-year-old said as she recounted a tale of deceit that has unraveled her once-secure life and made her wonder how she could have been so blind.

  • When she wasn't looking, her husband, Norman, with the help of a woman she suspects was his longtime girlfriend, took out a $180,000 mortgage on their condominium in the Platina community in suburban Boynton Beach. By the time she realized what had happened, Norman was dead, the debt was growing and the bank was filing a lawsuit to foreclose on the mortgage she never knew existed.

  • When she sought legal help, her attorney initially thought the matter could be resolved quickly. Rosalyn Spiegel, reasoned her attorney, Gary Susser, was an innocent victim of a scam — albeit one perpetuated by her husband. But attorneys representing the mortgage and title companies made it clear they viewed the matter differently.


  • Boynton Beach police opened a fraud investigation days before Norman died in March 2006, but it has dragged on, and Susser worries it's going nowhere. Faced with what he described as "deafening silence" on all sides, Susser decided to go on the offensive. Turning the tables on Gateway Mortgage Group, Global First Title and Freemont Investment & Loan, he sued them [last] month, claiming they should have realized the 45-year-old woman he believes accompanied Norman to the closing was not Rosalyn but someone pretending to be her.

For more, see Betrayed widow fighting to keep home near Boynton (no longer available online).

Monday, December 31, 2007

Criminal, Civil Prosecutions Still Ongoing In Early 2000s Beverly Hills Home Flip Operation; Lehman Claims $142M In Fraudulently Obtained Loans

A story in the Los Angeles Times reports on an early 2000s Southern California mortgage fraud, high-end home flipping operation that authorities say grew into one of the biggest and boldest in California history. An excerpt from the story:
  • The masterminds were developers Mark Alan Abrams, 46, who had a previous $2-million civil fraud judgment against him, and Charles Elliott Fitzgerald, 47, a bigamist who fled the country in 2003 and was later arrested in Samoa, according to interviews, federal prosecutors and a civil lawsuit filed by Lehman Bros. Bank. They allegedly were assisted by star real estate agents Joseph Babajian, 54, and Kyle Grasso, 36, who earlier this year shared the listing for a $22-million Beverly Hills mansion bought by soccer star David Beckham and his wife, Spice Girl Victoria Beckham. Abrams and Fitzgerald are accused of reaping millions, spending some of the cash on private jet flights and vintage wines -- and much of the rest to buy more houses to keep the alleged scam alive from 2000 to 2003.

The 2003 civil lawsuit filed by Lehman Bros. Bank originally cited 38 loans that were allegedly fraudulently obtained totaling about $62 million. It subsequently found itself holding the bag on 43 additional loans totaling $80 million -- $142 million in all, according to an amended complaint it filed in the lawsuit. The lawsuit is currently on hold pending resolution of a concurrent criminal prosecution of the alleged members of the ring.

For more, see How a bank fell victim to loan fraud (Officials allege a scam used phony appraisals and paperwork to wring millions from deals in the Beverly Hills area).

Go here for other posts on this story.

200+ Ohio Attorneys Step Up In Response To State Chief Justice Call For Volunteers

In Ohio, The Associated Press reports:
  • More than 200 lawyers have volunteered to help homeowners facing foreclosure in response to a request by [Ohio] Chief Justice Thomas Moyer to provide free legal advice. The president of the Ohio State Bar Association put out a call for volunteers to meet Moyer's request, association spokesman Ken Brown said Wednesday. [...] Moyer said [recently] that lawyers have an obligation to help homeowners facing foreclosure, and they should do so without charge. "This is more than a legal issue; this is a social issue," Moyer told a group meeting at the Ohio Judicial Center. "People's lives are being seriously affected, and the legal community must respond with action."


  • "Many Ohioans caught up in the crisis are of limited financial means with little or no access to an attorney," Robert Ware, president of the Ohio Bar Association, said in a note to members. Working groups have been established to determine the best ways for volunteer lawyers to work with the Supreme Court, the governor's office and attorney general's office and Legal Aid groups to serve the needs of Ohioans, Ware said.

For more, see Lawyers volunteering to help (Strapped homeowners get advice).

Foreclosing Lender Fails To Record Title To Ohio Home, Leaving Former Owner On The Hook For Criminal Building Code Charges

In Hamilton County, Ohio, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports:
  • A Florida-based mortgage company deliberately failed to record a deed on a College Hill home it took by foreclosure because it didn't want to take responsibility for maintaining it, the former homeowner says in a lawsuit. The homeowner, Demetria Scriber-Hinkston of Pleasant Ridge, now faces criminal building code violations [...] because the deed is still in her name. Cincinnati prosecutors say they won't drop charges. Her lawsuit, filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court on Friday [Dec. 21], claims that Everhome Mortgage Co. of Jacksonville, Fla. "failed and refused to record the deed to 6129 Cary, in part to avoid responsibility to maintain the property."

  • Hinkston is one of a growing number of homeowners who have found themselves responsible for taxes and maintenance even after they've lost their homes to foreclosure or bankruptcy. One Cuyahoga County study suggests there are at least 1,400 such homeowners there, and a bill in the Ohio Senate would require sheriffs to file deeds within two weeks of a foreclosure auction being finalized. [...] "It's hardly a paperwork screw-up when they know the prior owner is going to be on the hook for the maintenance of the property. These national mortgage companies just can't claim ignorance and paperwork problems," said Robert B. Newman, Hinkston's lawyer.
For more, see Lawsuit: Company avoided deed (Tried to get out of maintaining property).

Go here for other posts on code violation liability when foreclosing lender fails to complete foreclosure or fails to record deed after foreclosure sale. responsibility code violations foreclosure

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Minnesota Couple Duped Into Buying Home Once Used As Meth Lab; Arbitration Award A "Pyrrhic" Victory, Lender May Wind Up Holding The Bag

In Cannon Falls, Minnesota, The Republican Eagle reports on the story of a local couple who thought they were buying the home of their dreams, and their subsequent arbitration "victory" in litigation over the home:
  • Justin and Krista Keller purchased the six acres with a four-bedroom house and outbuildings in January for approximately $250,000. Their first home was a dream come true until they discovered what the sellers had failed to disclose: The property had been used in the production of methamphetamines. [...] Cleanup is expected to cost $30,000 or more, the property has dropped in value, and the Kellers have incurred the costs of the testing, remodeling that took place before the discovery and having to move out of the house and rent a place to live. Added to that are the legal fees from taking the case to arbitration.


  • The claims against the real estate agents were dismissed, but the sellers are liable for $100,864 — the damages incurred to that date, including attorney fees. Additionally, the sellers were named as responsible for any additional costs of remediation required by the state and the costs of storage and rental incurred by the Kellers while they had to live outside the house during remediation.
Reportedly, in attempting to have the seller satisfy the arbitration award, the Kellers’ attorney was unable to locate any accounts held by the sellers or find out where the proceeds from the home sale went. The Kellers are believed to be assessing which would be the least damaging way for them to dump the problem onto the mortgage holder — bankruptcy or foreclosure. They refuse to move back into the home.

For more, see Arbitration win was empty victory (may require free registration).

See also, Meth Turns Minnesota Dream Home Into Nightmare (read story) (watch video).

For a related post on meth labs and the problems they cause in homes that once housed them, see The Invisible Legacy Left In Homes Used As Meth Labs.

Go here for some methamphetamine information resources.

Go here and go here for other posts on home based meth labs. meth lab zeta

Twin Cities Loan Officer Gets 4+ Years In Cash Back Scam; Indoor Pot Farm Bust Smoked Out Bogus Mortgage Deals

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Pioneer Press reports:
  • The first of four defendants tied to the LHS Mortgage Inc. fraud scandal was sentenced Friday to 4½ years in prison. Mario Lewis, 37, a loan officer at the LHS office in Burnsville, had pleaded guilty to drug charges, wire fraud and money laundering. Judge John Tunheim also ordered Lewis on Friday to pay restitution of $437,000. Lewis pocketed almost that much money from nine properties he bought in the Twin Cities area between 2004 and 2006. [...] Most of the homes Lewis bought are in various stages of foreclosure. That has delayed the identification of actual losses so far, but there will be lenders who suffer consequences from LHS' actions, [Federal prosecutor Joseph] Dixon said.


  • The LHS case involved about 40 separate real estate transactions and is one of the largest mortgage fraud operations uncovered recently as the Twin Cities' real estate market soured. The LHS case had its roots in the bust of a large marijuana-growing operation found in a rental property in 2006, which involved Lewis. When investigators looked into Lewis' finances they found the questionable mortgage transactions.

For more, see Lender gets prison time (First in LHS case took plea).

See also, Minneapolis Star Tribune: Pot grower given 4½ years in prison on charges related to mortgage fraud (Reports that another defendant in this case, Ronald Joseph, who has also pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing, reportedly was hospitalized Thursday after ingesting antifreeze; the hospital reportedly refused to discuss Joseph's condition. Mortgage closing agent Jill Lehn, 40, of Prior Lake, has also pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.). pot grow ops alpha

Shady Shutter Contractor Clips Customers' Cash Without Doing Any Work, Say Cops; Suspect Faces 165+ Complaints

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, WPLG-TV Channel 10 reports:
  • A Broward man is accused of taking thousands of dollars from his customers to install hurricane shutters and never doing the work, police said. Michael Johnson, 50, was arrested Wednesday on seven counts of theft and one count of organized fraud. Over the past two years, Broward Sheriff's investigators say, Johnson's company, Shutter Screen and Supply Inc., collected more than $11,000 in deposits from customers and never installed the hurricane shutters or screen enclosures customers were promised.


  • So far, only seven victims have been identified and are working with detectives on the investigation, but they say the county has had more than 165 similar complaints against Shutter Screen and Supply. "In so many of these cases, as in the case of Mr. Johnson, it continues for such a long time that it pyramids out of control and we never make all of the victims whole again," said Detective Danny Belyeu of the Broward Sheriff's Economic Crimes Unit.

For those interested in chipping in, Johnson's bail bond is set at $400K. For more, see Shady Shutter Deals Lead To Man's Arrest (Complaints To County About Company Prompt Investigation) (read story) (watch video).

Go here for more on the Broward Sheriff's Office "contractor cops."

Go here for the Broward Sheriff Office's Contractor Licensing and Fraud Unit, and go here for Florida's construction lien laws (sections 713.001 - 713.37).

Abandonment Of Family Pets & Foreclosures

In Northern California, a recent story in the San Jose Mercury News serves as a reminder that family pets are a continuing casualty in the boom in home foreclosures. Excerpts from the story:
  • "People are losing their homes, and animals are the fallout of that," said Cecily Tippery, a Coldwell Banker agent who specializes in foreclosed properties, and now also in rescuing pets left behind. Here in one of the nation's foreclosure hotbeds, Tippery and her colleagues say they have found several pets in abandoned homes -- enough to spread the animal care workload among them.


  • No one has documented the number of pets turning up after foreclosures, but there is anecdotal evidence of a statewide problem, said Paul Bruce, regional program coordinator for the Sacramento regional office of the Humane Society of the United States. Foreclosures are "leaving the cities with all of the problems, including animals that have been left behind," said Bruce.


  • For Tippery, the problem has grown into a rallying cry for a "no-kill" shelter in the city. Some of the pets that her agents have found are older or sick or have no veterinary records. Neither Contra Costa County nor Antioch maintain no-kill shelters, and Tippery said the agents are reluctant to send the pets to them. Local rescue groups lack resources to pay for veterinary care. The agents in some cases have paid for health checks on the forsaken pets and developed a network of potential adopters. [...] The pets are considered personal property and cannot be removed [from vacant foreclosed homes] until 18 days after a foreclosure sale. The banks, the agents say, do not want the agents to feed them. They do it anyway.

For more, see Pets becoming casualty of foreclosure.

For more on "foreclosure pets", go here and go here. petsII and foreclosures