Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tenants Face Boot From Building In Foreclosure; Water Service Shut Off, Power Next; Emergency Aid Unavailable Until Health Dept. Issues Vacate Order

In Cincinnati, Ohio, WLWT-TV Channel 5 reports:
  • Their water has been shut off, the electricity is next and it's all because of a landlord who stopped paying his bills. It's the latest example of how the foreclosure crisis is turning the lives of families upside down. [...] "I can't do my dishes. My dishes (have) been sitting here since yesterday," Westwood apartment complex resident Melody Sanders said. [...] "I like taking showers every day, and I don't like for my daughter to be dirty, and without water you can't even take a shower," Sanders said.

  • The water in her apartment building was turned off on Monday. The gas and electricity are next. "For the gas and electric alone, he owes $4,400. And we ain't even got an estimate on how much he owes for the water," Sanders said.

  • She said the landlord owes even more on the building itself, which Legal Aid of Cincinnati said is headed into foreclosure. [... Attorney Noel] Morgan said his office is working with the residents to try and help them find financial aid to move into a more livable building. However, that process takes time and Sanders is out of patience. [...] Part of the delay with getting those people moved is that the emergency aid isn't triggered until the Health Department issues a vacate order. That won't happen until sometime after the electricity is turned off next Monday. People who live there just have to make due until then.

For the story, see Landlord Behind On Bills; Tenants Suffering (Water Already Off; Power To Be Shut Off Next). RentSigmaSkimming

NYC Builder Behind On Bills Spells Trouble For Young Family In Newly-Built, Near-Empty Condominium Building In Foreclosure; Power Shutoff Threatened

In Staten Island, New York, the Staten Island Advance reports:
  • Dr. Kevin Schargen, his girlfriend, Melanie, and their 10-month-old son live in a pretty new apartment with a terrace, hardwood floors and a kitchen with granite countertops. But the doorman is gone and there is no janitor to call about the leak in the ceiling [ie. future mold problem?] of their son's nursery. The 30-year-old veterinarian has less than a handful of neighbors, and Consolidated Edison has threatened to turn off electricity to the common areas in the St. George building by Nov. 2 -- a major worry for Dr. Schargen, who lives on the fifth floor. [... D]r. Schargen feels as though he's on his own since Leib Puretz, one of the most prolific developers in the borough in recent years, defaulted last spring on the 57-unit condominium, where only about a half-dozen units sold before foreclosure began. [...] Dr. Schargen bought his two-bedroom unit last year for $565,000, moving in a few days after his son's Christmas Eve birth.(1)

For more, see Condo building goes kaput (Condo building The Pointe dragged down by developer's default, to young family's dismay).

(1) Dr. Schargen is seeking damages of more than $800,000 in a lawsuit over the purchase of his condominium, according to the story.

Another Homeowner Says Loan Servicer Screw-Up Left Her Facing Foreclosure; Has Proof Payments Were Made, She Says; Media Helps Get Temporary Sale Stay

In Fontana, California, KABC-TV Channel 7 reports:
  • A Fontana woman faced the prospect of losing her home this week because of a mix up involving her loan payments. [... Abiaha] Brockman is in the middle of a mortgage mess. The Fontana home Abiaha bought 10 years ago is supposed to be sold this Friday as a foreclosure, even though Abiaha says she was making her house payments with automatic bill pay through an escrow service. Abiaha has documentation that last year's payments were made on time to her lender, Homecomings Financial.

  • "I was current April, current May with Homecoming, current June, current July and August," explained Brockman. But when Homecomings became GMAC last year, her payments were misplaced and her troubles began. "Three weeks earlier, I got a default letter that my house was in default for $12,288," said Brockman.


  • [T]his mortgage mess may have a happy ending. After several calls to GMAC Mortgage in Pennsylvania and MGC Mortgage in Texas, Eyewitness News did negotiate a postponement of the sale of Brockman's home. "It took a year to do this, and you guys showed up and did it in a day. Thank you," said Brockman. Now it's up to Brockman to negotiate loan modification with GMAC, and she has 30 days to work on it.

For the story, see Fontana woman escapes losing her home.

California Mayor Accused In Alleged Real Estate Scam That Sunk Church

In Huron, California, The Fresno Bee reports:
  • Huron's longtime mayor allegedly paid less than half the agreed-upon price for a piece of property, then illegally sold the land to a church -- which ended up collapsing as a result of the bad deal, court records say. The details are contained in a search warrant affidavit in the case, which was made public Monday in Fresno County Superior Court. The search warrant was for the residence of Huron Mayor Ramon Dominguez, 62. [...] Dominguez faces charges of grand theft and receiving stolen property.

Dominguez is accused of paying about $8,600 out of a $20,000 purchase price for the property bought on an installment payment basis from a third party - then selling the property, pocketing $29,000 in installment payments from his buyer, the church, out of a $40,000 sale price. He allegedly stiffed his seller on the balance owed on his installment payments, allowing the land to fall into foreclosure.

For more, see Huron mayor illegally sold land, records show (Church reportedly bought lot and folded from losses). DeedTheftContra

Accused Scammers Boosted Real Estate Holdings By Ripping Off $270K+ From Vulnerable Seniors, Say Cops

In two separate stories, police have recently arrested three caretakers for ripping off their vulnerable, elderly clients and applied much of the loot toward advancing their real estate holdings.
  • Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania - Woman Charged with Stealing from the Elderly: A former worker at a nursing home in Schuylkill County is accused of stealing from the elderly. Michelle Connors, 37, of Girardville was arraigned on felony theft charges. Prosecutors said Connors became friends with 90-year-old Mary O'Connell and stole more than $160,000 from the elderly woman's bank account. Connors became power of attorney for the woman and had full access to all her money. O'Connell looks like anyone's grandmother but she's alone in the world with no relatives. Police said Connors used that to become O'Connell's friend and then drained the elderly woman's bank account. "I didn't think much about it. I didn't think power of attorney was a big deal," McConnell said about giving Connor power of attorney. "I think a little different about it now. It's a big deal!" Police said Connors bought jewelry, a car, furniture and even paid off her house with the stolen cash.

  • Rich Square, North Carolina - Caretakers Face Extortion Charges (A married couple faces charges of extorting $110,000 from an elderly woman in Northampton County, or they threatened to let her die alone): A married couple faces charges of extorting $110,000 from an elderly woman, or they threatened to let her die alone. Rich Square police in Northampton County say Mary King and her husband Charlie were caretakers for 83 year-old Bessie Harper. Police say Mary King would give Harper blank checks of hers and ask her to sign them. If she did not, the King's said they would stop helping her and make sure no one else would help her and that she would die alone. Harper's other caretaker and power of attorney, Annie Helton, noticed a significant amount of money was missing and called police. Police say the Kings were using the money to build a house. Police also say they claim the money was a gift and that they did not get it through threats.

Detroit Braces For Annual Halloween Arson Spree; 40K+ Recently-Emptied Foreclosed Homes Could Present Tempting Targets

In Detroit, Michigan, reports:
  • For the five years that the wood bungalow next door has been empty, Darlene Banks has kept an eye on it as Halloween approaches. She wasn't expecting anyone to burn it weeks sooner. But the dilapidated house on Detroit's east side went up in flames one weekend in early October, along with 10 other houses on six adjacent streets -- an apparent challenge to the city's annual mobilization to prevent arsons over the Halloween period that has become infamous as Devils' Night.

  • The stakes are even higher this year, as the city already devastated by the exodus of jobs and unemployment of around 27 percent moves toward the Halloween weekend. Along with tens of thousands of long-vacant homes and buildings, the more than 40,000 others recently emptied by the foreclosure crisis could present tempting targets. [...] Known as "Mischief'' and "Cabbage'' nights in other parts of the country, Devils' Night in Detroit once brought pranks such as egging houses. But the tricks took a sinister turn in the late 1970s.

For more, see Detroit Braces for Halloween Arson Spree.

In a related story, see The Detroit News: Insurers declare war on arsons in Detroit ($1M pledged to fight rising number of torched homes).

Friday, October 23, 2009

Attorneys Begin Going Down In Ongoing California State Bar Loan Modification Probe; 700+ Investigations Active

The State Bar of California announced this week:
  • The State Bar’s loan modification task force announced [Wednesday] that it obtained the resignations of three California attorneys as a result of misconduct related to their loan modification activities.(1) It also placed another attorney on inactive status, charging his work poses a threat to the public, and has undertaken similar efforts against two other lawyers.(2)

  • In addition, James Parsa, a southern California lawyer who extensively advertises his loan modification work, resigned [Wednesday]. He faced interim suspension from practice as a result of a 2001 misdemeanor conviction for sex with a child under 18 that he never reported to the bar. Parsa, 44, has advertised heavily throughout California for the past several months, offering to help homeowners facing foreclosure. Although he provided evidence to the bar that he was in fact working on cases, an investigator uncovered two 2001 misdemeanor convictions for sex with an underage girl. The bar court ordered that Parsa be placed on interim suspension. His resignation will make the suspension moot.


  • Last month, it released the names of 16 attorneys it was investigating for possible misconduct related to loan modification.(3) Four of the six who resigned or face inactive enrollment were on that list.

For more, see Attorneys Resign Over Loan Modification Activities.

(1) The attorneys who resigned from the State Bar are:

  • CAMERON EDWARDS, Alliance Law Center in San Diego, resigned Sept. 25,
  • RONALD RODIS, of Rodis Law Group and America’s Law Group in Newport Beach, resigned Oct. 13 (Rodis Law Group and America’s Law Group were named in this Temporary Restraining Order With Asset Freeze in a separate legal action brought by the Federal Trade Commission),
  • JEFFREY NEMEROFSKY, U.S. Advocacy Law Group and U.S. Financial Products, in Laguna Niguel, resigned Oct. 16.

(2) Those the bar is seeking to place on involuntary inactive status for posing “a substantial threat of harm to (their) clients or the public” under Business & Professions Code §6007(c) are:

  • PAUL LUCAS, of Lucas Law Center in Aliso Viejo. The State Bar petitioned to put him on inactive status Sept. 21; Lucas did not reply to the petition and the State Bar Court has taken the matter under submission (Lucas, his firm, and others were named in this separate legal action brought by the Federal Trade Commission),
  • SEAN RUTLEDGE, of United Law Group in Irvine, has a hearing Oct. 23; the bar filed its petition Sept. 22. The bar earlier charged him with seven counts of misconduct in handling a loan modification for a client who paid an advance $3,500 fee. Rutledge never took any action to negotiate with the client’s mortgage lender, the bar charges.

In addition, CHRISTOPHER L. DIENER, of Irvine, principal attorney for Home Relief Services LLC, was placed on inactive status Oct. 9, due to the State Bar Court judge's finding that he poses a substantial threat of harm to his clients and the public. Diener is also a target in a recent lawsuit brought by the California Attorney General in connection with his loan modification activities. See Questionable Short Sale Services Alleged By California AG In Recent Suit Against Group Accused Of Squeezing Homeowners For Upfront Fees For Loan Mods.

(3) According to their press release, The State Bar's 10-person loan modification task force has 738 active investigations underway. The task force was created in March after receiving thousands of calls from homeowners complaining that lawyers have done no work after taking fees purportedly to help avoid foreclosure. For those interested in The Bar's view on attorney participation in loan modifications, see ETHICS ALERT: Legal Services to Distressed Homeowners and Foreclosure Consultants on Loan Modifications.

Consumer Advocate: Mortgage Servicers Prefer More Profitable Foreclosures To Loan Modifications

From a press release from the National Consumer Law Center:
  • Why have several recent programs designed to encourage loan modifications failed to slow America’s still-worsening home mortgage foreclosure crisis? A new report from the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) discloses that mortgage servicers – including many large banks – have found it cheaper to foreclose on homeowners than to offer loan modifications that would benefit homeowners and investors.

For the entire press release, see Avoidable Foreclosures Continue Despite Servicers' "Loan Modifications" (New Report Describes How Little Noticed Incentives Prompt Banks to Deny Relief to Homeowners).

Thanks to nationally recognized mortgage servicing fraud watchdog Mike Dillon at for the heads-up on the report.

Go here for Mr. Dillon's commentary on a variety of mortgage servicing fraud issues.

Florida Condo Associations Begin Seeking Blanket Receiverships On Delinquent Vacant Units Not Yet In Foreclosure In Battle To Stay Financially Afloat

In Miami, Florida, The Miami Herald reports:
  • Condo owners behind on maintenance fees, beware: Condo boards are becoming more aggressive in collecting delinquent fees. One board even wants to try an untested strategy -- forcing renters into empty units to pay off deadbeat accounts. The board at the Jade Residences at Brickell Bay, a luxury condo of 341 units, is asking a Miami-Dade judge for permission to rent vacant units belonging to owners who aren't facing foreclosure but are behind on fees, which pay for the basic needs of the building such as water, power, insurance or even a new roof. As the collection crises for condo boards deepens, the forced-rental program is the latest example of associations becoming pushier -- and more creative -- in their attempts to wring revenue from delinquent homeowners and idle units.


  • Current renters in Jade already turn over rent payments to the association when their landlords fall behind, dictated by a lease addendum landlords must sign before renting their condos. But [association attorney Guillermo] Mancebo says Jade and other condos need help with units that are lying fallow. In Jade's petition, Mancebo is asking the court to appoint a blanket receiver to manage the forced rental program. He's also asking the court to include units not yet in foreclosure by the association.(1)

For more, see Condo board tries new tactic to collect delinquent fees (A condo association is trying a novel legal strategy to collect delinquent association fees).

(1) In a court order last week, one Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge has already allowed a blanket receiver for another condominium complex to collect rents on units not in foreclosure by the association, the story states.

Suspect In Alleged N. Virginia Mortgage Scam Nabbed In Turkey; Lender Losses Estimated At $50M; Racket Used Rent-To-Own "Lure" To Reel In Naive Buyers

In Loudon County, Virginia, the Loudoun Independent reports:
  • Former Ashburn real estate agent Diane Atari was apprehended in Turkey on Oct. 14, ending a global search after she fled the country in July following a 12-count indictment against her. Atari was detained after local officials contacted INTERPOL for assistance. She is in a Turkish prison awaiting extradition. Authorities had previously believed she was in Jordan, where her ex-husband has family.


  • Atari, 42, is accused of fraudulently fixing clients’ credit and inflating their income on financial records – enabling them to be approved for higher credit so these clients could buy homes they could not otherwise afford. She was indicted on ten counts of using false statements to obtain credit, one count of money laundering and one count of racketeering on July 13.


  • The total loss on the fraudulently obtained mortgages is estimated to be more than $50 million, said [public information officer for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Kraig] Troxell. The long-term effect is going to be huge, according to investigators. Atari, owner and operator of ACR Consulting Company and Atari Management Company, both located in Loudoun County, offered “rent-to-own” services for customers looking to become homeowners. These customers were generally unable to qualify for mortgages due to bad credit or low income. Atari allegedly signed agreements with these mortgage victims with the understanding that the company would try to fix the victims’ credit.

For more, see Real Estate Agent Fled Country Following Indictments; Apprehended in Turkey. rent to own lease purchase option scams yellowstone

GAO To Probe Foreclosing Lenders Leaving Abandoned Homes In Legal Limbo

In Cleveland, Ohio, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports:
  • Federal investigators will scrutinize the practice of lenders or mortgage companies walking away from homes they have foreclosed on. The U.S. Government Accountability Office plans to delve into these so-called bank walkaways - something some consider an alarming trend in the foreclosure crisis.


  • Walkaways can happen when lenders or mortgage companies foreclose on a house but don't buy it or take it to sheriff's sale to see if someone else will. Without a sale, the homes can become abandoned trouble spots in neighborhoods. Meanwhile homeowners who have already moved out may be stunned to later learn the house is still in their names and they face back taxes and code violations.(1)

For the story, see Feds to probe 'walkaways' by some mortgage lenders.

Go here for other posts on homes being left in legal limbo.

(1) They also face possible jail time if they allow violations to go uncorrected. responsibility code violations foreclosure

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Walls Closing In On Beleaguered Owners Of 11,000 Unit NYC Apartment Complex As State High Court Hammers Landlord For Illegal Rent Increases

In New York City, The New York Times reports:
  • The state’s highest court dealt a financial blow on Thursday morning to the already beleaguered owners of the sprawling Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village complexes in Manhattan when it ruled that they improperly began charging market rents on thousands of apartments.

  • The ruling by the Court of Appeals may mean that the current owner, a partnership of Tishman Speyer Properties and BlackRock Realty, and the former owner, Metropolitan Life, may have to pay an estimated $200 million in rent overcharges and damages to tenants of about 4,000 apartments. In a majority ruling (two of the six judges dissented), the court said the owners improperly raised rents beyond certain set levels at the complexes while receiving tax breaks from the city for major renovations.

  • The decision could also affect landlords of as many as 80,000 apartments across the city who may also have improperly raised rents and deregulated apartments while receiving special tax breaks.

  • But the immediate and most devastating impact was on the Tishman Speyer partnership, which was already facing extreme financial difficulties after paying a record $5.4 billion in 2006 for the properties near the East River. The owners are running out of cash to pay building loans, and analysts have said it is highly likely the partnership will default by December. If the owners are forced to reimburse tenants, analysts say it would only hasten the path to default.

For more, see Court Deals Blow to Owners of Huge Apartment Complex (The Court of Appeals has ruled that the owners of Stuyvesant Town may have to pay an estimated $200 million in rent overcharges and damages to tenants of some 4,000 apartments).

For the ruling, see Roberts v. Tishman Speyer Properties, L.P.

In a related story on this massive 56-building, 11,000-unit New York City apartment complex, described by some as an alleged "predatory equity" deal designed to force tenants from their homes, see The Wall Street Journal: An Apartment Complex Teeters (High-Profile Tishman/BlackRock Property in New York in Danger of Default).

Central Florida Chief Judge "Objects" To Foreclosure Defense Attorney's "Attempts" To Gum Up "Rocket Docket;" Jurist: "It's Just A Stall"

In Central Florida, St. Petersburg Times' staff writer James Thorner blogs:
  • A piece I wrote last week about Tampa Bay foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa [see Delaying foreclosure can lead to ethical 'heebie jeebies'] has attracted what could be unwanted attention from the top judge in Pinellas/Pasco County civil court. Judge Thomas McGrady summoned yours truly to his office this morning and gently, but pointedly, objected to Stopa's technique of delaying foreclosures by filing motions to dismiss lenders' lawsuits.

  • McGrady described a court system that's drowning in foreclosure cases. Just three years ago 12 judges who deal with foreclosures handled about 800-1,000 open cases. These days each judge juggles about 3,400 cases. So McGrady clearly didn't appreciate attempts to gum up the works further. He said foreclosure cases are rarely dismissed, and lawyers who use the tactic have little chance of succeeding.(1) Even if the lender's case is thrown out, they almost always refile. "It's just a stall," McGrady said.(2)

  • The judge went further. While appreciating that lawyers need to make a buck, he recommended most home owners NOT hire an expensive defense attorney if their goal is simply to postpone repossession of their house. The calendar is so jammed that many people wouldn't be thrown out of their homes for more than a year after they stopped paying their mortgage.

Source: Pinellas County chief judge "irritated" by foreclosure lawyer tactics.

(1) One reason why at least some of these foreclosure cases aren't dismissed, I suspect, is that some judges, knowing that the underfinaced homeowners can't afford the legal firepower necessary to seek a review of their rulings by an appeals court of any lousy, erroneous rulings, will simply rationalize a dismissal of the homeowners' motions (judges who take this rubber-stamp approach to adjudicating foreclosures, thereby keeping their "foreclosure rocket docket" moving deserve nomination for The Broken Gavel Awards). Further, some of these same judges may figure that the homeowners can't afford to pay for the posting of the appeals bond necessary to halt the foreclosure sale while the appellate court conducts its review of their rulings. Without posting the bond, the homeowners get booted from their homes while an appeal is pending, thus rendering a request for an appellate court review of a ruling impractical for them (assuming, of course, they could afford to appeal the ruling to a higher court in the first place).

(2) The solution seems simple. If the motions to dismiss filed by the foreclosure defense attorney are frivolous, the judge should simply sanction the attorney filing the motions. If not, then due consideration should be given to the motion. EpsilonMissingDocsMtg

More On MERS, Standing-Lacking Lenders & Their Multiple Corporate Hat-Wearing Vice Presidents

In a recent story in CounterPunch on the problems the Wall Street mortgage securitization industry faces resulting from courts refusing to let foreclosure actions go forward, and changes in financial reporting requirements imposed by the Financial Accounting Standards Board, writer Pam Martens offers this description about one of the companies in the middle of this entire mess, (and everyone's favorite mortgage electronic registration system), MERS:
  • In recent years, MERS has become less of an electronic registration system and more of a serial defendant in courts across the land. In a May 2009 document titled “The Building Blocks of MERS,” the company concedes that “Recently there has been a wave of lawsuits filed by homeowners facing foreclosure which challenge MERS standing…” and then proceeds over the next 30 pages to describe the lawsuits state by state, putting a decidedly optimistic spin on the situation.

  • MERS doesn’t have a big roster of employees or lawyers running around the country foreclosing and defending itself in lawsuits. It simply deputizes employees of the banks and mortgage companies that use it as a nominee. It calls these deputies a “certifying officer.”(1) Here’s how they explain this on their web site: “A certifying officer is an officer of the Member [mortgage company or bank] who is appointed a MERS officer by the Corporate Secretary of MERS by the issuance of a MERS Corporate Resolution. The Resolution authorizes the certifying officer to execute documents as a MERS officer.”

She also offers this observation on the mortgage securitization trusts that have been foreclosing on the sliced-up loans it holds without possessing the proper paperwork:

  • Astonishingly, representatives for the trusts have been foreclosing on homes across the country, evicting the families, then auctioning the homes, without a proper paper trail on the mortgage assignments or proof that they had legal standing. In some cases, the courts have allowed the representatives to foreclose and evict despite their admission that the original mortgage note is lost. (This raises the question as to whether these mortgage notes are really lost or might have been fraudulently used in multiple securitizations, a concern raised by some Wall Street veterans.)

For more, see The Next Financial Crisis Hits Wall Street, as Judges Start Nixing Foreclosures (New Shockwaves From Courts and Accounting Board).

(1) Known around here as a "multiple corporate hat-wearing vice president," or a "dummy" or "straw" vice president.

Federal Appeals Court Rules Favorably For Developers; Rejects Condo Purchasers' Attempt To Invoke Federal Law To Back Out Of Bad Deal

In Miami, Florida, the Daily Business Review reports:
  • Bucking the Florida Supreme Court, a federal appellate panel waded into the battle between condo developers and buyers over the use of a consumer protection law to void contracts. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with developers in a Sept. 30 decision, giving them wide latitude in claiming an exemption from the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act, better known as ILSA.(1)


  • Judge Ed Carnes, who wrote the 18-page opinion for the unanimous panel, said buyers have used ILSA disingenuously, changing their minds on what morphed into a bad real estate investment once the market turned. [...] “After the housing bubble burst, the Steins had second thoughts about their decision to purchase the condominium unit,” Carnes wrote. “Wanting out of their contract, they seized onto the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act, a federal statute that has become an increasingly popular means of channeling buyer’s remorse into a legal defense to a breach of contract claim.”(2)

For more, see Developers win in fight to enforce contracts.

For the ruling, see Stein v. Paradigm Mirasol, LLC, No. 08-10983, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 21512 (11th Cir., September 30, 2009).

(1) The story states that the ILSA was passed in 1968 to protect consumers from unscrupulous swampland salesmen, and that the plaintiffs' bar seized on the law when the real estate bubble burst as a way to get their clients out of their purchase contracts with developers and get back deposits. Go here for HUD's description and summary of the law, and here for the statute - 15 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.

(2) The condo purchaser's attorney Joseph Stern at Saraga & Lipshy of Delray Beach said the appellate court was clearly biased against the buyers. “They talk about our clients having buyer’s remorse. Statements like that have no place in the opinion. Those statements weren’t part of the record,” he said. Stern said he will ask the full 11th Circuit to hear the case en banc.

Loan Modification & Foreclosure Consulting Outfits Flout New Nevada Law Requiring Licensing & Bonding

In Las Vegas, Nevada, the Las Vegas Sun reports:
  • Compliance with a new law aimed at regulating mortgage modification and foreclosure prevention, a runaway industry rife with scammers, is off to a slow start, causing concern for those on the front lines. Only 50 companies statewide have applied for the state’s new licenses for loan modification and foreclosure consultant services. That number represents as little as one-tenth of the businesses offering one or both of the services targeted by the new law, says Joseph L. Waltuch, commissioner of the Mortgage Lending Division of the state’s Business and Industry Department.

  • After an extension was granted to allow each applicant to post the required $75,000 surety bond, only 18 have done so, and none has completed the process for obtaining the licenses, Waltuch adds. Consumer advocates and others are eyeing that slow uptake and worrying that it indicates the law will fail to meet its main goals: regulation of a fast-growing industry and, more important, deterrence of fraud.

For more, see Mortgage scammers haven’t felt law’s effect.

Insurers Begin Bailing On Homeowners As Chinese Drywall Complaints Start Clogging Claims Pipeline

In West Palm Beach, Florida, The Associated Press reports:
  • James and Maria Ivory's dreams of a relaxing retirement on Florida's Gulf Coast were put on hold when they discovered their new home had been built with Chinese drywall that emits sulfuric fumes and corrodes pipes. It got worse when they asked their insurer for help — not only was their claim denied, but they've been told their entire policy won't be renewed.

  • Thousands of homeowners nationwide who bought new houses constructed from the defective building materials are finding their hopes dashed, their lives in limbo. And experts warn that cases like the Ivorys', in which insurers drop policies or send notices of non-renewal based on the presence of the Chinese drywall, will become rampant as insurance companies process the hundreds of claims currently in the pipeline.


  • "This is like the small wave that's out on the horizon that's going to continue to grow and grow until it becomes a tsunami," said Florida attorney David Durkee, who represents hundreds of homeowners who are suing builders, suppliers and manufacturers over the drywall. "This is going to become critical mass very shortly."(1)

For more, see Insurers dropping Chinese drywall policies (Thousands of homeowners nationwide are finding their hopes dashed).

In related stories, see:

(1) An inability to obtain insurance on a home used as collateral for a mortgage could constitute a default in the loan agreement, leaving the homeowner under a threat of foreclosure.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Manhattan Feds: "Mortgage Stacking" Scam Pulled Off By Corrupt Title Agent

In New York City, the Office of the U.S. Attorney recently announced criminal charges against 41 suspects in eight separate cases involving a variety of mortgage and real estate fraud. The allegations in one criminal complaint describe the conduct of one allegedly corrupt title agent:
  • Poui Land acted as the title agent for many of the closings charged as part of this case, generating significant fees for the defendants, including, in one instance, approximately $68,000. In some cases, the Complaint alleges that the defendants failed to record the mortgages on the properties, or to properly transfer the titles, which permitted the defendants to obtain additional mortgage loans on the properties.(1)(2)

For the criminal charges in this case, see Complaint - U.S. v. Johnson, et al.

For the U.S Attorney press release, see Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges 41 Defendants In Coordinated Mortgage Fraud Takedown Across New York State.(page 6).

(1) Scams involving the fraudulently-obtaining of multiple mortgages on the same property through different lenders (not necessarily done simultaneously), and/or by failing to record the new mortgages and without paying off the existing loans, often go by the label of "mortgage stacking" (When the mortgages are fraudulently obtained simultaneously, the scam is referred to by some as "shotgunning"). The use of bogus title reports in these scams stating that no first mortgage existed on the properties in question is referred to by some as "title washing."

(2) The six indicted suspects are: Beverly Andrea Johnson (aka Beverly Johnson, Beverly Samuels, Andrea Johnson), Carone Johnson (aka Carone Johnson-Holt, Carone Morris), Carianne Johnson, Carell Johnson, Oliver Anderson, Bradley Skierkowski.

CalPERS On The Hook For $600M In Failing NYC, Northern California "Predatory Equity" Real Estate Schemes Designed To Force Tenants From Their Homes?

NewsBlaze reports:
  • CalPERS(1) will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in predatory real estate investment schemes according to recent reports in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the San Jose Mercury News, and other publications. What has not been adequately reported is that these schemes are classic examples of what housing advocates call "predatory equity," overleveraged investments that rely on the displacement of tenants from rent-regulated housing in order to turn profits. CalPERS has effectively invested (and lost) the retirement funds of working people in projects that were designed to displace working people from their homes.


  • CalPERS, the nation's largest pension fund, will lose $600 million in two separate real estate investment deals: one in New York City with partners Tishman Speyer Properties and BlackRock Realty(2) and another in East Palo Alto, CA with partner Page Mill Properties. Both investments have been the subject of considerable controversy as they have involved the mass displacement of low and moderate income tenants from their homes. They have also spawned multiple lawsuits and raised the ire of tenants, community organizations, public officials, and labor groups.

For more, see CalPERS Loses $600M in Schemes Designed to Displace Tenants.

In a related post on the NYC fiasco, see City Concerned About Effect On Tenants From Unwinding $5.4B Purchase Of 11,000+ Unit Apartment Complexes Gone Bad.

(1) The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) is an agency in the California executive branch that manages pension and health benefits for more than 1.6 million California public employees, retirees, and their families.

(2) Other big players which can be heard "sucking wind" around the globe on the New York City alleged "predatory equity" deal involving a massive 56-building, 11,000-unit apartment complex, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report [see An Apartment Complex Teeters (High-Profile Tishman/BlackRock Property in New York in Danger of Default)], are:

  • Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), a global investment management company established to manage Singapore's foreign reserves - reportedly on the hook for a loss estimated at $575 million;
  • Florida State Board of Administration, the outfit which manages, invests and safeguards assets of the Florida Retirement System Trust Fund and other funds for the State of Florida and local governments - reportedly ready to eat a loss estimated at $250 million;
  • California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS), primarily responsible for providing retirement related benefits and services to teachers in public schools and community colleges - about to flush the toilet on an estimated $100 million;
  • Hartford Financial, an insurance company facing a reported estimated $100 million;
  • DG HYP, a Germany-based commercial real estate lender reportedly on the hook for close to $100 million; and
  • The Church of England, which reportedly "donated" an estimated $70 million in pursuit of profit in this apparently now-hopeless cause.

NYC Man Charged With Making Deals To Sell Uptown Building He Didn't Own

From the Office of the Manhattan District Attorney:
  • Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau announced [...] the indictment of a realtor for conducting a real estate fraud scheme in which he struck several deals to sell a commercial building that he did not own. The defendant, HENRY VARGAS, 35, was indicted on charges of scheme to defraud, grand larceny and forgery.


  • The investigation leading to the indictment revealed that more than two years ago, VARGAS began fraudulently passing himself off as the owner of 21-41 Lenox Avenue, a commercial building just north of Central Park. In fact, the building was wholly-owned by Manuel Duran, Jr. Using false representations and forged documents, VARGAS duped numerous real estate developers, business people, architects, attorneys and property owners into believing that he, not Duran, owned a controlling interest in the property.

Go here for the entire Manhattan DA press release.

See also, The New York Times: Man Charged in Scheme to Sell Harlem Property.

Ohio Lawmaker Seeks To Strip Lenders Of Right To Foreclose On Abandoned Homes Forced Into Legal Limbo

In Dayton, Ohio, the Dayton Daily News reports on the havoc being created by lenders and their loan servicers who, after initiating foreclosure actions, abandon the lawsuits after finding out the homes are abandoned and the cost of making repairs, paying delinquent real estate taxes, and paying off fines for code violations exceeds the property value. An Ohio state lawmaker has offered a solution to this problem of abandoned homes being left in legal limbo(1) by these financial institutions:
  • State Rep. Dennis Murray, D-Sandusky [is] preparing a bill that would give lenders a set amount of time — say, 60 days — after filing a foreclosure on an abandoned property to do something with it or be stripped of their legal interest in it. Other provisions of the bill give judges more leeway in dealing with foreclosure cases. [...] He said he’s optimistic he can get the bill passed.

For the story, see Owners of abandoned properties are hard to track down.

In related stories from the Dayton Daily News, see:

Go here for other posts on homes being left in legal limbo (when a lender intentionally delays completion of a foreclosure to avoid taking title to the repossessed collateral, or fails to record its deed after foreclosure sale).

(1) A March 3, 2009 National Public Radio story (see Banks Refusing To Take Back Foreclosed Properties) reported that Cleveland, Ohio Housing Court officials said they have seen homeowners take matters into their own hands when dealing with the abandonment of foreclosure lawsuits by lenders. One instance is cited involving a foreclosing lender that was reluctant to complete the foreclosure process and repossess a dilapidated property. In that case, the homeowner simply deeded back the property to the lender by preparing a deed, naming the lender as grantee, and recording it.

Such a conveyance may ultimately be found to be ineffective because the mortgage lender surely would assert that it never "accepted" the deed conveyed by the owner of the dilapidated wreck collateralizing its loan (ie. to be effective, a deed must be both "delivered" by the grantor-owner, and "accepted" by the grantee-lender; in other words, no acceptance = no conveyance). However, recording a deed in the name of the unwitting lender may, under state law, create a legal presumption that it has been "accepted" by the lender (see, for example, Janian v. Barnes, 284 A.D.2d 717, 718; 727 N.Y.S.2d 182 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep't 2001)) until such time that it straightens out the mess by going into court, presenting evidence to a judge that there was no actual acceptance, and obtaining a judgment declaring the deed to be void. Unless and until it does so, the lender could arguably be treated as the legal owner of (and find itself legally responsible for the code violations on) its abandoned dilapidated loan collateral. Inasmuch as many mortgage holders, their loan servicers, and their assembly line foreclosure mill attorneys have proven themselves to be quite clumsy when handling the paperwork relating to their mortgages, it could be quite some time before they discover that title to the loan collateral has been put in their name - probably when they start getting tagged with the code violations - and possibly even longer before they figure out what to do. Accordingly, recording the paperwork necessary to deed the title to a dilapidated home in foreclosure back to the bank may be seen by some as a practical, low cost way for a homeowner of an abandoned home to shift (albeit, maybe only temporarily) the liability for code violations (and possible jail time for failure to cure the violations) away from themselves and onto the lender. responsibility code violations foreclosure BetaVacantForeclosure

Short Sales May Lead To Unintended Consequences For Home Seller

A recent column in the Contra Costa Times offers this warning to underwater homeowners who are considering unloading their homes through a short sale:
  • There can be real benefits to sellers in conducting a short sale. Sellers still need to be cautious when they're considering a short sale. There can sometimes be unintended consequences from a short sale.

  • For example, Sellers can get ready to close a short sale only to find out that their lender won't release them from personal liability on their loan. If the seller completes such a short sale, then the lender may pursue the borrower for any deficiency between the loan amount and the sales price. This actually happens, and some lenders pursue borrowers in such situations who have participated in a short sale.

  • This can be true even though the same borrower would have had no personal liability had a nonjudicial foreclosure been conducted.(1) The lender's not in the business of advising the borrower as to the most advantageous or best course of action for the borrower.

For the column, see Short sales, foreclosures require care.

(1) California and Arizona are two states that prohibit chasing foreclosed-upon homeowners for the foreclosure sale deficiency in certain situations.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Manhattan Chief Federal Prosecutor To Mortgage & Foreclosure Rescue Scammers: "We Will Find You, Arrest You, & Send You To Jail!"

In announcing the indictments last week of 41 suspects in connection with eight separate mortgage fraud indictments, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, issued this declaration of war against mortgage and foreclosure rescue scammers:
  • "As the U.S. economy struggles, we will continue to have a zero tolerance policy for those who defraud financial institutions and prey on homeowners on the brink of foreclosure. The type of criminal conduct charged today constricts the credit markets and makes it harder for honest people to realize the American dream of home ownership. It is especially alarming when lawyers, loan officers, and mortgage brokers treat their professional licenses as license to loot banks and profit from other people's pain. Particularly in this down economy, the message to those professionals and their alleged criminal cohorts is simple: we will find you, arrest you, and send you to jail."

For the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's press release, see Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges 41 Defendants In Coordinated Mortgage Fraud Takedown Across New York State (Defendants Charged With Fraudulently Obtaining More Than $64 Million In Residential Mortgages On More Than 100 Properties; Lawyers, Mortgage Brokers, And Loan Officers Among Those Arrested In "Operation Bad Deeds").

Go here for links to the "OPERATION BAD DEEDS" Charging Documents for each of the eight cases.

California AG: "Loan Modification Upfront Fee Loophole Has Now Been Closed!" - Law Violators To Get Up To 1 Year In Jail; $50K In Fines Possible

In Southern California, the Orange County Register reports:
  • Attorney General Jerry Brown said [...] he will go after companies that violate the state’s new ban on collecting an advance fee for helping someone avoid foreclosure. [...] Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [last week] signed several bills meant to curb lending abuses, including SB 94, which prohibits anyone from taking an advance fee for help getting a loan modification.

  • AG Brown said [...] in a release, “Over the past two years, unscrupulous attorneys and real estate brokers have abused their trusted roles and exploited desperate homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure. The loophole that allowed this abusive practice to continue has now been closed, and homeowners should avoid any person charging up-front fees for foreclosure relief services.”

  • Anyone who violates the ban can be fined up to $10,000 and imprisoned for up to one year. Corporations can be fined up to $50,000.

For more, see AG Brown to enforce ban on advance fees for mortgage aid.

For AG Brown's press release, see Brown Alerts Homeowners that New Law Prohibits Up-front Fees for Foreclosure Relief Services.


In a related story, see The Recorder: Lawyers Vexed by New Law Barring Upfront Fees for Mortgage Modification Work:

  • [R]eal estate attorneys say the new rules have created a host of unanswered questions. Can a firm accept a litigation retainer and later secure an unanticipated loan modification? Can lawyers place fees in a trust and draw on them when they finish the work? [...] Bar spokeswoman Diane Curtis said Bar attorneys are working on a document that will answer members' questions about the new law. The law calls for violators to face Bar discipline.

Oregon DOJ Task Force Begins Criminal Prosecutions Of Alleged Mortgage & Loan Modification Scammers; First Defendant Hit With $500K Bail

In Marion County, Oregon, the Statesman Journal reports:
  • A Salem mortgage broker has been charged with using clients' personal information to purchase two homes. Julian James Ruiz III, 38, of Keizer was arraigned [last week on 17 counts] of mortgage fraud, aggravated theft, forgery and identify theft.

  • Ruiz's criminal case is the first to be prosecuted by Oregon Attorney General John Kroger's Mortgage Fraud Task Force. [...] "The idea behind the task force is to not allow scammers to pick up steam," he said. [Oregon Department of Justice spokesman Tony] Green described the group as a coalition of criminal and civil attorneys, district attorneys, police and sheriff's offices, and investigators from throughout the state. The task force is investigating more than a dozen mortgage fraud and foreclosure scam cases across Oregon, he said.(1)

For more, see Keizer mortgage broker charged.

(1) According to the story, Ruiz' bail was set at $500,000. Julia Alavez, one of Ruiz's alleged victims, reportedly attended Thursday's hearing. "I went to him so he could help me with a loan modification on my home," Alavez, a cannery worker, said afterward. "I paid him $2,500 that he said he needed to pay fees to attorneys that would do the work," she said. "It's sad because you work long and hard for your money, and then someone just takes it away."

Columnist To Florida Law Enforcement: Enough Already With The Civil Suit Probes; Start Criminally Prosecuting Foreclosure Rescue Scammers

In Sarasota, Florida, a recent column by Tom Lyons in the Sarasota Herald Tribune calls for Florida law enforcement authorities to stop limiting their efforts in combatting foreclosure rescue scams to civil investigations, and begin bringing criminal prosecutions against the perpetrators:
  • The average citizen is no expert in real estate law, and doesn't want to be. It's pretty dry stuff. [Gulfcoast Legal Services attorney] Elizabeth Boyle was glad a civil jury hung in there as she presented document after document to show how a company called Profitmax had taken advantage of a desperate Sarasota County woman. [...] The jury awarded [homeowner Wanda] Costa $93,000 [see Home rescue was a scam, jury says].(1) But "awarded" doesn't really mean the woman will ever get the money, which is supposed to pay her back for lost equity and other costs. The judge hasn't even approved the verdict yet, and who knows if the money would ever be paid anyway.

  • I congratulate the jury on the attempt and I hope it helps. But here's what I really wonder: If a jury can figure out that Costa was scammed, why the heck can't law enforcement and prosecutors do the same? How about filing criminal charges in cases like this, and going for jury verdicts that foreclosure-help sharks would really care about?


  • Florida's attorney general's office claims to be paying attention. It organized a task force that has 73 active investigations, supposedly. But I am underwhelmed. I must see 50 suspicious-looking roadside signs advertising foreclosure assistance every time I drive to work. Heck, the AG's office says it has 180 such companies that are considered of interest, and cases haven't been filed yet for any of those. And guess what: In every one, if anything is ever filed, the plan is to make each a civil case, not one where anyone ever has to worry about spending time behind bars. Could a scammer dare ask for a better set up?

For the entire column, see Hollow court victories no deterrent to scams.

(1) According to an earlier story, Boyle plans to try another case in December against the same defendants - Gideon Rechnitz, Thomas Cook and their companies - alleging the same scam. Rechnitz owns nine other properties in Sarasota and Manatee counties, apparently under the same scheme, which makes him the trustee on a trust with the homeowner's name on it.

Convicted C. Florida Scammer Charged w/ Using Phony Non-Profit To Make Bogus Loan Offers Designed To Swipe Home Equity From Those Facing Foreclosure

In Tampa, Florida, the St. Petersburg Times reports:
  • Peter Porcelli, the telemarketing tycoon who poured part of his fortune into the former world champion Tampa Bay Smokers fast-pitch softball team, has been indicted on a mail fraud charge in connection with a mortgage foreclosure program. Porcelli, 57, of Oldsmar is already behind bars. Two years ago, he was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $11.9 million in restitution for a credit card scam that victimized tens of thousands of credit-poor consumers nationwide. A federal indictment unsealed Friday accuses Porcelli of using a foreclosure salvage service and a mortgage lending business to defraud homeowners in financial distress.(1)


  • Kathy Visceglie, a Pasco County resident who organized homeowners to expose Porcelli's foreclosure salvage tactics, cheered news of the indictment but said it comes too late to help dozens of area residents who lost their homes. "Porcelli's company looked like a nonprofit that was offering hope, but it turned out to be the worst kind of fraud," she said. "I'm relieved the government finally took action. But it's too late to put people back into the homes they lost."

For the story, see Convicted telemarketing tycoon now facing mail fraud charge.

(1) Porcelli incorporated the Safe Harbour Foundation, a Clearwater nonprofit firm that offered to "help save homeowners from foreclosure by introducing them to lenders," according to court papers. But homeowners then found themselves referred for financial help to Silverstone Lending, a second company set up by Porcelli. Prosecutors say Silverstone used high-fee second mortgages and short-term balloon loans in which a quick default often ended with borrowers losing their homes. One victim reportedly said he phoned Safe Harbour looking for help with a foreclosure and he was talked into borrowing $35,000 when he needed only $20,000 to settle the case. He says he didn't understand that the Silverstone loan carried an option to take his house.

Porcelli's alleged foreclosure rescue, equity stripping racket is more fully described in civil lawsuits filed against him by victimized homeowners who faced foreclosure. See C. Florida Foreclosure Rescue Operator Faces Another Suit; Racketeering, Conspiracy, Criminal Usury, TILA Violations Alleged. foreclosure rescue

NYC Feds Describe Short Sale Flipping Deals, Sale Leaseback Foreclosure Rescue Arrangements In Recent Indictment Of Ten Suspects

In New York City, the Office of the U.S. Attorney recently announced criminal charges against 41 suspects in eight separate cases involving a variety of mortgage and real estate fraud. One case is described as follows:
  • According to the Superseding Indictment, the defendants identified distressed properties that could be purchased at a low price, usually by targeting homeowners who had fallen behind on their mortgage payments and whose homes were facing foreclosure. In most instances, the defendants induced the homeowners to sell their homes to companies controlled by the defendants, including NNI, LLC, which was controlled by LAVETTE M. BILLS, and Recani Inc., which was controlled by WAYNE GREEN.

  • These companies usually purchased the properties via "short sales," in which the lenders agreed to sell the properties for less than the balance owed on the loans and to discharge the remainder of the loans. The defendants then resold or "flipped" the properties to third party straw buyers at a higher price, usually on the same day.

  • In other instances, the defendants tricked the homeowners into deeding or selling their homes to other persons, by falsely promising the homeowners that title would be returned to them at a later date or telling the homeowners that they were merely refinancing their homes.

For the criminal charges in this case, see Indictment - U.S. v. Bills, et al.(1)

For the U.S Attorney press release, see Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges 41 Defendants In Coordinated Mortgage Fraud Takedown Across New York State (pages 4-5).

(1) The ten indicted suspects are: Lavette M. Bills, Kirk Lacey, Wayne Green Sherese W. Glenn, Revlon Hinds, Joseph Evans, Jerry Calonge, Mark Barnett, Omar Henry, and Peter Chevere.

Monday, October 19, 2009

NYC Feds Bag 41 Suspects In Eight Separate Fraud Cases Involving Home Flipping, Short Sales, Foreclosure Rescue, Equity Stripping

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (New York City):
  • PREET BHARARA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York [and other Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials] announced [last week] the unsealing of charges against 41 defendants, in eight separate cases, for allegedly engaging in various mortgage fraud scams that collectively defrauded lenders out of more than $64 million in home mortgage loans on more than 100 properties across New York State. Among those charged are six lawyers, seven loan officers, three mortgage brokers, an accountant, and a residential property appraiser.


  • The mortgage fraud scams alleged in the cases announced [last week] included, among other things, property flips, equity stripping, and appraisal and loan fraud. In one case, defendants operated a foreclosure rescue scheme, targeting individuals who were on the verge of losing their homes by tricking them into giving up the equity in the properties with false promises that their homes would be saved.

For the U.S. Attorney press release, including a summary of allegations in each case, see Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges 41 Defendants In Coordinated Mortgage Fraud Takedown Across New York State (Defendants Charged With Fraudulently Obtaining More Than $64 Million In Residential Mortgages On More Than 100 Properties; Lawyers, Mortgage Brokers, And Loan Officers Among Those Arrested In "Operation Bad Deeds").

Go here for links to the "OPERATION BAD DEEDS" Charging Documents for each of the eight cases.

Arizona AG Obtains $580K Default Judgment Against Alleged Loan Modification Racket For Fleecing Homeowners Out Of Upfront Fees, Breaking Promises

In a recent press release, the Office of the Arizona Attorney General announced the obtaining of a default judgment in a civil lawsuit it brought against a local foreclosure rescue operator who peddled loan modification arrangements to homeowners facing foreclosure, purportedly to help them avoid the loss of their homes.(1)
  • In the suit, [Attorney General Terry] Goddard alleged that [...] Matthew Castaneda, of Glendale, and Michael Winding, of Phoenix, through their limited liability company Hope for Homeowners Now, LLC, victimized homeowners facing imminent foreclosure with fraudulent claims of high success rates modifying mortgage loans. Hope for Homeowners Now advertised loan modification services for an upfront fee of $3,195.

Based on the Attorney General’s investigation, Goddard alleged that Hope for violated numerous state laws by:

  • Deceptively implying it was more successful at obtaining mortgage loan modifications than consumers who try to obtain modifications on their own or with the assistance of non-profit organizations. In fact, the company’s success rate was no better than that of its clients who tried to obtain loan modifications on their own,

  • Misrepresenting that the company was comprised of real estate and financial professionals, as well as “professional mitigation attorneys,” and that attorneys negotiate on behalf of Hope for Homeowners’ clients,

  • Charging consumers an upfront fee prior to the full performance of services and without first having obtained a surety bond,

  • Failing to provide its loan modification clients with the necessary substantive disclosures required by the Arizona Credit Services Act.(2)

For the press release, see Goddard Wins $1.37 Million for Consumers in Two Mortgage Fraud Cases.

For the related court documents in this case, see:

(1) According to the court judgment, the defendants must:

  • Pay $424,935 in restitution to consumers,
  • Pay $155,000 in civil penalties to the State of Arizona,
  • Permanently refrain from providing loan modification or origination services in Arizona or on behalf of an Arizona consumer.

(2) Title 44: Sections 44-1701 through 44-1712, Arizona Revised Statutes.

Defunct Miami Loan Modification Outfit Faces Class Action Suit; Key Company Employee Bolts Florida & Resurfaces In Nevada With New Firm, Says Attorney

In Miami, Florida, The Miami Herald reports:
  • A Miami lawyer has filed a class-action suit in hopes of recovering millions of dollars paid by thousands of clients to a mortgage-rescue company. [...] On Thursday, Miami lawyer John H. Ruiz filed a class action suit in the Lincoln [Lending Services] case. Ruiz said he already has more than 1,000 clients in the case and believes that thousands of others are in the same situation. The suit also names two people associated with the company, Guillermo Leyes and Rita Gomez, as defendants. Ruiz said he believes they have assets that could be used to pay restitution.


  • Ruiz said that Leyes recently resurfaced as a manager at a Nevada loan modification company. According to Nevada records, a Guillermo Leyes was a manager at 1st Loan Modification of America in Henderson. Ruiz said Leyes withdrew his name from that company this week.

For more, see Lawyer sues mortgage-rescue firm to recover improper fees (A local attorney is suing a mortgage-rescue company that he says broke state law, then failed to reimburse all its former clients).

(1) Florida's attorney general shut down the company, Lincoln Lending Services, earlier this year, saying it illegally demanded advance payment for mortgage-rescue services (See Florida AG press release, State of Florida v. Lincoln Lending Services lawsuit). Since October 2008, Florida law has prohibited companies from accepting payment in advance for mortgage rescues. The company paid back about $500,000 in restitution, then said it was out of money, according to the office of Attorney General Bill McCollum (see Status update concerning Lincoln Lending). The agency is now trying to determine whether Lincoln has other assets that could be used to repay additional customers.

NYS Regulators Form Fraud Unit To Tackle Title Insurance Crimes; Will Target Corrupt Closing Agents, Real Estate Scam Artists

From the Office of the New York State Insurance Department:
  • Superintendent James J. Wrynn [last week] announced the formation of a special Mortgage and Title Unit to fight title insurance crimes committed by criminals attempting to enrich themselves at the expense of consumers, financial institutions and municipalities.

  • Complaints alleging title insurance premium theft have increased with the downturn in the economy. The Insurance Department going to be very vigilant and is channeling its resources to enhance its ability to identify and root out this type of criminal activity,” Wrynn said. Wrynn cited the recent arrests of two men accused of stealing nearly $6 million in title insurance premiums, as well as other cases involving complex criminal schemes targeting indebted consumers.


  • Title insurance agents, in addition to providing title insurance, hold large sums of money including mortgage recording fees, real estate taxes and other fees related to commercial and residential real estate transactions. The lure of these funds, combined with the downturn in the economy, appears to be fueling an increase in title insurance related crimes,” Wrynn said.


  • Wrynn warned consumers to be wary of schemes involving title fraud used by so-called mortgage rescue companies. [...] These groups have targeted financially-troubled homeowners, low income people and others, including legitimate title insurance companies. The schemes have included such tactics as the use of “straw buyers” to purchase properties using false loan applications; the use of significantly inflated property values to obtain mortgages; and the enticement of financially-troubled homeowners to sell their homes in exchange for fraudulent leaseback arrangements.

For the entire press release, see Title Insurance Crimes Target Of New Frauds Unit (Insurance Department to Combat Upsurge in Premium Theft, Other Related Crimes).

Thanks to Bill Collins of Crossroads Abstract, Rochester, NY for the heads-up on this press release. EscrowRipOffKappa

Fake Attorney Gets 7+ Years For $1.7M Escrow Ripoff In Conducting Real Estate Closings; Pocketed Funds Due To Existing Lienholders, Homeowners

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Daily News reports:
  • A con man who passed himself off as an attorney was sentenced in federal district court yesterday to 7 1/2 years behind bars in connection with a scheme to bilk homeowners, lenders, title insurance companies and the city of Philadelphia of $1.7 million. Jason Bloom, 39, of Mount Laurel, N.J., has been in federal custody since he pleaded guilty on July 13 to wire fraud affecting a financial institution.

  • Authorities said that Bloom [...] acted as a settlement and title-insurance agent for real-estate sales and refinancings for a firm in Trevose, Bucks County, and, later, his own company. Bloom kept money he received from settlements that was supposed to be used to pay off existing mortgages, pay real-estate taxes in Philadelphia and make refunds to homeowners for overpayments at closings.


  • By pretending to be an attorney, Bloom increased the number of settlements that he could handle. Some jurisdictions in New Jersey permit only attorneys to handle real-estate closings. [...] Joyner ordered Bloom to make restitution of $1,730,874 to three title insurance companies, two financial firms and the city. (Homeowners ripped off have already been made whole, the feds said.)(1)

For the story, see Bogus lawyer stole $1.7M, gets 7 years.

(1) I get the feeling that the insurance companies that underwrite the title policies in real estate transactions pay out more to cover the looting of escrow accounts committed by their agents than they do in actual title claims. EscrowRipOffKappa

South Florida Title Agency Duo Charged With Looting $10M From Escrow Account; Cash Earmarked For Completing Real Estate Closings

In West Palm Beach, Florida, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced four mortgage/real estate fraud indictments of 15 individuals in four separate cases, including the following:

West Palm Beach Residents Charged with Looting Title Company’s Escrow Account

  • According to an indictment returned by a federal grand jury sitting in West Palm Beach, between July 2005 and May 2008, Roger C. Gamblin, 61, and Peggy L. Gamblin, 53, both of Royal Palm Beach, Florida, defrauded companies and individuals out of approximately $10 million.

  • According to the indictment, the husband and wife owners and operators of Flagler Title Company teamed up to steal money from the escrow account for Flagler Title Company to cover company operating expenses and personal expenses. The fraud was committed by promising the Title Insurance Companies they represented and various companies and individuals with outstanding real estate transactions that money in the Flagler Title Company escrow accounts would be used solely in connection with real estate transactions and their fees would not be disbursed until the transactions occurred and Flagler had earned their fee. Instead, the Gamblins caused money to be transferred without completing the transactions or obtaining permission from the Title Insurers, buyers, sellers and mortgagees involved in the property transactions.

For the entire press release, see Palm Beach County Mortgage Fraud Task Force Brings Charges Against 15 Defendants For Lying To Banks To Get Money. EscrowRipOffKappa

Massachusetts Attorney/Title Agent Cops Plea In "Mortgage Stacking" Scam; Pocketed $2M+ While Stiffing Existing Lienholders On Loan Payoffs

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:
  • Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office announced the guilty plea of a former Somerville real estate attorney [...] in connection with making false statements on mortgage applications and associated documents and using the funds secured from the loans for his own purposes, rather than paying off existing loans as directed by the new lenders.


  • While practicing as a real estate lawyer in Somerville and Medford, [Kevin] Carey engaged in a scheme called “mortgage stacking” on four residential properties he or his family members owned. The scheme involved serially refinancing the loans on these properties, without paying off the existing loans. Carey was also the agent for a New England title insurance company which allowed him to issue title insurance policies on mortgage transactions he processed.


  • When he received the proceeds of the loans, Carey did not pay off the existing mortgages on these properties, but rather used the funds for his own benefit. Carey issued title insurance policies or commitments in connection with the transactions, and the lenders were therefore protected, but ultimately the title insurance company suffered the financial loss. As a result of this scheme Carey stole over $2 million.

For the Massachusetts AG press release, see Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office Announces Guilty Plea of Former Somerville Lawyer in Connection with Stealing Over $2 Million From Mortgage Lenders in Mortgage Stacking Scheme. EscrowRipOffKappa

Sunday, October 18, 2009

New California Law Strips Escrow Control From Lenders Selling Foreclosed Homes; Allows Buyers To Choose Their Own Closing Agent

In Sacramento, California, The Stockton Record reports:
  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani's Buyer's Choice Act into law. The bill will allow buyers of foreclosed homes in the state to choose local escrow companies to handle their real estate transactions. In a housing market dominated by foreclosures, banks consistently have contracted most of their escrow services to specific companies, mostly in Southern California. Galgiani, D-Livingston, said this has hurt other escrow companies and caused headaches for Northern California real estate agents and mortgage brokers.

For the story, see Buyers now can choose local escrow companies.

State Lawmakers Take Closer Look At Aggressive "Debt Buyer" Practices; NC Statute Takes "Produce The Note" Approach When Filing Collection Suits

The Associated Press reports:
  • With many Americans in dire financial straits, states are cracking down to make sure aggressive debt collectors target only people who legitimately owe them money. [...] Since the recession started, at least a half-dozen states have adopted additional limits, like imposing statutes of limitation on collections and adding opportunities to punish abusive practices in court. Other states may follow suit. [...] Lawmakers are increasingly focusing on outfits that buy bad debt from credit card companies and other lenders for pennies on the dollar and profit when they collect more than they paid.


  • A North Carolina law that took effect this month requires debt buyers filing collection lawsuits to produce documents proving they're the ones owed the money. Trying to collect on a debt that a company should reasonably know is invalid could lead to lawsuits and civil penalties of up to $4,000 per violation. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper cites the case of a 65-year-old woman who had been plagued by up to five collection calls a day until her lawyer demanded proof she owed the money, then learned collectors were looking for a debtor in Greensboro, about 140 miles to the west. "We've gotten a lot of cases that the debt is not owed or the debt has been paid off," Cooper said. "They call and they browbeat people to pay money that they don't even owe."


  • A New York City ordinance passed last spring requires similar proof from debt collectors, forcing them to tell consumers what company they represent, the original creditor, and the amount of the debt they owe. "Anyone contacted by a debt collection agency will now be empowered to demand written documentation regarding the status and history of the debt," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

For more, see States Raise Limits On Creditors As Debtors Squirm (Financial Misery Prompts States To Pass New Protections Against Aggressive Debt Collectors). zombie debt

Right To Counsel In Key Civil Cases Now Recognized In California; Levels Playing Field For Poor In Certain Housing, Other Litigation

In Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times reports:
  • California is embarking on an unprecedented civil court experiment to pay for attorneys to represent poor litigants who find themselves battling powerful adversaries in vital matters affecting their livelihoods and families. The program is the first in the nation to recognize a right to representation in key civil cases and provide it for people fighting eviction, loss of child custody, domestic abuse or neglect of the elderly or disabled. Advocates for the poor say the law, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed this week, levels the legal playing field and gives underprivileged litigants a better shot at attaining justice against unscrupulous landlords, abusive spouses, predatory lenders and other foes.(1)

For more, see California gives the poor a new legal right (Under a new law, the state will provide lawyers in key civil cases, such as those dealing with eviction and domestic abuse. Advocates say underprivileged litigants will get a better shot at justice).

(1) "How ironic that you can be arrested for stealing a small amount of food -- a box of Twinkies from a convenience store -- and you're entitled to counsel. But if your house is on the line, or your child is on the line, or you're being abused in a domestic relationship, you don't have the same right to counsel," said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, the Los Angeles Democrat who sponsored the bill.

Media Intervention Gets Loan Servicer To Cancel Foreclosure Sale Triggered By Its Own 7-Cent Error In Loan Modification Agreement

The Associated Press reports:
  • Towana Gooch, a single mom who lives with her 10-year old daughter, was on the verge of losing her town house in suburban Maryland after her mortgage lender kicked her out of a government loan modification program. The problem, she says she was notified, was a 7-cent error. Later, the lender told her the tiny error wasn't actually the issue, that her low income disqualified her from the program. She called the bank trying to get to the bottom of it all, but she got no answers and feared there was nothing to head off foreclosure, scheduled Friday.

  • After an inquiry by The Associated Press, the bank, America's Servicing Company, a division of Wells Fargo & Co., finally returned her call this week to apologize for the 7-cent error and say the foreclosure sale had been put on hold for now.(1)

For more, see Bank errors mar mortgage relief.

(1) According to the story, Gooch is far from alone in her problems with the Obama administration's loan modification program. Seven months in, many qualified applicants are being rejected, often through bank errors, with no avenue of appeal. Until this month, lenders didn't even have to tell them why. "If the servicer messes up, even by accident, there is no meaningful way to complain, no real appeals process, no viable ombudsman to consider," said Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition in San Francisco. "Most importantly, there are no consequences to the banks for failure to do what they have promised to do." Government officials can't say how many people have been turned down because of a typo, lost fax or an oversight by a poorly trained bank employee. But the Treasury Department acknowledges that far too many applicants have wrongly been rejected.

In Gooch's case, the bank initially notified her about her loan modification application and told her that her monthly payment would be cut in half, to $938. Gooch agreed to the payment. But America's Serving Company later notified Gooch that she no longer qualified for the program because her first automatic withdrawal payment should have been $938.07, not simply $938.

South Florida Couple Files Suit Against Lender, Saying B of A Welched On Loan Modification Agreement

In Broward County, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:
  • Weston attorney Kraig Weiss and his wife, Ana, are living what they call a "loan modification horror story." Earlier this year, the Weisses agreed to a loan modification with Bank of America, only to have the bank take the offer back. The Weisses sued. Now the bank is moving toward foreclosure, even though the Weisses are making mortgage payments. "The truth is, they don't care. They feel they are above it all and they don't have to answer to us," Kraig Weiss said.


  • The Weisses' suit, filed in June, accuses the bank of breach of contract. They've also said that bank representatives traipsed onto their property to take pictures of their house during Yom Kippur, frightening Ana Weiss' 76-year-old mother when she looked outside. Bank of America declined to comment on the case.

For the story, see South Florida banks and borrowers struggle with loan modifications (Sides have sharply different understanding of what it means to modify a mortgage).