Saturday, March 21, 2015

R/E Brokerage Agrees To Fork Over Up To $17,500 To Settle Housing Discrimination Complaint; Fair Housing Testers Say Agent Allegedly Used Language In Online Ads Intended To Steer Away Families w/ Kids From Available Rentals Due To Landlord's Refusal To Comply w/ Massachusetts Law Requiring Abatement Of Lead-Based Paint Hazards

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:
  • Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage has agreed to implement fair housing training and adopt new antidiscrimination policies to resolve allegations that it discriminated against families with children in housing rentals, Attorney General Maura Healey announced []. Coldwell Banker will also pay up to $17,500, including $5,000 to the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

    “Families with children are protected under Massachusetts law and have the right to live in housing where lead hazards have been abated,” AG Healey said. “Massachusetts realtors must understand that they cannot steer families with children away from available housing because of a landlord’s refusal to comply with the lead laws.”

    According to the assurance of discontinuance, filed today in Suffolk Superior Court, Matthew Gore, an agent of Coldwell Banker in Jamaica Plain, posted several rental advertisements on that discouraged applications from families with children. Subsequent fair housing tests conducted by the Suffolk University Housing Discrimination Testing Program(1) found that Gore had engaged in a pattern of discrimination by indicating to prospective tenants with children that landlords had expressed unwillingness to delead their properties.

    Under the terms of the settlement, Gore and certain agents of Coldwell Banker will attend training on fair housing and lead laws. Coldwell Banker will also adopt a comprehensive antidiscrimination policy that will be posted and distributed to agents in all of its Massachusetts offices. To ensure compliance with the settlement, Coldwell Banker will submit to future fair housing tests conducted by the Suffolk University Housing Discrimination Testing Program.

    Massachusetts law prohibits discrimination against prospective tenants on the basis of familial status. It is illegal for a realtor to place a rental advertisement indicating a preference for tenants without children. Landlords are required to comply with Massachusetts and federal lead laws, and a realtor may not steer families away from available housing because renting to them may trigger a landlord’s obligation to delead.
Source: Coldwell Banker Resolves Claims of Housing Discrimination Against Families with Children (Real Estate Company to Pay Up to $17,500, Implement Fair Housing Training, and Adopt Comprehensive Antidiscrimination Policy).

(1) Suffolk University Law School's Housing Discrimination Testing Program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to work in partnership with the Boston Fair Housing Commission to eliminate housing discrimination in the Boston metro area through testing, enforcement and education.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Lawyer Faces Charges For Allegedly Pocketing $500K+ In Client Cash From Attorney Trust Account & Blowing The Loot Gambling; Victims Include Divorced Couple Screwed Out Of $147K Proceeds From Sale Of Former Marital Home, Dead Client's Estate, Heirs

In Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, The Patriot News reports:
  • Carlisle attorney Karl Rominger misappropriated more than $535,000 of his client's money for personal use and for gambling at casinos, Cumberland County investigators claim in criminal charges filed Friday.(1)

    Even as he filed the counts, Les Freehling, the county's chief detective, said the investigation into Rominger hasn't ended and that more charges likely will be lodged.

    "I apologize to everybody that I wronged," Rominger said when contacted concerning his arrest. "I look forward to accepting the consequences and putting this behind me, while making restitution."

    He said he hasn't gambled since last March. His lawyer, William C. Costopoulos, declined further comment on the case.

    The 25 theft and fund misappropriation charges already lodged in the case come more than a year after Rominger, whose clients have included Jerry Sandusky, came under investigation by the Cumberland County District Attorney's Office.

    The state Supreme Court accepted Rominger's voluntary surrender of his law license last spring. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on the criminal case in April before Carlisle District Judge Jessica Brewbaker.

    Meanwhile, the 41-year-old Rominger remains free on $250,000 unsecured bail.

    In arrest papers, Freehling said the alleged thefts came to light in late January 2014 as a result of financial irregularities in a divorce case where Rominger represented one of the splitting spouses. Rominger had failed to turn over $147,883 from the sale of the marital home, the detective said.

    Costopoulos then provided information, which Rominger later confirmed, that about $800,000 of client money was missing from a bank account Rominger was legally required to maintain to hold such funds, Freehling wrote.

    He said the misappropriations cited in the newly-filed criminal case involve money due to an auto accident victim from a settlement, the money owed to the divorced couple, and funds due to the survivors of a woman whose estate Rominger represented. That tally comes to $535,135, the detective wrote.

    "It should further be noted that this investigation will be considered ongoing, with additional charges to be forthcoming," Freehling wrote in boldfaced italic at the end of the affidavit of probable cause. The "disarray" of Rominger's financial records have made the accounting of other potential losses difficult, he said.

    District Attorney David Freed said investigators are still working with a forensic accountant as they pore over Rominger's financial records. "In these large white collar thefts it requires not only proving money is missing, but also tracing where it went," Freed said.

    He said investigators still don't have complete access to all of Rominger's files because for some of them claims of attorney-client privilege have been raised. "There is at least one other substantial situation we are looking at, and perhaps more," Freed said.

    In addition to the Sandusky child-sex case, where he was second chair at the defense table, Rominger has been involved in an array of high-profile local and statewide cases, including murders. He also provided legal advice on a local radio station.
Source: Sandusky lawyer Karl Rominger stole $535K, used clients' money to gamble at casinos, detective says.

(1) The Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security was established to to reimburse victims of attorney dishonesty in the practice of law; to preserve the integrity and protect the good name of the legal profession; and to promote public confidence in the legal system and the administration of justice in Pennsylvania.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that sometimes help cover the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Another Title Insurance Agent Faces Charges For Allegedly Looting Client Funds Intended For Real Estate Transactions From Escrow Account; Title Underwriter Left Holding The Bag For Over $700K

In Fort Myers, Florida, the Florida Department of Financial Services announced:
  • The Florida Department of Financial Services [] announced the recent arrest of former title agent Lana Dargai of Estero for stealing more than $705,000 in client funds intended for real estate transactions. As a result of her fraudulent actions, the underwriter for the funds was forced to cover the losses.

    An investigation by the Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Agent and Agency Services and Division of Insurance Fraud found that Dargai, doing business as Global Title Company, stole the funds from clients in May 2010 and August 2010. She faces up to 15 years in prison for first degree grand theft and fraud charges. Her title agent license has also been revoked.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

South Florida Man Pinched On Grand Theft, Organized Fraud Charges For Allegedly Using Forgeries, Fraudulent Documents To Hijack Title To Ten Homes Worth $2.5 Million; Suspect Bagged While Already In State Prison Serving 5-Year Stint For Earlier Conviction On Three Separate But Similar Heist Attempts

In Dade County, Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports:
  • A two-time convicted car thief from South Florida got into the real estate business and began filing phony records with county officials then began stealing houses, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

    Louis Marvin Lewis, 47, formerly of Hollywood, used that scam to fraudulently obtain titles to 10 houses worth $2.5 million, the agency reported.

    One was a two-story, four-bedroom house near Bithlo that was in foreclosure and worth $207,000, FDLE said.

    Lewis managed to find buyers and sell four of the houses, including the one in Orange County, FDLE reported, and was working to sell the other six.

    Lewis was arrested Thursday at a state prison — Dade Correctional Institution in Florida City — where he is serving a five-year sentence for a conviction in Broward County last summer for three separate but similar crimes: filing false documents in an attempt to get title to houses.

    In this new case, he'll be prosecuted in St. Lucie County on charges of grand theft and organized fraud by the Office of Statewide Prosecution.

    Five of the houses he's accused of stealing were in that county; three were in Broward and one each in Orange and Martin counties.

    His attorney, Sean P. Sheppard, did not return a phone call.

    Lewis used forgeries and false documents to transfer title to companies he created, FDLE said.

    He forged sellers' signatures, as well as that of at least one North Carolina notary public.

    One of his companies, Think Tank Innovations Inc., acquired title to the house near Bithlo in 2012 and sold it to Meridian Trust LLC the following year for $70,000, a Meridian partner told FDLE. It has since been sold twice, now to a couple, according to property records. The house was in foreclosure when Lewis stole it, according to the FDLE. It had been owned by a brother and sister who stopped making payments to Wells Fargo Bank.

    Lewis forged the signatures of both on separate warranty deeds, FDLE reported.

    Neither brother nor sister realized what had happened and got no proceeds from the sale, FDLE reported.

    The 10-house case began when employees at the St. Lucie County Property Appraiser's Office spotted suspicious details on deeds that Lewis filed there, FDLE reported.

    Previously, he's served prison time for a series of crimes in Miami-Dade: stealing two vehicles, robbery, aggravated battery and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Florida's Now-Disbarred Ex-Foreclosure King Faces Suit For Allegedly Stiffing Process Serving Outfit Out Of Approx. $2M; Attorney Faced Earlier Bar Boot Over His Firm's Sleazy Conduct In Homeowner Foreclosure Cases While Process Server Faced Earlier State Probe In Connection w/ "Sewer Service" Allegations

In Miami, Florida, The Real Deal (South Florida) reports:
  • Florida’s “foreclosure king” David J. Stern has been hit with another lawsuit, this time over $2 million in payments the disbarred attorney allegedly owes to a Miami-based process serving company.

    The suit was filed by Gissen & Zawyer Process Service,(1) which partnered with Stern and his firm Law Offices of David J. Stern PA to serve foreclosure actions on residences, a publication reported. The company is seeking $1.9 million plus interest for services that allegedly went unpaid from 2009 to 2011. DJSP Enterprises, Stern’s publicly traded company that handled his practice’s back-office functions, was also named in the suit, according to a report from Law360.

    Stern was disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court in 2014 due to his firm’s misconduct while handling nearly 118,000 cases per day. The Plantation-based law office grew to 154 attorneys and 1,200 employees total during its peak operation
Source: Foreclosure king David J. Stern hit with $2M lawsuit (Process serving company suing disbarred attorney for overdue payment).

(1) Gissen & Zawyer Process Service was one of two process server outfits involved in a 2010 probe by the Florida Attorney General in connection with "sewer service" allegations. See AG investigates two companies delivering foreclosure court papers.

Go here for earlier posts on foreclosure stories involving Gissen & Zawyer.