Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Another Title Insurance Agent Cops Guilty Plea For Looting Ten$ Of Thousand$ Of Clients' Escrow Cash From Real Estate Transactions

From the Office of the Maryland Attorney General:
  • Attorney General Brian E. Frosh announced [] that a Baltimore title insurance agent who took tens of thousands of dollars from her clients' escrow accounts to pay her personal bills pleaded guilty in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County to one count each of felony theft and felony theft scheme.

    Carole Tilghman, 50, was sentenced to five years' incarceration, with all but six months home detention suspended. She was also placed on five years supervised probation and ordered to pay $2,500 in restitution.(1) The conviction is the result of a joint investigation by the Insurance Fraud Division of the Maryland Insurance Administration and the Office of the Attorney General.

    Tilghman, previously known as Carole Hicks, operated a Randallstown title company called Client 1st Title. From 2007 to 2010, she engaged in a series of settlement transactions involving home buyers and sellers. Tilghman would overcharge buyers and sellers recordation taxes and title abstract fees and she would keep the additional monies. In at least one transaction, Tilghman falsified a buyer's financial statement, unbeknownst to the buyer, which led to checks being issued from the buyer's account to pay Tilghman's car, mortgage and credit card payments, among other personal debt.

    "Simply put, these consumers were ripped off by someone who they trusted," said Attorney General Frosh. "Hopefully, this conviction serves as a deterrent to fraudsters who attempt to steal from hard-working Marylanders."

    Misuse of escrow funds by title insurance agencies has been a growing focus of investigations by the Maryland Insurance Administration. In this case, the MIA revoked the licenses of both Tilghman and Client 1st Title in 2011. Each was fined $500, and they were ordered to repay consumers more than $51,700.

    "The Insurance Administration exists first and foremost to protect Maryland's consumers," said Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer, Jr. "I'm grateful that the Attorney General's Office prosecuted this case so aggressively. Working together, we can stop these bad actors who hurt consumers, as well as the reputations of all insurance producers, who overwhelmingly are an honest group."
Source: Former Title Insurance Agent Pleads Guilty to Stealing Clients' Money (Baltimore woman took from escrow accounts to pay personal expenses).

(1) The seemingly light sentence in this case for guilty pleas on two felony counts (five years incarceration reduced to six months house arrest, plus only $2,500 in a restitution order) is an indicator that the perpetrator has probably already disgorged herself of the tens of thousands of dollars she ripped off from her victims.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Landlords To Fork Over $19K Plus Tenant's Legal Fees To Resolve Allegations That They Squeezed Section 8 Tenant For Excessive Rent Disguised As Trash Removal Fees; Use Of Whistleblower Provisions Of Federal False Claims To Blow Whistle On Landlord Will Allow Renter To Share In Settlement Proceeds

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania):
  • The United States Attorney's Office announced today that Bellante Properties, of Lehigh County, PA, and its owners Vincent Fantozzi and Bernard Fantozzi, will pay the government $19,120 to resolve allegations surrounding federally-funded rental assistance payments it received. According to a civil complaint, Bellante Properties received rent subsidy payments from the Lehigh County Housing Authority while unlawfully requiring a tenant to pay supplemental rental payments disguised as trash removal fees.

    The lawsuit was filed by Karen Schware, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act allows private citizens to bring civil actions on behalf of the United States and to share in any recovery.

    The Section 8 housing assistance program is designed to provide affordable housing to low-income families. According to the government’s complaint, between July 2007 and September 2013, Bellante Properties received payments from the Lehigh County Housing Authority under the Section 8 rent assistance program. In addition to receiving federally-funded Section 8 rent assistance payments, and approved rent payments from the tenant, the government alleges that Bellante Properties also unlawfully required the tenant to provide supplemental rent payments that had not been approved by the Lehigh County Housing Authority.

    The unlawful supplemental payments were disguised as trash removal fees. The parties have agreed to settle the dispute for a payment by the defendants of $19,120 to the United States. Bellante Properties and its principals, Vincent Fantozzi and Bernard Fantozzi, are also barred for three years from participation in HUD’s Section 8 program. As a whistleblower, Schware will receive a share of the settlement proceeds. Bellante Properties will also pay Schware’s legal fees.

    The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General. The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel M. Sweet.
Source: United States Settles With Lehigh County Landlord Over Section 8 Rent Subsidy Payments.

For the whistleblower lawsuit complaint in intervention filed by the Feds, see USA ex. rel. Schware v. Fantozzi. (Note: The original suit was filed on behalf of the tenant by Community Justice Project ("CJP"), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and North Penn Legal Services, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Both firms are nonprofit legal services organizations providing civil legal aid to low-income residents of Pennsylvania. In addition, CJP is an “unrestricted” legal services program, working on issues and cases that traditional non-profit legal services organizations cannot handle (ie. litigating class actions, representing undocumented immigrants, and litigating against the government).

For an earlier story involving the use of federal whistleblower suits against landlords accusing them of violating Section 8 rules, see Miami Non-Profit Law Firm, Local Feds Join To Score Wins In Two Novel Whistleblower Suits Accusing Local Landlords Of Illegally Squeezing Gov't, Section 8 Tenants Out Of Excessive Rent Subsidies; $uccessful Recovery Includes Tenants' Damages, Legal Fees.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Score Update In N. California Foreclosure Sale Auction Bid-Rigging Probe: Antitrust Feds 52, Real Estate Investors 0; One More Suspect Waves White Flag While 20 Others Remain Targeted & In Hot Water

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • A Northern California real estate investor has agreed to plead guilty for his role in bid rigging and fraud conspiracies at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

    Felony charges were filed [] in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California in Oakland against Ramin Yeganeh of San Mateo, California. To date, 52 individuals have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging and fraud at public foreclosure auctions in Northern California.

    In addition, 20 other real estate investors have been charged in five multi-count indictments for their roles in bid rigging and fraud schemes at foreclosure auctions in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.

    Our Northern California real estate investigations have yielded more pleas than any other Antitrust Division matter in recent memory, but our work is not done,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “The sheer number of individuals involved in these conspiracies only emphasizes how critical it is that we remain committed to investigating and prosecuting those who have corrupted the public foreclosure auction process.”

    According to court documents, beginning as early as May 2008 and continuing until about October 2010, Yeganeh conspired with others not to bid against one another, and instead designate a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Alameda County. Yeganeh was also charged with conspiring to use the mail to carry out a scheme to fraudulently acquire title to selected Alameda County properties sold at public auctions, to make and receive payoffs, and to divert money to co-conspirators that would have otherwise gone to mortgage holders and other beneficiaries by holding second, private auctions open only to members of the conspiracy. Selected properties were then awarded to the conspirators who submitted the highest bids in the second, private auctions. The private auctions often took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held.

    “These charges demonstrate our continued commitment to investigate and prosecute individuals and organizations responsible for the corruption of the public foreclosure auction process,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office. “The FBI is committed to work these important cases and remains unwavering in our dedication to bring the members of these illegal conspiracies to justice.”

    A violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals. The maximum fine for the Sherman Act charges may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims if either amount is greater than $1 million. A count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The government can also seek to forfeit the proceeds earned from participating in the conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

    Today’s charges are the latest filed by the department in its ongoing investigation into bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, California. These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Office. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office at 415-934-5300, or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Now-Former Chief Program Director At Philly Non-Profit Cops Plea To "SELF" Ripoff Of $150K+ In Federal Funds Intended To Help Homeless

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania):
  • Nathaniel E. Robinson, 62, of Philadelphia, plead guilty [] to using funds intended to help the homeless to pay for his own personal and living expenses. Robinson was the Chief Program Officer at SELF, Inc. He was charged with theft from a program receiving federal funds.

    Between 2006 and 2010, Robinson used his corporate American Express credit card at SELF to charge personal expenses. The government alleges he stole approximately $154,050 and reimbursed a total of $2,594.30 before his employment was terminated. Robinson used the corporate American Express card to pay for trips to Alabama, including airfare, lodging, and restaurants; lodging in Orlando, Florida, and Philadelphia; car rentals; car repairs; admission tickets to Six Flags Great Adventure and Clementon Amusement Park; Amtrak tickets; purchases at Walmart and Filene’s Basement; and restaurant charges in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, MD. Today, Robinson admitted that he stole at least $5,000 of SELF’s funds for personal use.