Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rough Time Continues For Banksters In Attempts To Prove Standing In Florida Appeal Courts

From a client alert from the Florida law firm Burr & Forman:
  • The UCC was supposed to make enforcing negotiable instruments a simpler, more streamlined process. It has proven anything but in Florida. Continuing a trend that now stretches back years, mortgage lenders have had an increasingly tough time proving standing to the satisfaction of Florida’s District Courts of Appeal in the last few months.

Florida Homeowner's Homestead Exemption Claim Covering Multiple Homes To Score Real Estate Tax Breaks OK, As Long As Properties Are Contiguous, Not Rented Out

In Hollywood, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:
  • Retiree Karen Caputo owns four homes in Hollywood and claims one tax exemption on all four of them.

    A few folks, apparently, have a problem with that. Caputo, a Hollywood activist, has been reported to the Broward County Property Appraiser's Office twice as a possible tax cheat.

    But what Caputo is doing is perfectly legal, says Property Appraiser Lori Parrish. "We recommend lots of people do this," Parrish said. "They just combine them for tax purposes."

    Caputo combined her neighboring properties under one title in 2008 after reading a story in the Sun Sentinel saying the practice was legal.

    It was legal then and it's legal now, says the Florida Department of Revenue, which oversees property appraisers throughout the state.

    "You can combine contiguous parcels into a single homestead," said Renee Watters, a spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue. "It does not matter if the contiguous parcels have structures on them. We do not know how common the practice is, but it does occur."

    The Palm Beach County Property Appraiser's Office says the practice is valid as long as the properties are contiguous and not being rented out.

    "In Palm Beach County, we would also give them a homestead exemption on the combined property," said Chief Deputy Property Appraiser Dorothy Jacks. "If she started to rent them out, the home would be considered a commercial property and she would lose the exemption."

    Caputo says she is not renting out the homes and lives in three of them. The fourth she uses as a guest house for relatives when they come to visit. "I've never rented them and I never intend to rent them," she said of her homes on Garfield and Arthur streets in eastern Hollywood.

    Caputo pays nearly $50,000 in property taxes each year, she said.

    "I pay more property taxes than most of the city commissioners," she said."I bought the houses to garden, for the land. My four houses are small [two-bedroom, one-bath] worth the price of one nice house. I would much rather have four quaint small houses on three-quarters of an acre than one expensive one on one-quarter acre. It wasn't my intention when I started, but it turned out to be a good thing."

    Parrish established a fraud division 10 years ago to go after homeowners who were claiming homestead exemptions on properties that were not their primary residences.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Philly Homeowner Faces Theft By Deception, Fraud Charges For Allegedly Pocketing Ten$ Of Thousand$ From At Least 15 Would-Be Tenants, Then Never Turning Over The Keys; Used Zillow, Craigslist To Offer His House For Rent; Some Victims Say They've Been Left Broke, Homeless

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, WPVI-TV Channel 6 reports:
  • Philadelphia police say they have a man in custody in connection with a scam that deceived thousands of dollars out of would-be renters.

    44-year-old Harry Moore surrendered at Northwest Detectives Wednesday morning. He's accused of running a scam and stealing tens of thousands of dollars from would-be renters - posting his property online.

    With their savings gone, many of his victims and their families have been left with nowhere to go.

    Liz Lozano is just one of the 15 victims who've now come forward accusing Moore of stealing thousands of dollars from her in a rental scam involving a house he owns in the 8000 block of North Fayette Street in West Oak Lane.

    Police say Moore posted the property on Craigslist and Zillow, took the potential renters' deposit money, but came up with all kinds of excuses and never turned over the keys.

    Lozano gave him $3,150 - money the disabled Air Force veteran and mother of three small children doesn't ever expect to see again.

    She and her family are homeless, relying on friends and family for a place to stay. She says, "He's taking the roof off my children's head before we even got there."

    Police had been trying to track Moore down for days, as more and more victims came forward.

    This morning he surrendered to detectives, allegedly giving a full confession and blaming his deceit on gambling debts.

    Philadelphia Police Captain Malachi Jones tells us, "He took a lot of money. In fact, of the 15 complainants that we have so far, because we don't know if there are others out there that haven't come forward. In 10 of the 15 incidents that we have recorded he took $3,100."

    Lozano says, "He's lucky that nobody else caught him first. There's a lot of us and we are angry. There's children involved. It's money lost. These people are homeless. We have nowhere to go."

    Moore faces charges including fraud, theft and theft by deception. He is being held for now at Northwest Detectives.

    There are already plans in the works to try to put a lien on his property in an effort to recoup some money for all those victims.

Construction Company Boss Gets 15+ Years For Role In $58 Million Racket Using Straw Buyers & Palm Grease To Fraudulently Wrestle Control Over HOAs To Steer Lucrative Contracts His Way

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • A former construction boss from Las Vegas was sentenced [on August 6, 2015] to 188 months in prison for his role in a $58,141,275 million scheme to fraudulently gain control of condominium homeowners’ associations (HOAs) in the Las Vegas area to secure construction and other contracts for himself and others. Forty-two individuals have been convicted of crimes in connection with the scheme.


    Leon Benzer, 48, pleaded guilty on Jan. 23, 2015, to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, 14 counts of wire fraud, two counts of mail fraud and two counts of tax evasion. In addition to imposing the prison term, U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan of the District of Nevada ordered Benzer to pay restitution in the amount of $13,294,100.

    Leon Benzer recruited and paid off puppets to serve on homeowners’ boards so that they would steer lucrative contracts to his company and cronies,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “Far from enjoying their corrupt proceeds, however, Benzer and his co-conspirators will serve years behind prison bars.”


    In connection with his guilty plea, Benzer admitted that, from approximately August 2003 through February 2009, he and an attorney developed a scheme to control the boards of directors of HOAs in the Las Vegas area. According to plea documents, Benzer and his co-conspirators recruited straw buyers to purchase condominiums and secure positions on HOAs’ boards of directors. Benzer admitted that he paid the board members to take actions favorable to his interests, including hiring his co-conspirator’s law firm to handle construction-related litigation and awarding remedial construction contracts to Benzer’s company, Silver Lining Construction.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Florida Lawyer Representing Dozens Facing Foreclosure Skips Town, Leaving Clients High & Dry, Out Ten$ Of Thousand$; State Bar Says Victims Can Apply To Its Ripoff Reimbursement Fund For Redress

In Palm Beach County, Florida, WPTV-TV Channel 5 reports:
  • An attorney finds himself disbarred after the Florida State Bar says he took tens of thousands of dollars from dozens of clients and vanished.

    Robert T. Parr handled more than 400 cases in Palm Beach County alone. Mostly representing people losing their homes to foreclosure.

    All information the Contact 5 Investigators have gathered indicates Parr has skipped the state and many former clients are just realizing they've been victimized.


    [Victim Keith] Tarpley says Parr vanished. He says he couldn't reach Parr in person, by phone or email. That is, until he received a mass email from Parr's office addressed to more than 60 clients, apologizing for the lack of communication and assuring everyone "your case is moving along as expected."

    "And you've actually met some of these people?" asked [Contact 5 Investigator Jared] Werksma. "I've spoken with a lot of them," said Tarpley who heard stories very similar to his own.

    "All of them paying thousands of dollars?" asked Werksma. "Some of them even more. $10,000, $12,000." Tarpley says he forwarded the information he gathered to the judge handling his foreclosure case. The testimony eventually triggered an investigation by the Florida State Bar. The investigation examined complaints from 17 of Parr's clients and concluded Parr:

    "Abandoned his law practice without warning leaving his clients in the midst of their pending legal matters to their detriment."

    "He meant to do what he did," says Tarpley

    The Contact 5 Investigators tried to find Parr at his Stuart office where the property manager of the Nexus building told us Parr, "disappeared months ago, stopped paying rent and his account was sent to collections."

    We also called two offices listed for Parr in West Palm Beach and one in Fort Lauderdale. All the numbers were out of service; when we did get through to receptionists in the buildings we were told Parr left without warning and left no forwarding address.

    A former receptionist of Parr's, named in the State Bar investigation, told detectives she thinks Parr went to Tennessee. We were able to find a Robert T. Parr in Oak Ridge Tennessee. We've left multiple messages at the phone number listed for the address but we've received no response.

    "If you add everything up, I'm probably out somewhere around $50,000," says Tarpley. He attributes that number to the fines, legal fees and additional attorneys he had to hire in order to dig out of the mess Parr left him in.

    Tarpley says even now he's struggling to hold on to his newly refinanced home, which isn't scheduled to be paid off until 2037. Still, Tarpley says he's lucky to have his home at all. The state investigation shows many of Parr's other clients lost theirs to default judgments when Parr didn't show up in court repeatedly.

    Tarpley says he's hoping the story isn't over yet. "I do have some faith that there is still justice."

    The Florida Bar says clients of Parr's who lost money can apply for reimbursement through the Clients Security Fund.(1) The State Attorney's Office says criminal charges against Parr are possible but civil suits are more realisitic if Parr can be located.
For the story, see Contact 5 Investigators track disbarred attorney who leaves hundreds of clients looking for answers (Victims say attorney cost them their homes/cash).

(1) The Florida Bar's Clients' Security Fund was established to reimburse clients who have suffered a loss due to misappropriation or embezzle­ment by a Florida-licensed attorney.

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.

Dubious Duo Get Tagged w/ Another Civil Lawsuit By State Authorities For Allegedly Peddling Bogus Loan Modification Services; Pair Apparently Continues Avoiding Criminal Prosecutors' Radar (Where Are The Feds?)

In Cleveland, Ohio, reports:
  • Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit [] accusing two California men of operating fictitious loan modification services in Ohio.

    According to the lawsuit, Mehdi Moarefian and Serj Geutssoyan told consumers they could "avoid foreclosure by negotiating a loan modification or other loan adjustment." The men charged $995 to $5,495 as "initial fees" for their services, but did not get loan modifications for any of their clients, the suit states.

    Moarefian and Geutssoyan advertised online and claimed to run several businesses, including "Tree Financial Group" and "Save Point Financial," but the businesses were never incorporated, the lawsuit says. Some clients were also told Moarefian and Geutssoyan could help them get federal loans, but the men failed to do so. They also refused to provide refunds when people complained about not having their loans modified, the lawsuit states.

    DeWine accuses the two men and their companies of violating Ohio's Consumer Sales Practices Act and Debt Adjuster's Act.

    The Attorney General's Office reported that 18 Ohioans fell victim to the scheme, losing an average of $2,000 each. That includes people in Cuyahoga County, where the lawsuit was filed, and elsewhere in the state.


    Similar lawsuits have been filed against the two in several other states, including Connecticut and Indiana.(1)(2)
For the story, see Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sues two California men over loan modification business.

For the Ohio AG press release, see Attorney General DeWine Sues California Loan Modification Operators for Failing to Deliver Services.

For the lawsuit, see State of Ohio v Moarefian, et al.

(1) For examples of some of the legal actions variously taken against this duo by authorities in other states, see Connecticut: In re Moarefian; Indiana: State of Indiana v. Geutssoyan; Maryland In re Geutssoyan; Oregon: In re Premier Financial Center.

(2) Maybe it's time to call in the Feds to criminally prosecute this pair (ie. mail and/or wire fraud, conspiracy, etc. Go here and go here for a few examples). Going after these guys with civil lawsuits appears to be a waste of time. Regrettably, local prosecutors may be too busy to go after them with state law charges (ie. theft by deception/theft by false pretenses, fraud, racketeering, etc.), assuming, of course, they actually committed the acts the Ohio Attorney General's office alleges in its lawsuit.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Detroit Feds: California-Based Pair Created Straw Men/Fake Accounts To Run Bid-Rigging Racket Of Online Auction Of Tax-Foreclosed Real Estate That Defrauded Wayne County Of $420K

In Detroit, Michigan, The Detroit News reports:
  • A pair of California investors have been indicted on accusations they defrauded Wayne County of $420,000 by rigging an online auction of tax-foreclosed properties.

    The pair exploited weaknesses in the 2013 auction that allowed them to buy 32 properties for $48,200, when the total price should have been $471,000, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of wire fraud charges.

    Prosecutors say the scheme worked like this: One investor made a low opening bid. Then he and his partner used fake accounts to start a bidding war that scared away potential buyers. When time came to pay, the straw men defaulted, allowing the property to go to the investor who made the low opening bid.

    The scam allowed the pair — posing as “Lee Jones” and “Robert Evans” — to buy seven houses in Inkster for $5,300 that attracted bids totaling $99,000, according to the indictment.

    Wayne County Chief Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski said weaknesses in the auction that allowed the scheme were fixed.

    “After each auction, we figure out scams and plug the hole that allowed them, then they try to figure out a new way to beat the system,” Szymanski said. “People are always trying to figure out a way to game the system.”

    The federal indictment charged Mehran Aminzadeh of Santa Clara, Calif., and Ashraf Massih Hosseinian with eight counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The charges stem from bank transfers to pay for the properties.

    The auction’s vulnerabilities were memorably highlighted in 2013 when a Texas doctor bid $6 million for the infamous Packard Plant on the east side. When that sale and another fell through, the sprawling property eventually went to Peru developer Fernando Palazuelo for $405,000.

    Last year, the county stopped using the auction site,, and took over the sale of properties that are three or more years behind in taxes. This September, about 30,000 tax-foreclosed properties are up for auction. Since the real estate meltdown in 2008, the county has foreclosed on 108,500 properties because of taxes.

Clerk's Refusal To Immediately Issue Certificate Of Sale Upon Winning Bidder's Payment Of Purchase Price Leaves Door Open For Foreclosed Florida Homeowner To Subsequently Sneak In & Save Home w/ Last Minute Tender Of Funds In Exercising Right Of Redemption

From a client alert from the Florida law firm Burr & Forman:
  • In Palm-Aire Vill. Private Homes Townhouse Park Bd., Inc. v. Epstein, No. COSO14-011561 (Fla. Cir. Ct. May 18, 2015), the Court was faced with the issue of whether the Homeowner successfully exercised his right of redemption pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 45.0315 even though a third-party purchaser at a foreclosure auction had tendered funds just before the Defendant did so.

    In this case, the property was sold at foreclosure auction on March 27, 2015 to a third-party purchaser. Three days later, the third-party purchaser tendered funds to the Clerk of Court at 9:39 a.m., but the Clerk refused to issue the certificate of sale until the funds cleared. Later that same day, and prior to the issuance of the certificate of sale, the Homeowner tendered funds to the Clerk in an amount sufficient to redeem the property.

    The third-party purchaser contended that it was entitled to the property rather than the Homeowner and that the Clerk failed to promptly issue a certificate of sale as required by Fla. Stat. § 45.031(4). Alternatively, the third-party purchaser contended that the Homeowner failed to seek relief diligently by waiting beyond the 50 days between the entry of final judgment and the foreclosure sale to take action to prevent the sale. Homeowner argued that the rights of redemption provided in Fla. Stat. § 45.0315 allowed a mortgagor the right to cure the indebtedness “at any time before the later of the filing of the certificate of sale by the clerk of the court or the time specified in the judgment, order, or decree of foreclosure.”

    The [] court ruled in favor of the Homeowner and held that the redemption statute must be interpreted strictly and that the right to redeem had not been foreclosed upon until the issuance of the certificate of sale. The Court recognized that even though the Clerk was not prompt in issuing the certificate of sale, there is ambiguity in the meaning of “promptly” which precluded the court from construing that term to override the equitable right of redemption. In addition, the Court rejected the third-party purchaser’s contention that Homeowner had delayed seeking his relief, noting that the clerk’s delay in issuing the certificate of sale after payment could not be attributed to the Homeowner.

    While it is uncommon for defendants to come up with the necessary funds to exercise their right of redemption, in the event that they do, Florida courts will strictly construe the applicable statute so that the right of redemption will remain available until the actual issuance of the certificate of sale by the Clerk.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Vegas-Area Adverse Possession-Claiming Crackpot Gets Off w/ Hand-Slap; Cops Guilty Pleas To Seven Felonies, But Dodges Prison Time, Gets Up To Four Years Probation, $1,000 Fine

In Las Vegas, Nevada, the Las Vegas Review Journal reports:
  • A former real estate agent accused of breaking into Las Vegas valley homes he didn't own and renting the properties to unsuspecting tenants was given probation [...] on seven felony charges.

    Eric Alpert staked claim to what he believed to be abandoned houses and defended his actions under what's known as adverse possession, a centuries-old method of obtaining title to property. His defense attorney argued the case should have been handled as a civil matter, but prosecutors said Alpert was warned about his practice in the past.

    Nevada law allows someone who maintains and pays taxes on property for at least five years to claim ownership.

    Initially charged with two dozen felonies as far back as 2009, Alpert reached a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to seven felonies. He was sentenced [] to probation on one count of obtaining money under false pretense s and one count of offering a false instrument for filing or record. On Tuesday, a judge ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine and serve probation on five felonies: two counts of burglary, one count of theft and one additional count each of obtaining money under false pretenses and offering a false instrument for filing or record. His probation would not exceed four years, judges in Alpert's cases ruled.

    Under the plea, Alpert agreed to "never engage in or attempt to engage in the use of adverse possession or any related property law as a mechanism to obtain title or interest in any property."

    Defense lawyer, Josh Tomsheck, said he would ask that Alpert be allowed to serve out his probation in Hawaii, where he now lives and runs a scooter rental business.

    Tomsheck said the criminal charges were "financially devastating" to Alpert, and that he suffered a heart attack last year while awaiting trial.

    "He always felt this was a civil matter," Tomsheck said. He said the criminal charges were unprecedented, and no one facing similar allegations in Nevada had been convicted.

    But prosecutors said Alpert did not follow Nevada's adverse possession statutes before he started renting out four North Las Vegas homes. They argued that Alpert should have known he was doing something wrong after he was fined and his license was revoked by the Nevada Real Estate Division in 2004.

    Court documents named several victims who paid Alpert rent and deposits, only to have the owner or an agent from the bank show up to evict them.

    Tomsheck argued that the charges are equivalent to a property owner requesting the arrest of a neighbor over a property line dispute. The defense attorney said Alpert paid taxes on dozens of other properties for years. Prosecutors disagreed.

    Adverse possession laws, which differ by state, ensure that privately owned land remains productive. Typically it takes years of occupation before the title legally changes hands. That protects people who have trouble making mortgage payments, as well as those who take extended vacations, from coming home to find their home occupied by a stranger.

    In April 2009, a North Las Vegas homeowner called police after he found his place occupied by someone who had signed a lease with Alpert.

    Alpert told authorities that when he found homes that appeared to be abandoned or in foreclosure, he would post a notice on the door, giving the owner 15 days to contact him. If he did not receive a response, he would change the locks.

    "I go in and clean up the house, take pictures of the house, and then I basically rent out the house," he said, according to court records. The neighbors appreciated his efforts, he said, "because it's an eyesore, so I do a good thing for the neighborhood."

Trio Pinched For Allegedly Breaking Into Home, Changing Locks, Holding House Hostage Claiming They Worked w/ Mortgagee; Refused To Allow Owners Into Their Own Home, Demanding They Sign Over Their Deed First

From the Office of the Queens County, New York District Attorney:
  • Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown [] announced that two Long Island brothers and a New Jersey man have been charged with breaking into a Jamaica Estates residence in April, changing the locks and refusing to allow the true homeowners to enter the premises until they transferred the deed of the house to the defendants.

    District Attorney Brown said, “In a truly bizarre case, the defendants are accused of breaking into a Queens residence and locking the true owners out, then forcing them to negotiate with the defendants if they wanted to gain access to their own home. If convicted, the defendants face lengthy time behind bars.”

    The District Attorney identified the defendants as Brandon, Sestoso, 33, his brother Chas Sestoso, 31, both of McAllester Avenue in Hicksville, and Jesse Kusinow, 32, of Howell, New Jersey.

    District Attorney Brown said that, according to the charges, the homeowner’s wife left her Grand Central Parkway residence on the morning of April 29, 2015, and when she returned that evening she discovered that the locks on her residence had been changed and the three defendants inside. The defendants allegedly informed her that they were working with the bank that held the mortgage on the property and that she could not gain access to the property unless she signed documents pertaining to the house.

    It is alleged that when the homeowner’s wife informed the defendants that her husband was the sole property owner and that he was in China, they had her call him. They allegedly told him that if he and his wife wanted to gain access to their house, he would have to sign some documents, which they e-mailed to him – including a deed transfer for the property. Although the husband allegedly signed and e-mailed several of the documents back to the defendants, he did not sign or send the deed transfer. As a result, the husband allegedly received numerous text messages and emails from the defendants requesting the signed deed transfer.

    The following day, the defendants allegedly gave the homeowner’s wife ten minutes to retrieve belongings from the first-floor of the house. When she entered the residences, she allegedly observed that the interior of her home had been ransacked.

    Finally, it is alleged that the homeowner returned to his residence with a locksmith on May 16, 2015, and removed all of the locks that the defendants had placed on the residence. Inside, the homeowner allegedly discovered the house to be in disarray and property to be missing, including jewelry, knives, cash and the deed and documents related to the ownership of his home.
Source: Trio Charged With Breaking Into Queens Home, Changing The Locks And Holding House Hostage From Owners (Defendants Allegedly Claimed To Work For Bank Holding Mortgage And Ordered Homeowner To Sign House Over To Them In Order To Gain Access To Their Belongings).

Monday, August 17, 2015

49-Year Old Woman Who Allegedly Convinced Recently-Widowed, Dementia-Suffering Senior To Marry Her Faces Multiple Felony Theft Charges; DA: She Manipulated Victim To Name Her As Beneficiary On His Home, Pension, Vehicles

From the Office of the Orange County, California District Attorney:
  • The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) is seeking potential additional victims of a woman charged with defrauding over $24,000 in cash and property from an elderly man. Polly Sandra John, 49, Anaheim, is charged with five felony counts of theft from an elder, two felony counts of attempted theft from an elder, three felony counts of grand theft auto, one felony count of grand theft, and sentencing enhancements for aggravated white collar crime over $100,000, and property damage loss over $65,000.


    Between Nov. 1, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2012, John is accused of isolating 76-year-old Lynn Merrell, who suffered from dementia, and convincing the victim to marry her after the victim’s wife passed away. John is accused of manipulating the victim into changing his bank accounts, coercing the victim to give her money, and listing the defendant as a beneficiary of Merrell’s pension, home, and his vehicles. John is accused of taking the victim’s money, cars, and forcing the victim to buy her another car.

Granddaughter, Hubby, Notary Allegedly Colluded To Record Forged Documents Against Now-Deceased Grandma's Home, Then Pledging Property To Score $75K 2nd Mortgage

From the Office of the Orange County, California District Attorney:
  • A husband and wife have been charged with stealing over $100,000 from an elderly woman with the assistance of a notary public.

    Christina Espinosa Aldana, 32, Thalia Lugo-Lainez 37, both of Garden Grove, and Willmar Lainez, 44, Anaheim, are each charged with three felony counts of filing a false document and three felony counts of forgery with sentencing enhancement allegations for aggravated white collar crime over $100,000, property loss over $65,000 and theft over $100,000.

    Lugo-Lainez and Lainez are also charged with two felony counts each of grand theft, two felony counts of theft from an elder, and two felony counts of identity theft. Aldana is also charged with three felony counts of perjury by declaration.


    Aldana is a registered notary public certified by the California Secretary of State. She is also employed in a clerical position by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA), but does not provide notary services to OCDA.

    Between Nov. 7, 2008, and Jan. 1, 2009, Lugo-Lainez and Lainez are accused of living with the elderly victim, the maternal grandmother of Lugo-Lainez, and forging her name on a second mortgage on her home in Garden Grove. Aldana is accused of violating her position of trust as a notary public and knowingly submitting and verifying the false documents.

    Aldana, Lugo-Lainez, and Lainez are each accused of forging the victim’s signature and information on documents to secure a second mortgage on the victim’s home. Lugo-Lainez and Lainez are accused of taking the money received from the second mortgage and depositing it into their own personal bank accounts, resulting in the victim losing over $75,000.

    Additionally, Lainez and Lugo-Lainez are accused of stealing the victim’s personal identifying information in 2014, in order to gain access and control over the victim’s primary bank-account. Lainez and Lugo-Lainez are accused of stealing over $40,000 from that account for their own personal use.

    When the victim stopped receiving bank statements in 2014, she contacted the bank and discovered the identity theft. She immediately reported the identity theft to Garden Grove Police Department, who investigated this case and subsequently arrested the defendants. The victim subsequently passed away in June 2014.
Source: Husband, Wife, And Notary Public Charged With Stealing Over $100,000 From Elderly Woman (Notary public is an Orange County District Attorney employee).

Mom Sues Son For Psychologically Strong-Arming Her Into Signing Over POA While She Was Incapacitated & Recuperating From Multiple Brain Surgeries, Then Buying $350K House; Suit Seeks Title To Home, Other Damages

In Galveston, Texas, The Southeast Texas Record reports:
  • A Pflugerville woman is suing her son, alleging he coerced her into giving him power of attorney while see suffered from a medical condition.

    Vicki Boening filed a lawsuit June 9 in the Galveston County District Court against Christopher Finch, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, fraud by nondisclosure and conversion.

    According to the suit, in June 2010 Boening was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, and from 2010 through 2012, the plaintiff underwent extensive brain surgeries to treat hydrocephalus. While recovering from the medical treatment and incapacitated, the suit says, Finch forced Boening to sign a power of attorney, giving the defendant the authority to make decisions relating to his mother's medical and financial condition.

    According to the lawsuit, Finch coerced Boeing to purchase property at 6825 Highland Road, Santa Fe, Texas, for $350,000 and $100,000 in repairs and renovations. The suit also alleges the defendant exercised dominance and control over Boeing.

    Boeing seeks title to the Highland Road property and damages, including attorney fees and legal costs. She is represented by attorney Laura Roth of Pflugerville.

58-Year Old NYC Woman Who Persuaded Dying, Senile 85-Year Man To Adopt Her In Attempt To Inherit His 2-Bedroom, $100/Month Rent-Controlled Apartment Continues Six-Year Fight To Dodge Boot Despite Now Renting The Rooms Out On Airbnb

In Long Island City, Queens, the New York Post reports (via The Real Deal (NYC)):
  • First she got herself adopted by a dying old man to hang onto his rent-controlled flat — and now she’s turned it into a hotel.

    Maria DeTommaso not only refuses to vacate the two-bedroom apartment in Long Island City, Queens — for which she has no lease — but she’s advertising for paying guests through Airbnb.

    “She can’t rent rooms. This is not a rooming house,” said Sugrim Outar, the landlord who has been fighting to evict DeTommaso since her adoptive dad, Nicholas DeTommaso, died in 2009.

    Maria DeTommaso was 58 when she was adopted weeks before the death of Nicholas, a senile 85-year-old who paid $100 a month as the legal occupant.

    The state ruled in 2013 that she was not entitled to the rent-controlled apartment, but she has fought to keep it.

    DeTommaso refers to it as “my father’s home for 85 years” in her Airbnb ad titled "Spectacular Manhattan Skyline View.” The row house has no such view.

    She is charging $55 a night for a room in the apartment. It has 100 reviews from visitors, some of whom left unhappy. “That was the worst place I’ve ever been,” visitor Tim Martin wrote.

    Another left early, citing a sign saying, “Please leave bathroom door open for the doggies.” Another wrote, “The shower is used by her dogs to poop and piss.”

    DeTommaso moved in with Nicholas in 2002 and became the beneficiary of his life insurance and pension.

    Outar tried to evict her after the state’s 2013 ruling but withdrew the suit last year over technical issues. He is now waiting for a final determination from the state.

    DeTommaso has paid $600 in rent since 2009. Outar says he is owed $100,000. “I have bills to pay,” he said.

    DeTommaso refused to discuss her Airbnb operation with The Post. “It’s my personal business,” she said. “He doesn’t consider me his tenant. When I have a lease, I will abide by whatever law is necessary.”.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

'Newly Installed Lobby Doors That Only Open w/ Electronic Key Which We Can't Use On Sabbath, Holy Days Constitues Religious Discrimination Under Fair Housing Act,' Say Orthodox Jewish Tenants In 16-Story, 20-Building NYC Complex

In Rego Park, Queens, the New York Daily News reports: (via The Real Deal (NYC)):
  • Orthodox Jewish tenants at LeFrak City in Queens claim they are being discriminated against because newly installed lobby doors only open with an electronic key — which they cannot use on the Sabbath, a federal lawsuit alleges.

    Sulaymon Ibragimov and Murod Takhalov are suing the LeFrak Organization for alleged religious discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

    “Halakha, the Jewish law, prohibits Jews from breaking or creating an electric circuit on the Sabbath, and during certain days of observance such as Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and Passover,” according to the suit filed in Brooklyn Federal Court.

    For a half century, tenants used metal keys to open the lobby doors, but a massive renovation project begun in 2012 has created new religious barriers for hundreds of Jewish families who reside at the 20-building complex in Rego Park, the class-action suit alleges.

    The renovations included new lobby doors that open using an electronic key fob, which is also used to activate lights in the stairwell by using motion and sound detectors.

    Ibragimov, 26, and Takhalov, 45, say they cannot use the elevator on the Sabbath or holy days as well, and the automatic lights also violate religious law for observant Jews.

    “It’s like praying for a miracle to stand outside waiting for someone to come and open the door or someone to use the elevator,” Ibragimov told the Daily News. “I’ve also missed services at my synagogue many, many times.”

    Jewish tenants are forced to stand outside the building in inclement weather “and in the dark of night,” the suit states.

    The final straw occurred when a building manager told him to “Go somewhere else if you don’t like it,” he said.

    “There are rules in every faith and I want LeFrak management to respect every religious belief,” Ibragimov said.

    Their lawyer, Daniel Markowitz, is demanding that the complex install a single door in every building with a regular key lock, and a so-called “Shabbos” or Sabbath elevator, which is programmed to stop on every floor without the rider having to press any buttons on the holy days. That would relieve tenants from having to scale the stairs in the 16-story buildings.

    “It’s not that hard to have a chip installed for a Shabbos elevator, and to give the tenants a key and leave the lights on for 24 hours like they’ve done in the past,” Markowitz said.

    LeFrak City actually has a Jewish center on its campus, but Ibragimov attends a synagogue several blocks away.

    A spokeswoman for the LeFrak Organization said in a statement that the key fob system was installed in compliance with federal Department of Housing and Community Renewal rules and regulations.

Another Municipality Trips Over Its Allegedly Discriminatory Code Requirements Affecting Those w/ Intellectual Disabilities; Agrees To Pay $50K & Other Non-Monetary Consideration To Resolve Fair Housing Suits

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department [] announced an agreement with the city of Petal, Mississippi, to resolve allegations of discrimination against persons with intellectual disabilities who sought to live in supported housing in one of the city’s residential neighborhoods.

    The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, alleges that the city violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act when it took actions to prevent three men with disabilities from residing together in a rented home on the same terms as non-disabled persons; under the city’s zoning code, up to four unrelated persons may reside together in a home in a residential neighborhood. The home at issue is run by Brandi’s Hope Community Services, LLC, a Magee, Mississippi-based company that provides around-the-clock support for residents.

    Under the terms of the agreement, approved by the court on July 29, 2015, the city will pay $25,000 to Brandi’s Hope in monetary damages and $25,000 to the United States as a civil penalty. The city will take other remedial measures, including implementing the comprehensive reasonable accommodation policy and zoning code amendments it enacted as part of the settlement. The settlement also resolves a separate lawsuit against the city brought by Brandi’s Hope.

    “Persons with disabilities have the right to live in and enjoy their communities, just as all families do throughout our nation,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, the head of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to eliminate discriminatory barriers that impede these individuals from doing so. We commend the city of Petal for working cooperatively with the department to reach this resolution.”(1)
Source: Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Alleging Disability Discrimination in Housing by the City of Petal, Mississippi.

Go here for other posts on Fair Housing Act/Americans With Disabilities Act enforcement in connection with those with intellectual/developmental disbilities

(1) Under Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), the Supreme Court held that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals with [intellectual] disabilities have the right to live in the community rather than in institutions if, in the words of the opinion of the Court, "the State's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities." (Reference: Wikipedia).

Alleged Failure To Grant Request For Wheelchair Ramp For Tenant's Severely Disabled Young Son For Over A Year To Cost Foot-Dragging Bay State Landlord $15K In Damages To Settle Fair Housing Suit

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:
  • A Springfield landlord, property management company, and condominium trust have agreed to attend fair housing training, implement a reasonable accommodation policy, and pay $15,000 to resolve allegations that they failed to timely grant requests for a wheelchair ramp and easier building access for a tenant whose young son is severely disabled, Attorney General Maura Healey announced [].

    “Tenants with disabilities should be able to use and enjoy their homes to the fullest extent possible,” AG Healey said. “Landlords are required under state law to work closely with tenants with disabilities to ensure that they are provided reasonable housing accommodations in a timely manner. This settlement will implement the policy changes and education needed to improve equal access.”

    According to the assurance of discontinuance, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Michele Zakashansky – individually and as an agent of Sunset Properties, LLC and Pearl Street Condominium Trust – discriminated against the tenant on the basis of her son’s disability by failing to grant the tenant’s request for a wheelchair ramp for over a year. Without a ramp, the tenant was required to carry her son and his wheelchair up and down several stairs and through multiple doors when entering or exiting her apartment building.

    The assurance of discontinuance further alleges that Zakashansky wrongly failed to permit the tenant’s request for access to the rear entrance of her apartment through a locked side gate, which would have allowed her to transport her son up and down fewer stairs and through fewer doors.

    Under the terms of the settlement, Zakashansky will attend training on Massachusetts and federal fair housing law, adopt a Fair Housing Policy that complies with state and federal laws, and implement a written non-discrimination statement that will be distributed to all employees, tenants, and prospective tenants. The landlord, property management company, and condominium trust will also pay $15,000, which includes $11,000 for the tenant, $2,000 to the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center,(1) and $2,000 to the Commonwealth. The landlord and property management company must also continue to maintain the ramp, which was installed prior to the agreement set forth in the assurance of discontinuance.

    Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability in the rental of housing accommodations. This prohibition includes a landlord or managing agent’s refusal to make a reasonable accommodation or modification if it is necessary to afford the person with a disability full enjoyment of the premises.
Source: Springfield Landlord Resolves Allegations of Disability-Based Housing Discrimination (Defendants to Pay $15,000, Implement Reasonable Accommodation Policy and Attend Fair Housing Training after Delaying Installation of Wheelchair Ramp).

(1) The Massachusetts Fair Housing Center (also known as the Housing Discrimination Project, Inc.) provides free legal services and accepts housing discrimination complaints based on race, national origin, color, ancestry, religion, sex, disability, presence of minor children, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, marital status, military or veteran status, receipt of public assistance, including Section 8 housing assistance, receipt of housing subsidies or rental assistance, and genetic information.

MFHC also preserves homeownership, by advocating for distressed homeowners in mortgage lending cases, and by assisting victims of foreclosure rescue scams.

MFHC serves Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester Counties.

Civil Rights Feds Enter Ongoing Suit Fighting Criminalization Of Homeless Who Sleep In Public Places When There Is Insufficient Shelter Space

In Boise, Idaho, the Idaho Statesman reports:
  • The U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest [] in an ongoing lawsuit filed by several homeless people against the city of Boise over its ban on sleeping in public places.

    In its filing, the federal government argues that making it a crime for people who are homeless to sleep in public places when there is insufficient shelter space unconstitutionally punishes them for being homeless.

    The statement of interest was filed in Boise federal court in Bell v. City of Boise, a 2009 case brought by homeless plaintiffs who were convicted under Boise ordinances that criminalize sleeping or camping in public.