Saturday, December 12, 2015

Nuisance Law Pressures Landlord To Boot Domestic Abuse Victim For Calling 911 Too Often; Tenant Was Targeted By Her Violent Ex-Boyfriend; Local Ordinance Requires Landlord To "Abate" The Problem Or Risk Losing Rental License After Four Or More Calls To Cops

In Surprise, Arizona, CityLab reports:
  • Nancy Markham’s instinct was to call the police when she was attacked in her home.

    That’s exactly what the single mother of two from Surprise, Arizona, did when her ex-boyfriend allegedly choked her, punched her, or threatened her with weapons on multiple occasions between March and September 2014, according to legal documents describing the incidents. He often fled before the police responded. But in September, Markham received a different response to her 911 calls: an eviction notice.

    The police contacted my property manager because I’d called the police too many times,” says Markham, who spoke to reporters during a media call in August. “I’d never heard of this law before.”(1)

    Markham was referring to a local “nuisance law” that targets housing units that call 911 four or more times in a month to report a crime, or are the location where two or more crimes take place. Once the city identifies a housing unit as a nuisance and informs the landlord, he or she must ensure the conditions cease or risk losing the business license. Getting rid of the nuisance usually means getting rid of the tenant.(2)

    Cities across the U.S. have enacted similar nuisance laws, generally to cut down on the volume of 911 calls. The idea is that by penalizing people who dial in repeatedly, police departments can avoid wasted time and more efficiently fight crime. But sometimes people frequently call 911 because they frequently endure criminal activity. This is especially true with victims of domestic abuse, some of whom have been thrown out of their homes by such laws.

    And that’s spurring legal battles around the country to turn the tide against this type of ordinance.
  • These laws aren’t just an Arizona or Pennsylvania phenomenon(3). [ACLU attorney Sandra] Park says that in addition to those states the ACLU has worked to challenge or raise awareness about them in Iowa, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, and Wisconsin. There’s no comprehensive list of nuisance laws, though, because it’s hard to systematically identify them without sifting through every city’s local ordinances. And there are a lot of cities in America.

    “Without really trying we’ve documented hundreds of them,” Park says.
For more, see Get Abused, Call 911, Get Evicted (Repeat emergency callers can lose their homes under so-called “nuisance” laws, even if they're suffering real emergencies).
(1) The critics of this law, including landlords who say they are caught in the middle, argue that the police, not landlords, should deal with criminal activity and severe disorderly behavior. See Victims’ Dilemma: 911 Calls Can Bring Eviction.

(2) In Markham's case, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city of Surprise this past August, arguing that the arbitrary numerical limit on calls to the police denied Markham her 1st Amendment right to petition the government and 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection, the story states.

Last month, the Arizona district court issued a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the nuisance ordinance until the case is resolved or the city amends the law in a way that addresses the problem, CityLab reports. Sergeant Tim Klarkowski of the Surprise Police Department confirmed to CityLab that the ordinance is under review with the legal team, and that potential revisions could be on their way.

(3) See Victims’ Dilemma: 911 Calls Can Bring Eviction, where Norristown, Pennsylvania renter Lakisha Briggs was subjected to an eviction attempt after she got flown by helicopter to the hospital with a four-inch stab wound in her neck. The story states that her violent ex-boyfriend did the stabbing, but it was her apartment, so the law considered her the nuisance. The ACLU sued ocn her behalf and won, spurring statewide legislation in Pennsylvania to protect tenants who need to call 911 in an emergency, according to the story. Note that after the final 911 call (which was made by a neighbor), Norristown officials reportedly instructed Briggs' landlord to evict her within 10 days or lose his rental license.

He Said/She Said Lawsuit Anticipated Against Public Housing Agency After Poor Female Tenants Say Managing Agent Sought Sexual Favors In Exchange For Rent Breaks; Accused's Response: "It's A Witch Hunt"

In Hickory, North Carolina, The Charlotte Observer reports:
  • The public housing tenant was unemployed and needed money to pay rent last year when she said a Hickory housing official started calling and visiting her home uninvited.

    He suggested he could help her with rent money in return for sex, she said. Despite her reluctance, she said, he got what he wanted.

    “I was afraid (the Housing Authority) would retaliate against me,” said the woman, who is a single mother. “I was shocked and felt, ‘If I say no, what’s going to happen to me?’”

    The allegations are summarized in a complaint letter three former Hickory Public Housing Authority employees sent to federal officials and that is part of an anticipated lawsuit.

    Legal experts and advocacy groups said the Hickory case fits a familiar pattern where men target poor, single mothers who are fearful of losing affordable housing.
    “Instances of harassment in recent years have become more egregious,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity. “We need to clarify the problem with housing providers. We want them to have sanctions and protocols. We want them to report criminal behavior.”

    But the Hickory case also illustrates how local public housing agencies fail to detect and eliminate employees suspected of preying on residents.

    The accused employee has worked at six different housing agencies in the Carolinas and Virginia, including the Charlotte Housing Authority. Despite being placed on a “do not rehire” list after he left Charlotte, he went on to work at other housing authorities, including in Statesville, where he works today.
    In Hickory, a female tenant produced text messages, recorded conversations and even her child as a witness to corroborate her allegations, according to the 10-page letter signed by former employees.

    She and other Hickory public housing tenants are part of an anticipated lawsuit alleging former Property Operations Manager Montele Burton sexually harassed them. Greensboro attorney Craig Hensel, who represents the women, said at least six tenants have come forward so far to allege they were sexually harassed by Burton or other employees.

    In separate interviews, three of the women accused Burton of making suggestive comments, threatening them and offering to pay their rent in exchange for sexual favors. The Observer is not publishing their names because they still live in public housing and fear reprisals.

    The women did not report the incidents to police. That is common in such cases, said Oliveri, the professor, who is also a former attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division. Prosecutors are reluctant to seek charges because it is difficult to define when sexual harassment becomes criminal, she said.

    In one case, a woman said she was struggling financially in the fall of 2014 when Burton started texting and calling her late at night. The woman said she relied on Hickory’s public housing agency for an apartment that cost her $50 a month.

    She said Burton promised to help her. “I did what I had to do,” the woman said. “I have been homeless before. I didn’t want to be homeless again.”

    By January 2015, she said she wanted to break off the relationship. Burton threatened her and said he had the power to evict her from her home, she said.

    Hensel, the attorney, said the woman recently filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which helps enforce fair employment laws.

    She said she once worked for $9 per hour cleaning vacant units for the Housing Authority, but her hours were drastically reduced after she told agency leaders about her relationship with Burton. Some weeks, she said, she received no work at all.

    The single mother who feared eviction said she was struggling to pay her $50 monthly rent when Burton propositioned her in late September or early October of 2014.

    “He said ‘I can help you, if you help me,’” the woman recalled. “He said ‘We’re all adults here. I think you know what I mean.’”

    She said she agreed to perform sex acts and Burton made several rent payments on her behalf. He swore her to secrecy, she said.

    ‘A witch hunt’

    Burton, who has not been criminally charged, defended himself in two interviews with the Observer. He said he is the victim of unfair attacks orchestrated by former Hickory co-workers and tenants who didn’t pay their rent on time.

    It’s a witch hunt,” Burton said. “This is the art of retaliation.”

    Burton said problems started when he refused to help a group of disgruntled co-workers who wanted the Hickory Housing Authority’s executive director, Alanda Richardson, fired.

    Tenants, Burton said, seek revenge because he was put in charge of making sure rent payments were timely. He said he enforced the rules more strictly than his predecessor and threatened to take several tenants to court for eviction proceedings.
For more, see Preyed on in public housing (Female tenants say former Hickory housing official sought sex for rent; Attorney: Six women allege harassment by agency employees; HUD proposes new rules to address national problem).

See generally, Sexual Harassment & The Fair Housing Act.

Substance-Abusing Ex-Housing Authority Executive Director Gets Two Years Probation After Using His Master Key To Break Into 90-Year Old Tenant's Apartment & Steal Her Vicodin; Defendant Had List Of All Residents' Medications; Bagged By Hidden Camera Planted By Victim's Suspicious Son

In Stoughton, Massachusetts, the Stoughton Journal reports:
  • Gregory Bartlett used a master key to enter the 90-year-old woman’s room without permission. While the victim was in a prayer meeting, Bartlett stole prescription medication from a bottle on her side table.

    Almost a year later, Bartlett, the former director of the town’s housing authority, pleaded guilty [] in Stoughton District Court to larceny and breaking and entering charges.

    Judge John Canavan sentenced Bartlett to two years probation, but he will serve six months in a house of corrections if he violates conditions of his release, including remaining alcohol and drug free. Bartlett, 58, of 16 Dean Road, Stoughton, was arrested by Stoughton police in early January after surveillance video caught him entering the tenant’s room and stealing almost 15 pills.

    He pleaded guilty [] to charges of felony breaking and entering into a building in the daytime, larceny from a building and larceny over $250 from a person older than 60 or disabled.
    Assistant District Attorney Peter Kelly read a victim impact statement for the family during the session.

    “Our 91-year-old mother is the sweetest mother, grandmother and great grandmother one can ask for,” the statement said. “The director of housing authority, the person who should have been the one who made sure that our mother, as well as other residents, were safe, was the one breaking in and stealing her prescription medication.”
For more, see Former Stoughton housing director admits stealing elderly woman's pills (Gregory Bartlett pleaded guilty to larceny and breaking and entering charges).

See also, Exec. director of Stoughton Housing Authority facing charges in connection with stealing meds:
  • [P]olice say Gregory Bartlett took them from a woman in her 90's who lived in one of the authority's units. As executive director, Bartlett had access to all apartments and also had a list of residents' medications.

    He was allegedly caught by the woman's son who became concerned after her mother's vicodin kept disappearing. "You don't take advantage of the elderly like that," her son said.

    Police say a released video shows Bartlett taking the pills from the woman's bedroom. The woman's son tells FOX25 he became suspicious when the number of pills in the bottle didn't add up, so he set up a hidden camera. Section 8

Friday, December 11, 2015

Woman Gets Pinched For Allegedly Ripping Off $40K From Her 92-Year Old Mom; Probe Triggered When Retirement Community Landlord Notified County Aging Services Agency That Formerly Prompt-Paying Victim Fell $30K+ Behind In Rent Once Daughter Scored POA

In Media, Pennsylvania, KYW-TV Channel 3 reports:
  • A woman is facing theft charges after she allegedly made $40,000 in unauthorized withdrawals from her mother’s bank account after she assumed Power of Attorney.

    According to Jack Whelan, the Delaware County District Attorney, she also allegedly created a GoFundMe page to fraudulently raise money, claiming her mother was ill when she was actually in good health.

    Fifty-three-year-old Carol Mongrandi, of Brookhaven, is charged with theft by unlawful taking or disposition, receiving stolen property, forgery and theft by deception.

    “We understand that the daughter may have her own financial needs, she may have her own expenses that she needs to pay, but not at mom’s expense,” Whelan told Eyewitness News.

    “Now you may have a reason why you’ve taken mom’s money and your reason may in your own mind be good- but it’s not. You need to make sure you take care of mom first,” Whelan continued.

    Authorities began investigating Mongrandi after being notified by Denise Gallagher, the Ombudsman Coordinator for Delaware County, about the alleged financial exploitation of a senior.

    Officials say Gallagher received a phone call from the administrator of the Lima Estates [a local retirement community] regarding resident Marjorie Montgomery, 92, who had been a resident at the Lima Estates for 35 years.

    The administrator said Montgomery always paid her bills on time, but that changed when her daughter, Carol Mongrandi, took over as her Power of Attorney.

    Authorities say despite numerous letters sent to Mongrandi, her mother’s account at the Lima Estates was in default of approximately $32,098.16.

    Officials say through the course of the investigation, it was learned that Mongrandi had allegedly been taking advantage of her mother in her capacity as Power of Attorney by opening bank accounts and credit cards in her mother’s name, as well as making withdrawals from her account.

    “No, no. It’s not right. It’s ridiculous,” Craig Heller, the defendant’s boyfriend, told Eyewitness News.

    Authorities say Mongrandi opened a credit card for Sears and Capital One, which she allegedly used for her daily living expenses.

    It is also alleged she signed her mother’s name to a car loan without her knowledge or authorization.

    Mongrandi is accused of then creating a GoFundMe page seeking donations from the public to pay for her mother’s bills. Authorities say on the page, she claimed her mother was experiencing a decline in her health after suffering two strokes, when she was in fact in good health.

    Officials say Mongrandi pocketed $1,200 that was raised through the page for her own use.

    “I to want commend Det. Ruggieri and the other members of our Senior Exploitation Unit who work diligently to protect our elderly residents, sadly sometimes even from their own families,” said District Attorney Jack Whelan. “It is far too often we see crimes against seniors committed by loved ones who feel entitled in their positions of authority. In this particular case, Carol Mongrandi stole from her very own mother, putting her previously sound financial accounts in default by thousands of dollars.”

New Mexico AG: Beware Of Ripoff Artists Using Misappropriated Loan Servicer Letterhead, "Spoofed" Phone Numbers To Dupe Foreclosure-Facing Homeowners Into Bogus Loan Mods & Out Of Their Cash

From the Office of the New Mexico Attorney General:
  • Attorney General Hector Balderas issued a scam alert to warn New Mexicans about a dangerous new scam preying on New Mexicans who are having trouble paying their mortgages.

    “Do not pay Ocwen mortgage payments by Moneygram in response to 'Making Home Affordable' offer letters or calls,” said Attorney General Hector Balderas. “This is a scam and if you receive one of these letters or calls please contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Attorney General at 505-222-9100.”

    Details about the scam:
  • The Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division has recently learned that New Mexico homeowners are being asked to send money to individuals by Moneygram.
  • Ocwen has investigated the matter and determined that third-parties are posing as Ocwen employees to obtain payment from consumers.
  • Consumers receive a letter advising them that they are being offered a “trial payment plan” or loan modification and then the consumer is directed to call a person to make the payments. An example of such a letter is attached.
  • The callers will at times “spoof” an Ocwen phone number so that it appears that the person calling the consumer is calling from an Ocwen phone number often in the area code “214.”
  • The United States Postal Inspection Service is working with Ocwen to investigate this matter as mail fraud.
  • If consumers have questions about their home loan, they can contact the real Ocwen at 800-746-2936.
For more, including a copy of a scam letter used in this racket, see SCAM ALERT: Attorney General Warns New Mexicans about “Making Home Affordable” Program.

Jacksonville-Area Property Tax Official Ramps Up Effort To Hunt Down Property Tax Cheats Claiming Fraudulent Homestead Exemptions

In Jacksonville, Florida. WOKV News reports:
  • The crackdown is picking up steam.

    Since entering office earlier this year, Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland has made a mission out of tracking down people claiming homestead exemption on local properties that aren’t eligible. The best estimate is about 3,000 properties, according to Holland, and that could mean recovering some $17 million over the next four years.

    “A well invested amount of energy being spent on that- but the return is going to be very good for the taxpayers,” Holland says.

    Holland says the prior Property Appraiser made an effort to start cutting back on fraud, but he’s now increased staff and concentrated the efforts. Just in the last week, the Supervisor of the Homestead Compliance unit was deputized as well. Holland says that gives them the ability to get data from other states, who are hesitant to give that kind of information to governments, rather than law enforcement.

    The office is also working out a contract with a service that will tap in to databases across the country. This is particularly valuable for homestead exemption fraud, because often people live in other states while claiming homestead on a property they vacation in or rent locally. Holland says it wouldn’t cost the County anything up front, rather the service would instead get 30% of the liens their information leads to- which Holland believes is a good deal.

    “You’re going to get 70% of what you haven’t gotten in the past,” he says.

    The service will not be paid for any liens that result from tips submitted by you or the ongoing efforts by the Property Appraiser’s Office. Holland hopes to have the contract in place and be getting data by March.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Forensic Mortgage Audit Commissioned By Central Florida Clerk Of Court Ends Up '$hi*-Canned' After 10-Month Police Probe; Sheriff: Report's Proponents Refused To Cooperate w/ Investigation, Not A Single Crime Was Found

In Osceola County, Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports:
  • Osceola Clerk of Court Armando Ramirez paid a felon $34,500 last year to find out if banks and other lenders were guilty of mortgage fraud.

    Months later, Ramirez claimed his investigation found 156 suspected cases of lenders defrauding homeowners and 26 more targeting elected officials. Orange-Osceola State Attorney Jeff Ashton turned over the findings to the sheriff's office to investigate.

    On Tuesday, Sheriff Bob Hansell announced his agency's 10-month investigation didn't find a single crime.

    The sheriff's report stated that Ramirez refused to assist the investigation and that the auditor he hired, David Krieger of DK Consultants in San Antonio, would not say who conducted the review.

    "After being told of the examiners' criminal histories, lack of certification and the possibility that The Clerk might have been a victim of scheme to defraud, The Clerk continued to support the examiners and would not cooperate with my investigation," Det. Jason Harhen wrote.

    Ramirez, a first-term Democrat and former New York City police detective, did not respond to a request for an interview.

    Krieger, who runs DK Consultants of San Antonio, could not be reached.

    In 1996, he was convicted for his role in a $64 million scam by Family Farm Preservation, an anti-government movement that sold fake money orders to pay off federally insured mortgages. Since then, Krieger has worked a variety of jobs including wedding entertainer and Austin Powers impersonator as well as a mortgage fraud consultant, records show.

    "It should be noted, at no time did Krieger claim any of the 126 individuals or the 26 elected officials mentioned in The Exam were victims of any crime," Harhen wrote. "He simply believed they could be victims based on his belief that the accepted system for mortgage assignment and recording in the United States is criminal and fraudulent."

    Krieger, the detective wrote, would not talk if he didn't like the questions.

    "When questioned about anything other than the information he wanted to talk about...Krieger became very defensive and stopped cooperating," Harhen wrote in his report. "I was unable to locate any evidence to show the concepts in the (examination) led to violations of the Florida statutes."
    By early July, the sheriff's Economic Crimes Unit had spent 1,000 hours investigating Ramirez's allegations that cost taxpayers about $27,000 on top of Krieger's fees. The final cost of the investigation was not available Tuesday.
For more, see Review discredits felon's $34,500 mortgage audit for Osceola Clerk Ramirez.

For an earlier story, see Osceola Clerk of Court questions how authorities are investigating mortgage fraud audit:
  • [R]amirez said he thinks the sheriff's office spent the time investigating him, including his personal Facebook page. "It seems to me they already formulated their own opinion from the inception of the case," said Ramirez. "I think the thousand hours was spent investigating the messenger."

Leader Of Loan Modification Racket That Fleeced 4,000+ Homeowners Out Of $7+ Million Gets 18 Years; Scam Fraudulently Claimed To Operate Program Sponsored By Feds

In Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times reports:
  • Following the housing crash last decade, 21st Century Legal Services Inc. offered homeowners facing foreclosure what seemed like a lifeline.

    All they had to do was pay fees to the Rancho Cucamonga firm, which promised to get their loans modified so their payments would be affordable. In the meantime, they were told they could stop paying their mortgage and communicating with their lenders.

    But it was all part of a fraud that ended disastrously for thousands of customers, according to the U.S. attorney's office, with many still losing their homes after paying fees for services that "were never provided."

    Federal prosecutors charged that 21st Century repeatedly pocketed those fees, cheating 4,000 plus homeowners out of more than $7 million in a nationwide scam.

    On Monday, a federal judge in Riverside sentenced the alleged ring leader and company founder, Andrea Ramirez, 47, of Rancho Cucamonga, to 18 years in federal prison.

    United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips also ordered Ramirez, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, to pay back victims nearly $6.8 million.

    Ten other defendants have also been convicted for their roles at 21st Century, with the last two scheduled to be sentenced later this month.(1)

    "Ramirez and her co-defendants made false promises to desperate homeowners, often took the last of their money and then abandoned them," said U.S Atty. Eileen M. Decker in a statement.
    It was able to secure business by falsely claiming to operate a program sponsored by the federal government. It promised customers could receive new loan terms with lower interest rates and reduced payments, and that fees would be refunded if 21st Century was unable to obtain the promised modification, according to the indictment.

    However, the company "rarely was successful in obtaining loan modifications for homeowners, and rarely refunded fees to homeowners," the indictment said.

    "They almost never achieved what they promised and it's not clear that they ever achieved what they promised," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Thomas Stout, who is prosecuting the cases. He added that the defendants have been ordered to make their victims whole, but given their remaining assets that's unlikely to happen.
For more, see Company founder gets prison for scheme to defraud distressed homeowners.

(1) See U.S. Attorney (Los Angeles) press release: Operator of Inland Empire Loan Modification Scam that Targeted Distressed Homeowners Sentenced to 18 Years in Federal Prison. The other ten defendants convicted are:
  • Christopher Paul George, 45, of Rancho Cucamonga, co-owner, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison;

    Crystal Taiwana Buck, 40, of Long Beach, who persuaded numerous victims to pay fees to 21st Century, was sentenced to five years in prison;

    Albert DiRoberto, 62, of Fullerton, who handled both sales and marketing – which included making a commercial for 21st Century – was sentenced to five years in prison;

    Yadira Garcia Padilla, 38, of Rancho Cucamonga – who, among other things, posted bogus positive reviews about 21st Century on the Internet – was sentenced to four years in prison;

    Michael Bruce Bates, of Moreno Valley, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison;

    Michael Lewis Parker, of Pomona, was sentenced to six years in prison;

    Catalina Deleon, of Glendora, is scheduled to be sentenced on December 14;

    Hamid Reza Shalviri, of Montebello, is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday, December 10;

    Mindy Sue Holt, of San Bernardino, was sentenced to 18 months in prison; and

    Iris Melissa Pelayo, of Upland, was sentenced to four years in prison.

Illinois AG Files Civil Lawsuit Accusing Loan Modification Operator Of Ripping Off Homeowners Out Of Upfront Fees, Then Failing To Provide Promised Services

From the Office of the Illinois Attorney General:
  • Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit against a Cicero company and its owner for a mortgage rescue and consumer fraud scheme that illegally charged consumers approximately $20,000 in upfront fees that resulted in little, if any, help to stay in their homes.

    The Attorney General filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against Carrey Services, Inc. and its president Reynaldo Rojas. The lawsuit seeks to shut down the business and obtain restitution for consumers.

    Madigan alleges the defendants advertised in Spanish-language newspapers and primarily targeted the Latino community with loan modification services. Madigan alleges the business owner met with consumers and made them sign various loan modification documents, but never provided the consumers with copies. In many instances, the documents were printed in English even though most consumers were Spanish-speaking.

    In addition, Madigan alleges the defendants charged upfront fees that exceeded the amount allowed under state law. Then, after failing to do any work, the defendants refused to provide refunds and, in many cases, were unresponsive to mediation letters from the Attorney General's Office.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Booted Hialeah Homeowner Who Fell Prey To Snatch & Flip Home Hijacking Scam Scores Court Order To Move Back Into Decades-Long Family Home w/ Pro Bono Legal Help; Litigation Continues To Restore Title In Her Name; County IG: "It’s Just Too Easy To Steal Somebody’s Property By Filing A Fraudulent Quitclaim Deed!"

In Miami-Dade County, Florida. The Miami Herald reports:
  • The house in Northwest Hialeah belonged to the Cleland family since the mid-1950s.

    Linda Cleland, an only child, watched her mother plant a pine sapling that grew to tower over the home in the front yard. Eventually, her parents aged there, fell ill and died years apart. Cleland’s two dogs are buried in the home’s yard.

    The house remained hers — until an April day when police suddenly came to evict Cleland, leaving her homeless while fighting to get her property back.

    My house was stolen from me. I couldn’t believe it was happening,” said Cleland, 60. “All my property was put in bags and tossed outside like garbage.”

    In a scam that authorities say has proliferated in recent years, Cleland fell victim to swindlers who used bogus quitclaim deeds to secretly strip her of the property, then sold the home to a Pembroke Pines investment firm.

    Spurred by cases like Cleland’s, the Miami-Dade Inspector General’s Office and prosecutors in recent weeks have begun meeting with the clerk of courts to figure out new procedures aimed at curbing quitclaim deed fraud.

    It’s just too easy to steal somebody’s property by filing a fraudulent quitclaim deed,” Miami-Dade Inspector General Mary Cagle told the Miami Herald and news partner WFOR-CBS4.

    For seven months, Cleland lived on the streets, occasionally crashing with friends, usually sleeping in a grassy area outside the nearby Palm Springs Methodist Church. This week, with help from Legal Services of Greater Miami,(1) a civil judge ordered Cleland be allowed to return to the three-bedroom home.

    “She had been feeling hopeless, but I definitively saw a sense of relief. She was stoic,” said Legal Services attorney Lissette Labrousse.

    OIG investigators are still probing Cleland's case and no arrests have been made.

    A quitclaim deed allows a property owner to quickly transfer it to someone else. The document must be notarized and can be filed to the clerk of courts in person, via mail or through the Internet.

    Investigators with the OIG believe the swindlers scour neighborhoods looking for abandoned or dilapidated homes in which the owners appear to have died. Fake quitclaim deeds are filed transferring ownership of the homes to “straw buyers,” who turn around and sell the homes.

    Exactly how many fraudulent quitclaim deeds are filed with the clerk’s office is unknown, authorities say, but there are so many that police cannot come close to investigating them all.

    “These scammers are usually very clever people who try and get around what you do,” said Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin. “We’re trying to stay a step ahead of them.”

    Some of the remedies being considered: photocopying IDs of people who file quitclaim deeds in person, retaining clerk of courts security footage for longer periods of time and creating a complaint hotline at the state attorney’s office.

    At least one major prosecution of a suspected quitclaim deed scammer is under way. The chief suspect is Yohany Garcia, 38.

    Prosecutors in 2012 accused her and a group of others of bilking prospective home buyers out of over $2 million. Garcia and others claimed they could sell people homes that were to be auctioned for simply the price of delinquent taxes, according to the state.

    While awaiting trial in that case, prosecutors said, Garcia this year tried to use two homes as collateral to help her bail out of jail.

    But according to an arrest warrant, OIG investigator Juan Koop found that both homes had been stolen using fake quitclaim deeds. The real owners had died and the properties had languished in the hands of relatives.

    Her defense attorney, Scott Sakin, said prosecutors do not “have a lot of evidence connecting her to wrongdoing.”

    “They don’t have her going to the recorder’s office to file false documents,” Sakin said. “There is nothing connecting her to the case except people who don’t like her and cut a deal. It’s a typical snitch case.”

    This type of forgery is not necessarily new either.

    One decade ago, the Inspector General’s office arrested two people for using bogus quitclaim deeds to steal and sell homes of dead or sickly people. In response, the clerk of courts began automatically sending letters to the last person who paid the tax bill, notifying them that a quitclaim deed had been filed on their property.

    Ruvin believes the letters have helped thwart some swindlers — in October alone, the clerk’s office sent 1,507 quitclaim deed notifications. But investigators believe some of the crooks actually retrieve the letters from mailboxes.

    At least one letter made it into Cleland’s hands, but only because she happened to check her mail just as the mailman was delivering it to her box. Cleland wrote a letter to the court declaring she had been the victim of fraud – but a judge nonetheless ordered she be evicted from her home.

    Exactly why and how Cleland’s house was targeted is unclear.

    But in March 2014, someone filed a bogus quitclaim deed purporting to be from Linda Cleland transferring the property into the name of her mother, Louise Cleland. “My mother had been dead, at that time, for close to 11 years,” Linda Cleland said.

    The form was supposedly witnessed by a notary named Kent Taylor — someone who does not exist.

    The next month, a second sham quitclaim deed sent the property from Louise Cleland to a company called JSM Construccion Corp, an entity started by a handyman named Julio S. Morales.

    By July 2014, Morales had sold the house for $100,000 to Stark Equity Group, of Pembroke Pines, which has no idea the property had been stolen. The company eventually had her evicted in April.

    A judge on Monday ordered the eviction order be vacated. The legal fight is not over. Cleland’s lawyer will now ask a circuit court to return the title of the home to her. Stark Equity’s lawyer did not return a call for comment.

    “These criminals are heartless. What they do is they prey upon the most vulnerable, the ones who are almost going to be homeless, the elderly,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told Natalia Zea of WFOR-CBS4. “We also know there are probably many other victims out there and we want to make sure they reach out to us so we can take action quickly.”
Source: Forged deeds lead to stolen homes, broken hearts in South Florida (Miami-Dade authorities warn of scammers filing bogus quitclaim deeds; Hialeah woman evicted from home owned by family since mid-1950s).
(1) Legal Services of Greater Miami a non-profit law firm that is the largest provider of broad-based civil legal services for the poor in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties in Florida, providing clients with legal services in three languages from regional offices located in Miami and South Dade (which also serves residents of Monroe County). The professional staff provides advice and representation in individual cases, addresses systemic issues, and empowers clients through community education and self-help clinics.

Southern California Man Pinched For Allegedly Harassing Federal Employee By Filing Fraudulent $10 Million Retaliatory Lien Against IRS Agent's Real Estate, Personal Property

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Riverside, California):
  • A man facing federal charges related to a $10 million lien filed against an Internal Revenue Service employee has been ordered held without bond pending trial after being arrested [] by federal agents.

    James R. Vanderveldt was arrested [Thursday, November 19] in United States District Court. The Court entered a not guilty plea on his behalf under the name of “John Doe” after he refused to enter a plea to the charges.

    A federal grand jury on Wednesday returned a two-count indictment that charges Vanderveldt with retaliation against a federal law enforcement officer by filing a false lien and obstructing the administration of the internal revenue laws. The indictment alleges that the crimes took place in San Bernardino County.

    At Vanderveldt’s court appearance on Thursday, a trial was scheduled for January 12, 2016 before United States District Judge Jesus G. Bernal. If he is convicted of the two counts, Vanderveldt would face a statutory maximum sentence of 13 years in federal prison.

    “The filing of fraudulent liens against government officials is more than harassment – it is a crime,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Use of this tactic to intimidate or deter a public official from doing his or her duty will fail.”

    According to the indictment, Vanderveldt filed a false lien against the real and personal property of IRS employee “D.H.” that claimed the employee and D.H.’s spouse owed Vanderveldt $10 million. The false lien was allegedly filed in 2010 “on account of D.H.’s performance of his official duties.”

    Vanderveldt is also charged in the indictment with “sending a false bill and other materials to D.H. that referenced a $10,000,000 debt that D.H. and D.H.’s spouse purportedly owed to Vanderveldt. In truth and in fact, as defendant Vanderveldt then well knew, neither D.H. nor D.H.’s spouse were indebted to defendant Vanderveldt.”

Convicted On Income Tax Charges, Hubby & Wife Now Accused Of Filing $100+ Million In Retaliatory Liens Against Clerk Of Court, Two Federal Judges & Prosecutor Involved In Tax Case

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • A federal grand jury sitting in Eugene, Oregon, returned a superseding indictment [] against a couple previously residing in Coquille, Oregon, charging them with one count of conspiracy to file false retaliatory liens and four counts of filing false retaliatory liens against government employees for performing their official duties, Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division announced. The original indictment was returned on March 18.

    According to the superseding indictment, Ronald D. Joling and Dorothea Joling were convicted in October 2014 on various criminal charges related to their federal income taxes. While on pretrial release in that case, the Jolings filed false retaliatory liens claiming that multiple federal employees each owed the Jolings $100.003 million. The federal employees against whom these false liens were filed included two federal judges assigned to the criminal tax case, the clerk of the court for the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon and the Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the criminal tax case. The liens were publicly filed with the Secretary of State for the state of California.

    The Jolings were scheduled to be sentenced in the criminal tax case on April 22, but failed to appear in court. They were fugitives until arrested on Oct. 5, in Flagstaff, Arizona. The Jolings are currently in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

County Deed Recording Officials Continue Instituting Fraud-Alert Systems In Effort To Reduce Fraudulent Use Of Forged Documents In Title Hijacking Rackets

In Macomb County, Michigan, The Macomb Daily reports:
  • A property-transaction alert system likely will be instituted in Macomb County in the new year to help reduce real estate and mortgage fraud.

    Clerk Carmella Sabaugh, also the register of deeds, Tuesday is expected to gain approval from the county Government Operations Committee to start the fraud-alert system in which all property owners and property-tax payers in the county will be notified when any transaction takes place involving their property, notably the recording of liens and deeds.

    Property owners and those who pay taxes on property will receive the notice via a one-page letter in the mail. The letter will provide the web site,, where the recipient can check the transaction online and get a copy for $6 or in the Mount Clemens office for $1 to ensure it is legitimate. If the transaction appears to be illicit, the property owner can call the Register of Deeds consumer hotline number at 586-469-7953, Sabaugh said.

    “This will let property owners quickly detect any fraudulent recordings and take action,” says a report to the board from Sabaugh’s office.

    The proposed system is believed to be the first of its kind in the state and is supported by the Detroit FBI office, which is allowing the clerk to place the FBI logo on the card, officials said.

    Macomb Probate Judge Carl Marlinga expressed his support in a Nov. 13 letter to county board Chairman David Flynn. Marlinga said as a former a state and federal prosecutor, as well as a judge, he has seen the effects of real estate fraud. In probate court, fraud sometimes is discovered years or decades later.

    “This consumer alert system will make it easier for families to resolve issues around the time documents are recorded, instead of years later,” Marlinga says. “(It) may also help prevent elder abuse by alerting homeowners when deeds or liens are recorded. This system will give homeowners the information they need in order to help protect their property rights.”

    Clerk officials noted that property owners will be notified when a contractor places a lien on a property on which it is working. Property owners also will be notified when a homeowners’ association records a document on their property, officials said. Also, parties in a land contract would receive notice when the contract is paid off.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Lawyer Who Faced 15 Years After Fleecing $100K+ From Clients Dodges Major Sentence; Gets One Year In Jail After Coughing Up Substantial Amount In Restitution, Including $280K To State Bar's Client Protection Fund

In Brooklyn, New York, the New York Post reports:
  • A​ ​Brooklyn attorney who was disbarred for embezzling more than $100,000 from over 25 clients he represented in personal injury cases was sentenced ​in Brooklyn Supreme Court ​Wednesday to one year in jail.

    Disgraced ​ex-​counselor Kenneth Gellerman deposited settlement checks into his own accounts, and on a number of occasions even pocketed funds after settling cases without his clients’ knowledge. He faced 15 years on the top count of grand larceny, but brokered a plea deal in June, 2015.

    The shady lawyer also had to cough up $280,000 in restitution to the Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection, a trust that reimburses people scammed by their attorneys.(1)

    “This defendant re-victimized people who suffered personal injuries by stealing their settlement money, abusing their trust and betraying his profession,” ​Brooklyn ​District Attorney Ken Thompson said in a statement. “He paid back a substantial amount in restitution and now deserves to spend time behind bars.”

    Gellerman, from Long Island, was disbarred following his September 2013 arrest for misuse of the funds. He had been scamming clients since 2008.
Source: Lawyer who embezzled over $100K from clients gets year in jail.
(1) 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.

See generally:
  • N.Y. fund for cheated clients wants thieving lawyers disbarred, a July, 2015 Associated Press story on this Fund reporting that the Fund's executive director, among other things, is calling for prompt referral to the local district attorney when the disciplinary committee has uncontested evidence of theft by a lawyer injuring a client or an admission of culpability;

    When Lawyers Steal the Escrow, a June, 2005 New York Times story describing some cases of client reimbursements ("With real estate business surging and down-payment amounts rising with home prices, the temptation for a lawyer to filch money from a bulging escrow account and later repay it with other clients' money has never been greater, said lawyers who monitor the thefts."),

    Thieving Lawyers Draining Client Security Funds, a December, 1991 New York Times story that gives some-real life examples of how client security funds deal with claims and the pressures the administrators of those funds may feel when left insufficiently financed as a result of the misconduct of a handful of lawyer/scoundrels.

Ohio High Court's Attorney Ripoff Reimbursement Fund Shells Out $750K+ In 2015 Due To Conduct Of 41 Lawyers; Two Victims Each Score $75K Maximum Payout

In Youngstown, Ohio, the Daily Legal News reports:
  • The 2015 Client Protection Fund annual report is more than just a collection of numbers, said Janet Green Marbley, administrator/secretary of the fund.

    “We are required by rule to publish this report every year,” said Marbley, who has headed up the program for the last 22 years. “But,” she said, “we really use it as a publicity tool, to make the public aware of our program.”

    Ohio’s Client Protection Fund, originally known as the Clients’ Security Fund, was established by the Ohio Supreme Court in 1985 as Rule VIII of the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio (Gov. Bar. R.).

    Marbley said the fund, “was established by the Supreme Court of Ohio to restore public confidence in the legal profession by providing financial reimbursement to victims of dishonest lawyers.”

    The fund, which is funded solely by attorney registration fees, has reimbursed more than $19 million to 2,680 former law clients, represented by just under 600 attorneys.

    In 2015, the fund disbursed about $767,000 to 141 law clients (out of 257 new applications) who sustained financial losses due to the conduct of 41 lawyers admitted to the practice of law in Ohio, according to the report. Two former clients received the $75,000 maximum award.

    Funds are awarded at quarterly meetings of a six-member board of commissioners, currently chaired by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John J. Russo.

    The vast majority of reimbursements arise from unearned funds, according to the report, with outright theft only accounting for 15 cases.

    One attorney accounted for over $150,000 of the total, and another individual attorney accounted for over $180,000. Over the years, the largest total amount reimbursed from the actions of one attorney was for almost $1.25 million for 33 clients (Youngstown’s Richard Goldberg, representing an amount more than double the next closest award).

    Although proud of the fund’s success during her tenure, Marbley says she is far more interested in the human stories, both clients’ and attorneys’, than she is in just the finances of the program.

    When I first came on board here, there were only a few attorneys who even knew that the fund existed,” she said. She has spent the last two decades on a mission to publicize the fund to attorneys, law students and, in particular, to the public.

    Marbley, a Columbus native, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati and her law degree from Capitol University. She spent some time teaching justice studies in Chicago, and then relocated to Chicago.

    When she was offered her current position, she said, she was not sure what it was, but a second interview, this time with then-Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, convinced her to take it.

    It was an opportunity, she said, “to help people who had become victims because they trusted their lawyer.”

    Marbley had a steep learning curve at the beginning, she said. In traveling around the state at the beginning of her tenure, it became obvious very early on that lawyers were not interested in any sort of negative approach toward the topic.

    “It was evident that we needed to put a positive spin on the topic,” she said.

    The positive message developed by Marbley and her dedicated staff then is the same theme that they present to attorneys and the public today: the very few attorneys who trigger these awards are a small percentage of the total number of attorneys in the state.

    “That proves that lawyers are not all crooks,” she said. After creating that message, Marbley said that her presentations found far more acceptance in lawyers’ groups.

    At the same time, she also saw the need to tell the public about the fund. If nobody knew about it, she said, nobody could take advantage of it.

    So, she said, she spends a considerable amount of time speaking to groups in all segments of society, in addition to putting considerable effort into electronic communication.

    She also speaks to law students, warning them especially about the perils inherent in small and solo practices of new attorneys “getting in over their heads” by over-promising and extending themselves into situations that they are not prepared for.

    Marbley credits both the fund’s staff, board, and the Supreme Court for the program’s success. “Every state has a similar fund,”(1) she said. “But there are states where these programs are not funded by the courts, and they have a very hard time.”

    After 22 years on the job, Marbley said that “I love what I do on a daily basis. I think that we continue to meet our goals and I am happy to be helping.”
Source: Client Protection Fund paid out more than $750K in 2015.
(1) 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.

See generally:
  • N.Y. fund for cheated clients wants thieving lawyers disbarred, a July, 2015 Associated Press story on this Fund reporting that the Fund's executive director, among other things, is calling for prompt referral to the local district attorney when the disciplinary committee has uncontested evidence of theft by a lawyer injuring a client or an admission of culpability;

    When Lawyers Steal the Escrow, a June, 2005 New York Times story describing some cases of client reimbursements ("With real estate business surging and down-payment amounts rising with home prices, the temptation for a lawyer to filch money from a bulging escrow account and later repay it with other clients' money has never been greater, said lawyers who monitor the thefts."),

    Thieving Lawyers Draining Client Security Funds, a December, 1991 New York Times story that gives some-real life examples of how client security funds deal with claims and the pressures the administrators of those funds may feel when left insufficiently financed as a result of the misconduct of a handful of lawyer/scoundrels.

Florida Supremes Suspend Bar Tickets For Five Attorneys For Playing Fast & Loose w/ Clients' Cash, Among Other Things

The Florida Bar recently announced that the Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 15 attorneys – permanently disbarring one attorney, suspending 11 attorneys and publicly reprimanding three.

Of the 15 lawyers disciplined, the following five attorneys were tagged for, among other things, playing fast & loose with clients' funds held in trust:
  1. Gordon Fenderson, Jacksonville, suspended for 45 days, effective 30 days from an Oct. 8 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004) Complaints against Fenderson’s law partner caused the Bar to audit the firm’s trust account. The audit uncovered technical trust account violations and negligent bookkeeping. The Bar also learned that Fenderson and his law partner were the owners of a loan modification/foreclosure rescue business called American Attorney Advocates. Further investigation revealed that Fenderson’s business model was not in compliance with Bar rules. (Case No. SC15-1220);
  2. Daniel R. Gerleman, Fort Myers, suspended for 60 days, effective 30 days from an Oct. 2 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1998) An audit revealed that Gerleman was not properly maintaining the trust account records; he became ineligible to practice law for failing to pay a fee arbitration award and appeared in court twice. Gerleman was also unable to produce retainer agreements or other written communication for three clients who requested refunds. With limited and inconsistent staff assistance, he had difficulty managing as a sole practitioner when he had health issues. (Case No. SC14-1819);
  3. William Todd Long, Winter Park, suspended until further order, effective 30 days from a Sept. 29 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1989) ) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Long appeared to be causing great public harm. A Florida Bar investigation found that Long misappropriated funds from his trust account. He used the trust funds to which he was not entitled for business expenses and for his personal benefit. (Case No. SC15-1739);
  4. James Franklin Lowy, Clearwater, suspended until further order, effective 30 days from a Sept. 28 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1996) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Lowy appeared to be causing great public harm based on trust account shortages in excess of $60,000 evidenced by a Florida Bar auditor. (Case No. SC15-1741);
  5. William Reid Penuel, Atlantic Beach, suspended until further order, effective 30 days from an Oct. 9 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2006) Penuel appeared to be causing great public harm. Penuel, who admits he has a drug addiction, converted trustee funds. He has agreed to removal from the practice of law in order to begin intensive in-patient treatment. (Case No. SC15-1634).
For the entire gossip/scandal sheet, see Supreme Court Disciplines 15 Attorneys (Summaries of orders issued Sept. 16 – Oct. 9, 2015).

Monday, December 07, 2015

Florida Appeals Court Reverses Another Trial Judge Who Improperly Allowed Introduction Of Prior Loan Servicer's Mortgage Records, Inexplicably Accepting Unqualified Sole Witness' Testimony That "[T]hey’re A Reputable Big Company & We Trust Them & They Trust Us” To Authenticate Records, Establish Accuracy

From a client alert from the law firm Burr & Forman:
  • In Ensler v. Aurora Loan Servs., LLC, the Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida was faced with the issue of whether a prior mortgage loan servicer’s documents could be introduced into evidence when the current servicer testified the prior servicer’s records were “accurate” because “[t]hey’re a reputable big company and we trust them and they trust us.”

    The Court stated that in the case at bar, Plaintiff failed to satisfy the requirements of the business records exception by failing to lay the appropriate foundation. Plaintiff’s sole witness never worked for the prior servicer, never visited the prior servicer, and never spoke to any employee of the prior servicer. Further, the witness lacked any knowledge of how the prior servicer processed, compiled, or retained its business records. Moreover, Plaintiff’s sole witness also failed to provide any testimony as to the mechanisms the current servicer utilized to check the accuracy of the prior servicer information. As such, the trial court’s entry of judgment was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

    Rarely does a residential mortgage foreclosure action get to the trial stage without a plaintiff having to rely on prior servicer records. Recently, Florida courts have consistently required that all of the elements of the business records exception be clearly established at trial. In this action, Plaintiff’s sole witness lacked the personal knowledge to lay the necessary foundation to introduce the documents.

    At the very least, Plaintiff should have determined if the witness could speak with someone or receive training from the prior servicer regarding their record-keeping activities prior to the trial. Further, it also appears that the Plaintiff failed to elicit any testimony regarding the current servicer’s boarding process that analyzes the accuracy of prior servicer records.

Buffalo Lawmakers Amend Proposed Local Law To Limit Money Grab Of Tax Foreclosure Sale Surplus Funds To Non-Owner Occupied Houses; Foreclosed Homeowners To Have Multiple Notification Rights & Right To Claim Cash Overage From Sales In Perpetuity

In Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo News reports:
  • A bill sponsored by State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy and Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan to give the City of Buffalo millions in surplus money from its annual property auctions has been amended to require the city to notify the foreclosed property owners that the money belongs to them.

    Also, under the revised measure, the city would only be able to claim excess proceeds from the sale of nonowner-occupied properties.

    The change comes after a story in the Nov. 26 editions of The Buffalo News revealed that $11.6 million in excess proceeds auctions, going back to 2009, sit unclaimed, and the city does not tell owners they are entitled to the money.

    The two Buffalo Democrats announced the changes to the legislation on Wednesday.

    “We weren’t aware of the notification problems,” Kennedy said. “With any legislation, as you find things out, you make changes.”

    If the amended legislation passes, the city will have to notify property owners before and during the foreclosure process of the possibility of surpluses and their right to claim them. And when a property is auctioned off, the city then would have to inform the former owner of the selling price and any leftover money, Kennedy said.

    Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns also announced similar legislation but with a caveat: The notification should be retroactive to 2009. “I believe it’s still the responsibility of the city to let those people know about the money as well,” he said. Additionally, he is calling for a simplification to the lengthy legal process to claim the surplus, which can take months.

    The city supports the changes to the Kennedy-Ryan bills but even if they fail, “we’ve said previously the city will take steps to notify in the future,” said Mike DeGeorge, the city’s spokesman.

    Common Council President Darius Pridgen said the Common Council will adopt a resolution in the coming weeks to improve the city’s handling of surplus money from foreclosure auctions. “I think we are all going down the same road. We’re all on the same page,” Pridgen said.
    Changing the law would put Buffalo on par with Rochester and other cities that are diligent about notifying homeowners of surpluses. But those cities have had local laws that govern their foreclosure processes since the mid 1990s when the state allowed municipalities to create their own. While Rochester and Syracuse implemented their own statutes, Buffalo opted for the state’s guidelines, which do not address surplus funds. So going back to the early 1980s when it began holding in-rem auctions annually, Buffalo has not notified property owners about surplus money.
    Ryan said the original bill was well-meaning but needed clarification. Owners who lose their primary residence to foreclosure would continue to be able to claim their money in perpetuity. But leftover money from the sale of nonowner-occupied properties would become the city’s after five years.

    “The focus is still irresponsible landlords but we want to strike a balance so family members aren’t unjustly penalized and slumlords don’t continue to abuse the system,” he said.

    Also on Wednesday, the Western New York Law Center(1) announced that it has launched a program to provide free legal assistance to homeowners who are trying to claim surplus money from their properties. The center can be reached at 855-0203, Ext. 124.
For more, see Bill amended to tell foreclosed property owners they are due money (Revised bill frees surplus money).
(1) Western New York Law Center is a non-profit law firm providing legal representation to low-income Western New Yorkers in civil matters.

Court Rejects Bankster's Request For New Trial Or Verdict Reduction; Leaves It On The Hook For $2 Million Jury Award For Refusing To Abide By Loan Mod Agreement Negotiated Prior To Acquiring Mortgage Loan

In Chicago, Illinois, the Cook County Record reports:
  • A debt collection company will not get a new trial or any reduction in a $2 million verdict it was ordered to pay to a woman who fended off a foreclosure action brought by the collector and who then sued the collector for improperly refusing to abide by a loan modification agreement the woman had negotiated with the FDIC before the collector purchased her debt.

    On Dec. 3, U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin denied requests for post-trial motions made by Fort Worth, Texas-based Residential Credit Solutions, which had asked the judge to launch a new trial or reduce the judgment award because the jury erred in finding for the plaintiff, Alena W. Hammer.

    Durkin, however, said none of the rationales advanced by RCS was sufficient to support tossing out the verdict or reducing the amount required of RCS.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Lawsuit: Condo-Converting NYC Landlords Are Screwing Over Elderly & Disabled Tenants By Forcing Them Out Despite Decades-Old Local Law Requiring They Get Option To Continue Renting; Plaintiffs Claim $100 Million In Damages, Seek Class Action Status

In New York City, The Associated Press reports:
  • Inspired by his own experience living in a New York City apartment building that was converted into high-priced condos, a 71-year-old former state regulator is taking on developers citywide on behalf of seniors and disabled tenants.

    Walter Goldsmith claims in a state lawsuit filed late Tuesday that landlords have ignored a decades-old law that requires them to give tenants 62 and older and those with disabilities the option to stay-on as renters in their apartments rather than move away or buy themselves.

    Experts say the case could provide an extra layer of protection to vulnerable market-rate tenants who have lost housing security as rent-stabilized and regulated apartments have decreased in recent years.

    "It's fair to say these people are entitled to some stability and harmony in their lives," said Goldsmith, who for the past 10 years has lived in a cozy one-bedroom in a 31-story building on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

    Landlords had previously argued, as Related Companies did to Goldsmith in correspondence provided to The Associated Press, that the option for seniors and disabled renters to stay-on only applied in cases where buildings were converted via eviction plans — that is, when 51 percent of the building's units were purchased by people who live there.

    But in so-called non-eviction plans, where only 15 percent of the apartments have to be sold for the plan to become effective, tenants are often pushed out because their leases aren't renewed or they're given hold-over leases during the conversion process, real-estate lawyers said.

    "A lot of buildings have tenants who are not protected under rent stabilization and rent control, particularly in Manhattan," said longtime real estate lawyer Kevin McConnell, who is not part of the lawsuit. "What we have been seeing is, where once tenants were all protected and had very few vacancies, now you walk in and there are vacancies all over the place."

    The attorney general's real estate finance bureau regulates the conversion process and has in recent years stepped up its enforcement and regulation of conversions. On Nov. 10, the office issued new emergency regulations that require building owners to provide seniors and disabled tenants explicit notice of their right to choose to continue renting at rates that won't soar. A spokesman for the office declined to comment.

    The lawsuit, which claims $100 million in damages, seeks class-action status. A spokeswoman for Related Companies, the parent company of Carnegie Park Tower, LLC, which owns Goldsmith's nearly 300-unit, $483 million apartment building, said in a statement that while officials hadn't seen the court papers, the company "scrupulously followed the statute and adhered to every applicable regulation."

    Marc Held, the attorney bringing the lawsuit with Goldsmith, said at least a quarter of the building's renters are either elderly or disabled, including at least one blind tenant.

    "These are apartments that are triple in value vacant what they are with a rent-regulated tenant in there," he said. "There's a tremendous financial incentive not to comply with the law."

Another DOJ Discrimination Lawsuit Is Triggered By Use Of Fair Housing Testers From Non-Profit Groups In Effort To Bag Landlords For Violating Housing Anti-Discrimination Laws; Alleged Victims: Families w/ Kids

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department filed a lawsuit [] against the owners and manager of the Westland Apartments (Westland), a 28-unit apartment complex in Lakewood, Colorado, alleging that they have discriminated against families with children in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

    The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado in Denver, alleges that the defendants have implemented a policy of generally not allowing families with children to live in the front building at Westland, and generally restricting them to apartments in the rear building instead. The suit was filed against Roger and Eileen Loecher, who own Westland, and Miriam Yehudah, the resident property manager.

    “Apartment owners cannot limit where children live in their apartment complexes,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “If an apartment is within their budget and meets their needs, the family, not the landlord, should be able to decide whether it is appropriate for them.”

    The lawsuit arose from a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the Denver Metro Fair Housing Center,(1) a non-profit organization that works to promote equal housing opportunities in the Denver metropolitan area.

    The center sent testers posing as prospective renters to Westland to determine whether they were complying with the Fair Housing Act. The center’s testing revealed that Westland’s property manager told prospective renters that families with children were generally placed in apartments in the rear building, and did not offer prospective renters with children the opportunity to consider available apartments in the front building. After investigating the complaint, HUD determined that Westland was violating the Fair Housing Act and issued a charge of discrimination. After one of the parties chose to have the charge litigated in federal court, the matter was referred to the Justice Department.

    The suit seeks monetary damages for the Fair Housing Center and other persons who were harmed by the defendants’ conduct, civil penalties and a court order barring future discrimination and requiring additional preventive measures. [...]

    Individuals who believe they may have been discriminated against at Westland because they have children, or who may have other information about this lawsuit should contact the Justice Department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox 92, or e-mail the Justice Department at Westland is located at 9905 West 21st Avenue in Lakewood.

    The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at Persons who believe that they have experienced unlawful housing discrimination elsewhere can contact the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail or contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.
Source: Justice Department Sues Lakewood, Colorado, Apartment Complex for Discriminating Against Families with Children.
(1) Among other things, the Denver Metro Fair Housing Center promotes compliance with fair housing law by assisting members of the general public who seek housing and others in the resolution of complaints of housing discrimination, according to its website. Through research, interviews and other methods, promoting compliance with fair housing laws ensures discriminatory policies are changed, repeat offenses are eliminated and victims have a source of help, its website states.

Evidence Collected By Fair Housing Testers Triggers DOJ Civil Rights Suit Accusing Michigan Landlord w/ Discriminating Against Families w/ Children

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department [] filed a lawsuit against the owners and manager of three Michigan apartment complexes – Parkside East Apartments, in East Lansing, Michigan, Holt Manor Apartments in Holt, Michigan, and Kelly Manor Apartments in Owosso, Michigan – for discriminating against families with children.

    The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, alleges that the defendants refused to allow children in Parkside East, which consists of 41 one-bedroom apartments, and also refused to allow children in the one bedroom apartments at Holt Manor and Kelly Manor. At Holt Manor, 23 of the 27 apartments are one-bedroom apartments. At Kelly Manor, 17 of the 25 apartments are one-bedroom apartments.

    The allegations are based on evidence collected by the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan,(1) based in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which had testers posing as prospective residents contact the defendants’ offices and speak with Hopper about renting a one-bedroom apartment. The testing revealed that Hopper did not allow single parent households with a minor child to live in a one-bedroom apartment, but did allow households with two adults to rent such an apartment.
Source: Justice Department Sues Three Michigan Apartment Complexes for Discriminating Against Families with Children.
(1) The Fair Housing Center of Southeast & Mid Michigan (previously the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan) is a private, non-profit Fair Housing Center that investigates complaints from the general public of illegal housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, familial status, marital status, age, (and potentially) condition of pregnancy, source of income, family responsibilities, educational association, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, HIV status, and political orientation. #fairhousingforall

The FHC takes an average of 150 complaints a year from the general public from our eight county area–Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston, Monroe, and Washtenaw counties, and since 1992, has aided in the filing of over 75 lawsuits, with a settlement total of over $1,850,000.

It provides investigative services, testing, advice, advocacy, conciliation, attorney referral and community education.

HUD Disabilities-Related Fair Housing Complaints: Failure To Give Dedicated Accessible Parking Spot, Wheelchair Discrimination, Failure To Stop Harrasment Of Tenants w/ Cerebral Palsy, Down's Syndrome

In Washington, D.C., the Department of Housing & Urban Development recently announced the commencement of the following administrative actions against landlords for alleged conduct (or in one case, the failure to engage in conduct) that may rise to the level of housing discrimination against people with disabilities:
  • Wisconsin Landlords Charged w/ Housing Discrimination After Claims They Allowed Harassment Of Tenants w/ Disabilities (charging the owner and managers of a 55-plus senior housing complex with 15 units in Cross Plains, Wisconsin with violating the Fair Housing Act for failing to take action to stop several tenants from harassing a neighbor, who has cerebral palsy, and her daughter with Down’s syndrome):

    The case came to HUD’s attention when the mother filed a complaint alleging that she and her daughter were being subjected to constant harassment by some of their neighbors at Applewood Apartments. Specifically, the mother alleged that several of her neighbors repeatedly followed her and her daughter making offensive comments to them. In one exchange, a neighbor allegedly told the woman and her daughter: “You don’t belong here…You belong in an institution.” In another encounter, a resident allegedly referred to the woman’s daughter as “mentally retarded” telling her, “You shouldn’t be out of your apartment during the day.”

    Local police warned the offending residents that citations might be forthcoming if more reports were made, but the harassment continued. The woman also reported the harassment to apartment managers but rather than addressing the behavior, one manager began pressuring the woman to move, stating that he did not believe the woman’s daughter was capable of living independently and that the two of them were causing too much trouble.

    The woman and her daughter moved out of their apartment after they were served notice that their lease would not be renewed. (read HUD's administrative complaint)

  • HUD Charges Minnesota Property Owners w/ Discriminating Against Resident w/ Disabilities (charging the owner and managers of a 120-unit complex in New Brighton, Minnesota, with violating the Fair Housing Act by refusing to allow a resident with disabilities to have a dedicated accessible parking spot; denied the woman's request for a reasonable accommodation, which resulted in the woman falling several times because of the distance she had to walk to her unit):

    The case came to HUD's attention when the woman, who has an ambulatory disability and cannot walk more than 200 feet, filed a complaint alleging that the apartment owners refused to allow her to have a dedicated accessible parking space. The property owners did designate a general handicapped space that did meet her needs but because the landlord would not reserve it for her sole use, the spot was often occupied by other residents. After experiencing several falls because of having to walk significant distances to her unit, the woman moved out for fear of hurting herself further. (read HUD's administrative complaint)
  • HUD Charges South Dakota Property Owners w/ Discriminating Against Resident In Wheelchair (charged the owners and landlords of an eight-unit apartment complex in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with violating the Fair Housing Act by refusing to allow a resident with disabilities to use a wheelchair in his apartment. HUD's charge also alleges that the trustee and manager of the property refused to return the resident's security deposit after he was forced to move out of his apartment and retaliated against him by providing a negative reference to a prospective landlord because the man had filed a housing discrimination complaint with HUD):

    The case came to HUD's attention when a resident filed a complaint alleging that Salem discriminated against people with disabilities by prohibiting the use of wheelchairs in his apartments. The resident also alleged that Salem made discriminatory statements about his disability on three separate occasions. At one point, while the man was recovering from a leg injury at a nursing facility, staff at the facility received an unsolicited letter from Salem stating that the man was not welcome back to his apartment because he was incapable of living independently and his wheelchair would damage the carpet.

    Sometime later, the man was served with a notice to vacate and moved out. Salem, however, refused to return the man's $350 security deposit and retaliated against him by providing a negative reference to a prospective landlord because the man had filed a housing discrimination complaint with HUD. (read HUD's administrative complaint)