Saturday, August 20, 2016

31 NYC Residents Left Homeless After FDNY, Building Dept. Inspectors Raid 2-Family Home Illegally Subdivided By Landlord Into Overcrowded, Multi-Unit Firetrap; Authorities Slap Premises With Immediate Vacate Order

In Brooklyn, New York, Kings County Politics reports:
  • Following repeated complaints of an illegal conversion, 31 residents (18 adults, 13 children) were left virtually homeless last night [August 4] after FDNY and Department of Buildings inspectors raided a home on the Bay Ridge/Dyker Heights border.

    The two-family house at 6705 7th Avenue was subdivided into a five-family residence and the inspectors gave the home an immediate vacate order because of a lack of egress (exits), fire safety, compromised plumbing, electrical and gas work; and overcrowding.

    The American Red Cross was tasked with relocating the displaced residents to a Days Inn on 39th Street and 4th Avenue for up to 3 days. After the three days, the city is expected to provide emergency housing for them.

    The raid comes just days after Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson charged a landlord [...] with manslaughter following a fatal fire at a building he converted into illegal housing, and some two months after Gentile introduced a bill to strictly to curtail the proliferation of illegal conversions throughout Brooklyn, the city, and particularly in Southwestern Brooklyn.

    “We simply cannot afford to continue to put the safety of vulnerable individuals, our neighborhoods, and our communities at risk. My bill, Intro 1218 seeks to put an end to this proliferation. If my bill were law today, the bad actor landlord would be fined $15,000 per each unit beyond the certificate of occupancy and if unpaid, the fine would be subject to a lien sale on the property among additional regulations,” said Gentile.

    “We know that this case is likely one of many in my district and citywide. Time is of the essence for this viral developer scheme to be put to an end. My patience is running short as residents, many of who are immigrants, continue to be put in grave danger unbeknownst to them. From there, a negative domino effect ensues, degrading the quality of life for the neighborhood as schools become overcrowded and city services become overwhelmed,” he added.

    Gentile said he looks forward to having his Aggravated Illegal Conversions legislation heard by the New York City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings in the near future.

Rent-Stabilized Tenants File Complaint With NYC Human Rights Commission, Charging Landlord With Trying To Give Them The Boot Through Harassment, Discrimination, Unsafe Living Conditions In Effort To Illegally Boost Rents

In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY1 News reports:
  • Rent-stabilized tenants in one Brooklyn neighborhood are accusing their landlord of trying to kick them out to get higher rents.

    Residents rallied in Sunset Park [] to demand better living conditions.

    They filed a complaint with the city Commission on Human Rights, charging landlord Soo Fung Dong with harassment, discrimination and unsafe living conditions.

    They say they've been living with no heat, hot water and other utilities.

    "There will be no harassment on tenants that have been living here their entire lives," said City Councilman Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn. "There are new landlords that have bought buildings that are now trying to usher our families out into the streets so that they can remove affordable housing and stabilized housing and bring in market values. That will stop."

    "There's no heat or hot water," said one tenant. "There's mold, there's lead. In my apartment, there's lead in the radiator." Hundreds of complaints have been sent to the city since Dong bought the building on 61st Street in 2007.

    A settlement last month ordered Dong to make needed repairs on the building.
Source: Rent-Stabilized Tenants in Sunset Park Accuse Their Landlord of Trying to Kick Them Out to Get Higher Rents.

See also, Sunset Park Tenants File Human Rights Complaint Against ‘Racist’ Slumlord:
  • [R]ini Fonseca, an attorney with the Urban Justice Center,(1) represents the tenants at 430 61st St., said Neighbors Helping Neighbors tipped her about the injustices caused by Dong. “We couldn’t believe what we heard about the conditions and the treatment,” Fonseca said. “Today, residents are taking a stand and saying no more harassment.”
(1) The Urban Justice Center is a non-profit, public interest law firm serving New York City's most vulnerable residents through a combination of direct legal service, systemic advocacy, community education and political organizing.

Two Months & Counting With No Cooking Gas For Harassed Tenants In East Village Building; Con Ed Refuses To Restore Service Until Leaky Gas Pipe Repairs Are Made; Landlord Responds By Offering Residents Free Ice Cream

In New York City, The Real Deal (New York City) reports:
  • Ice cream, it turns out, doesn’t heal all wounds.

    Just ask the tenants of 325 East 12th Street, who gathered [] to protest an ice cream social held by their landlord, Raphael Toledano’s Brookhill Properties. Ice cream may seem like an innocuous olive branch, but for these tenants it dripped with disrespect. According to tenants, they’ve gone without gas service in the building since May 18, and free ice cream is not exactly the remedy they were expecting.

    “It’s an abomination to the human spirit, and you can’t fix it with Ben & Jerry’s,” said SaMi Chester, a tenant organizer with the Cooper Square Committee.

    Roughly a dozen protestors surrounded a lone Ben & Jerry’s truck parked on East 5th Street between Second and Third Avenues. [...] Confused passersby were offered free ice cream while the protestors shouted variations of “Ice cream, you scream we all scream for cooking gas!” The truck, which had been parked for a few hours before the protests, drove away after a few minutes of the shouting.
    A representative for Con Ed said that the shutdown was prompted by an internal gas leak at the 12th Street building and that the company can’t restore service until Toledano makes necessary repairs.

    One resident of the 12th Street building, Liz Haak, 71, said that while she has an electric stove, she’s seen other tenants unable to cook since the gas was shut off nearly two months ago. She said a contractor had made appointments with residents to return gas to their homes but had inexplicably canceled. Since then, Haak said, the landlord has done “diddly squat” and instead offered up “useless ice cream” to people who can’t cook dinner in their homes.
For more, see Tenants to Toledano: Screw your ice cream, give us gas (Residents say gas at 325 East 12th St. was shut off 2 months ago).

Over Two Dozen Lot-Leasing Residents In Mobile Home Park Left Scrambling; Get 30 Days To Pack Bags & Move Their Trailers After Landlord's Failure To Pay $23K In Overdue Utility Bills Causes City To Shut Off Water & Sewer Service, Give Everyone The Boot

In Mulvane, Kansas, KSNW-TV reports:
  • The owners of a Mulvane business are stepping up to help out the residents of a mobile home park after all 30 residents were handed a 30-day eviction notice, Monday night.

    They’ve been without water for weeks, after the park’s former owner failed to pay the bill.

    The park is virtually closed after this month, no more park.”

    A depressing reality that literally hits home for Patricia LeFors. “We’re scrambling, doing everything we can. I’m calling in loans. I’m talking to people about help. I’ve called all different kinds of agencies,” LeFors said.

    She and the 30 others that call the Mulvane Mobile Park home were evicted earlier this [month] after the Mulvane City Council refused to turn back on their sewer and water services. The former owner, Eric Henderson, owes the city upwards of $23,000 in back payments.

    “He took our money and didn’t put it back into the park like he should have and that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in,” stated Judith Randall.

    Now these residents have less than 30 days to come up with a place to live. But, it can cost upwards of $3,000 dollars to move the trailers. “Nobody’s going to have that. So, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Randall explained.

    That’s why Mark Kilburn and his business partner, Earl Davis, put a plan into action.

    “We got a business. We take care of the community,” said Kilburn.

    Kilburn is the co-owner of Smokemaster’s Southern BBQ. When he heard about the Mulvane Mobile Home Park situation, he knew it was time to help. “They have no other recourse to take care of things, so we just felt like there was something we needed to do to help them out,” said Kilburn.

    Kilburn, his partner and family will be grilling in Derby this Saturday, selling BBQ, to help the residents, with their search for new homes.

    “We all believe in taking care of people. It doesn’t matter if you know them or not, if they come to you and say, I have a need, you better do what you can do to take care of them. That’s just the way we were raised,” said Kilburn.

    The event is being sponsored by Smokemaster’s Southern BBQ [...]. A portion of the proceeds will go to the residents to help pay for their moving expenses.
Source: Mulvane business steps in to help mobile home residents.

For a follow-up story, see Animals abandoned after residents in Mulvane move out in a hurry:
  • While the evicted residents of the Mulvane Mobile Home Park are packing up and getting ready to move, there are dozens of animals being left behind to fend for themselves.

Low Income Residents Of Troubled, 110-Room Motel Face The Boot After New Ownership Takeover; City To Begin Offering Relocation Assistance To Residents Terrified They'll End Up On Streets

In St. Petersburg, Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reports:
  • Mary Ott, 55, lives in a room at the Mosley Motel with her two grandsons. Erik is 8. Sean is 11 and nonverbal autistic. They've lived at the 34th Street N motel since January, after her husband died of cancer.

    Those with nowhere else to go often end up at the Mosley.

    Now they — and everyone else who lives at the motel — have to find somewhere else to live.

    The motel's new owners served residents with legal notice of the change in ownership []. Altis Cardinal Storage acquired the property at 401 34th St. N from Julious Mosley on July 21.

    Cliff Smith, manager of veterans, social and homeless services for the city of St. Petersburg, said his staff wants to start relocating residents soon, before eviction proceedings start.

    But Smith said residents should have had much more time to prepare. He wanted to start helping them find new homes four months ago but said the old owner refused to let city officials visit the property to talk to people.

    "We knew it was coming," he said.

    The residents didn't.

    Julie Lythgoe, 52, who's lived at the property for nearly two years, said "very few" people knew the Mosley was changing hands. And with rumors of legal troubles lasting years, she said, they didn't have any reason to believe this was the time they would suddenly have to move.

    Smith said he thought if they did, he could have worked on finding them help sooner. "You have to understand we haven't had the ability to really communicate with them at all," he said.

    The only reason Mosley gave for barring city officials from the property, Smith said, was that the legal process was ongoing.
    Smith said he believes the city can help the Mosley's residents relocate within the next month. He hopes they don't stick around until they're evicted, which could make it much harder to apply for housing.
    The Mosley's 110 rooms have long provided a cheap home, often for the elderly and families. But it has also been repeatedly fined by the city's nuisance abatement board and visited by police officers.
For the story, see Those who live at St. Petersburg's Mosley Motel must leave their home — and soon.

For a follow-up story, see Mosley Motel residents getting help moving to safer housing (Residents need to leave by Sept. 16):
  • More than a hundred St. Petersburg families living in the Mosley Motel are finally getting help getting placed into more permanent, safer housing. Most have been terrified they would wind up on the streets.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Recently-Widowed 84-Year Old Man Sues Newly-Found 48-Year Old 'Girlfriend' For Allegedly Duping Him Into Signing Over 50% Interest In His Condo, Then Giving Him The Boot By Changing The Locks, Refusing His Attempts To Return

In Miami, Florida, The Real Deal (South Florida) reports:
  • Retired real estate agent Vincent Mazzola was forced out of his Aventura condo after a jilted ex-girlfriend allegedly kicked him to the curb upon obtaining 50 percent ownership of his unit, a recently filed lawsuit alleges.

    Mazzola, 84, is suing Nahla Omar Abdelaziz, 48, in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, seeking to have her name removed from the property’s deed, as well as seeking more than $80,000 in damages that includes loans she allegedly never paid back.

    “The defendant preyed on my client, taking advantage of an elderly man and attempting to fleece him of his money,” Mazzola’s attorney Katie Phang told The Real Deal. “This kind of behavior can never be tolerated and we will pursue justice for Mr. Mazzola.”

    Abdelaziz did not return messages on a cellphone listed in her name. Two other phone numbers under her name were disconnected.

    According to Mazzola’s complaint, Abdelaziz “abused the relationship and took unconscionable advantage of plaintiff by among other things, preying on his old age and threatening to leave him without a caregiver unless he gave in to her wishes.”

    Miami-Dade property records show that Mazzola and his late wife purchased a condo at Harborside at the Waterways in Aventura for $252,500 in 1995. Shortly after his spouse passed away in 2013, Mazzola met Abdelaziz and began what he believed was a sincere romantic relationship, the lawsuit states.

    Once they began dating, Abdelaziz isolated Mazzola from friends and family, including his three daughters, the suit alleges. “When Mr. Mazzola would seek his daughters’ advice or approval with respect to certain decisions, the defendant would question Mr. Mazzola’s manhood,” the lawsuit says.

    Abdelaziz also allegedly began demanding Mazzola provide her with financial assistance and support. He loaned her $10,000 to purchase a car, $20,000 for her to renew her real estate license and $50,000 for her to buy a condo in Egypt. “To date and despite her promise to do so, Nahla has not paid back the loans,” the lawsuit states.

    Mazzola also accuses Abdelaziz of stealing treasured family heirlooms.

    Abdelaziz then convinced Mazzola to allow her to live with him in Aventura even though she owned her own condo in Hollywood, the lawsuit states. “As time went on, Nahla began to complain that she felt threatened that Mazzola would leave her at any time and she would have no place to live,” the suit alleges. “She repeatedly whined, begged, and threatened to leave Mazzola if Mazzola did not put her name on the deed to the property.”

    Mazzola claims he agreed to give her an ownership interest in his Aventura condo only if at the time of his death they were still in a romantic relationship. However, she was able to gain 50 percent ownership of the unit in 2015 by obtaining a fraudulent quit claim deed adding her name to the property, according to the suit.

    Mazzola was not afforded the opportunity to read the document and did not understand what the document said,” the lawsuit states.

    By January of this year, the relationship turned violent when she got physically abusive with Mazzola, the suit alleges. “Despite charges being dropped against her in January 2016, she falsely accused Mazzola of aggravated battery with a knife and other crimes causing Mazzola to be arrested,” the lawsuit states. “Nahla proceeded to spread malicious and false lies regarding Mazzola and this alleged battery within their community.”

    A month later, Abdelaziz changed the locks to the condo and has refused to let Mazzola return to his property, according to the suit. He’s been forced to rent a room from a friend.
Source: Retired real estate agent claims his ex-girlfriend stole his condo and bilked him for more than $80k (Suit alleges Nahla Omar Abdelaziz also became physically abusive toward Vincent Mazzola).

Ex-Cop Gets Pinched For Duping Vulnerable Adult Into Signing Over POA, Then Proceeding To Sell Victim's Home Out From Under Her & Pilfer Sales Proceeds

From the Office of the Mississippi Attorney General:
  • A former Hinds County deputy sheriff is facing charges that she exploited a vulnerable person and committed forgery, announced Attorney General Jim Hood [].

    Alice Holly, 55, of Jackson, was indicted by a Hinds County Grand Jury for one count of exploitation of a vulnerable person and one count of forgery. She was booked into the Hinds County Jail with bond set at $10,000.

    The indictment accuses Holly of closing the victim’s bank account and transferring more than $5,000 to her personal account. While the victim was in a behavioral center, Holly allegedly had the victim sign over power of attorney to her. Holly is accused of then using that power to execute a quit claim deed to transfer the victim’s property into her own name, and then selling it and keeping the proceeds for herself.

    In addition, Holly is accused of forging the signature of a second victim on a change-of-ownership form for a life insurance policy and making herself the beneficiary of the policy.

    If convicted of exploitation, Holly faces up to 10 years in prison. She faces up to 15 years in prison for the forgery count. As with all cases, a charge is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

    The Hinds County Sheriff’s Office assisted with this case, which is being investigated by Jamie Patrick and will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Marvin Sanders of the Attorney General’s Vulnerable Adult Unit.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Embarrassed Elderly Woman Testifies About Being Duped Out Of $280K In Life Savings In Ponzi Scheme; Pilfered Money Included Cash Drawn From Home Equity Line Of Credit

In Los Angeles, California, the Northern California Record reports:
  • The plaintiff who claims MetLife and one of its subsidiaries endorsed what turned out to be a fraudulent real estate investment fund choked up as she described the embarrassment she felt when the fund was uncovered as a Ponzi scheme in 2009.

    Christine Ramirez, 75, said she felt depressed, angry and too ashamed to tell her four children.

    “I was the parent and I invested everything I had in this company and now there was nothing left for them,” she said.

    During her testimony July 27 and 28, Ramirez walked through the events of the spring of 2008, when she first heard about an investment fund called Diversified Lending Group.(1) She sat with Paul Walker – her boyfriend at the time – at his dining room table, listening to an insurance agent describe a premium financing option he could use to purchase MetLife insurance products. DLG guaranteed a 12 percent return on investment, which could be used to pay insurance premiums and provide enough of a monthly income to live on.

    The agent, Scott Brandt, who worked for DLG, introduced himself as an employee of MetLife, Ramirez said. As a native New Yorker, Ramirez knew and trusted the insurance giant. She testified that its association with the investment fund lended credibility and made her feel secure in handing over the contents of her retirement account, personal savings and cash from a line of credit she took out on her home. In total, she invested nearly $280,000.

    After she lost her investment, she said she had to rent a room in her house to make ends meet. She also had to give up the travel plans she dreamed about for her retirement.

    Her belief that MetLife had approved the DLG plan was affirmed when she went with Walker to the offices of the MetLife subsidiary to hand over a check and finalize paperwork for the investment, she testified.

    “I felt very comfortable knowing MetLife was on the directory,” she said.

    But attorneys for the defendants highlighted that despite what Ramirez assumed about MetLife’s role, she never dealt with the company directly. She never purchased insurance – in fact, she never wanted insurance. Rather, she only ever took interest in the investment opportunity, which was exclusive to DLG.
For more, see 75-year-old plaintiff says she invested in DLG because she trusted MetLife; admits she should have asked more questions.
(1) See MetLife Owes For Agents' Role In $216M Ponzi Scam, Jury Told (may require subscription; if no subscription, TRY HERE, then click appropriate link for the story):
  • That alleged Ponzi scheme, [...], was run by Bruce Friedman, who fled to France after it collapsed and died in a French prison in 2012 as he fought extradition. A court-appointed receiver was able to salvage about 10 percent of the investments, [Ramirez' attorney] told jurors.

Ex-Real Estate Agent With History Of Fraudulent Conduct Sought, Faces Charges Of Allegedly Scoring POA To Fleece Since-Deceased 79-Year Old Woman In Failing Health; Emergency Court Hearing Freezes Victim's Bank Accounts, Halts Sale Of Her Home

In Lafayette, Colorado, KCNC-TV Channel 4 reports:
  • Lafayette Police are looking for a woman accused of exploiting a family and taking money from a 79-year-old with ailing health.

    In June, the Adult Protective Services referred a case to Lafayette police for complaints against Julie Steenhoek, 53, known to the victim as “Doctor Julie.”

    The investigation showed Steenhoek began a friendship with the victim and moved into her house in the spring. Eventually Steenhoek moved her husband and child into the house as the victim’s health took a turn for the worse.

    Family members of the victim started contacting police when they said “Doctor Julie” was being controlling and not allowing the victim to interact with family or neighbors. Documents show the victim had given Steenhoek power of attorney. An attorney for the victim’s daughter told CBS 4 those documents were likely forged. Steenhoek had also been written into the victim’s will. The victim began to have declining health but believed “Doctor Julie’s” homeopathic therapies would cure her.

    Steenhoek is not a doctor and has no formal medical training. She did begin teaching LENS therapy, but the creator of that type of therapy says Steenhoek is “scum” according to an arrest warrant.

    In late June an emergency hearing was held, freezing the bank accounts of the victim and stopping the sale of her house. Many of the victim’s family members believe Steenhoek was trying to sell the house and pocket the money.

    Police threw Steenhoek and her family out of the victim’s house.

    On July 8 the victim died in Hospice. Her family has requested a toxicology report.

    It took until August 1 for detectives to issue an arrest warrant for Steenhoek, who may have fled to Louisiana.

    Steenhoek had her real estate license revoked in 2005 for attempting to commit fraud. Then she was using the name Julie Holland. A simple internet search shows Steenhoek has deceived others.

    An attorney for the victim’s family believes there could be more victims. They also believe Steenhoek is still in the Denver area.

    Lafayette police are hoping someone may know where Steenhoek is and will contact them.

NJ Man Faces Charges Of Allegedly Duping Elderly Woman Into Signing Over Her Home To Him, Stealing Thousand$ From Her Checking Account

In New Brunswick, New Jersey, reports:
  • A New Brunswick man was arrested Friday [August 5] and charged with convincing an elderly woman to deed her home over to him and then stealing thousands of dollars from her checking account, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey said.

    Fady Chedid, 52, was charged with two counts of theft, Carey said. He added that an investigation determined he convinced the woman to sign over title to her home and then withdrew several thousand dollars from her checking account by writing checks in various amounts between Sept. 4, 2013 and June 2014.

    Chedid was in the Middlesex County jail Friday afternoon in lieu of $50,000 bail.

    The investigation began after an anonymous tip was placed to state authorities at Adult Protective Services of the Division of Family and Children's Services. Carey said a legal guardian was assigned by the state who subsequently notified the prosecutor's office.

    "The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office remains committed to investigating and prosecuting instances of elder fraud, abuse and exploitation," Carey said. "By fostering our partnerships with agencies such as Adult Protective Services, we become more effective in protecting those seniors who are vulnerable to these types of crimes."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Feds Squeeze Two More Guilty Pleas Out Of Real Estate Investors For Roles In Bid Rigging Atlanta-Area Foreclosure Sales; Antitrust Probe Into Auction Irregularities Continues

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • Two Georgia real estate investors pleaded guilty [] for their roles in bid-rigging and fraud conspiracies committed at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Georgia, the Department of Justice announced.

    Ellis Galyon and Christopher Anderson each admitted that they agreed with other real estate investors to rig auctions of foreclosed homes in the Atlanta metro area. According to court documents filed [] in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta, the conspirators agreed not to compete for the purchase of selected foreclosed homes so that they could win the auctions for those homes with artificially low bids. The winning bidders then paid off the other conspirators who had refrained from bidding against them.

    As a result of Galyon and Anderson’s actions, conspirators profited from money that otherwise would have gone to mortgage holders and other secured debt holders and, in some cases, to the people who owned the foreclosed homes.

    Galyon admitted to participating in the conspiracy in Fulton County between June 2007 and at least July 2011. Anderson admitted to participating in the conspiracy in Fulton County between December 2007 and October 2011 and in DeKalb County between September 2009 and November 2011.

    Including Galyon and Anderson, twenty-two defendants have been charged in connection with the department’s ongoing investigation into bid rigging and fraudulent schemes involving real estate foreclosure auctions in the Atlanta area. Twenty of those have either pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty.
    Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Washington Criminal II Section of the Antitrust Division at 202-598-4000, call the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 888-647-3258 or visit

Unit Owners In Miami Beach Condo-Hotel Accuse Majority Owner Of Campaign To Force Them Out By Stacking HOA With Flunkies, Then $queezing Residents With Outrageous Assessments & Initiating Foreclosures For Failure To Pay

In Miami Beach, Florida, the Florida Bulldog reports:
  • For the past four years, about 40 investors and snowbirds who own 42 rooms in a landmark oceanfront art deco hotel have been locked in a pitched court battle with one of Miami Beach’s most politically connected families to keep their units.

    An ongoing civil lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleges that Miami Beach developer Russell Galbut, along with relatives and business associates, broke Florida condo association laws by assessing them nearly $30 million for renovations at what is now the 340-room Shelborne Wyndham Grand South Beach. That works out to roughly $75,000 per investor.

    The group, 10 of whom spoke with a reporter but asked that their names not be used, claim Galbut stacked the condo association’s board with flunkies and is trying to take control of the entire building by initiating foreclosure proceedings against them for refusing to pay what they believe are outrageous assessments. They also alleged that their rooms were demolished without their consent during the renovations, resulting in the City of Miami Beach revoking their certificates of occupancy until they fixed their units.

    They are using the old game of charging us exorbitant assessments to push us out,” said one New Yorker who purchased two rooms in the late 1990s as an investment. “There is a conspiracy to take our deeds for peanuts. Their end game is to own all the units.”

    Galbut is not a defendant in the case, but a Galbut company that owns 100 rooms and 57 commercial spaces at the Shelborne is a defendant. Other defendants with Sherborne Property Associates are four shell companies Galbut controls, his cousins Keith Menin and Joan Brent and the Sherborne Ocean Beach Hotel Condominium Association.
    Built in 1940, the iconic hotel at 1801 Collins Avenue was entirely owned by Galbut and his relatives in the 1980s. A decade later, the Galbuts began selling some of their units to outside investors when the property was converted to a condo-hotel, according to the 10 owners and [Galbut attorney Russell] Rosegarten. The new owners were allowed to rent their rooms to tourists through a Galbut entity that managed the hotel or other companies that provided booking services.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Loan Modification Racket Operator Cops Guilty Plea For Role In Telemarketing Scam That Used Veneer Of A Law Firm To Dupe Over 1500 Homeowners Seeking Foreclosure Help Out Of Approximately $9 Million

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Los Angeles, California):
  • A Brea man pleaded guilty [] to federal charges related to his role as the owner and operator of a multi-million dollar fraudulent mortgage modification scheme that posed as a successful law firm to defraud struggling homeowners.

    Bryan D’Antonio, 50, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud for his role as owner and operator of Rodis Law Group (RLG) and America’s Law Group (ALG).
    D’Antonio admitted that, between October 2008 and June 2009, he participated in a scheme that induced homeowners to pay as much as $5,500 for the services of RLG and its successor entity, ALG. RLG and ALG advertised on radio stations across the country and urging struggling homeowners to call a toll-free number. The companies purportedly consisted of “a team of experienced attorneys” who were “highly skilled in negotiating lower interest rates and even lowering your principal balance.”

    In fact, RLG and ALG were telemarketing operations that never had teams of experienced attorneys. During much of the scheme, one man – co-defendant Ronald Rodis – was the only attorney at RLG.

    In a plea agreement filed in federal court, D’Antonio admitted that the RLG and ALG schemes fraudulently obtained approximately $9 million from more than 1,500 victims.
    D’Antonio’s co-defendants, Charles Wayne Farris and [attorney] Ronald Rodis, both previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Judge Hands Down $1.8 Million Fine To Lawyer Who Headed Now-Defunct Foreclosure Mill For Illegally $queezing Thousands Of Financially Strapped Homeowners As Pre-Condition For Halting Legal Action On Their Homes; Money Purportedly Paid For Title Insurance Policies Were Either Never Issued Or Sold At Inflated Cost

In Denver, Colorado, The Denver Post reports:
  • A Denver judge has fined one of the city’s prolific foreclosure attorneys $1.8 million for billing thousands of consumers facing the loss of their homes for title-insurance policies that did not exist.

    Robert Hopp Jr. and his now-defunct law firm billed customers fighting foreclosure for policies that were never issued and inflated the cost of the few that were, the Colorado Attorney General’s office argued in a seven-day trial in February.

    The 37-page judgement handed down last week by Denver District Judge Shelley Gilman is the latest in a number of cases the state filed in 2013 against lawyers that specialized in foreclosures and allegedly padded their bills for costs that were ultimately borne by consumers losing their homes, the banks foreclosing on them and taxpayers whose federal insurance agencies covered the costs.

    Homeowners facing foreclosure had no choice but to pay the costs in order to stop the foreclosure process, and there was no process in place to challenge any of the fees lawyers said they were owed.

    Several firms settled the cases against them, including one of the largest — Aronowitz & Mecklenburg — which closed its doors. The largest foreclosure law firm, The Castle Group, also closed, but remains entwined in a bitter court battle against the state and the fraud allegations made against the firm and its principal, Larry Castle.

    Hopp was accused in the civil lawsuit of over-billing consumers on more than 2,200 foreclosure cases The Hopp Law Firm and Robert J. Hopp & Associates handled between 2008 and 2014.

    Hopp, who currently works at the Denali Law Firm in Littleton, did not respond to efforts to reach him.

    “Lawyers abusing the foreclosure process to enrich their private bank accounts is a practice that undermines citizen’s faith in the legal profession,” Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said in a statement. “The substantial penalties imposed by the court are just, and should serve as a strong deterrent to anyone else who wants to prey on homeowners struggling to keep a roof over their family’s heads.”
    The Hopp verdict brings to seven the number of law firms that have either settled or were fined a total of $18 million as a result of the state’s legal actions.
For the story, see Judge fines foreclosure law firm $1.8 million for bogus billings (Hopp Law Firm found to have over-charged consumers for title policies).

Monday, August 15, 2016

Comprised By Lowlife Real Estate Operators & Sleazy Lawyers, Housing Scam Horror Stories Continue

An excerpt from a recent investigative report by The Center for Public Integrity:
  • [O]ne group of foreclosure specialists in the New York area, where housing prices have soared, has been singled out for allegedly targeting minorities and immigrant homeowners with financial troubles and wresting away their property through short-sale scams or other fraudulent deed transfers.

    “There’s kind of an insatiable thirst for property in New York City. It can’t be quenched,” said Jennifer Eisenberg, a staff attorney with South Brooklyn Legal Services,(1) who represents [homeowners Joseph] Clarke and [his wife, Jaqueline] Knights in their court battle.

    The couple is suing Homeowner Assistance Services of New York ["HASNY"] and related companies. Their case is one of more than a dozen civil suits filed by aggrieved homeowners since 2013 that allege wrongdoing by the foreclosure group or its associates.

    Many homeowners tell similar stories of unwittingly signing over deeds to their property — and then facing harassment or an eviction notice, or both, from the new owners. New York City property records show the groups operated mainly in neighborhoods that are more than 70 percent minority, and include many immigrants with limited understanding of legal and property issues.

    Three men associated with Homeowner Assistance Services and its related companies, such as Launch Development LLC, also are facing criminal charges.

    Amir Meiri, Mario Alvarenga and lawyer Rajesh Maddiwar were indicted in May 2015 by a federal grand jury in New York on conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and telemarketing fraud charges.(2) All have pleaded not guilty. Three others associated with Launch Development have also been charged in the case.(3)
    Federal prosecutors allege that HASNY and its affiliates dangled the possibility of a loan modification to lure many homeowners whose property they later made their own.

    The FBI complaint cites the experience of a woman who thought she was applying for a loan modification at HASNY’s office in Hollis, but wound up selling her home to Launch Development.

    The woman, who is identified only as “Victim-4,” had fallen behind on mortgage payments on her Brooklyn home and in December 2013 asked HASNY to arrange a loan modification.

    After a meeting in early 2014 at the HASNY offices she met Rajesh Maddiwar, who was said to be there to act as her attorney. The woman signed papers, some of which were blank, which Maddiwar allegedly told her was “normal and typical” for loan modifications, according to the FBI.

    In actuality, she had just sold her home to Launch Development for about $335,000. That’s less than half of what she paid in October 2006, according to the FBI, which added that the woman moved out in August 2014, after the new owners began eviction proceedings.

    Just how many people lost their homes is not clear. The FBI found, however, that Launch Development had targeted 219 properties in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens by filing bogus Uniform Commercial Code liens indicating that the homeowners owed the company a debt. This was done to discourage the property’s sale to any party but Launch Development, authorities said.

    The government’s forfeiture motion says that at least 58 properties were obtained as part of the scam, including [Amir Meiri's] 9,400-square-foot home in Great Neck and the HASNY office building in Hollis. The forfeiture motion seeks those properties, or the proceeds from their sale. Seventeen of the properties were sold for nearly $9 million, according to the government.
For more, see An alleged housing scam grows in Brooklyn (Homeowners say they expected lower mortgage payments but lost their homes instead).
(1) South Brooklyn Legal Services is part of Legal Services NYC, a non-profit organization providing legal services for low-income residents of New York City.

(2) See U.S. v Alvarenga, et al.

(3) see U.S. v. Boubert, et al.

Central Florida Judge Sues Crackpot Homeowner Who Filed $2.4 Million Retaliatory Lien Against Him After Issuance Of Adverse Ruling In Foreclosure Action

In Central Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reports:
  • A Pinellas circuit judge presiding over a foreclosure action is suing the homeowner in that case, claiming she filed "false, fictitious and fraudulent" documents against the judge in his own court.

    The lawsuit stems from the 2013 foreclosure of a Clearwater home [...]. Homeowners Leslie and Martin Armstrong stopped making mortgage payments in October 2011, according to court records. Circuit Judge Thomas Minkoff ruled in favor of Wells Fargo on Sept. 4.

    Later that month, Leslie Armstrong, 58, filed records against Minkoff in federal court, outlining in a document titled "Criminal Complaint" a list of allegations against the judge and the bank. She demanded a jury trial in the foreclosure, Armstrong wrote, but "Judge Minkoff conspired with Wells Fargo Bank and the trespassing attorneys to steal my property."
    She also claimed liens against the judge, the bank and the bank's attorneys, calculating that they owed a total of $2.4 million. [...] Armstrong, who still lives at her Clearwater home, could not be reached for comment.
    Pinellas-Pasco Judicial Circuit spokesman Stephen Thompson said Minkoff filed the lawsuit because the records could "impugn his reputation as a judge."

    Minkoff asked the Pinellas clerk of court to remove the offending filings from the record. In the lawsuit filed in Pinellas court on July 8, he explained that Armstrong's filings affect him due to the "false appearance of a secured debt or an outstanding lien" against him.

    Minkoff is being represented by an attorney from the Office of the Attorney General, which, under Florida law, is authorized to represent public officials in state court to defend them against false liens.

    Pinellas Clerk of Court Ken Burke, who is also named in the lawsuit, said the civil action is a necessary step for the records to be expunged.

    "I have no authority to seal records," he said. "I need some type of direction from the court to do so. This lawsuit would give me that type of direction."

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Housing Authority To Cough Up Over $50K To Settle Fair Housing Suit Alleging It Refused To Provide Deaf, 82-Year Old Tenant With Video Relay System To Allow Her To Receive Emergency Notifications

In Springfield, Massachusetts, WWLP-TV Channel 22 reports:
  • The Springfield Housing Authority is paying more than $50,000 to a deaf elderly tenant, to resolve claims that the agency didn’t provide her with proper equipment to receive emergency notifications.

    According to a news release sent to 22News by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the 82 year-old woman filed the complaint, alleging violations to the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The complaint charged that the tenant did not have the same access to notification and other services available to hearing tenants.

    The Springfield Housing Authority has agreed to pay the woman $51,000, and provide a device to allow for a video relay system in her apartment. They will also communicate with her through sign language, or the video relay system. Also, they will have to consult with experts in disabilities on how to properly serve tenants who are deaf, and implement best practices for fire safety with respect to deaf or hard-of-hearing tenants.

    The authority will also have to pay $5,000 to monitor its compliance with the agreement over the next three years.
Source: Springfield Housing Authority paying $51K to resolve discrimination claim (Agency allegedly did not properly communicate with deaf 82 year-old tenant).

See also, Springfield Housing Authority Settles Disputes Of Discrimination Against Resident With Disabilities:
  • The resident was assisted by the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, a HUD Fair Housing Initiatives Program agency, in filing her complaint. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, a HUD Fair Housing Assistance Program agency, investigated the Title VIII complaint. And HUD investigated the complaint under Section 504 and the ADA. While the investigation was ongoing, the woman and the housing authority agreed to settle the complaint. HUD, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the parties negotiated a Conciliation Agreement with the Commission and a Voluntary Compliance Agreement with HUD. reasonable accomodation

State Human Rights Cops Tag NYCHA With Fair Housing Suit, Alleging It Failed To Reasonably Accommodate Disabled 3rd Floor Tenant With Ground Floor Apartment During 13-Week Shutdown Of Building's Elevators For Modernization

In New York City, DNA Info New York reports:
  • NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority] discriminated against a disabled tenant who walks with a limp when it denied his request to move to a ground-floor apartment during a planned 13-week shutdown of his building's elevators, a new lawsuit charges.

    The lawsuit, filed by the state's Division of Human Rights, says the tenant, Alaba Hamzat, who has nerve and muscle damage in his left leg due to childhood polio, was forced to take the stairs to get to and from his third-floor apartment in the Robert F. Wagner Houses while the elevators were out of service.

    "They didn't treat me right," Hamzat, 57, said during an interview []. "They have no feelings for people with disabilities."

    The lawsuit, filed last week in Manhattan Supreme Court, says Hamzat continuously asked for a transfer during the two years before the planned service shutdown, which began in August 2013.

    He spoke to NYCHA's management office about a move shortly after the Housing Authority issued a July 2011 letter to Wagner Houses tenants informing them that their elevators would undergo a major modernization.

    In February 2012, a NYCHA manager visited Hamzat's apartment and later promised it would move him and his family to an accessible unit, the lawsuit says.

    Despite the assurances, NYCHA didn't move them.
    Hamzat said he was forced to take the stairs for several weeks.

    "I had no option. I had to go down to work and take my kids to school," he said.

    Hamzat said he suffered a back injury from using the stairs. He said the pain eventually became so bad that he had to move out of the apartment before the elevator shutdown ended Nov. 16, 2013.

    His family remained in the Wagner Houses apartment until February 2014, when Hamzat found an apartment in Newark where they could all live together.

Massachusetts AG Tags Landlord Of 32-Unit Apartment Building With Housing Discrimination Suit, Alleging It Moved To Boot Blind, PTSD-Suffering Tenant's Assistance Animals Rather Than Reasonably Accommodate His Disability; Actions Said To Have Resulted In Guide Dog Being Put To Death After Being Put In Pound

In East Wareham, Massachusetts, Wareham Week report:
  • The Attorney General has filed a complaint on July 24 against New Depot Crossing and partners for allegedly discriminating against a blind man with service animals.

    New Depot Crossing, LP, Hallkeen Management, Inc., Housing Solutions for Southeastern Massachusetts, Inc., and Dianne Callahan are all named as defendants in the case. Depot Crossing is a 32-unit low income housing property located at 125 Minot Ave.

    The complaint alleges that the defendants violated the state’s fair housing law by requiring a specific form before considering the tenant’s request for a reasonable accommodation, inquiring into an open and obvious disability, and then failing to follow their own reasonable accommodation policies and procedures.

    According to the Attorney General, tenant Robert DaSilva owned a dog, to assist him with his mobility, and two cats that served as emotional support animals to help him cope with post traumatic stress disorder.

    According to the complaint, when DaSilva moved into Depot Crossing in 2014 he was unaware that he needed approval of his pets as no paperwork was included in the lease nor did Callahan mention it.

    In April 2014, DaSilva received a “notice of dog removal” demanding that DaSilva remove the animals from the apartment by April 24.

    Though DaSilva sent a doctor's note informing the defendant of his blindness, it was deemed inadequate verification, the complaint read.

    The defendants requested a hearing, telling DaSilva that if he did not make the meeting, he and his animals would be removed from his home, according to the document.

    On May 12, the Southeast Housing Court granted a request to remove DaSilva’s animals (including his two cats) which DaSilva was unable to attend with only three days notice.

    According to the complaint, DaSilva had given his dog, Marley, to a pound, believing he would be evicted. The pound later put the dog down. He gave his two cats to a friend and eventually moved out of the apartment by December 2014.

    “As a result of losing his dog, Mr. DaSilva suffered increased anxiety, stress, and felt insecure leaving his home. He also experienced increased anxiety and stress due to the loss of companionship of his dog and his cats of ten years,” the complaint read.

    The Attorney General’s office is seeking injunctive relief and damages for the victim, as well as civil penalties.

    The Attorney General’s office sent a press release on July 28 informing the public of the lawsuits.

    Executive Director Carl Nagy-Koechlin for Housing Solutions for Southeastern Massachusetts said his company is not the owner of New Depot and that it was “damaging to [them] to be miscast” as such.

    “The AG put out a press release which inaccurately characterized us as the owner of the property which we are not,” said Nagy-Koechlin. He is currently contacting the Attorney General and the property owners to have them say something on record about their minimal involvement in the property.

    According to him, the nonprofit has “historically had an involvement.” They developed the land and acquired it in foreclosure in 1990. In 2010, they transferred ownership, he said.

    The Community Builders website has New Depot Crossing listed under their properties and themselves as “developer, owner” of the property.

    Callahan declined to comment.

Metro Denver Landlords Of Two-Building, 28-Unit Complex Agree To Cough Up $75K Settlement After Getting Belted By Local Fair Housing Group With Discrimination Lawsuit; Probe Utilizing Testers Posing As Prospective Tenants Allegedly Found Evidence That Families With Young Kids Were Steered To Apartments In Rear Building, Excluding Them From Front Building

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department announced [] that the owners and manager of the Westland Apartments, a 28-unit apartment complex in Lakewood, Colorado, have agreed to pay $75,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging discrimination against families with children in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The settlement must still be approved by the U.S. District Court of the District of Colorado.

    The department’s lawsuit, which was handled jointly by the department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Colorado, was filed on Nov. 9, 2015. The lawsuit alleges that Roger and Eileen Loecher, the owners of the Westland Apartments, and Miriam Yehudah, the resident property manager, implemented a policy of generally excluding families with children from living in the front building at Westland and generally restricting them to apartments in the rear building.

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

    DMFHC sent testers posing as prospective renters to Westland to determine whether they were engaging in discriminatory practices in violation of the Fair Housing Act. As alleged in the complaint, DMFHC’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. DMFHC also filed a lawsuit against the defendants on Dec. 22, 2015. The cases were consolidated on March 3, 2016.
    Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the defendants must pay $25,000 to establish a settlement fund to compensate victims who were harmed by their conduct, $45,000 in monetary damages to DFMHC and $5,000 to the United States as a civil penalty. In addition, the proposed settlement prohibits the defendants from engaging in discrimination against families with children in the future. It also requires that they implement a nondiscrimination policy, establish new nondiscriminatory application and rental procedures, receive training on the Fair Housing Act and conduct monitoring and reporting to the department for three years.

    Individuals who believe they may have been discriminated against at Westland because they resided with or intended to reside with children should contact the department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox 92, or e-mail Westland is located at 9905 West 21st Avenue in Lakewood.

Another Municipality Gets Roped Into Discrimination Lawsuit Over Land Use Regulations; Civil Rights Feds Take Up Battle On Behalf Of Muslim Congregation After Town Denies Zoning Approval To Build Mosque

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department announced [] that it has filed a lawsuit against Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, alleging that the township violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it denied zoning approval to allow the Bensalem Masjid to build a mosque on three adjoining parcels of land in the township.

    The complaint, filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges that Bensalem Township’s denial of a variance imposed a substantial burden on the Bensalem Masjid’s religious exercise, treated the Bensalem Masjid less favorably than the township treats nonreligious assemblies and discriminated against the Bensalem Masjid on the basis of religion.(1)

    According to allegations in the complaint, the township placed unreasonable limitations on religious assemblies through its land use regulations. The complaint also alleges that the township only permits places of worship in one district without a variance or rezoning by the township and that no properties were available in that district when the Bensalem Masjid acquired the property.

    “Our Constitution protects the rights of religious communities to build places of worship free from unlawful interference and unnecessary barriers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to challenge unjustified local zoning actions around the country when they encroach upon this important civil right.”

    RLUIPA contains multiple provisions prohibiting religious discrimination and protecting against unjustified burdens on religious exercise. Persons who believe that they have been subjected to religious discrimination in land use or zoning may contact the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at (800) 896-7743.

    More information about RLUIPA, including questions and answers about the law and other documents, may be found at
Source: Justice Department Files Suit Against Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, Over Denial of Zoning Approval for Mosque.

For the lawsuit, see U.S. v. Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania.
(1) In December, 2014, and prior to the Justice Department's involvement in this controversy, The Bensalim Majid had filed its own lawsuit against the township. See The Bensalem Majid, Inc. v Bensalem Township Pennsylvania, et ano.