Saturday, November 19, 2016

Two Years After Disbarment, Ex-Lawyer Finally Feels Pinch, Faces Three Felony Counts For Allegedly Filching $150K In Client Funds; Local DA Seeks More Potential Victims; Defendant's Attorney: He Didn't Mean To Steal, Just Sloppy In Handling Clients' Cash

In Santa Ana, California, the Press-Enterprise reports:
  • A former personal-injury lawyer from Riverside has been charged with misappropriating $150,000 in client-settlement funds in Orange County, using the money to pay other clients and for personal debts, authorities said.(1)

    Fred Raymond Hunter, Jr., 50, pleaded not guilty [] to three felony counts of embezzlement by a fiduciary of trust, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.

    Hunter, the son of former Anaheim mayor and attorney Fred Hunter Sr., was disbarred in 2014.

    His attorney, Rance Welch, said Hunter has paid full restitution to the victims and is remorseful. He said Hunter concedes that he mishandled his clients’ funds but said there was no criminal intent. “He never had any intention of stealing money, he just didn’t handle his clients’ trusts properly,” Welch said.

    Prosecutors said Hunter misappropriated funds from at least three clients in 2013 or 2014.

    Hunter was disbarred after an investigation by the State Bar of California determined that he had mishandled a client’s trust account. In 2003, his law license was suspended over similar allegations of mishandling his client-trust account.
Source: Former Riverside attorney charged with misappropriating $150,000 in client funds (A former personal-injury lawyer from Riverside has been charged with misappropriating $150,000 in client-settlement funds in Orange County, using the money to pay other clients and for personal debts, authorities said).

For the Orange County, California District Attorney press release, see OCDA Seeks Public's Help Identifying Potential Additional Victims Of Attorney Charged With Using $150,000 In Client Settlement Funds To Pay Personal Debts.
(1) The California State Bar's Client Security Fund is a public service of the California legal profession. The State Bar sponsored the creation of this fund to help protect consumers of legal services by alleviating losses resulting from the dishonest conduct of attorneys. The amount the fund may reimburse for theft committed by a California lawyer depends on when the loss occurred. A maximum of $50,000 is reimbursable if the loss occurred before January 1, 2009. A maximum of $100,000 is reimbursable if the loss occurred on or after January 1, 2009.

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.

(Sneaky?) NJ Lawyer/Municipal Court Judge Faces State Ethics Charges For Allegedly Talking Widowed Client Into Making $790K In 'Secured' Loans To His Baby Mama Without Disclosing That Relationship, Then Failing To Record Mortgages; $80K Legal Fee For Minimal Services Of Writing A Few Letters To Obtain $250K In Add'l Insurance Proceeds Also At Issue

From a recent post on the Random notes on NJ government blog:
  • On August 1, 2016, the District VIII Ethics Committee, an arm of the New Jersey Supreme Court's attorney disciplinary function, filed a formal ethics complaint against a Perth Amboy-based attorney who serves as one of the City's municipal court judge as well as a judge in neighboring Woodbridge Township.

    The complaint alleges that the lawyer convinced an Edison widow to lend $790,000 she received from life insurance and a wrongful death lawsuit settlement to a woman with whom the lawyer had a sexual relationship out of which a child was born.

    The lawyer is also charged with billing the widow $80,000 for the "minimal service" of filing a $250,000 double-indemnity claim against her deceased husband's life insurance company.

    The complaint, Docket No. VIII-2016-00002E, alleges that Emery Z. Toth, who maintains an office on Maple Street in Perth Amboy, introduced Marybeth DeHanes of Edison, whose husband died in 1992, to Carol Gronczewski. Toth allegedly had been intimately involved with Gronczewski since the late 1970s and fathered Gronczewski's child. Yet, according to the complaint, Toth never disclosed to DeHanes his relationship with Gronczewski and DeHanes, at Toth's suggestion, lent $290,000 in 1993 to Gronczewski's company, CG Investment Realty. The loan was supposed to be secured by a mortgage on an Edison property but, according to the complaint, "a mortgage was never filed to protect the interests of Complainant [DeHanes]."

    Toth is listed on Woodbridge Township's website as being one of the Township's four municipal court judges and on Perth Amboy's site as being one of three judges. According to the ethics complaint, Toth has been practicing law since 1974.

    After a different lawyer won a $2,000,000 wrongful death lawsuit in favor of DeHanes' deceased husband's estate, Toth allegedly advised DeHanes to invest her $500,000 share of the settlement with Gronczewski in 2000. Again, DeHanes was allegedly led to believe that her investment was secured by a mortgage that "was never filed."

    Separately, the lawyer who obtained the wrongful death settlement advised DeHanes that she was entitled to double-indemnity on her deceased husband's life insurance policy. Toth allegedly contacted the insurance carrier and received an additional $250,000 and then told DeHanes that she owed him $80,000 for his services in obtaining the $250,000 insurance check. According to the complaint, DeHanes paid Toth $80,000 "for the minimal services that he rendered in obtaining the extra $250,000" which was writing a "'few letters' to the insurance carrier."

    Toth has had previous brushes with ethics officials. On January 5, 2009, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct filed a formal complaint against him for sentencing a man to 180 in jail for a contempt charge without affording him an opportunity to respond and without staying the sentence for five days to give the man a chance to appeal.(1)  According to press reports, Toth received a reprimand from the New Jersey Supreme Court.

    At the time of this writing, Toth had not yet filed an answer to the complaint. The ethics charges are only allegations--nothing has been proven--and Toth is entitled to hearing.

    Since 1995, attorney disciplinary hearings have been open to the public. Anyone who is interested in being notified in advance of any hearings on this matter may complete and send a hearing request form to District VIII Ethics Committee Secretary Barry J. Muller via fax to 609-896-1469.

Another Lawyer Finds Himself Forced Into Retirement; Disbarred In 2013 After Bar Auditors Found Over $1.6 Million In Improper Distributions To Himself From Client Trust Account, Now Begins 7-Year Prison Term For 13 Grand Theft Counts

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Daily Business Review reports:
  • Disbarred Pembroke Pines attorney Mark F. Dickson was sentenced to seven years in prison for grand theft.

    Dickson was supposed to help insurance companies recover damages from at-fault parties. But instead, prosecutors say he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the firms as part of a lucrative insurance settlement scam.

    He surrendered in Broward Circuit Judge Lisa Porter's courtroom Oct. 19 to begin serving his sentence in Florida State Prison, according to a release [] from the Broward State Attorney's Office. He pleaded guilty to 13 counts of grand theft.

    Prosecutors say Dickson misled his clients into thinking they couldn't resolve their claims, convincing them to close the files. But when his insurance company clients walked away, Dickson secretly settled the claims and pocketed the money.

    Prosecutor Catherine Maus told the court the former lawyer "used his bar license to conduct these thefts."

    Dickson, 68, was admitted to the bar in 1975. He was admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court and in federal and state courts in New York and Florida, according to his Florida Bar record. He lost his law license in 2012 following a Florida Bar petition for emergency suspension.

    At that time, Dickson was the subject of multiple disciplinary actions for financial misappropriation that prompted an audit of his trust and operating accounts. Auditors found he'd improperly distributed more than $1.6 million from his trust account to himself.

    The Florida Supreme Court subsequently disbarred Dickson in 2013. That same year, he faced criminal charges in the insurance case.

    Dickson faces 10 years' probation after his release from prison. He must also pay about $408,000 in restitution.(1)
Source: Disbarred Lawyer Sentenced to 7 Years for Theft From Insurance Clients.
(1) The Clients' Security Fund was created by The Florida Bar to help compensate persons who have suffered a loss of money or property due to misappropriation or embezzlement by a Florida-licensed attorney.

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

Attorney Who Raided Escrow Account Out Of Over $105K Dodges Prison Time, Gets 8 Months House Arrest, Probation; Swindled Cash Was Earlier Repaid To Victim By Defendant's Relative

In Scranton, Pennsylvania, The Citizens' Voice reports:
  • The former Hazle Township solicitor who admitted to stealing more than $105,000 that was held as part of a development agreement was sentenced [] to four years probation, with the first eight months served under house arrest.

    Charles Pedri, 65, pleaded guilty in July to a felony count of theft from a program receiving federal funds, admitting he raided an escrow account entrusted to him for his personal benefit. During a brief statement in court, Pedri apologized for his conduct.
    The crime called for a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, although the guideline range based on his record was a sentence of 12-18 months in jail. Prosecutors argued that was an appropriate range, characterizing the crime as a serious offense in which Pedri stole more money than the average person makes in a year by abusing his position of trust.
    Pedri eventually admitted taking the money after Hazle Spindle threatened a lawsuit. He was fired and the money was subsequently repaid.

    But in court [], O’Hara noted it wasn’t Pedri who repaid the debt — he was seeking probation because he now needs to repay the debt to an unidentified female relative.

    “Restitution has not been made by the defendant,” O’Hara said. “Restitution has been made for the defendant.”

    Ghilardi called O’Hara’s comment “unfortunate,” saying the important element in such a case is making the victim whole, not the source of the money.

    “It’s not his money because he doesn’t have any money, and that’s what caused him to commit this offense in the first place,” Ghilardi said.

NJ AG Investigators Raid Attorney's Office, Bag Him For Allegedly Stealing Over $1.2 Million From Clients; Practicing Elder Law, Suspect Charged With Preying On Dementia-Stricken, Those Without Close Relatives To Guard Loved Ones' Interests; Probe Into Suspicious Transactions Related To Over A Dozen Add'l Clients Remains Ongoing; Bail Set At $500K

From the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General:
  • Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that prominent Ocean County attorney Robert Novy, who hosted a radio show and taught seminars on elder law, was arrested [] on charges that he stole more than $1.2 million from elderly clients.(1) The victims in some cases did not have close relatives to guard their interests or suffered from dementia.

    Detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice arrested Novy, 65, of Brick, N.J., on charges of first-degree money laundering, second-degree theft by unlawful taking, and second-degree misapplication of entrusted property. Novy will be lodged in the Ocean County Jail with bail set at $500,000.

    In addition to arresting Novy, detectives [] executed a search warrant at the offices of Novy & Associates, LLC, on Ridgeway Avenue in Manchester, seizing billing records and other evidence. The Attorney General’s Office obtained a court order freezing over $3.5 million in assets held in various bank accounts of Novy and his law firm. Attorneys from the Division of Criminal Justice also applied for a Superior Court judge to appoint a trustee to oversee the business operations of the law firm.
    In conducting the investigation, the Division of Criminal Justice obtained and reviewed voluminous bank records and conducted an extensive financial analysis. The investigation revealed that Novy allegedly stole funds from elderly and deceased clients who, in some cases, did not have a close relative to claim their estate or challenge Novy’s actions. Novy gained control through wills, powers of attorney, and trust documents, making himself the sole financial decision-maker for these clients.
    It is alleged that Novy engaged in the following thefts from clients:
  • He allegedly stole $78,000 from an 88-year-old woman who suffered from dementia, billing the woman and her estate a total of $78,000 that was not supported by any invoice or records showing justification.
  • He allegedly stole more than $176,000 from an 85-year-old woman who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Among other things, he allegedly withdrew funds directly from her personal account totaling nearly $60,000, converting them into cashier’s checks and depositing the checks directly into his personal account. In addition, he allegedly used his power of attorney to cash out an annuity the woman held, depositing over $122,000 into his attorney trust account and then issuing checks from that account to his law firm totaling $117,000, claiming they were “power of attorney fees.”
  • He allegedly stole at least $459,000 from an 87-year-old woman. Among other things, he deposited proceeds totaling roughly $387,000 from two annuities into his attorney trust account, and subsequently transferred those funds into his law firm’s business accounts. He claimed part of the money was for attorneys’ fees and power of attorney fees, but he did not justify those huge fees.
  • He allegedly stole nearly $550,000 from another elderly woman. He allegedly transferred nearly $300,000 that he held for her in his attorney trust account into the firm’s business accounts without any invoices or evidence that legal services were provided. On another occasion, Novy allegedly wrote himself a check for $250,000 from the woman’s personal bank account and deposited it into his own personal bank account.
  • In some cases, when challenged by trustees or relatives about particular funds that had been withdrawn from client accounts, Novy claimed they were “administrative errors” and repaid the funds. The Division of Criminal Justice is continuing to investigate suspicious transactions related to more than a dozen additional clients of Novy.
For more, see Prominent Ocean County Lawyer Who Hosted Radio Show on Elder Law Arrested on Charges He Stole Over $1.2 Million from Elderly Clients (Attorney General’s Office executes search warrant at Robert Novy’s law offices in Manchester, N.J.).
(1) The New Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection was established to reimburse clients who have suffered a loss due to dishonest conduct of a member of the New Jersey Bar.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up 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.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hubby's Lawsuit Accuses Stepchildren Of Trying To Sell $3.45 Million Apartment Out From Under His Alzheimer's-Stricken Wife, Depleting $800K From Her Retirement Savings

In New York City, the New York Post reports:
  • The children of a renowned psychologist dying of Alzheimer’s have depleted her retirement savings and are trying to sell her $3.45 million Manhattan apartment out from under her, their stepfather charges in a new lawsuit.

    The Manhattan Supreme Court suit was brought by her husband of 27 years, Arie Shapira, who claims 73-year-old Dr. Bonnie Jacobson’s sons — Brad Jacobson, 43, and Eric Jacobson, 47 — withdrew $800,000 from her retirement account and listed her apartment for sale. The two dispute the allegations.

Texas Man Who Used Forged Deed In Failed Attempt To Swipe Property From Innocent Owner Gets 6 Months Jail Time; Cloud On Title Left Victim Unable To Proceed On Offer To Sell

In Anderson County, Texas, the Palestine Herald-Press reports:
  • A 66-year-old Palestine man, who was found guilty Oct. 26 of securing execution of a document by deception in an amount not less than $1,500 and not more than $20,000, was given a six-month jail sentence.

    After finding Danny Padilla guilty, the jury sentenced him to six months in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice State Jail division.

    Padilla was eligible for probation from the jury, but the 12-member jury heard evidence that Padilla presented a forged Quitclaim Deed, to a notary public and represented it as being true and correct. The forged document was then submitted to the Anderson County Clerk’s office and filed as a record of deed.

    The deed purportedly was signed by the land owner, Donnie Mixon, who testified that the signature on the document is not his signature. Mixon and Brenda (Mixon) Huddleston testified that they were able to recover a portion of the monetary damages they suffered as a result of Padilla’s actions in a civil suit.

    They did not recover all of their losses, however, and felt criminal prosecution of Padilla was appropriate because it not only involved taking their property but filing a homeowner’s insurance claim for damage to the home

    The jury further heard that the Mixons were unable to proceed on an offer to sell the land because of the cloud on their title.

Property Owner Loses Possession Of Vacant Home When Illegal Occupant Moves In, Shows Investigators A Signed Lease; Cops Wash Their Hands Of Incident, Say Its A Civil Matter

In Los Angeles, California, KTTV-TV Channel 11 reports:
  • A homeowner in South LA is facing quite a battle. Laurie Horn says in the darkness of night, someone broke into her property and now they won't leave.

    That someone is Shanell Lathem, but she denies breaking into the house. Lathem says an unknown person rented her the property and she paid $2400 in cash.

    When the homeowner called the police, Lathem presented [them] with a signed lease. Officers then told the owner they wouldn't be able to help her because it's a civil matter.

    Horn says, "It can happen to anybody. It can happen to you, somebody can break into your house and say, 'I have a lease, oh, we’re a victim of fraud,' and then try getting them out!"

    So, where does it end? FOX 11 contacted the LA County Dept. of Consumer and Business Affairs and they say if anyone is facing this type of situation, they can help investigate.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

NY AG Reaches $1.6 Million Settlement With NYC Outfit That Allegedly Peddled Ineffective Loan Modification Services, Forensic Loan Audits; Scheme Routinely Targeted Hispanic Homeowners Desperate To Avoid Foreclosure, Failing To Provide Substantial Relief

From the Office of the New York Attorney General:
  • Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman [] announced a $1.6 million settlement with Queens-based American Hope Group, Inc. and its principal, Mauricio Villamarin Martinez (collectively “American Hope Group”), following an investigation into a fraudulent mortgage rescue scheme that preyed upon financially vulnerable Hispanic homeowners who were desperate to save their homes from foreclosure.

    The AG’s investigation found that American Hope Group collected millions of dollars in monthly fees from consumers, yet routinely failed to deliver on its promises to provide substantial relief from unaffordable mortgage payments through loan modifications and other forms of foreclosure prevention. The settlement, a Consent Order, concludes the AG’s investigation into American Hope Group’s mortgage rescue scheme.
    American Hope Group generated millions of dollars by inducing homeowners to pay an illegal upfront fee of $2850, followed by a recurring monthly fee of typically $695, by misrepresenting the likelihood of obtaining a loan modification, principal reduction, lower interest rate, or other foreclosure relief if homeowners utilized American Hope Group’s loan modification and audit services. American Hope Group misrepresented that it was a leading organization in mortgage restructuring and that it had obtained millions of dollars in mortgage modifications.

    Through its advertisements in Spanish-language newspapers, direct mail solicitations, and website, American Hope Group vigorously promoted the use of forensic and securitization audits as a means to identify errors in mortgage loan documents, defend against foreclosure, and win concessions from mortgage servicers. Although American Hope Group charged consumers thousands of dollars for these audits, the audits typically had very little value at all.
    If you believe you were a victim of American Hope Group, or if you believe you were a victim of another mortgage rescue scam, please file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. Complaint forms are available here. You may also call the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-800-771-7755.
For more, see A.G. Schneiderman Obtains $1.6 Million Settlement With Queens Company That Targeted Hispanic Homeowners In Fraudulent Mortgage Rescue Scheme (A.G. Investigation Found Company Charged Illegal Upfront Fees, Urged Vulnerable Homeowners To Stop Making Mortgage Payments, Misrepresented Likelihood of Obtaining Loan Modification; Many Consumers Ultimately Forced Into Foreclosure Or Lost Their Homes As A Result Of Fraudulent Scheme).

Click here for the Spanish version of the AG press release.

Massachusetts AG Scores $600K+ Judgment In Civil Suit Against Loan Modification Racket For Violations Of State Consumer Protection Law; Outfit Cloaked Itself As Tax-Exempt Non-Profit Group To Peddle Bogus Foreclosure Avoidance Services To Financially Distressed Homeowners; State Acknowledges That Recovery Of Damages From Scammer Is "Uncertain"

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:
  • A Sutton man involved in the operation of a group of businesses that falsely advertised themselves as non-profit foreclosure prevention organizations has been ordered to pay more than $600,000 for soliciting and spending illegal advance fees received from distressed homeowners, Attorney General Maura Healey announced [].

    Suffolk Superior Court Judge Paul Wilson granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the AG’s Office holding Gailon Arthur Joy of Sutton liable for 68 violations of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. Joy induced homeowners to give deposits of up to 25 percent of their gross monthly incomes, claiming the deposits were necessary to be eligible for federal and other mortgage relief programs.

    “This defendant made false promises to help people stay in their homes, but instead took their money to benefit himself and his colleagues,” said AG Healey. “This judgment should send a strong message that orchestrating foreclosure scams to prey upon vulnerable homeowners will not be tolerated in Massachusetts.”

    The order requires Joy to pay more than $600,000, including $367,371 in restitution, $170,000 for civil penalties and $65,535 in attorneys’ fees and costs. While recovery of this amount is uncertain, the judgment also includes injunctive provisions to protect consumers. Joy is prohibited from providing foreclosure-related services, serving as an escrow agent or accepting deposits from Massachusetts consumers for any goods or services to be provided at a later date.

    The AG’s complaint, filed in 2013, alleged that since 2009 a group of five individuals operated a series of organizations claiming to offer financial and legal services, including foreclosure-related services, to distressed homeowners in Massachusetts.

    Those named in the lawsuit included Joy, Paula Carvalho, Obeilson Roosevelt Matos, Pricila Trancoso Silva, John Charles Schumacher, the Alliance for Affordable Housing (AFAH) and the Global Advocates Foundation Inc., previously located in Everett; and the Alliance for Hope Network, Inc., previously located in Framingham.

    The businesses portrayed themselves as tax-exempt, non-profit organizations, but operated like for-profit businesses, seeking financial gain for their officers and directors.

    As alleged in the motion for summary judgment against Joy, between March 2010 and October 2012, he and the businesses collected and spent more than $350,000 in deposits that they received from homeowners and claimed would be placed in escrow for the homeowners to use to help mitigate their pending foreclosures.

    However, the defendants in this case never properly accounted for the use of those funds and allegedly used the funds to pay operating expenses, including salaries and marketing commissions for bringing in new customers, and personal expenses, including at least one defendant’s residential housing costs.
Source: Sutton Man Operating Foreclosure Relief Scheme Ordered to Pay $600,000 for Taking Illegal Fees From Distressed Homeowners (Defendant Operated Group of Businesses Falsely Advertised as Non-Profit Foreclosure Prevention Organizations).

Ohio AG Files Civil Suit Accusing Out-Of-State Loan Modification Outfit With Violations Of State Consumer Protection Law For Alleged Ripoffs Of Financially Distressed Homeowners

From the Office of the Ohio Attorney General:
  • Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine [] announced a lawsuit against a California-based firm accused of misleading consumers and taking upfront payments for mortgage-relief services it failed to provide.

    The lawsuit accuses Core Advisory Group LLC and its operator, Trung (“Mike”) Luong of Newport Beach, of violating Ohio consumer protection laws.
    According to the lawsuit, Core Advisory Group offers mortgage relief services for a fee, often ranging between $1,745 and $3,900. It advertises online and through the mail. The mail solicitation provides a phone number, but not the business’s name, and it tells consumers they may be eligible for a program to lower their mortgage payments. When consumers respond, the firm allegedly offers a two-phase program of filing complaints for consumers with government agencies (apparently to draw more attention from the consumer’s mortgage servicer) and then working on the “reinstatement and restructuring” of a consumer’s loan.

    An investigation by the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section determined that these representations often were not true and that Core Advisory Group failed to provide services it had agreed to provide.

    In the lawsuit, filed in the Richland County Common Pleas Court, Attorney General DeWine seeks reimbursement for affected consumers and an end to any violations of Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Texas Non-Profit Heads Task Force In Probe Into Wrap Around Mortgage Scams; Some Real Estate Investors Allegedly Target Naive Homebuyers With Crappy Credit By Offering Them "Creative" Seller Financing When Peddling Property Encumbered By Existing Loans, Then Skimming Their Monthly House Payments Meant To Cover Obligations On Prior Liens, Sending Homes Into Foreclosure

In El Paso, Texas, El Paso Inc. reports:
  • Santa Martinez was home with her 6-year-old daughter when the doorbell rang. It was a hot June day, and they were putting a plastic pool together in the backyard.

    Martinez stood behind her daughter as she opened the door. A woman was there to say the bank was foreclosing on the home and her family was being evicted. They had three days to leave.

    “My daughter started crying, apologizing and saying it was her fault because she opened the door. She just kept blaming herself,” Martinez told El Paso Inc. in an interview last week.

    Martinez, 31, had lived in the home with her husband and three children for eight months. They say they always made their loan payments, so they suspected something was wrong and called a lawyer. Promised the American dream of homeownership, some borrowers in El Paso are instead losing their homes to foreclosure and their savings to bankruptcy.

    They are victims of schemes involving so-called wraparound mortgages, a type of creative seller financing that is legal in Texas. But critics say they are too risky and invite fraud and theft. Lawyers representing local victims say many of their clients have had their credit ruined and their savings wiped out.

    “Wraparounds are huge in El Paso. It’s a lacuna – a gap. It’s just been overlooked, and nobody has thought to pay attention to these,” says K-Sue Park, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which took Martinez’s case.

    The nonprofit, which provides free legal services to the poor, is a member of a new task force formed last month to investigate financial crimes in El Paso, particularly those involving wraparound mortgages. The task force includes the FBI, Fort Bliss, Better Business Bureau and the county attorney.

    “These are people looking for the American dream and to provide a better life for their families, and they are falling prey to a scam and their savings are being destroyed,” says state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, who is working with the task force and wants to tighten regulations at the state level.

    Texas RioGrande Legal Aid claims that one scheme involving wraparound mortgages, led by brothers Geoffrey and Thomas Schober, has ensnared at least 200 families in El Paso. The nonprofit is representing more than 12 of them. Park says 85 to 90 percent of the homes involved were lost to foreclosure.

    To understand how Martinez could be threatened with foreclosure even though she was making monthly payments, you have to go back to October 2015, when she saw a phone number on a sign and called it.

    “Driving around we’d always see the signs at every intersection: ‘house for sale,’ ‘no credit,’ or ‘$10,000 down,’” Martinez says.

    She and her husband had saved $10,000 and wanted to buy a house, but had been unable to qualify for a loan. So they were renting a house when they received notice that their landlord was returning from the oilfields in Midland and would move in. They had 20 days to move out.

    “We panicked,” Martinez says. She called the number on one of the signs she had seen and looked at the house the same day. A few days later she met the seller, Victor Dennis, at a post office on the Westside to close on the house – a process that took 10 minutes, Martinez says.

    The couple says they knew the deal involved seller financing but did not know it involved a wraparound mortgage. They’d never even heard of a wraparound mortgage.

    Basically the wraparound deal worked like this: The couple made monthly payments to Dennis, a middleman, who was then supposed to pay the original mortgage. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid alleges that Dennis did not pay the bank. Unknown to Martinez, the bank moved to foreclose on the house.

    “We lost about $22,000,” says Michael Moreno, Martinez’s husband.

    The couple doesn’t know how much longer they will be allowed to stay in the house. Moreno says he quit his landscaping job so he could attend school and recently earned a commercial driver’s license. Now he’s looking for work, hoping that will help them qualify for a loan to buy a house.

    Neither Dennis and nor Thomas Schober could be reached for comment.

    Park with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid calls wraparound mortgages the new subprime mortgage.

    “There are new restrictions on subprime mortgages, but we are seeing a whole new market develop for real estate investors to market to people with no access to credit,” Park says. “There’s been a huge surge in wraparounds since the foreclosure crisis.”

    According to Park, certain groups are targeted more than others: soldiers, immigrants and first-time homebuyers.

    Sen. Rodriguez says he is working on legislation aimed at protecting consumers from wraparound mortgages and making it easier for regulators to police them. “We are going to try to put some teeth into (the law),” he says.
For more, see Scam alert: Wraparound mortgages (Borrowers can face foreclosure, bankruptcy).

Cops Charge President Of Housing Co-Op In Probe Focused On $450K In Missing Maintenance Funds

In Richmond, Rhode Island, WPRI-TV Channel 12 reports:
  • The president of the Hillsdale Mobile Home Park was arrested for allegedly taking thousands of dollars from the cooperative, and according to state police the investigation focused on $450,000 in missing funds.

    Maria Tavares is facing one count of obtaining money under false pretenses, which according to the criminal complaint involved her allegedly taking $24,000 from the housing cooperative.

    Tavares is also charged with conspiracy to obtain money under false pretenses, with the complaint stating she conspired with two men “to commit the crime.” The complaint names the two men, one of whom is an attorney, but they are not charged.

    State Police Major Joseph Philbin said the case involved “the alleged defrauding of approximately $450,000 from the Hillsdale Housing Cooperative.”

    Tavares answered the door at her Hillsdale home, but said she could not comment on the allegations.

    Homeowners in the rural trailer park pay monthly fees to cover maintenance such as snow removal, but the money could also be used for long term improvements to the community.

    One resident, who asked not to be identified, said she has lived in the trailer park for 30 years and was shocked by the crime which surfaced in May after Hillsdale boardmembers noticed the money was missing.

    Another resident, who said he and other residents were asked by the board not to talk publicly about the incident, said he was surprised the account had $450,000 in it.

    “We need to know where it all went,” he said.

    Tavares was arrested in June and released on $10,000 bail.

Conflict Of Interest: Judge Slams Real Estate Broker With $25K In Punitive Damages For Failure To Fully Disclose To Client In Foreclosure That He Owned Company Holding Delinquent Mortgage While Contemporaneously Acting As Listing/Sales Agent

In Langley, British Columbia, the Langley Times reports:
  • A falling-out over a business deal involving two former long-time friends and business associates has ended with a judge ordering Langley real estate agent Geoffrey Stephenson to pay a $25,000 punitive fine for the way he dealt with Thomas Mulligan.

    According to the judgment, filed Oct. 24, Stephenson and Mulligan had been friends for decades, and Mulligan had worked as a licensed realtor from 2002 to 2005 at Greyfriars Realty International Ltd., a company owned and operated by Stephenson.

    The written decision described how that relationship ended over the forced sale of a White Rock house that Mulligan bought in 2004, shortly after he was discharged from bankruptcy.

    Mulligan had "repeatedly" borrowed money against the value of the house from Greyfriars Mortgage Investment Corp., another company owned and operated by Stephenson. When Mulligan fell behind on his payments in 2008, Stephenson suggested selling.

    After another realtor proved unable to find a buyer at the desired asking price, Mulligan had his house listed with Greyfriars Realty International Ltd.

    Shortly after that, Greyfriars Mortgage foreclosed, and, assisted by Greyfriars Realty, sold Mulligan's home "with a significant shortfall left owing on his debt,” the judgment said.

    "All things considered, I am satisfied that Mr. Mulligan did not think much about conflict of interest issues until Greyfriars Mortgage commenced foreclosure proceedings against him," the judge wrote.

    "However, when that happened he began to think about them a lot."

    Mulligan complained to the Real Estate Council, which fined Stephenson $1,000 for professional misconduct in a consent order that, among other things, said Stephenson failed to fully disclose that he acted as Mulligan's realtor at the same time he owned Greyfriars Mortgage and knew it would probably commence a foreclosure action.

    After hearing the same issue, the judge called the Real Estate Council fine a "modest punishment (with) little, if any, discernible punitive or salutary effect,” and imposed a punitive damages award of $25,000.

    While the judge ruled that Stephenson's conduct was not malicious, it was a "marked departure from ordinary standards of behaviour reasonably to be expected of a realtor."

    "What Mr. Stephenson's ownership of Greyfriars Mortgage does mean is that he was in a serious conflict of interest position when he agreed to act as Mr. Mulligan's realtor."

    Reached by the Times for comment, Stephenson would only say that "it was a very bad experience and the only people who really won were the lawyers."

    As of Monday, Mulligan had not responded to a Times request for comment made to his lawyer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Atlanta-Area Non-Profit Law Firm Begins Fight In Defending Homeowners Screwed Over By Contract For Deed Racket; Housing Expert On Notorious Real Estate Transaction: "[O]ne Of The Most Dangerous Documents Anyone Could Ever Sign!"

In Atlanta, Georgia, WSB-TV Channel 2 reports:
  • Experts told Channel 2 Action News that a resurgent owner financing practice is offering families in low-income communities a chance at home ownership with a catch.

    It is called a contract for deed. Families who cannot get a traditional mortgage sign on the dotted line and are told they're homeowners. But experts say they don't own a thing.

    Charles Wright signed a contract for deed when he purchased his DeKalb County home. He leveled the backyard, repaired the roof and even replaced the flooring.

    "I went into it as if this place were mine," Wright told Channel 2's Dave Huddleston. "Because that's what you were led to believe?" Huddleston asked. "Absolutely," Wright said.

    After renting, even living in a hotel with his two young daughters, Wright previously thought his dream of homeownership was out of reach. "He said, 'Congratulations on your first home, you are a new homeowner,'" Wright remembered. "I was just a happy dude. I'll never forget it."

    Shortly signing for his home, Wright was hit by a car, and missed payments on his new house. A homeowner with a mortgage would have been protected, but Wright discovered he didn't own a thing.

    "Then wham -- eviction notice on my door," Wright told Huddleston. "I've taken a few blows, but this one was the ultimate."

    Big companies buy blighted homes in low-income neighborhoods in bulk. Companies say they offer a path to homeownership many thought impossible.

    "These instruments are structured to set somebody up, help them fail and then go find the next person," said attorney Sarah Stein, of Atlanta Legal Aid.(1)

    Atlanta Legal Aid represents Wright. He is one of the first to fight a contract for deed in a Georgia court.

    Stein said when someone signs a contract for deed, they are responsible for repairs, taxes, insurance and a high interest rate.

    "There are companies that are doing this in many states in the nation. It seems to have become more popular more recently," Stein said.

    The companies include Harbour Portfolio, a Texas-based firm run by Chad Vose. The company's contracts for deed practice in Georgia is completely legal.

    Channel 2 dug through tax records, and found Harbor Portfolio owns more than 100 homes in metro Atlanta, including Wright's. According to court records, Harbour Portfolio bought the property from Fannie Mae for $11,000 and sold it to Wright for $37,000, at a 10 percent interest rate.

    Because Georgia does not require contracts to be tracked, it's impossible to know how many companies use them, and how many home purchasers sign them.

    "The seller of a contract for deed doesn't want it in the public record. They want to be able to treat it as a contract that can be terminated in 30 days and have no evidence in the record," said Frank Alexander, of Emory Law. "They are, in reality, however, one of the most dangerous documents anyone could ever sign."

    Alexander is an expert on Georgia housing policy. He said other states, like Texas, have adopted new laws to regulate contracts for deed so there is more transparency for the home purchaser.

    "The purchasers have no protections under Georgia law," Alexander said.

    He said Georgians, like Wright, desperate to be homeowners may not be savvy enough to know what they are actually signing. "If the person ever blinks the wrong way, misses a payment or fails to mow the grass or pay the taxes they're evicted and the seller keeps everything," Alexander said.

    Wright wants to change that.

    "All I know is it's not fair," Wright said. "I gave them my money and I put all my money into this house under the impression that it was mine and it's not mine."

    Wright and Atlanta Legal Aid said they hope this lawsuit will create a precedent in Georgia that creates legal recourse to Georgians who have signed a contract for deed.

    Harbour Portfolio denied any wrongdoing, but declined to comment to Channel 2, citing pending litigation with Wright.
Source: BUYERS BEWARE: Contracts to watch out for when buying a home.
(1) Atlanta Legal Aid Society is a private, non-profit law firm that helps low-income people with free civil legal services; it serves the Georgia counties of Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett counties with offices located in downtown Atlanta, East Point, Decatur, Marietta, and Lawrenceville. land contract

Controversy Over Non-Judicial Foreclosures In Hawaii Leaves Title Insurers Wary About Insuring Title On Homes That Have Been Through Non-Court Supervised Process

In Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, West Hawaii Today reports:
  • Foreclosed properties bought at auction often afford buyers a chance at a lucrative deal.

    But if you’ve purchased a property anywhere in Hawaii that’s been through a non-judicial foreclosure, you may have acquired considerably less than you bargained for — or potentially nothing at all.

    That’s because of several class action and individual action lawsuits that have been filed across every county in the state. The lawsuits allege the banks that administered mass foreclosures during and after the 2008 housing crisis using the non-judicial foreclosure process — meaning without the supervision of the court — did so without following proper procedure.

    If a judge rules that a lender didn’t follow the highly specific power of sale outlined in the mortgage contract and supplemented by Hawaii’s non-judicial foreclosure statute part 1, then the sale is void and the property is returned to its original owner.

    Such a determination by a judge doesn’t necessarily leave the current title holder on the street absent compensation, particularly if he or she holds title insurance. But it does place on the title company the burden of reimbursing the current holder the monetary value of the property outlined in the title insurance policy.

    Because the number of lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of non-judicial foreclosures conducted in Hawaii over the last several years has recently skyrocketed and yet continues to climb, title insurers are wary of insuring future sales of any property that’s gone through the process, whether it was bought firsthand from the bank or secondhand from a private citizen.

    When they are willing to insure, it’s not necessarily at fair market value.

    “If the sale is void, that means when the bank sold the property to the new owner, the new owner got nothing,” said James Bickerton, an Oahu attorney who to date has filed nearly 60 lawsuits against financial institutions contesting the legitimacy of their foreclosure procedures. “So there are dozens and dozens of people sitting on property they thought was good because they bought it from a bank. That’s where the title insurance comes in. Title insurance companies have to step up and take care of it.”

Monday, November 14, 2016

NY Gov, State AG Tag Toilet-Snatching NYC Landlord With Tenant Harassment Suit, Alleging Use Of Despicable Conduct In Attempt To Oust Long-Time Rent Stabilized Renters From Their Apartments & Replace Them With High-Paying Market-Rate Residents

On the Lower East Side of Manhattan, DNAInfo (New York) reports:
  • Following an investigation into the practices of property management company Marolda Properties, Inc., Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have filed a lawsuit against the company claiming it attempted to harass elderly rent-stabilized tenants out of their homes in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

    Representatives for Marolda removed toilets from the apartments of elderly tenants at 13-15 Essex St. in August of this year and never replaced them, forcing the tenants — one of whom is disabled — to climb three flights of stairs to reach a restroom, according to Cuomo's office.

    This is just one instance of harassment tactics the landlord used against longtime tenants in an attempt to oust the rent-stabilized residents and put in market-rate tenants, according to the lawsuit the governor's office said it filed in New York Supreme Court.

    "This administration has no tolerance for those who seek to undermine the rights of tenants and use intimidation and harassment to deny them the protections they are entitled to under the law," Cuomo said in a statement.

    Marolda reps locked tenants out of their apartments at times, and subjected them to unsafe living conditions, such as switching off their gas and forcing them to use hot-plates to cook their food, the lawsuit claims.

    Marolda also tried to oust longtime tenants, many of whom were elderly and were not English proficient, by serving up phony notices claiming the tenants did not actually live in their apartments and had to clear out or face eviction proceedings, the lawsuit says.

    The landlord also engaged in construction-as-harassment tactics, according to the governor's office, carrying out renovations and repairs without required permits and even claiming the apartment buildings were vacant when applying for permits.

    The probe into Marolda began more than two years ago, when the Tenant Protection Unit of the New York state Division of Housing and Community Renewal(1) launched an investigation into the landlord's practices in response to complaints from community organizations speaking on behalf of Marolda tenants.
For more, see LES Landlord Removed Elderly Tenants' Toilets as Harassment Tactic: Cuomo.

For the New York Attorney General press release, see A.G. Schneiderman Files Lawsuit Against Property Management Company And Landlords For Harassing Tenants In Chinatown And The Lower East Side (Joint Investigation Between A.G. And Governor Cuomo’s Tenant Protection Unit Uncovers Alleged Deceptive And Illegal Conduct and Harassment -- Such As Engaging In Sham Legal Proceedings -- Against Rent-Regulated Tenants In Order To Coerce Tenants Into Signing Away Their Housing Rights).

For the lawsuit, see People v. Marolda Properties, Inc., et al.
(1) According to the New York Attorney General's office:
  • Since 2012, the Tenant Protection Unit’s enforcement activities have led to the registration of over 53,000 improperly deregulated apartments and the recovery of over $2.8 million dollars in overcharged rent for unsuspecting tenants through settlement agreements and administrative proceedings.

    Tenants who believe they are the target of unlawful, deceptive or harassing behavior by landlords or their agents are urged contact the A.G. in order to file complaints online or call 1-800-771-7755. Tenants who live in rent regulated apartments and feel they are being harassed should also also contact the TPU at (718) 739-6400 or

City Scores Injunctions Against Notorious Milwaukee Landlord That Temporarily Wrestle Away Control Of His Real Estate Portfolio & Block Him From Buying More Rental Homes While Lawsuit Seeking $1.25 Million In Unpaid Property Taxes, Damages Proceeds

In Miwaukee, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports:
  • The City of Milwaukee [] won two motions in its recently filed civil suit against one of the city's most notorious landlords that temporarily block him from acquiring more real estate and place his properties under receivership.

    The city alleges the landlord, Mohammad Choudry, created a scheme to defraud city taxpayers by paying cash for distressed properties in the city, then not maintaining the properties and not paying the property taxes or municipal court fines, all while collecting rent from tenants.

    The city also claims Choudry used straw buyers, intentionally misspelled the names of people and businesses on deeds, and opened multiple limited liability companies in attempts to conceal his role in the purchases of dozens of properties.

    Choudry, 56, was one of several landlords profiled in April in an ongoing Journal Sentinel investigation about how some inner-city landlords game the system in order to avoid paying fines and property taxes while continuing to buy new properties at weekly sheriff's sales.

    The city is seeking a total of $1.25 million in its racketeering suit against Choudry — more than $400,000 in delinquent property taxes and $850,000 in damages.

    The ruling [...] temporarily prohibits Choudry from purchasing or otherwise obtaining any more real estate in Milwaukee County. The judge also temporarily placed properties owned or managed by Choudry under court-appointed receivership, meaning a third party will collect rent from tenants at the properties, maintain and repair the properties and pay city taxes and fines to the degree possible with the rent collected.

    Assistant City Attorney Kail Decker told the judge the injunctions were necessary because Choudry is "either struggling to manage his properties or is engaging in criminal activity." He added that despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars Choudry owed the city in delinquent property taxes and municipal court fines, the landlord has paid cash to acquire a dozen properties so far in 2016 alone.

    Choudry appeared at the hearing without an attorney, and when called to testify, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to the majority of questions from the city attorney.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Village Zoning Board Votes 4-1 To 'Green-Light' Parkinson's-Suffering Homeowner's Request To Keep Goat For Emotional Support, Despite Rule Against Farm Animals; Board's Attorney: It Had No Choice, Federal Law Requires "Reasonable Accommodation" For Disabled; Dissenting Board Member: Next Time, Someone Will Want A Horse Or A Chicken!

In the Village of Hudson Falls, New York, the Glens Falls Post-Star reports:
  • Greg Cutler is keeping his goat.

    The village Zoning Board of Appeals voted 4-1 [] to grant a waiver to the rule against farm animals within village limits.

    Cutler’s goat is an emotional support animal and thus must be allowed, the board decided.

    But board members and the public debated the issue for an hour first, trying to weigh possible problems against the reality of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.(1) Cutler has Parkinson’s disease.

    The Cutlers offered documentation proving the goat is an emotional support animal, which is protected under the act as a “reasonable accommodation” to help people who have disabilities.

    But board member Jim Ross worried that granting Cutler’s request would open the floodgates. “Next month someone could have a doctor’s note for a horse,” he said. “Someone could say they need fresh eggs so they have to have chickens.”

    He was the only board member to vote against the waiver. He added later that he just couldn’t believe a goat was a support animal. “If it had been a service dog, I would’ve been the first one to vote yes,” he said. “I don’t feel that denying this person a goat is in violation of the disabilities act. That’s the first time I’ve heard of a goat being a service animal.”

    Other board members also expressed reservations about the goat.

    “They’re very social but they need to have companionship of other animals. I think he needs to be with other farm animals,” said board member Bridget Davis. “I don’t understand why (a goat) – there’s so many animals in the pound.”

    However, board attorney Bill Nikas made it clear the board had no choice.

    Our federal law has carved out somewhat of an exception for emotional support animals,” he said. “We are required by constitutional law to accommodate reasonably, in this case, an emotional support animal.”

    He advised the board to set conditions to keep the goat clean, healthy, safe and confined to the property. But that’s as far as they could go, he said.

    “We have a situation with a man with a disability. He’s telling you he needs this animal,” Nikas said. “If there are 50 people with a disability that need emotional support animals, then you’ll deal with it.”

    Board members had clearly gone by the Cutlers’ house to see the goat. They noted approvingly that it was always indoors or on a tether, that the tether was moved from place to place in the yard, and that one of the family’s two dogs was always also outside on a tether to keep it company. They said there were no unpleasant odors from the yard as well.

    Cutler’s wife Cindy also told them that the goat, an unexpected gift from a nursing aide, was changing Cutler’s life for the better. “The goat has made his life not only bearable, but has greatly increased his quality of life,” she said.

    Partly that’s because the goat is personable and Cutler has taken to it. But the goat also draws youthful visitors every day, and Cutler is helped out onto the porch so that he can see and talk to the children who stop by. Before the goat, he got few visitors and had little interest in making the extreme effort to go outside to talk to passersby.

    Some neighbors came to the meeting to urge the board to let him keep the goat.

    “Especially in the summer, it’s a real joy,” said neighbor Dan Donahue who walks his dog by the goat every day and sees children visiting the goat. “The goat is very friendly, even to my border collie. I think the goat is a real addition to the neighborhood, and I for one would hate to see it gone.”

    Resident Bridget Doyle also spoke in favor. “It’s potty-trained. It’s house-trained and it’s helping somebody. Where is our humanity?” she said.

    But some neighbors told the board not to allow the goat.

    “What if, further down, everybody wants the same thing?” asked Suk Cha, who also said farm animals are not clean and should not be allowed in the village.

    When the board finally agreed to conditions and voted to allow the goat, Cutler could not physically smile or celebrate. But he said he was thrilled. “It was nip and tuck for awhile there, wasn’t it?” he said.

    Months ago, he said he knew he could not win against the government – but that the goat made it worth trying.

    After winning, he credited the Americans with Disabilities Act.(2) “I had some real good help,” he said.
For the story, see Man with Parkinson's gets to keep goat.
(1) In actuality, in this context, the reasonable accommodation for an emotional support animal to be made for persons with disabilities is required under the federal Fair Housing Act.

(2) Ibid.

Town Nixes Horse, But OKs Family Of Five Geese; Disabled Homeowner's Zoning Variance Request To Keep Unconventional Emotional Support Animals Gets Green Light

In Beloit, Wisconsin, the Beloit Daily News reports:
  • Bob Sparks will get to enjoy his gaggle of therapy geese for years to come, thanks to a Town of Beloit variance granted [] by the Board of Adjustments.

    The geese have brought Sparks back from a nearly fatal accident ten years ago.

    On Nov. 1, 2006, Sparks stopped on the side of the road to help a stranger who had run out of gas push his car to a nearby gas station. Suddenly, a car struck Spark's car, pinning him between his own car and that of the person he was trying to push.

    Sparks suffered three brain bleeds that damaged his memory, broke both legs and caused muscle rips and skin loss on almost his entire right leg.

    He was in a coma for several days, and doctors told his wife, Sylvia Davis, they had never seen someone who experienced that level of trauma survive their injuries. Sparks did survive, but the resulting trauma to his brain and legs was so significant that he had to re-learn how to brush his teeth, read and write among other remedial tasks.

    However, what brought Sparks back to a degree of purpose in his life were animals. They brought back memories that had not been lost by the accident of growing up on a farm.

    Caring for a horse Davis acquired for him gave Sparks a reason to first drag himself out of bed and wheel his wheelchair across the lawn every day. Doctors had expressed concern when Sparks was released that if he did not remain active, he would permanently lose use of his legs. Not only did this new inspiration help him keep using his legs, but before long Sparks was walking without assistance.

    Sparks took care of the horse for over a year before a Town of Beloit enforcement officer visited and told the couple that the horse violated zoning laws and would have to be removed from their property. Davis and Sparks attempted to board the horse for a while, but ultimately had to sell him.

    With Sparks lacking a reason to get up each day once again, Davis found a friend looking to sell a goose. Davis bought the goose, named Lucy, and after finding out later that she needed a mate or she would die of loneliness, acquired a male named Ricky. The pair of African Swan Geese provided company for not just each other, but for Sparks as well. Davis saw her husband find purpose and fulfillment once again, and the pair of geese became a family as Lucy hatched three babies named Fred, Ethel and Mrs. Trumble, rounding out a family of "I Love Lucy" characters.
    Linda Hart, a friend of Sparks and Davis' who identified herself as a fellow disabled individual, spoke of the impact she had seen on Sparks to have purpose through these geese.

    "I am excited to see him walk and not be in a wheel chair, and it is because of these geese," said Hart. "Without them, he would not even bother to try," said Tamra Schlueter, another friend of Sparks and Davis.

    The Board of Adjustments voted unanimously to allow Sparks to keep his geese, with several conditions. Sparks must keep the goose family to five and not seek to replace geese as they should perish. No geese can be slaughtered outdoors on their property, and the geese must be provided an enclosure that remains in their backyard, no closer than 25 feet from any adjacent residential structure.

    For Sparks, it was just good enough to be able to look forward to tomorrow.

    "I am elated," Sparks said after the meeting. "Now I get to look forward to tomorrow and the next day of taking care of my geese."

Civil Rights Feds Sting Central Florida Mobile Home Park Operator, Property Managers With Housing Discrimination Charges; Civil Suit Based On Evidence Gathered By Testers Posing As Buyers, Say Prospective Black Purchasers Were Given False Information, Quoted Higher Prices & Crappier Financial Terms Than White Counterparts

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department announced [] that it has filed a lawsuit against James C. Goss, the owner, and Cathy Plante and Joey Gwozdz, the managers, of May Grove Village Mobile Home Park, an 81-lot property in Lakeland, Florida. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants discriminated against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

    The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, alleges that the managers falsely told African Americans that no mobile homes, or fewer mobile homes, were immediately available for sale, but told similarly situated white persons that more mobile homes were available.

    According to the complaint, the managers also quoted prospective African-American purchasers higher prices and worse financial terms than similarly situated white purchasers.

    The lawsuit is based on the results of testing conducted by the department’s Fair Housing Testing Program, in which individuals pose as buyers to gather information about possible discriminatory practices.(1)

    “Housing providers cannot pick and choose homebuyers based on race,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We will continue to vigorously enforce the Fair Housing Act to ensure that all people in this country are able to secure housing without facing unlawful barriers.”

    The suit seeks monetary damages to compensate victims, civil penalties against the defendants to vindicate the public interest and a court order barring future discrimination.

    Individuals who have information about, or who believe they may have been discriminated against at May Grove Village, located at 1725 Gibsonia Galloway Road, in Lakeland, should contact the Justice Department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743, option 94, or by email at

    The 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
Source: Justice Department Files Housing Discrimination Lawsuit Against Owner and Managers of Florida Mobile Home Park (This Case is the Third Mobile Home Park Race Discrimination Case the Justice Department Has Filed in the Middle District of Florida in the Last Year).
(1) See generally, Fair Housing Enforcement Organizations Use Testing To Expose Discrimination.

NJ AG Sends Fair Housing Testers To Sting Landlord Of 17-Unit Building, Tagging Him With Discrimination Suit After Receiving Complaint From Prospective Tenant (Who Wore Islamic Head Covering) Alleging He Told Her "I Don't Rent To Muslims"

In Elizabeth, New Jersey, reports:
  • When Fatma Farghaly responded to a Craigslist ad for a one-bedroom apartment in Elizabeth, authorities say, she was told to come check it out.

    But when she arrived the next day wearing a khimar, a Muslim head covering, the landlord allegedly told her: "I don't rent to Muslims."

    Now the landlord, William Greda, faces a five-count complaint from the state Division on Civil Rights, which says it sent its own investigators to the Maple Garden apartment complex and substantiated Farghaly's claims.
    Attorney General Christopher Porrino called Greda's behavior "blatantly bias-driven and unacceptable under both state and federal law."

    He said the division sent two groups of "testers" to the complex after receiving Farghaly's complaint. The first group consisted of a man and a woman wearing a head scarf, who inquired about a listed apartment using a Muslim-sounding name.

    According to the complaint, Greda told the female applicant the basement apartment she was interested in was "not good for you."

    The second pair did not present themselves as Muslim, according to the complaint, and Greda did not discourage them from renting the apartment.

    During their investigation, authorities say Greda and his wife "made several unsupported claims" about why they refused an apartment to Farghaly.

    The couple said Farghaly told them she planned to house five people – three adults and two children – inside the one-bedroom apartment, according to the complaint. But authorities said Farghaly has no children and planned on living in the apartment alone.

    Civil Rights Director Craig Sashihara said [] that owners of single- or double-family dwellings can refuse to rent to anyone if they live in the building, but large rental complexes are subject to the fair housing laws.

    The complaint, filed in state Superior Court in Union County, accuses Greda of violating the state's Law Against Discrimination by refusing to rent to a tenant because of her religion and making discriminatory statements about her religion and gender.
For the story, see N.J. landlord told woman: 'I don't rent to Muslims,' AG says.

For the New Jersey Attorney General press release, see Attorney General, Division on Civil Rights Announce Superior Court Complaint Against Landlord for Rejecting Muslim Apartment Seeker (Landlord Accused of Telling Woman Wearing Khimar: ‘I Don’t Rent to Muslims’):
  • The complaint’s fifth count charges that Greda unlawfully transferred ownership of the rental complex he and his wife co-owned in order to hinder, delay or defraud the State. Specifically, the complaint charges that Greda created a corporate entity called Maple Garden LLC, then transferred ownership of the complex – for $1 – to that entity in April 2016 despite an awareness of the Division on Civil Rights’ investigation.

Luxury Rental Apartment Developer Agrees To Shell Out $1.8 Million To Retrofit Recently-Designed & Constructed Housing Complexes In Settlement Of Fair Housing Complaint Alleging Inaccessibility For Persons In Wheelchair (ie. Balconies' Sliding Door Thresholds Too High - More Than 3/4")

In Raleigh, North Carolina, The News & Observer reports:
  • Luxury rental apartment company SkyHouse has signed a $1.8 million agreement with Legal Aid of North Carolina over alleged violations of the federal Fair Housing Act.

    According to the conciliation agreement, announced [] by Legal Aid, SkyHouse will make physical modifications to improve access for people with disabilities in SkyHouse towers in Raleigh, Charlotte and eight other cities. The company, which owns buildings in four states, will also contribute $1.8 million toward improvements in buildings it doesn’t own or operate.

    The $1.8 million will be administered by R.L. Mace Universal Design Institute, a nonprofit in Asheville that specializes in accessibility design.

    Legal Aid filed complaints against SkyHouse with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging that SkyHouse balconies violated the FHA because the sliding door thresholds were too high, barring balcony access to people with disabilities.

    SkyHouse denied that the buildings were inaccessible and in violation of the FHA.

    “With regard to the high-rise SkyHouse buildings, we encountered a conflict between ensuring the buildings meet the applicable requirements for waterproofing and wind loads, and the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements and guidelines for all apartment homes in the building,” SkyHouse said in a statement.

    “In response to that conflict, and before LANC raised this with us, we developed and implemented a program to provide disabled access to the balconies,” the statement said. “We welcomed the input from LANC and HUD, and we are pleased to have been part of the efforts of LANC and HUD to broaden and refine our pre-existing program.”

    The conciliation agreement was signed with SkyHouse Raleigh, SkyHouse Charlotte, Novare Group and other parties representing the architects, developers and owners of the properties.

    The conciliation agreement between Legal Aid and SkyHouse was approved Sept. 13 by HUD. The agreement also requires SkyHouse and related parties to pay Legal Aid $50,000 in legal fees and other costs.

    Legal Aid’s Fair Housing Project, which initiated the legal action against SkyHouse, is funded by a $325,000 HUD grant.

    Eleven of SkyHouse’s 17 buildings have high door thresholds barring access, Legal Aid said.