Saturday, December 31, 2016

Pennsylvania's Crooked Lawyers' Ripoff Reimbursement Fund To Review 50 Client Claims Totaling Nearly $15 Million In Connection With Embezzlement By Suicide-Committing Attorney; Panel To Consider Requesting Waiver Of $1 Million Per Attorney Aggregate Payout Cap

In Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, PennLive reports:
  • It is beginning to look like the victims of dead Hummelstown lawyer Jeffrey Mottern will see a third year come and go without recovering their losses from his Ponzi scheme that ripped them off of more than $11 million.

    Lawyers for the victims continue to fight to recover at least some of the money they lost in the investment and trust fund scam that began unraveling shortly before Mottern committed suicide in his Main Street law office on March 17, 2014.
    [Among the] avenue[s] that the victims are hoping will lead to recovery of some of their money is the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security, a fund that exists to provide financial relief to individuals who file claims alleging a financial loss as a result of actions by a Pennsylvania licensed lawyer. It is funded through $45 of the $200 lawyers pay annually to keep their law license active in Pennsylvania.(1)

    Executive director Kathryn Peifer Morgan said the fund's board is scheduled to review the 50 claims totaling nearly $15 million from Mottern's victims at its March 2017 meeting. At that meeting, the board will make a determination of the compensable loss of each victim.

    She said some of the victims are seeking reimbursement of the fictitious interest that Mottern claimed their original investment had earned, but the fund is not permitted to cover that part of a loss. Once the board determines the fund's total exposure from all the claims, which is likely will exceed $1 million aggregate cap on claims against a single lawyer, she said it will then ask the state Supreme Court for a waiver to the $1 million cap.

    The fund has a cap of $100,000 as the maximum claim it would pay to individual victims despite the fact that some of Mottern's victims are hundreds of thousands of dollars, even more than $1 million in a couple of cases. In a previous interview, Peifer Morgan estimated that combined, the fund's maximum payout to Mottern victims would likely be a little over $4 million.
For the story, see Victims still waiting for payback from dead lawyer.
(1) 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.

Georgia Supremes Stiff State Bar On Disbarment Request For Real Estate Closing Attorney Over Missing $2.3 Million In Client Escrow Funds; Issues Public Reprimand Instead, Calling Lawyer A Victim Of "Elaborate Con" Pulled Off By His Then-Office Manager/Wife Who Stole The Cash

In Columbus, Georgia, the Ledger-Enquirer reports:
  • Facing disbarment, attorney Michael A. Eddings instead received the lightest possible punishment from the Georgia Supreme Court [], more than five years after $2.3 million was discovered missing from his legal trust account.

    The high court called Eddings “the victim of an elaborate con perpetrated by his (then) wife, Sonya,” and ordered that he receive a public reprimand instead of stiffer penalties recommended by a special master assigned to handle Eddings’ case and a bar review panel. The special master had recommended a one-year suspension, while the review panel had suggested Eddings lose his law license.

    The ruling allows Eddings to continue to practice law, which he has done since the funds were discovered missing in October 2011.

    Sonya Eddings, who was also his office manager, has accepted full responsibility for the missing funds. Sonya Eddings pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court, Middle District of Georgia in August. She faces up to 20 years in prison, but has not been sentenced by Judge Clay Land.
    Michael Eddings faced 10 complaints alleging 34 violations of state bar rules. They all stem from his firm’s real estate business, in which he was handling as many as 80 closings a month. During an April 2014 hearing in front of Special Master Katherine L. McArthur, Eddings fought to save his license to practice law while the State Bar of Georgia was pushing for him to lose it.

    In October 2014, the special master recommended that Eddings’ law license be suspended for one year and he have a plan in place to repay 10 percent of the nearly $2 million stolen from his law firm’s trust account. Both Eddings and the State Bar of Georgia appealed that decision.
    In October 2011, the scheme fell apart when Sonya Eddings was out of town and the law office received a call from a client complaining that a payoff of a mortgage had not been made. Sonya Eddings immediately transferred the money, but by the time she did, First American Title Insurance, which insured their closings, became involved.

    Auditors were brought into the office, and Sonya Eddings confessed in a written statement.

Disbarred Over Ten Years Ago For Mishandling Client Cash, Sleazy Ex-Lawyer Cops Guilty Plea In Unrelated Matter, Getting At Least 58 Months In Prison For Fleecing At Least $300K While Acting As Trustee Over Funds Designated For Frail Cancer Survivor's Medical Needs

In Forsyth County, North Carolina, the Winston-Salem Journal reports:
  • Over a four-year period, Robert Keller Leonard, a former lawyer disbarred 10 years ago partly for mishandling a client’s money, embezzled at least $300,000 from a trust account for a 61-year-old man who had survived cancer and needs oxygen to live, a prosecutor said [] in Forsyth Superior Court.

    A bounced check from the trust account to buy oxygen for the man led to a lawsuit and eventually a criminal investigation. A Forsyth County grand jury indicted Leonard [] on three counts of embezzlement and one count of obtaining property by false pretenses. The indictments said the alleged crimes happened between 2011 and 2015.

    On Tuesday, Leonard, 72, of Park Ridge Lane pleaded guilty in Forsyth Superior Court to those same charges. Under the plea arrangement, Judge Susan Bray of Forsyth Superior Court consolidated the charges into one and sentenced Leonard to four years and 10 months to six years and 10 months in prison. He also was ordered to pay $300,000, which was made into a civil judgment against him. It’s unlikely that Leonard will ever be able to pay the entire $300,000, but his Social Security benefits will be garnished when he is released from prison.
    More than a decade ago, Leonard was accused of mishandling a client’s money, which in part led to his getting disbarred in 2005. According to court documents, he represented a woman on a personal injury claim and won a $52,000 settlement without filing a lawsuit. He put the money into a trust account. Leonard was accused of writing a number of checks from that account to himself. He also used the money for his benefit and the benefit of other clients, the court papers said.

Vegas Attorney Goes AWOL, Abruptly Shutting Down Office w/ Eviction Looming, Firing Employees, Abandoning Files As Questions Surround Upwards Of $10 Million In Missing Trust Account Cash Belonging To Dozens Of Clients

In Las Vegas, Nevada, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports:
  • Longtime probate attorney Robert Graham has stolen millions of dollars in client funds and abruptly abandoned his law practice, the State Bar of Nevada alleges in a complaint.

    The state bar says it learned Graham shut down his firm Dec. 2, firing employees and leaving behind client files.

    An initial bar analysis of Graham’s accounting records shows that the firm should be holding more than $13 million in funds for his clients, Assistant Bar Counsel Janeen Isaacson said in the complaint.

    “However, based on information provided to date, the balances of these accounts total much less than the more than $13 million respondent should be safekeeping for these clients,” Isaacson wrote.(1)
    Graham was well-known for advertising his probate and estate law practice on television. He kept other law offices in Utah and Colorado. Additional efforts to reach Graham and his wife Linda, who is also a lawyer, were unsuccessful.

    Graham abandoned his clients’ files in rented office space from which his eviction appears to be imminent and made no arrangements for his clients’ continued representation,” the bar said in a Clark County district court filing earlier this week.

    Late Friday, the Nevada Supreme Court, saying Graham “poses a substantial threat” of professional harm to the public, temporarily suspended his license while the state bar conducts disciplinary proceedings.

    The bar complaint alleges Graham — a Brigham Young University law graduate and a member of the Nevada bar since 1992 — “misappropriated millions of dollars from his current and former trust, probate and estate clients.”(2)

    In its complaint, the state bar said Graham had “routinely and consistently” failed to distribute funds being held for clients and lied to them about the status of their funds.
Source: Las Vegas attorney disappears with millions in client funds, State Bar alleges.

See also, Pair of lawyers pick up the pieces after local attorney abandoned hundreds of clients.
(1) See Nevada State Bar says local attorney misappropriated millions:
  • In investigating Graham’s financial condition, the Bar says Graham should have been holding more than $13 million in trust for 51 clients. The complaint says Graham’s bank, City National, said the balance was actually “in the low six figures” and that Graham had misrepresented his finances.
(2) The Clients’ Security Fund of The State Bar of Nevada was established to (at least partially) compensate victims of lawyer theft.

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.

Attorney Who Abruptly Shut Down Law Practice Suspected Of Fleecing $360K From Estate Of Dead Client; Allegedly Exercised 5th Amendment Right To Remain Silent Over Two Dozen Times When Questioned About The Missing Cash In Recent Bankruptcy Proceeding

In San Antonio, Texas, the San Antonio Express-News reports:
  • Bexar County Probate Judge Kelly Cross issued an order for the arrest of embattled San Antonio attorney Todd Prins after he failed to appear for a court hearing today.

    Prins was supposed to appear for a hearing on whether he should be held in contempt for disobeying a Sept. 28 order issued by Cross directing Prins to turn over $360,902 that is reportedly being held in his law firm’s trust account for a deceased client’s estate. The check Prins originally sent the estate bounced in May, according to a court filing.

    Prins was at risk of being jailed or fined if he had appeared in court.

    Cross’ order marks the latest tumult for Prins. He filed for bankruptcy in September, was sued in October by former clients who alleged he fabricated court documents and forged judges’ signatures, and shut down his law office last month.
    Glenn Deadman, Prins’ lawyer, told Cross he didn’t know of Prins’ whereabouts. Deadman has filed papers seeking to withdraw as Prins’ attorney, though the request hasn’t been heard by the judge.

    Carlos Solis, a former Bexar County prosecutor who also is representing Prins, didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

    The Prins Law Firm is reportedly holding in its trust account $362,092 that belongs to the estate of Jose Oleszcovski Wasserteil. Prins represented Oleszcovski, a Mexican resident, before his death in 2013.

    During [the] hearing, Cross indicated she would issue an order allowing the estate’s attorney, Michael Flume, to subpoena the Prin Law Firm’s bank records for the trust account in an effort to track down the money.

    When Flume asked about the money during Tuesday’s bankruptcy proceeding, Prins exercised his right not to incriminate himself. He would exercise that right more than 25 times during the proceeding.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Brutal Oakland Warehouse Fire That Left Three Dozen Dead Triggers Nationwide Code Enforcement Crackdown On Similar "Live-Work" Spaces That Cater To The Creative Class

PBS NewsHour reports:
  • In the wake of Oakland’s fatal Ghost Ship warehouse fire, cities across the country are cracking down on safety at similar “live-work​” ​spaces; Baltimore artist Que Pequeño was abruptly evicted this week from a building known as Bell Foundry. While the regulations are intended to protect residents, these spaces are often the only places low-income residents can afford.
    Oakland is not alone in cracking down on buildings not zoned for residents. L.A., Dallas, Nashville and New Haven have all put landlords and tenants on notice to clear out buildings that might be substandard living conditions.

    Baltimore is taking it a step further.

    Que Pequeño is a multimedia artist. He had been living in this building known as the Bell Foundry [... . Earlier this month], the city evicted him and nine other artists without warning.

For more, see After Oakland fire, a nationwide crackdown on warehouse spaces.

See also:

The New York Times: The Oakland Fire: Tenants Living in Warehouses Face Eviction:
  • [T]he fear of eviction goes beyond Oakland. Now that cities around the country are cracking down on live/work warehouses and illegal performance spaces, some D.I.Y. warehouses are trying to go even further off the grid. Residents who haven’t been contacted by the city or landlords are canceling parties and events and making furious efforts to scrub the internet of any evidence of which warehouses might be occupied.
The New York Times: Why the ‘Ghost Ship’ Was Invisible in Oakland, Until 36 Died:
  • The charred, roofless shell of the Ghost Ship, the warehouse where 36 people perished on a chilly Friday evening in early December, is clearly visible from the driveway of Oakland firehouse No. 13.

    Though the warehouse sits less than 200 yards away, the firehouse’s proximity did nothing to help prevent America’s deadliest structural fire in more than a decade. For years before the Dec. 2 fire, the Ghost Ship may just as well have been invisible to the Oakland Fire Department.

NYC Housing Authority Threatens To Rip Low-Income Elderly Tenants Out Of Their Long-Time Homes & Relocate Them To Smaller Apartments, Saying Their Units Are Being "Underutilized"

In Flushing, Queens, the Times Ledger reports:
  • Lawmakers blasted the city [] for its policy of forcing residents as old as 90 out of their longtime homes in Pomonok Houses to make space for larger families.

    In the middle of last month, the New York City Housing Authority sent out letters to some residents of the complex, at 67-10 Parsons Blvd., informing them that they had to leave their homes. If they did not request a smaller apartment by Dec. 5, they would risk being moved anywhere in the borough.

    Lila Poris has lived in the same apartment for 51 years. She and her husband raised two children in the two-bedroom unit, but the younger generation moved out long ago to start families of their own and her husband died about five years ago.

    My whole life is tied up here,” said the 84-year-old woman, who just had a hip replacement and now lives alone in an apartment that used to house a family of four. “It’s criminal.”

    In mid-November she — along with what politicians estimate is 200 others in the complex — received the letter from NYCHA explaining that her apartment was underused and she was required under her lease to move to a smaller unit so another family could occupy her unit.

    A subsequent letter said much of the same thing, but ended with a bold-face sentence: “If you do not submit the completed Tenant Request for Transfer indicating your transfer choice within the next ten days, you will be placed on a waiting list for the first appropriate size apartment that becomes available in your borough; you will not have any choice.”

    NYCHA said that there is already 161,000 people on a waiting list for public housing. About 50,000 people live in apartments that are bigger than they need, NYCHA said.

    “It is critical that NYCHA utilize this scarce public resource as it was intended — to assist the greatest number of families eligible for affordable and subsidized housing,” NYCHA said in a statement.

    State Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Electchester) called the letter “threatening” and likened it to an eviction.

    He advised residents who did not want to move not to fill out the form and pledged his support should NYCHA take any of the residents to court.

    “I have no problem asking people who live in underutilized apartments to move to smaller units,” he said. “But when a person is in their 80s or 90s and has a lifetime of memories in that apartment, to tell them that they must move is cruel.”

    Simanowitz instead called on the city to provide more incentives for tenants to move to smaller units — and to do it sooner.

    NYCHA has known for decades that the apartments were underused since they survey residents each year about family size, but have only decided to force out Pomonok tenants now and many are in their twilight years, he said.

    Many of the seniors have no family left and rely on neighbors for support. One woman in her 80s said that if it were not for her longtime friends, “you could drop dead and nobody would know the difference.”

    Many of the residents live on a fixed income and the $350 incentive the city provided to move is not nearly enough to cover the costs, according to Simanowitz.

Section 8 Tenants Living In Older Mobile Home Rentals That Lack Storm-Protection Anchoring Straps Face The Boot Due To Stricter Enforcement Of Old HUD Regulation; Obligation To Install (Upwards Off $1,000) Falls On Trailer Park Landlords, Say Housing Officials

In Londonderry, New Hamshire, the Eagle Tribune reports:
  • For the last three years, Robin Defeo has done what she could to turn her small rental unit into a beautiful, comfortable home.

    But over the weekend, the 52-year-old licensed nursing assistant was busy moving out of her home at Whispering Pines Mobile Home Village.

    She packed boxes to load into her pickup truck for the move to another rental in Newton, several towns away.

    Defeo, who receives Section 8 housing assistance, said stricter enforcement of federal regulations means she and other residents of older mobile homes without "tie-downs" will have to move or face eviction.

    "I am devastated that I have to leave," Defeo said. "I love my place."

    Tie-downs are anchoring straps used to secure mobile homes and protect them and their occupants during a major storm such as a hurricane, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    HUD regulations require that all Section 8 tenants, such as Defeo, have tie-downs attached to their mobile homes, said Rhonda Siciliano, a spokeswoman for the federal agency's Boston office.

    "It's a safety issue," Siciliano said. "Owners of these mobile home parks have to be in compliance with the regulations."

    But Defeo said neither she nor Whispering Pines can afford the hundreds of dollars it would cost to install tie-downs to her 48-year-old home on Pinyon Place and others in the park.

    While the 275-unit park's entrance is in Derry, her home is among those located just over the Londonderry line.

    Defeo said an estimate pegged the cost for installing the tie-downs at $1,200 per home. "We are in a mess — and it's not just me," she said.

    Defeo said several other Section 8 residents of Whispering Pines also need the tie-downs, which she claims wouldn't save a home if a hurricane hit.

    Besides, hurricanes are a rarity in Southern New Hampshire, she said. "We never have hurricanes or big storms like that here," Defeo said.

    Defeo blames the federal agency for the dilemma, saying it's overreacting and effectively forcing residents from their homes.

    "All of a sudden, HUD is enforcing that mobile homes have to have tie-downs," she said. "This has never been an issue before."

    Regulations tightened

    Defeo and Whispering Pines management said they were first notified of the situation about three months ago.

    Since Defeo is receiving federal assistance administered through the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, she said her home must be inspected on an annual basis.

    After the authority's last inspection in September, Defeo was informed she could no longer live in a mobile home without tie-downs. She also learned that the park could not foot the cost to purchase and install tie-downs for the nearly dozen Section 8 homes at Whispering Pines without them.

    "They said, 'You have no tie-downs, you have to move,''' Defeo said. "They gave me six weeks to get out. ... They stopped paying my rent as of Nov. 1."
    Defeo said there are at least a couple of families at Whispering Pines with young children who will have to move. "You are talking children now — not just adults — who will be homeless," she said.

    Whispering Pines co-owner Donna Ball said at least 10 Section 8 tenants of the park are in the same situation as Defeo.

    One has already moved and the others will have to as well without the tie-downs, she said. It's become cost prohibitive for the park to purchase and install the tie-downs required by HUD.
    An old law

    But the HUD requirement isn't new, according to Siciliano and Housing Finance Authority spokeswoman Jane Law. It's been on the books for years.

    HUD first began overseeing mobile homes in 1976 and has tightened the regulations over several decades. The agency standardized its tie-down installation guidelines nationwide in 2009.

    The state's Housing Finance Authority must ensure the HUD regulations are being met before federal housing assistance can be disbursed, Law said. The program assists 3,500 low-income households throughout New Hampshire.

    The authority began strictly enforcing the HUD requirement earlier this year after the federal agency issued a "clarification of regulations," Law said. "We recently received the clarification and started enforcing it," she said. "We take our obligation very seriously."

    Siciliano and Law said park owners are obligated to fund the installation of tie-downs and not their tenants.

    "It's unfortunate if a tenant has to move if the owner isn't providing the tie-down," Law said. "It is the park owner who has to take care of it."

    Siciliano said HUD first became aware of Defeo's case earlier this fall and has not heard of any other New Hampshire mobile residents who have been affected.

    "It is unfortunate, but we have to look out for the safety of the residents, first and foremost," Siciliano said.

    A similar scenario occurred in Maine a few years ago when the regulation was enforced there, she said.

    "Landlords couldn't afford to make the changes and it was an issue," Siciliano said.

    Defeo said she just wants to get the word out that she doesn't feel the federal government is treating the mobile home residents fairly. It's only a matter of time before other Section 8 tenants across the state are experiencing the same dilemma, she said.

    "This just isn't a problem in Derry," Defeo said. "It's all over New Hampshire."

    As for Whispering Pines, she said the management has treated its tenants well and justifiably cannot afford upward of $1,000 for each mobile home.

    "It's not their fault," Defeo said. "They have done everything to help — they have been outstanding. They have tried to help move people."
For the story, see Federal rule forces NH mobile home renters out (Londonderry woman says she's forced to move).

Failure To Correct Sewage Overflow In Residential Complex Leads To Condemnation Affecting 16 Rental Apartments; Tenants Get 60 Days Notice To Pack Their Bags & Leave While Landlord To Get Add'l 4 Months To Address Issues Or Likely Face Wrecking Ball

In Starkville, Mississippi, The Dispatch reports:
  • The Starkville Board of Aldermen voted [] to condemn the Camelot Apartments complex.

    City officials have conducted inspections of the complex, which suffers from sewage overflow issues, as well as an abundance of criminal activity and trash on apartment grounds, since August. The complex is located at 1040 N. Montgomery St.

    Aldermen approved a recommendation from Community Development Director Buddy Sanders to allow tenants 60 days to move out of the condemned property. On the 61st day, the city will terminate electric and water service to the complex.

    The city's resolution only applies to three of the four parcels owned by Camelot Court, LLC. Four of six total buildings are located on those parcels. The resolution does not affect the other two.

    Sanders said he was unsure how many residents the resolution would put out of their home. The measure affects 16 units, some of which are vacant.

    The property owners will have four months to fix the issues plaguing the buildings, or the city will take action, likely by demolishing the apartments.
    Sanders said Starkville Utilities Department filed a sewage overflow complaint on Aug. 8. An investigation found sewage draining into a local ditch and a great deal of trash around the facility.

    A subsequent inspection on Aug. 18 found the issue had not been fixed.

    An Oct. 26 inspection found that the owner attempted to fix the problem but may have made it worse. "While the property owner had placed a cap on the sewer opening that was causing the problem, it forced the sewer water to come out at other areas of the property," Sanders said.

    On Oct. 31, the cap on the sewage line had been removed. Sanders said water samples were taken, and "the fecal count was so high it could not be registered."

    Sanders pointed out since multiple units are unoccupied, it draws a high level of criminal activity to the complex. As of Tuesday morning, no improvements had been made to the property.

Difficulties With Staff Recruitment & Retention (ie. Crappy Pay, 'Unsocial' Work Hours) Forces "Heartbreaking" Closure Of Nursing Home For Retired Priests; 30 Residents, Many With Dementia, Left In Need Of New Accommodation

In Hindhead, Surrey, United Kingdom, The Guardian reports:
  • A care home for retired priests is being closed by the Church of England because it cannot recruit and retain staff, leaving 30 residents, many of whom have dementia, in need of new accommodation.

    The C of E pensions board announced that Manormead care home near Hindhead, Surrey, will shut at the end of March, describing it as a “heartbreaking decision”.

    Its two high-care wings, which include 14 beds for people with dementia, require round-the-clock staffing. Manormead has been forced to use agency workers for about a third of the posts at the home after finding it difficult to attract staff, particularly to work unsocial hours.

    Jonathan Spencer, the board’s chairman, said: “After more than 60 years of the pensions board providing care and nursing at Manormead, this has been a heartbreaking decision to take.

    “However, the safety and wellbeing of our residents is paramount, and we will not compromise that in any way.

    “Over the past couple of years, we have found it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain nursing and care staff, and we are now reaching the point where we will be unable to staff the home in a way that meets the needs of our patients.”

    The reliance on agency staff was “not sustainable in the longer term”, Spencer said.

    According to a C of E source, as well as the considerable cost of using agency workers, there were concerns about turnover, consistency of care, and levels of safety and standards.

    About 40 members of staff are expected to lose their jobs when the home closes.

    Each resident of the high-care wings has been assigned an advocate to help find alternative accommodation.

    “We know this is a very difficult time for our residents and their families,” Spencer said. “We will work very closely with each of them over the coming months as they choose where to move to.

    “We will then do all we can to ensure that their moves to new homes are as smooth as possible.”
    The staffing difficulties at Manormead care home were “a genuine issue”, [the son of one dementia-stricken resident] said. “But to provide good care we have to pay people a reasonable income.

    People can’t live on salaries that care homes pay. This is a real issue and the reason why care provision in the UK is at breaking point.”

    The fees at the home are approximately £1,000 a week, which is in line with the area average, according to the C of E. For many residents, fees are met by a combination of funds, including their pensions and savings, local authority contributions and top-ups directly from the C of E.

    The pensions board’s charitable funds also subsidise the running of Manormead and the other care homes it operates.

    The C of E said it had no immediate plans to sell the care home site, which will be “mothballed” after closure.
For the story, see Church of England to close Surrey care home owing to lack of staff (Decision will leave 30 residents, many with dementia, of Manormead care home near Hindhead needing somewhere else to live).

Thursday, December 29, 2016

On Heels Of Oakland Warehouse Fire Used By Creative Class That Left Dozens Dead, Baltimore Code Enforcement Raids, Condemns Similar Space In Its Arts District, Boots Artists Using Premises As Studios, Cheap Living Space

In Baltimore, Maryland, The Baltimore Sun reports:
  • The mass eviction of artists from a warehouse in Baltimore's Station North Arts District stoked a national debate about the safety of the arrangements between landlords and local artists intent on maintaining affordable spaces for the creative class.

    It raised questions about who is responsible for safety and compliance in such multipurpose buildings, and how the North Calvert Street commercial building reached the state of disrepair that prompted its condemnation [].

    Dozens of artists, evicted from what is known as the Bell Foundry after numerous code violations were discovered [], rushed to remove belongings [] during a small window of access allotted to them by city housing and fire officials.

    A deadly fire that ripped through a similar space in Oakland, Calif., [] focused national attention on the real estate that artists use as studios and sometimes housing.

    After inspecting the Baltimore building, city officials noted "deplorable conditions," including holes in second-story floors, unsafe electrical wiring, a heating system without appropriate ventilation and missing beams in the ceiling.

    One of the building's landlords, Joseph McNeely — a key supporter of the arts district for many years — said he still knew too little about the alleged violations to say whether the building could have a second life as cheap studio space for up-and-coming artists.

    "We need to see what violations the city is actually going to cite," McNeely said. "They are going to write up their findings, and it's going to be what's in writing that is going to determine whether people can stay or not."

    McNeely said the leases he had with the building's tenants — the nonprofit Baltimore Rock Opera Society on the first floor and 10 local artists subleasing studios on the second floor — required them to obtain any permits they needed to use the building for their artwork but also to run any modifications to the building past him.

    McNeely said the leases also barred the tenants from living in the building. He would not provide a copy of the leases, saying they were proprietary.

    Housing officials said there is evidence tenants were living in the space unlawfully. Several tenants declined to comment on whether they lived there.
    For good or bad, [a local real estate broker] said, landlords and tenants in old buildings being repurposed and rented cheaply in downtrodden neighborhoods often have a "wink, wink" understanding that small code violations will be overlooked. But, she added, there should never be compromises when it comes to matters of safety.

    "Hopefully the good that will come out of all of this is people will realize the importance of following those rules," she said.

    Others said the city should have stepped in long ago.

    City Councilman Carl Stokes, who represents the district, said the Bell Foundry has been "an ongoing problem" for years, and that it was "actually a little bit unfortunate that the city let it go this far" despite his passing along complaints from other neighborhood residents for years.

    "We know that the building wasn't zoned for living, but I think in some sympathetic sort of way the city was allowing that to happen — which was endangering lives," he said.

    Stokes said the fact that people were living in the building "was evident from seeing clothes hanging out the window drying," even though the building was not zoned residential.

    He also said housing officials told him they found "a heating system with no ventilation" in the building during the inspections [], meaning "folks could have died from carbon monoxide poisoning, the building could have blown up."

    Baltimore is lucky, Stokes said, it isn't facing a similar situation as Oakland, where officials on Tuesday still were trying to search through portions of an arts space there known as the "Ghost Ship" after a fire late Friday during an electronic dance music concert killed at least 36 people. Officials said they had received complaints about possible code violations and tenants living illegally in that building.

    Stokes said he wants artists in Baltimore to have affordable housing, but not in buildings like the Bell Foundry, which he called "very, very, very dangerous."

    Robert Stokes Sr., of no relation, who will replace Carl Stokes on the City Council [], said he also had concerns, saying the Bell Foundry "could have blown up" due to the lack of ventilation.

    "That's a major concern about safety, not just for them but for the community, the people who are living in that area," he said.
Source: As artists vacate shuttered Bell Foundry, questions swirl around building's condition — and its future (What happens now with the condemned Bell Foundry space in Baltimore?).

Landlord Opts Out Of Affordable Housing Deal w/ HUD; Allows Section 8 Rent Subsidy Contract To Expire, Triggering The Boot For Low-Income Families In 53 Apartments In New Orleans Housing Complex

In New Orleans, Louisiana, WWL-TV Channel 4 reports:
  • Michael Esnault and his partner Anne Tucker have lived in the American Can Apartments building for the past six years, but they’ll soon be former tenants – through no choice of their own.

    They recently found a note taped to their door notifying them that they had until the end of December to vacate their apartment.

    "(It’s) definitely a slap in the face," Esnault said. "I always paid the bills on time and everything else. What got me is the corporate greed."

    Dozens of families are losing their leases at the Mid-City apartment building as the operators phase out all of their subsidized and low-income units.

    Esnault and Tucker are leasing one of the 53 units in the building set aside for low- and fixed-income families.

    The American Can was built in part with government subsidies, including $29 million in tax-exempt bonds. Those bonds required the owner to keep 20 percent of the units for affordable housing for a minimum of 15 years.

    That requirement expires at the end of January.

    Those tenants are now losing their leases.

    Esnault is a disable Vietnam veteran who gets a monthly housing voucher from the Veterans Administration, and he’s not the only one with a disability who will soon be forced out of the building.

    "They got a 94-year-old woman here, Miss Hardy -- Thelma Hardy, they're putting her out," Esnault said. "I got friends with disabilities. Most of them are black and elderly. They got other vets in here. They're putting them out on the street."

    "There was no humanity to it, it was like ‘get out,’” Tucker said. "It's the Holidays. They're like ‘bye.’ That alone sort of had me scratching my head."

    Hannah Adams, an attorney with Southeast Legal Services,(1) said she is looking for legal grounds to stop the building's Georgia-based owner ACV VII, LLC, from terminating the leases.

    ACV recently bought the building from its original developer, New Orleans-based HRI Properties.

    "We always have a concern when a mass eviction is happening that primarily effects, say, people with disabilities or other groups that may be protected under civil rights law," Adams said.

    Tenants now being asked to leave say finding a new place to live in the middle of an affordable housing crisis in the city, is difficult for them.

    "The rent is totally outrageous," Esnault said. "There's no cap on it. I mean, the people who live in New Orleans were born here. We won't be able to stay here anymore."
For the story, see Dozens evicted from low-income units at American Can complex.
(1) Southeast Louisiana Legal Services is a non-profit law firm that provides free legal aid to low-income residents in a 22-parish service area.

Threatened w/ Closure, Rundown Mobile Home Park Avoids Gentrifying Developer's Wrecking Ball; 25 Families Dodge The Boot As Non-Profit Coalition Steps Up To Buy Out Park's Landlord, Keep Lot-Leasing Homeowners In Place; Federal Block Grant Application Planned To Complete Transaction & Make Upgrades & Repairs To Premises Infrastructure, Common Areas

In Portland, Oregon, the Portland Tribune reports:
  • For the first time, the city of Portland has acted to preserve a mobile home park threatened with closure, and the city has gained a new nonprofit to preserve and manage such parks.

    Portland Housing Bureau provided a $1.25 million loan to the Living Cully coalition, which used the money to purchase the Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park at 4556 N.E. Killingsworth St., in a Nov. 30 deal announced Wednesday, Dec. 7.

    Oak Leaf park owner Van Tran had struck a deal early this year to sell the rundown complex to a company that planned to redevelop it for other uses, until residents intervened with the help of Living Cully, members of the faith community and others.

    Tran’s deal to sell the complex to Living Cully means 25 Oak Leaf households can stay in their homes, and their rundown complex will be upgraded.

    Living Cully, which secured a six-month, no-interest loan from the city, immediately turned over management of the park to St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County. St Vincent de Paul owns and manages five mobile home parks in Lane County, and now will be expanding into the Portland market.

    St. Vincent de Paul will apply for federal block grant funding next year and expects to buy the complex from Living Cully, enabling it to repay the city loan, said Cameron Herrington, anti-displacement coordinator for the coalition.

    “We hope to all be working together to make upgrades and repairs to the park infrastructure and the homes themselves,” Herrington said.

    In Lane County, St. Vincent de Paul has helped renovate five rundown mobile home parks similar to Oak Leaf, which consists of single-wide mobile homes and some RVs. St. Vincent de Paul has made improvements to common areas at its parks, and sometimes helps residents acquire new mobile homes. Residents maintain ownership of their homes, and pay space rent to the nonprofit.

    Nonprofits can provide more affordable space rents to mobile home and manufactured home owners, who often are captive to corporate park owners that routinely raise rents more than the rate of inflation.

    “Affordable housing is a scarce resource everywhere in this state, especially in Portland,” said St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County Executive Director Terry McDonald, in a news release. “We need to take advantage of any opportunity to protect and preserve mobile home parks, which are a vitally important source of affordable housing.”

    Living Cully is working to improve the Cully neighborhood in Northeast Portland, and simultaneously prevent gentrification that forces out local residents. Oak Leaf is one of a handful of mobile home parks along Killingsworth in the neighborhood.

    At a time when Portland housing prices are skyrocketing and demand for new apartments is spiking, housing experts expert continuing redevelopment pressure on older mobile home parks.

    “We anticipate it’s only a matter of time before we see more mobile home parks threatened with closure,” Herrington said.

    But now the Portland Housing Bureau has made its first venture into protecting such parks, and the presence of St. Vincent de Paul here means there’s a new player in town that can assume ownership of embattled parks and preserve them.

    According to a state database, there are 66 mobile home parks in the city of Portland with 3,241 spaces. There also are another 25 parks elsewhere in Multnomah County, with 1,852 spaces.

    Mobile home parks and manufactured home parks supply what is believed to be the largest share of affordable privately owned housing.
Source: Embattled mobile home park residents saved from eviction (A city loan helps nonprofit buy Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park, and a new nonprofit will enter Portland to take over rundown complexes and fix them up).

See also, Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park purchased by non-profit partnership with funding from Portland Housing Bureau.

Nearly 170 Elderly Rent-Controlled Tenants In L.A. Retirement Home To Fall Victim To 'Ellis Act' Eviction; Residents Given Until March 28 To Pack Their Bags & Relocate Elsewhere

In Los Angeles, California, KNBC-TV Channel 4 reports:
  • Senior citizens living at a Westwood retirement home are now worried about finding new places to live because the new owners of the building plan to renovate the facility.

    Nearly 170 residents who are under rent control at Vintage Westwood received eviction notices from Watermark Retirement Communities that stated they had until March 28, 2017 to move out so the building could be renovated into a luxury, state-licensed living facility.

    The new owners issued a statement saying it won't be safe for the residents to remain during construction.

    "We have determined that there will be too many unavoidable interruptions to power, water, heating/cooling, dining, and other crucial safety systems and services for residents to reside at the community through the process," spokeswoman C. Jill Hofer said in an emailed statement to NBC4.

    The new owners said many residents are eligible and can apply for an extension that will give them up to one year to move out.

    Los Angeles city councilman Paul Koretz said that even though the evictions are legal -- according to the state's Ellis Act, landlords are allowed to remove tenants to go out of the rental market business -- he feels it's wrong to uproot the seniors.

    He met with residents and the new owners [] hoping there could be a way to renovate without evicting.

    Judy Flax, an 87-year-old widow, has been living at Vintage Westwood for the past four years. "Everybody's depressed, everybody is complaining," she said. "You never saw so many stressed out people."

    Most residents are upset about having to leave their friends. "At this point in time, I don't have many friends left," Ed Friedman said. "I've made wonderful friends here. We’re all gonna be separated."

    Emiel Meisel, 92, plans to organize a protest with his friends, using wheelchairs and walkers if necessary. He stood in front of the building on Tiverton Avenue with an "Ole lives matter sign" and plans to protest every day at 11:30 a.m. "If my black and brown brethren can do it, why can't old folks?" he said. "Old folks' lives matter."

New Years' Boot Looms For 19 Residents (& About A Dozen Pets) In Pet-Friendly 11-Unit Apartment House Over Building Code Deficiencies; Landlord Given Until Jan. 2 To Fix Health & Safety Violations

In Superior, Minnesota, the Duluth News Tribune reports:
  • Superior city employees hand-delivered letters to tenants of an 11-unit apartment building this week, telling residents they have to move out by Jan. 2 due to building code deficiencies.

    "This building is full; every apartment is full," said Wendy Quinn, who's lived in the building at 1516-1518 Broadway Ave. for nearly 10 years. "There's someone with a child upstairs. Most people in the building are disabled, myself included."

    The building has 19 tenants, and most of them have pets. "A lot of tenants here have nowhere to go," Quinn said.

    This is the worst time of year to look for a new apartment, said Marty Curtiss, chairman of the Superior Landlords Association Program. "In May, June and July there are more units available," he said. "This time of year is tough."

    And finding pet-friendly apartments is even more difficult.

    Under a Sept. 6 court order, building owners Carol Reasbeck and her sister, Marie Larson, have until Jan. 2 to make repairs needed for the health and safety of the residents — addressing structural deficiencies in the basement, replacing or repairing electrical systems, and installing fire-rated separation between dwelling units.

    During a cursory walkthrough of the building [recently], Chief Building Inspector Peter Kruit found only about 10 percent of the needed work had been done. "Right now, we could do an inspection and she would not pass," he said.

    The city sent a letter to residents in September to alert them to the possibility that they might need to move. This week's message was more urgent. "We're trying to get letters and a copy of the court order into their hands," said City Attorney Frog Prell, as well as numbers to connect them to possible housing alternatives.
    Curtiss and other members of the landlord group are concerned about the tenants left seeking shelter in the grip of winter. He's looking into free legal resources for the affected tenants. If the city stepped back and let Reasbeck send out an eviction notice to tenants on Jan. 2, he said, that would give them at least 28 more days.

    "I'm not saying the building's not going to have to be emptied," Curtiss said, but he'd like to stretch out the process. He's also looking into the possibility of placing the tenants' pets with the Humane Society of Douglas County for a brief time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Contractor w/ History Of Getting Caught Bilking Homeowners Gets Bagged Again On Theft By Deception Conviction For Taking $22K From Couple For Work He Never Performed; Jury Nixes Defendant's Testimony That He Didn't Mean To Steal Any Money, Blaming Problems On Change In His Business Financing Arrangements

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, WHTM-TV Channel 27 reports:
  • A home improvement contractor has been convicted by a jury of a taking $22,000 from a Dauphin County couple for work he never performed.

    Robert A. Kolovich, 59, of Northumberland, was found guilty in Dauphin County Court of two counts of theft by deception.

    District Attorney Ed Marsico’s office said Kolovic was doing business as Lifetime Choice Deck Fitters when he promised a Swatara Township couple a new vinyl deck cover and other improvements. He took their money but did no work and gave no refund.

    He also bilked a Lower Paxton Township couple out of $2,550, authorities said.

    Kolovic has convictions for similar frauds in Mifflin, Bedford and Snyder counties.

    He also faced charges in Luzerne, Northumberland, Lycoming, Tioga, Susquehanna, Sullivan and York counties. Marsico’s office said some of those charges were resolved when the victims received payments.

    Kolovich claimed at trial that he didn’t intend to steal anyone’s money. He said his business problems resulted from a change in his financing arrangement with a business loan company.

Pool Contractor w/ Dubious History For Allegedly Pocketing Homeowners' Deposits & Not Performing Promised Work Gets Five Years' Probation (Theft By Deception, Failure To Make Required Disposition Of Funds) For Fleecing Over $40K From Customers

In Mount Holly, New Jersey, the Burlington County Times reports:
  • A Maple Shade man who operated a swimming pool contracting company was sentenced [] to five years of probation for taking about $5,000 from two Burlington County county customers and not performing services he was hired to do.

    Michael Kolwicz, 45, of South Coles Avenue, was also sentenced to probation by Superior Court Judge Terrence R. Cook at the Burlington County Courthouse in Mount Holly after pleading guilty in Ocean County to five counts of theft by deception. An order was signed so he could be sentenced on all of the charges together.

    In addition, Kolwicz must pay about $5,000 in restitution to the Burlington County victims and up to $38,300 to the victims in Ocean County. It was not specified in court how the money will be divided.

    Kolwicz is being held at the Burlington County Jail in Mount Holly on a pending charge of conspiracy to commit theft by deception, according to comments in court.

    He made no comment in court as he was sentenced.

    In June, Kolwicz entered a guilty plea to third-degree theft by failure to make required disposition of funds, admitting that in January 2015 he took a total of about $5,000 from a Riverton man and a Medford woman to perform pool services but never did the work. He operated the now-defunct Mike’s Custom Pools, according to news stories.

    Although Kolwicz entered his plea to just one count of theft, the deal calls for him to pay restitution to both victims. Charges related to the one victim have not been indicted, according to court proceedings.

    Restitution was conditioned on bankruptcy proceedings, as previous comments made in court indicated that the two victims are listed as creditors on a bankruptcy filing by Kolwicz. If they are awarded money in the bankruptcy proceedings, that could satisfy the restitution.

    In Ocean County, Kolwicz was indicted in September 2015 on 15 counts of third-degree theft by deception, according to court records. The other charges were dismissed under the plea deal.

    Additional theft charges against Kolwicz in Burlington and Monmouth counties were downgraded to municipal court, according to records. Other allegations were that he stole equipment from some customers, according to news stories.

Roofer Gets Pinched In Suspected Home Repair Scam; Charged With Theft By Deception, Deceptive Business Practices For Allegedly Pocketing $300 From 78-Year Old Homeowner For Promised Services, Then Never Coming Back To Do The Work

In Neshannock Township, Pennsylvania, the New Castle News reports:
  • A Hermitage man has been charged by Neshannock Township police in connection with a roofing scam.

    Police reported they have filed charges against Antonio D. Simpson, 31, of 939 Robertson Road, Hermitage, with theft by deception and deceptive business practices. Police said Simpson’s company is American Roofing & Roof Cleaning from the Hermitage area.

    A 78-year-old victim, who lives on Pinehurst Drive, reported giving Simpson $300 for supplies Oct. 29. Simpson was supposed to return and do chimney work, but never came back.
Source: Senior cheated out of $300 in roofing scam.

Editor's Note: While it's not uncommon for police to look at a fact situation like this one and summarily dismiss the homeowners's complaint, treating it as a "civil matter," I suspect that it's more difficult for the cops to "write off" a complaint with that approach when the person being screwed over is a 78-year old victim. It seems that criminal charges of "theft by deception" and "deceptive business practices" (as well as other similarly-related charges) may often, if not usually, apply in cases that police might otherwise label as a "civil matter."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Sisters Feel The Heat For Allegedly Abusing POA To Help Themselves To Frail, Elderly Dad's Cash (Including Proceeds From Sale Of Home, Cabin, RV) While He Faced The Boot For Being $20K+ In Arrears On Nursing Home Payments

In Chisago County, Minnesota, The Post Review reports:
  • Two women were charged in Chisago County District Court Dec. 5 with two counts each of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult for allegedly spending much of their father’s savings on themselves.

    Wendy Yvonne Lee, 44, of Rush City, and her sister, Renee Marietta Swenson, 41, of Stanchfield, have their next court date set for Jan. 18. They managed their elderly father’s finances as of Sept. 10, 2015, due to a power of attorney agreement that was put into place as a result of their father’s inability to make decisions for himself. He had been diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy and Parkinson’s disease. Chisago County Attorney Janet Reiter said her office deals with financial exploitation cases of this nature multiple times per year.
    According to a criminal complaint from the Chisago County Attorney’s Office:

    On July 8, 2016, Chisago County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Pat LeVasseur and Chisago County Health and Human Services Adult Protection Investigator Jolene Thorsen responded to the Golden Living Center Nursing Home in Rush City for a Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center report on an individual who was residing in the facility.

    The report stated the man had been giving away his money to his children and could no longer pay for bills from Golden Living, and he was at risk for being evicted from the facility. LeVasseur and Thorsen spoke to the man regarding his current living situation and his children. He said he has two daughters, Lee and Swenson.

    He continued that Lee had been his power of attorney for the last year or so. He said he used to live and own a house in Brooklyn Park, and he previously owned a cabin near Ogilvie, and he had owned an RV. He further explained all his money should be in a checking account with Minnco Credit Union. He thought the proceeds of the sale of his house, cabin and RV should all be in his Minnco accounts. He then noted he has a Transit Credit Union account. The man thought his daughter, Swenson, made the decisions on what to sell and how much to sell the property for. He stated he has given some of his money to his children and grandchildren.
    On Aug. 10, 2016, Golden Living contacted Lee and Swenson’s father, informing him he was $20,212 in arrears. As a result of non-payment, Golden Living informed him he would be evicted from their facility on Sept. 23, 2016.

    Upon intervention of Chisago County Health and Human Services, Lee and Swenson’s father is now living at an adult group home in Wyoming [, Minnesota].

Cops: SW Florida Man Abused POA To Steal $80K+ From Elderly Mom & Dad, Selling Their Mobile Home, Pocketing The Cash & Sticking Them Into A Nursing Home; Probe Triggered When Facility Tipped Off Investigators That Suspect Was Stiffing Them Out Of Parents' Housing, Care Expenses

In Lee County, Florida, WBBH-TV Channel 2 reports:
  • A Lee County man has been arrested, accused of taking more than $80,000 from his own parents. State investigators said it continued even after his father died.

    Ryan Powers had power of attorney when he sold his parents' home and pocketed the money, according to investigators. They also said he was using up their social security income but never paid his father's funeral costs.

    John Provencar knew the couple well. "We went to go see Rusty at the hospital a few times... but I feel really bad for Janet because she's the one left with all the problems," Provencar said.

    He lived next door to the Powers in Alva, and can't believe their 40-year-old son would steal from his ailing parents. "People should earn their own way and not take it away from somebody else that's in need."

    The attorney general's office and Lee County deputies said that's exactly what happened. After Powers gained power of attorney last year, he opened up a fraudulent bank account and deposited his parents' social security checks. He then used debit cards to spend more than $6,000.

    "It's sad, but it happens a lot down here. More than a lot of people know," said Debbie Phillips, a professional guardian who works with seniors. "They're an easy target," she said.

    Powers' parents told him to sell their mobile home and use the money to remodel a home in Lehigh, a home they bought him, hoping they could move in.

    Instead, they ended up in a nursing home, and Powers pocketed $72,000.

    "I never thought he would be doing something like that to his parents," Provencar said.

    Powers' father died in July. Investigators said Powers didn't even pay the funeral costs, letting the body cremated with taxpayer money. "It flies under the radar because people think that it's a family matter and nobody wants to get involved."

    Deputies were tipped off after Powers didn't pay for his parents' nursing home care.

    He's accused of stealing more than $82,000 and was arrested after a 10-month investigation. He faces two counts of exploitation of an elderly person.

Still No Criminal Charges Against Woman Who Ran Private, For-Profit Guardianship Ripoffs Of Elderly Vegas-Area Residents, But One Victim Who Lost Her Home & Possessions Scores Civil Court Win

In Las Vegas, Nevada, KTNV-TV Channel 13 reports:
  • Victims of Clark County's guardianship system can celebrate a first-of-its-kind victory this week.

    Elizabeth Indig lost her home and everything in it -- furniture, a lifetime of collectibles, even the clothes in her closets. It all came at the hands of private, for-profit guardian April Parks who was appointed by Clark County Family Court to protect Mrs. Indig.

    Instead, a judge found Parks committed fraud.

    "Parks separated us, she stole everything in the house," says Mrs. Indig's daughter who has the same name. "The house was lost that my mom planned to live in until she died and basically Parks sentenced my mom to a life sentence in a nursing home!"

    Mrs. Indig's daughter has been fighting the guardianship system for years. "I have seen things that I did not want to know that people could do to each other," she says.

    But a hearing [recently] in Family Court is giving her hope.

    "It's unique and promising and encouraging," says Homa Woodrum, Mrs. Indig's attorney. She tells us Mrs. Indig's victory came in the courtroom of Judge Nancy Allf.

    "And she ruled that $100,000 was lost through the conduct of April Parks," Homa explains. "She ruled that $40,000 in value of the home was lost because of the conduct of April Parks and that April Parks had paid herself and her attorney over $15,000 without court approval."

    Parks was a no-show in court, but her voice was heard through her own financial records.

    "Some days were over 100 hours of billing," says Homa. "That's not physically possible."

    Because of what they're calling egregious over-billing, Parks' records on file with the court show on just one day in July 2013, she raked in more than $12,000. Woodrum says Judge Allf ruled Parks must return all the money she billed Mrs. Indig, plus interest and attorneys fees.

    "It validates all the things I've been saying all these years about what she did to me."

    While Elizabeth is grateful for this decision in a civil court, she says she won't rest until Parks faces criminal charges.

    "After all, a judge actually used the words fraud and conversion and breach of fiduciary duty. Doesn't something have to be done now?"

    District Attorney Steve Wolfson told Contact 13 that something will be done soon. He says the criminal investigation into April Parks is ongoing and moving quickly toward a resolution.

    We tried to contact April Parks through lawyers she has worked with, no one has returned our calls.

Cops: Man Abused POA To Drain Widowed 86-Year Old Mom's Bank Account, Selling Her House & Leaving Her Facing Eviction From Nursing Home Over Nonpayment Of $40K In Rent

In Richmond County, Georgia, The Augusta Chronicle reports:
  • An Augusta man accused of emptying his elderly mother’s bank account was arrested and released a day later on bond.

    John B. Weigle Jr., 52, was booked into the Richmond County jail [] on a charge of exploitation of an elderly or disabled person. He was released on a $27,700 bond [the following day].

    Weigle [...] came to the attention of the sheriff’s office in November when Weigle’s siblings brought forward their suspicions that he was taking advantage of their 86-year-old mother.

    She was placed in a nursing home four years ago and Weigle received sole power of attorney, about a year after her husband died. Although she received monthly pension payments that should have been enough to live on, the woman called her daughter in August to say she would be moving in with Weigle because she had no money, the incident report stated. According to property records, her home was sold in 2013 for $240,000.

    The siblings had the power of attorney transferred. One daughter soon after received a call from the mother’s nursing home saying the elderly woman was being evicted for nonpayment and that it was owed $40,000. She received another call from a pharmaceutical company saying it was stopping delivery of her mother’s medications because of nonpayment.

    According to the incident [report], the victim’s son-in-law pulled the her bank records and discovered Weigle had been withdrawing money for his own benefit.

NJ Prosecutors: Woman Abused POA To Drain Dementia-Stricken Mom Out Of Her Life Savings; Money Was Earmarked To Fund Monthly (Rent) Payments At Assisted Living Facility Where Victim Lived, Received Care

From the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General:
  • Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor (OIFP) [] announced that a California woman has been charged with stealing more than $87,000 from her elderly mother, who resides in an assisted living facility in Wayne, N.J.

    Pamela M. Land, 68, of La Canada, California, who had been serving as her mother’s power of attorney, was indicted on charges of misapplication of entrusted property, and theft by unlawful taking, both in the second degree. The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobsen in Mercer County [].

    According to prosecutors, the elderly woman had given her daughter unfettered access to her financial assets to oversee funding for her continued stay at an assisted living facility for patients suffering from dementia.
    “Stealing the life savings of an elderly person is reprehensible, but it’s especially gut wrenching when the crime is committed by the ailing victim’s own daughter,” said Attorney General Porrino. “To make matters worse, the allegedly stolen money was intended to ensure proper care of the defendant’s mother who was suffering from the debilitating effects of dementia.”
    According to prosecutors, Land stole approximately $87,746 while acting as power of attorney for her mother between May 2013 and January 2016. Instead of making monthly payments to the residential facility where her mother lived, as she was required to do under a contract with the facility, Land allegedly accessed her mother’s money to make purchases for herself and to pay her own bills. She also used her mother’s credit cards for goods and services she herself received, and used her mother’s money to make payments on those cards, which were eventually closed for non-payment of outstanding balances, according to prosecutors.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Still No Arrest For Sleazy Contractor Accused Of 3-Decade Career Of Running Home Repair Scams To Steal The Equity From Homes Of Elderly Chicago Homeowners

In Chicago, Illinois, WGN-TV Channel 9 reports:
  • We often warn you about scams and the potential they have to destroy your life. [Now], a follow up to a home repair scam we first told about last year.

    The Illinois Attorney General’s office says Mark Diamond has been running home repair contracting scams on elderly, African-American homeowners for more than 30 years. It sued and recently won a nearly 2.4 million dollar judgment against him.

    But so far, it’s been a hollow victory.

    No money has been recovered and because most of his victims had been tricked into taking out reverse mortgages, it set in motion a sequence of events that in many cases have led to people losing their homes.

    As WGN's Tonya Francisco reports, his schemes have not only wiped out a significant amount of wealth in one community, they have also stolen many family legacies.

NJ AG Indicts Duo For Allegedly Passing Series Of Rubber Checks Totalling Over $1.1 Million To Buy Three Homes

From the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General:
  • Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that a man and a woman from New York State have been indicted for allegedly using bad checks to purchase three homes in New Jersey.

    Tara Stokes, 48, of Flushing, N.Y., and Lawrence T. Humphrey, 48, of Brooklyn, N.Y., were indicted by a state grand jury on Friday, Dec. 9, on second-degree charges of conspiracy, three counts of theft by deception, and three counts of passing bad checks. The charges are the result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau.

    It is alleged that Stokes and Humphrey presented checks drawn on a closed bank account to purchase three homes in New Jersey. In each case, Tara Stokes used the name “Tara Humphrey.” Two of the properties were located in Gloucester County – in Greenwich Township and Monroe Township – and one was located in Winslow Township, Camden County. The closed bank account was in the name of a fictitious law firm, Law Offices of Tara Humphrey. Tara Stokes is not a lawyer.

    The defendants allegedly wrote multiple bad checks for two of the properties, writing new checks when the first checks bounced. Three bad checks for $240,000 were written for the Monroe property, all from the account of the fictitious law firm. Bad checks for $296,639 and $299,139 were issued for the Greenwich property, with the second check being drawn on a different bank account, which was open but did not have sufficient funds. A bad check for $305,684 drawn on the law firm account was written for the Winslow property. The defendants also wrote bad checks for $2,500 and $10,000 from that account to pay deposits on the Greenwich and Winslow homes.

    While titles for the three properties changed hands at the closings, in each case the fraud was quickly uncovered and the deed was not recorded. The state’s investigation began with a referral from a law firm representing the title company that handled the closing for the Monroe Township property.

Active Bidding At Recent Home Foreclosure Sales Creates Sizable Surplus/Overbids, But Some Ex-Homeowners Aren't Coming Forward To Collect Their Cash

In Denver, Colorado, The Denver Post reports:
  • County foreclosure auctions have become the hottest investment opportunity in town, reaping tens of thousands of dollars in profits for the most unlikely people: the homeowner who lost the house.

    Yet getting them to collect the money isn’t always easy, the public trustees who track them down say.

    The money comes from people who buy auctioned houses for more than what a homeowner owes the bank or lender who foreclosed. Once lawyers and any property liens are paid off, the homeowner who lost the house gets what’s left. It’s usually a few thousand dollars.

    Lately, though, it has been as much as $100,000 or more.

    “Some are more than willing to claim the money, but others are hesitant,” said Diana Springfield, chief deputy public trustee for Arapahoe County. “One guy came in recently to ask about (the money), and now we can’t get him to come back to collect it.”

    The amount waiting for him: $27,692.

    We’ve never had anything like this. It’s crazy,” said Adams County Public Trustee Susan Orecchio, noting that auction buyers are frequently paying more than what a bank is owed for a property.

    There has been a drop of 45 percent in houses sold at the foreclosure auction this year, Orecchio said. But bidders have already paid more than $3 million more than the banks were owed — a 77 percent increase over last year.

    And it’s happening all over Colorado.
    [B]uyers are trying to outdo one another at a frantic pace. In Adams County last week, two bidders ran at a single property, within moments driving the final price up by $60,000 over what the homeowner owed the bank.

    Since June 1, the Arapahoe County public trustee has auctioned 84 properties, records show. Of them, 53 sold for amounts that ranged from $20,000 to more than $116,000 more than the remaining mortgage, records show. Only five have been resold since their auction.

    In Douglas County, where the number of foreclosure homes auctioned has dropped by 30 percent this year, the majority have sold for more than what the bank was owed, Public Trustee Christine Duffy said.

    Of 67 sales, she said, 42 brought in for more than what the homeowner still owed on them, three by more than $100,000.

    Despite the cash, trustees say some of the former owners just won’t show up to collect money that is rightfully theirs.

    “I can’t explain to you why they don’t come for the money,” Springfield said. “Some say the depression is simply too much to bear, having lost their home. But these are some pretty hefty checks.”

    If no one claims the money after six months, the trustee sends it to the state treasurer’s Great Colorado Payback, which holds it until someone — owners or their heirs — claims it.

    But sometimes there just isn’t anyone left to make the claim.

    “We have one where both husband and wife died and there’s $44,000 in overbid,” Springfield said. “Their attorney said they have no relatives.”

    That’s the case for Robert Gray, who lived in Westminster during the summers and wintered in Florida. He died in 2013, and his Colorado home was foreclosed and sold at auction in February 2014, records show.

    Gray, a retired psychologist from Oregon, had no known relatives.

    The $121,999.97 that belongs to him will sit in the state treasury until someone makes a valid claim.
For the story, see Rising real estate market makes foreclosure properties hot investments, but some never collect profits (Foreclosures are a hot market but homeowners are intentionally leaving cash behind).

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Year-Long Fair Housing Testing Probe Targeting Major Bronx Apartment Complex Ends With Lawsuit Alleging Violations Of NYC Human Rights Law; Landlord Accused Of Discriminating Against Prospective Tenants Who Use Gov't Subsidies To Fund Monthly Rent Payments

In New York City, the Fair Housing Justice Center recently announced:
  • [T]he Fair Housing Justice Center(1) (FHJC) filed an administrative complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission (NYCCHR) alleging that the owners and managers of rental housing at Parkchester in the Bronx unfairly limited or outright denied housing to tenants with rental subsidies in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law. In the complaint, the FHJC alleges that the Parkchester Preservation Company, L.P. and Parkchester Preservation Management LLC with offices located at 2000 East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx engaged in discrimination based on source of income.

    In an effort to reduce homelessness and assist some of the most vulnerable populations to acquire and maintain housing, New York City makes an array of rental subsidies available to lower-income individuals and families. The Parkchester community, home to nearly 30,000 New Yorkers, contains 171 buildings with more than 12,000 housing units including 6,000 rental units.

    A year-long testing investigation conducted by the FHJC revealed that the defendants maintain and enforce an income requirement on all applicants including applicants who plan to pay all or a portion of their rent with a rental subsidy. This income requirement effectively makes housing unavailable to and discriminates against applicants with rental subsidies under the Living in Communities (LINC) program and under the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) program even though the rents for many apartments at Parkchester are within the rent amounts allowed by these programs.

    On one test, a tester who indicated that he had a disability, was not employed, and 100% of his rent would be paid by the City’s HASA program was informed that he would still not qualify for the housing because an annual income of $45,000 was required of all applicants.

    Finally, for persons with federal Section 8 housing vouchers, FHJC’s testing revealed that Parkchester maintained a policy of counting less than a third of the voucher amount as “income” toward the applicant income requirement which restricts the number of tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers who might otherwise qualify to rent an apartment at Parkchester.

    FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg commented, “Not only do the policies and practices exposed by our investigation run afoul of the law, but refusing to rent to households with rental subsidies directly contributes to the growing problem of homelessness in New York City.” Freiberg added, “Discriminating against persons because of their source of income, including housing subsidies, has been illegal in New York City since 2008 and yet some of the largest housing providers in this community are still flagrantly ignoring the law and discriminating with impunity.”

    Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against based on their source of income or housing subsidy should call the FHJC at (212) 400-8201.
Source: FHJC Complaint Cites Source of Income Discrimination at Parkchester (FHJC Investigation Found That Owners And Managers Discriminate Against Tenants With Various Rentak Subsidies.
(1) The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), a nonprofit civil rights organization, is dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination, promoting policies that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities, and strengthening enforcement of fair housing laws.

Among other things, the FHJC assists individuals and organizations with allegations of illegal housing discrimination. The following services are provided free of charge to the general public and there are no income requirements:
  • Counseling on fair housing rights,
  • Investigative assistance (including testing),
  • Referrals to cooperating attorneys and/or administrative agencies (on a case by case basis)
The FHJC serves all five boroughs of New York City and the seven surrounding New York counties of Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester.

Mississippi Developer, Others Agree To Shell Out $350K & Make Substantial Retrofits To Six Housing Complexes In Settlement Of Fair Housing Suit Alleging Construction Of Rental Apartments, Condos That Were Inaccessible To Persons w/ Disabilities

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department announced [] that the developers of six multi-family housing complexes in southern Mississippi have agreed to pay $350,000 to settle claims that they violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by building apartment complexes that were inaccessible to persons with disabilities. As part of the settlement, the defendants also agreed to make substantial retrofits to remove accessibility barriers at the six complexes, which have nearly 500 covered units.

    Under the settlement, [...] Mississippi-based developers Ike W. Thrash, Dawn Properties Inc., Southern Cross Construction Company Inc. and other affiliated companies will pay all costs related to the retrofits, $250,000 to compensate 25 individuals harmed by the inaccessible housing and $100,000 in civil penalties. The defendants will undergo training, ensure that any future construction complies with federal accessibility laws and make periodic reports to the department.
    Under the settlement, the defendants will make retrofits, including eliminating steps; making bathrooms more usable; providing accessible curb ramps and parking; and providing accessible walks to site amenities such as the clubhouses, pools and mailboxes, at [six] Mississippi complexes[.]
    The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status. Among other things, the Fair Housing Act requires all multifamily housing constructed after March 13, 1991, to have basic accessibility features, including accessible routes without steps to all ground floor units and units accessible to wheelchair users and others with disabilities.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act requires, among other things, that places of public accommodation, such as rental offices at multifamily housing complexes designed and constructed for first occupancy after Jan. 26, 1993, be accessible to persons with disabilities.

Bay State Real Estate Developer/Landlord That Operated 96-Unit Apartment Complex Agrees To Cough Up $20K To Each Of Two Disabled Tenants, Up To $30K To State In Resolution Of Lawsuit Alleging It Designed & Built Complex That Failed To Meet Accessibility Standards, & Unreasonably Refused To Provide Accessibility-Related Accommodations Requested By Renters

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:
  • A Haverhill-based real estate company has agreed to pay up to $70,000 to resolve allegations that it failed to accommodate two tenants with disabilities at an Andover apartment complex, Attorney General Maura Healey announced [].

    The consent judgment, entered in Suffolk Superior Court, resolves allegations that Andover Portland Avenue Associates, LLC (Andover Portland) violated state antidiscrimination and consumer protection laws by failing to making reasonable modifications to accommodate tenants with disabilities residing at the “Casco Crossing” apartment complex in Andover. The consent judgment also resolves claims that the company initially failed to design and construct the apartment complex to meet accessibility standards required by law.

    “People with disabilities regularly face barriers to housing choice and opportunity,” said AG Healey. “This settlement demonstrates our continued commitment to enforcing our fair housing laws to ensure that property owners and managers work with tenants with disabilities.”

    Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability in the rental of housing accommodations. Specifically, the law makes it unlawful for a landlord or managing agent to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation or modification if it is necessary to afford the person with a disability full enjoyment of the premises, to fail to engage in a meaningful interactive process in response to requests for accommodations or modifications, and to fail to design and construct housing in compliance with accessibility standards.

    Andover Portland previously owned and operated Casco Crossing, a 96-unit apartment complex in Andover, before it changed ownership in May 2015. In 2014, the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board found that Casco Crossing was non-compliant with building code accessibility requirements.

    According to the AG’s complaint, also filed in Suffolk Superior Court, a tenant who primarily used an electric wheelchair requested several accommodations, including a ramp to access the building, grab bars in the bathroom, a handicap-accessible toilet, and accessible parking, among other things. In each instance, Andover Portland allegedly failed to engage in an interactive dialogue and unreasonably refused to provide the modifications or accommodations.

    Additionally, the mother of another tenant with several disabilities requested reasonable modifications, including an automatic door opener to the building to allow for wheelchair access and the prompt removal of ice from the sidewalks in the winter. According to the complaint, the company ignored and failed to properly address these requests.

    The complaint alleges that due to Andover Portland’s failure to provide reasonable modifications and accommodations, the tenants suffered emotional distress, were unable to access common areas and parts of their apartments, and incurred certain additional expenses.

    Pursuant to the consent judgment, Andover Portland will pay the two tenants $20,000 each. The company is also required to pay $15,000 to the state, with an additional $15,000 suspended pending the company’s compliance with other provisions of the settlement.

    Andover Portland is also required to develop a comprehensive fair housing policy, to train all of its staff on federal and state housing laws, and to hire a consultant who specializes in architectural access and compliance with the building code’s accessibility regulations for all new residential property construction or renovation undertaken in Massachusetts.
Source: Real Estate Company Resolves Claims of Failing to Accommodate Tenants with Disabilities (Property Located in Andover; Settlement Includes Payments to Victims and Requires Company to Develop a Comprehensive Fair Housing Policy).

Fair Housing Lawsuit Accusing Landlord Of Failing To Provide Reasonable Accommodations For Elderly, Disabled Upper Floor Tenants During 5-Week Shutdown Of Building's Sole Elevator Gets Judicial Green Light

In Indianapolis, Indiana, The Indiana Lawyer reports:
  • An Indianapolis subsidized senior-citizens housing facility must face a lawsuit from disabled tenants who claim the three-story apartment building failed to repair its only elevator for weeks, leaving them unable to get to apartments on the top two stories and leaving some disabled tenants stranded upstairs.

    The Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana(1) sued on behalf of four disabled residents of Capitol Station apartments on the city’s south side. The apartments are operated by United Church Residences of Indianapolis and have 48 units for residents 62 and older. The HUD-financed apartments advertise wheelchair accessibility and spacious apartments designed for maximum mobility.

    The plaintiffs complained that in August and September 2015, the facility’s only elevator stopped working, and their requests for help for themselves and other residents went unanswered. The elevator was out of service for more than five weeks, the tenants allege.

    United Church Residences of Indianapolis moved to dismiss the suit, but Judge William T. Lawrence in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana largely denied the motion []. He ruled that the plaintiffs’ allegations that they were denied reasonable accommodation were sufficiently pleaded to survive a motion to dismiss their disability discrimination complaint under the Fair Housing Act.

    The complaint alleges defendants didn’t engage in an interactive dialogue with the residents after they asked for the elevator to be repaired. The suit also says Capitol Station did nothing to help the plaintiffs or other residents, “some of whom were trapped on the top two floors,” according to the complaint. The plaintiffs also allege Capitol Station promised volunteers would assist residents while the elevator was out, but none did.

    Lawrence granted Capitol Station’s motion to dismiss a count of the complaint that its failure to promptly repair the elevator made the residents’ apartments unavailable. He wrote that argument fails as a matter of law.
Source: Judge: Disabled housing discrimination suit may proceed.

For the ruling, see Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, et al. v. United Church Residences of Indianapolis, Indiana, Inc., et al., 1:16-cv-339 (S.D. Ind. December 1, 2016).
(1) The Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana is a private, non-profit fair housing organization founded in 2011. Its mission is to ensure equal housing opportunities by eliminating housing discrimination through advocacy, enforcement (ie. filing lawsuits), education and outreach.

Civil Rights Feds Tag Chicago Suburb With Fair Housing Suit, Accusing Village Officials Of Capitulating To Community Residents' Alleged Race-Based Opposition To Developer's Plan To Build Proposed 47-Unit Low Income Housing Complex

In Tinley Park, Ohio, Crain's Chicago Business reports:
  • Tinley Park officials stalled approvals of a proposed low-income housing development in the wake of local residents' race-based criticism of the plan, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

    The suit, filed on Nov. 23, charges village officials violated the Fair Housing Act by effectively mothballing a developer's plan to build a 47-unit, three-story apartment building called the Reserve. The units would be rented to people making less than 60 percent of the area's median income—primarily "low, very low, or extremely low income households," according to the Justice Department suit.

    The developer would finance the below-market rents using the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

    The architecture and other details of the proposal conformed with all requirements laid out in the village's master plan, which meant, according to that same master plan, that it should speed through the approval process, the Justice Department claims.

    After Tinley Park residents voiced objections at village meetings and in Facebook groups last winter, the project was referred back to the suburb's planning department in February. In the nine months since, "the planning department has not requested additional information about the Reserve" from the developer, Buckeye Community SixtyNine, according to the suit. The developer is affiliated with Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, based in Columbus, Ohio.

    The stalled approval process indicates village officials "capitulated" to community residents' race-based opposition to the project, the Justice Department charges. Regional demographics suggest blacks would be three times as likely to qualify for the rentals than white households, the suit says.
    Tinley Park's population is 88.8 percent white, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and 3.7 percent black.
    Despite the fact that the project's being in "precise conformance" meant it should be allowed to move ahead, Tinley Park's Plan Commission sent the proposal back to the planning department staff for further review, the suit says.

    The proposal has been left on hold since that time, the suit charges. "Tinley Park's actions were taken in response to community opposition based on the race and racial stereotypes of the prospective tenants of affordable housing," the Justice Department charges.

    Separately, Buckeye, the developer, sued Tinley Park in April over the delays in approval. That case is still pending.