Saturday, January 07, 2017

Ohio's Lawyers' Fund For Client Protection Shells Out $236K To 36 Victims Of Attorney Theft As Reimbursement For Misappropriations By 13 Former Or Suspended Attorneys

In Columbus, Ohio, Court News Ohio reports:
  • The Board of Commissioners of the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection awarded $236,177 to 36 victims of attorney theft at its quarterly meeting Dec. 2.

    In all, 13 former or suspended Ohio attorneys were found to have misappropriated client funds. Six deceased attorneys were also involved in the claims presented to the board of commissioners.
    The Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, formerly known as the Clients’ Security Fund, was created in 1985 by the Supreme Court of Ohio to reimburse victims of attorney theft, embezzlement, or misappropriation.(1) The fund is not taxpayer funded, but is funded primarily by registration fees paid by every Ohio attorney. Ohio has more than 44,000 attorneys engaged in the active practice of law. Less than 1 percent of those attorneys is involved in claims reimbursed by the fund.

    Law clients who believe they have sustained financial losses resulting from attorney theft, embezzlement, or misappropriation should contact the fund by calling 614.387.9390 or 1.800.231.1680 toll free in Ohio.
For more, including a county-by-county breakdown of the named attorneys for whom the state's Lawyers' Fund For Client Protection had to shell out cash to (at least partially, if not fully) reimburse their victimized ex-clients, see 36 Victims of Attorney Theft Awarded More Than $230,000.
(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.

Oklahoma's Attorney Ripoff Reimbursement Fund Pays Out $176K This Year To Fleeced Ex-Clients Of Rogue Lawyers; One Victim Scores $83K+

In Norman, Oklahoma, The Norman Transcript reports:
  • For the fourth time in five years, the Oklahoma Bar Association has awarded money from its Clients’ Security Fund to victims of former Norman-based attorney Dane Thomas Wilson.

    Wilson, who pled guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of failing to file a tax return in February,(1) reportedly deposited insurance payments into a client trust fund and then wrote checks to himself out of the fund that exceeded the fees he was supposed to receive. In some cases, Wilson’s clients received no money from the insurance payments.

    The bar association is paying Ruby Frame, of Norman, $82,995.18. According to a press release from the organization, Frame hired Wilson in February 2011 to handle an insurance settlement after she was involved in a car crash.

    “The insurance companies kept messing her around, so she looked in the phone book and picked Wilson,” her son-in-law, Shayne Lester, said. “She met with him, and he seemed like a nice guy and had her sign some agreements.”

    Lester said his mother-in-law would follow up with Wilson from time to time. Then she got a letter from an insurance company, stating they were mailing her a check for $25,000, but no money came. A year after hiring Wilson, Frame went down to his offices, only to find out that he was no longer practicing and another lawyer was working on his cases.

    “Come to find out, Dane had received a check for $25,000 and a check for $125,000, and another company was set to send another $25,000, which we were able to intercept,” Lester said. “We filed a report with the Norman Police Department, and the case was quickly transferred to the FBI.”

    Frame should have received $125,000, but that money was deposited into Wilson’s trust account instead.

    Wilson was scheduled to appear in court Friday to receive sentencing. That doesn’t help Frame, whose husband died this summer. Frame’s husband was a veteran, which meant he received VA disability payments, as well as both of their Social Security payments. Now that he’s gone, in addition to the emotional challenges, Frame’s income has been cut by 75 percent.

    That means the more than $80,000 from the OBA is coming just in the nick of time.

    “It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Lester said. “We’re very appreciative of the OBA and the establishment of that fund. They’ve been great to work with.”

    Claims result when an attorney is disbarred, misappropriates client funds or dies before work is performed, according to the OBA. The OBA Clients’ Security Fund Committee is chaired by Norman’s Micheal Salem, who said the claims are typically paid for former attorneys who have “become unstable as a result of personal crisis, substance abuse or illness.”

    “The fund is a remedy of last resort for clients who cannot recover money from other sources, such as insurance, a bonding company, from the attorney involved or the attorney’s estate,” Salem said.(2)

    The OBA is paying out a total of $176,000 this year and has given out more than $2.7 million since the fund was created. The money is generated through annual bar dues, and is aimed at restoring “faith in our profession’s integrity by returning lost money to those who have been harmed by the actions of a few,” OBA President Garvin Isaacs said. The fund has paid more than $325,000 to Wilson’s former clients.
Source: Bar association awards money to fraud victims.

See also, State Bar To Reimburse Client Losses:
  • The Oklahoma Bar Association’s Clients’Security Fund will pay more than $176,000 to 27 Oklahomans who lost money or other property from the dishonest conduct of their attorney. The association is reimbursing money to the clients of 10 deceased or former lawyers whose actions led to the losses.
(1) Wilson has since been sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. See Former Norman attorney who defrauded clients sentenced to 30 months.

(2) 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.

Court Rejects Suicide-Committing Upstate NY Attorney/Lawmaker's Attempt To "Control Reputation From Beyond The Grave"; Unseals FBI Court Documents That Accuse Lawyer Of Filching About $800K From Client Trust Account, Then Killing Himself To Avoid Criminal Prosecution

In Rochester, New York, the Rochester Democcrat & Chronicle reports:
  • The late Assemblyman Bill Nojay illegally misdirected funds from a legal client's escrow account to his campaign, to a registered lobbyist, to a car dealer, to his children, and to pay property taxes on his home, according to the criminal complaint he faced when he killed himself in September.

    An attorney, Nojay managed the escrow account for a local architect, the complaint shows. While the complaint, publicly unsealed [last month], does not name the architect, the Democrat and Chronicle earlier reported the individual was prominent architect Carlton "Bud" DeWolff.

    The complaint has been sealed since Nojay's suicide in September. U.S. District Judge David Larimer [] ruled that the complaint must be unsealed.

    Separate court papers which were unsealed [] say that Nojay admitted to the wire fraud, and was considering assisting the FBI in a separate investigation, which is not identified in the papers.

    In the complaint, the FBI alleged that Nojay diverted about $800,000 in the escrow account for his own use.(1) Nojay allegedly transferred about $221,000 to a Pennsylvania bank account "belonging to a business affiliated with Nojay," says an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Daniel A. Ciavarri.

    Nojay faced the charge of wire fraud when he fatally shot himself, shortly before he was to appear in court. His death came just four days before a Republican primary in which he was a candidate. Nojay, who lived in Pittsford, was seeking re-election to a second term in Albany.

    After the suicide, the Democrat and Chronicle filed a motion, seeking the complaint's public release. The U.S. Attorney's Office agreed it should be unsealed.
    As a final test of his probity, Nojay canceled a scheduled appearance at a political function and agreed to undergo a polygraph examination on the afternoon and evening of Sept. 8. But the results “indicated deception,” according to [Assistant U.S. Attorney John] Field’s Sept. 21 filing, and prosecutors told him they were going ahead with the criminal case against him. He asked if it could be kept quiet, but they warned him to expect publicity.

    Late that night, his lawyer asked Field to delay the criminal case and passed on an offer from Nojay to recruit another party to cooperate in the ongoing federal investigation. Field wrote in his statement that he offered to pass on the request to his superiors, but that a delay was unlikely given Nojay’s failure to provide reliable information on that other case.

    Nojay shot himself to death the following morning rather than report to court.

    In his statement, Field wrote that “when meaningful proactive cooperation did not materialize, the justification for postponing criminal charges disappeared.

    “At that point, the government had two choices: 1) not charge Nojay, and permit him to stand for another election cycle knowing he had committed a serious crime, and, in fact, had admitted to committing that crime; or 2) charge Nojay, and let the public decide what to do with that information.

    “Unfortunately, as we now know, there was another option that Nojay had in mind. That choice was tragic, but that does not give Nojay the right to control his reputation from beyond the grave,” Field concluded.
For the story, see Nojay misused $800,000, feds allege in criminal complaint.
(1) The Lawyers’ Fund For Client Protection Of the State of New York manages and distributes money collected from annual dues paid by members of the state bar to members of the public who have sustained a financial loss caused by the dishonest conduct of a member of the New York bar acting as an attorney or a fiduciary.

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.

Pennsylvania AG Pinches Attorney For Allegedly Improperly Pocketing Money Collected From Clients That Belonged To Law Firm Employer

From the Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General:
  • Attorney General Bruce R. Beemer [] announced the arrest of a suspended Clinton County lawyer charged with the theft of more than $50,000 from the law firm where he was previously worked as a civil attorney.

    John Philip Boileau, 50, was charged following a joint investigation by the Office of Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigations and the Lock Haven Police Department.

    According to a criminal complaint [], Boileau previously worked for the Lock Haven law firm that was known as Roberts, Miceli and Boileau, LLP. The investigation revealed that he intentionally kept $54,413 that was meant for the firm.

    Boileau allegedly had clients submit payments directly to him, which violated the firm's standard procedures for collecting money from clients. In many cases, Boileau also failed to perform the legal services for which he was paid, causing other members of his firm to complete the legal work, investigators determined.

    The investigation included a review of records for bank accounts used by Boileau and other documentation. The alleged theft occurred between May 2010 and June 2015.

    Boileau, [...], is charged with one count of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received. The charge is a third-degree felony punishable by a maximum of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

No Criminal Prosecution (Yet?) For Actually Stealing Client Cash, But Attorney Gets 12 Months Federal Probation & Disbarment For Failure To Pay Income Tax On The Pilfered Proceeds

In Topsfield, Massachusetts, The Salem News reports:
  • A Topsfield lawyer who was sentenced last month to a year of probation and ordered to pay more than $300,000 in restitution to the IRS for unpaid taxes has now also been formally disbarred.

    John Molloy Jr., 53, surrendered his law license last month and was disbarred over conduct that includes both his federal tax fraud case as well as defrauding clients of his law firm or their treatment providers (conduct for which he was not criminally charged).

    In an affidavit, Molloy acknowledged that starting in 2008, he "intentionally misused" at least $57,500 in client funds.

    In a sentencing memorandum filed in the criminal case, federal prosecutors referred to Molloy's practice of using his firm's business accounts to pay his personal expenses, rather than taking a salary and reporting the income.

    They also referred to Molloy withholding portions of settlements or judgments from clients, telling them the funds were being used to reimburse third-party providers, when they were not.

    Molloy has been suspended from practicing law since September, following his guilty plea in the federal tax case.

    He was also suspended back in 2003 for three months for signing an affidavit in the name of a client, filing it in court and making misrepresentations to officials from the Office of Bar Counsel.
Source: Topsfield lawyer disbarred.

See also, Topsfield attorney gets probation, must pay back over $300K for tax fraud:
  • Prosecutors alleged that Molloy regularly deposited [lawsuit] settlement checks into his firm's business accounts, then made withdrawals to pay his personal expenses and bills rather than drawing a salary.

    Prosecutors say Molloy drew nearly $1 million from those firm accounts but did not report the money as income on four different tax returns, even as his accountants questioned the decision.

    In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors described one $800,000 settlement for a case he had worked on with two other lawyers in 2007. In 2008, he began spending the money.

    "Molloy only reported a fraction of the income that he actually earned," prosecutors wrote.

Friday, January 06, 2017

80-Year Old NYC Tenant Sues Landlord For Allegedly Duping Her Into Vacating Her Rent-Controlled 2-Bedroom Upper West Side Apartment In Landmarked Building

In New York City, the New York Post reports:
  • An elderly Upper West Side woman says she can’t go home for the holidays because her landlord tricked her into vacating her apartment while her building is gut-renovated.

    May Asher is now suing the landlord in Manhattan Supreme Court, claiming its representatives duped her into signing an agreement to leave her rent-controlled two-bedroom apartment on the top floor of 101 W. 78th St.

    The landmarked building, across Columbus Avenue from the American Museum of Natural History, was sold in 2012, and the new owners are converting its 43 rental units to 24 condos and building a penthouse.

    The octogenarian says that in 2014, reps for the landlord, 101 West 78th LLC, visited her to say she would have to leave while the noisy and dusty construction work was under way. They also said they would have to seal up her apartment’s two fireplaces.

    The reps visited again in November 2015, handing Asher a document that she says she signed in the belief it was a receipt acknowledging she had received the papers.

    Instead, the document said she agreed to vacate her home while construction was under way and gave her just a month to move out.

    Days after she signed, the landlord cut off the heat, Asher says. She claims that caused her medical problems that landed her in a hospital. She eventually moved out.

    The new owners of 101 W. 78th St. have feuded with its tenants.

    A state attorney-general investigation in 2013 led to a settlement that granted 11 longtime building residents two years of free rent.

    And last year, Ocean Grill — a now-defunct restaurant that had been on the first floor — alleged in its own lawsuit against the landlord that the renovation project violated its lease, which ran to 2021. The popular restaurant shuttered in December 2015, and its suit blames the project for putting it out of business.

    Asher says the document she signed said she would have to vacate her apartment for nine months. But now she has been out more than a year.

    Asher’s only income is $700 in Social Security, says her suit, which seeks $300,000 in damages.

Hit w/ Vacate Order 9 Months Ago For Converting 2-Family House Into Illegal Multi-Room SRO Flophouse, NYC Homeowner Now Gets Pinched In Alleged Attempt To Grease Code Inspector's Palm With $200 To Make Him Go Away; Five Tenants Get Boot

In Woodside, Queens, the Queens Courier reports:
  • A Woodside property owner whose two-story building was deemed too hazardous for living was arrested [] for trying to bribe the city into overlooking the vacate order.

    Susana Escobar-Cardena, 65, was charged on Dec. 12 and charged with third-degree bribery and second-degree reckless endangerment. Escobar-Cardena, the owner of a two-family home at 62-17 39th Ave., had illegal single room occupancies in the cellar and first and second floors of the building.

    In March of this year, according to prosecutors, the Department of Buildings (DOB) issued a vacate order on the property and told the owner that no one was allowed to re-rent or live there. On Dec. 10 an investigator re-inspected the property and found two rooms on the second floor with no emergency exits and one room in the cellar with no emergency exit.

    Escobar-Cardena told the investigator that she had nowhere else to go and was told that the American Red Cross could help her find a new home. She proceeded to place $200 in cash into the investigators hand. The investigator told her it was not appropriate and told his colleague who was outside, according to the criminal complaint.

    The investigator and his colleague went back into the building to record the conversation with Escobar-Cardena who again tried giving the DOB employees $200.

    On Dec. 12, the American Red Cross helped to relocate five residents living in the building. Investigators also found that since 2010, the building has three dozen City Environmental Control Board violations that are either pending or in default. The violations range from illegal conversions to illegal construction.

    “This arrest exemplifies how bribery and corruption gravely undercut New Yorkers’ safety; in this case, creating seriously dangerous conditions, according to the complaint,” said Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark G. Peters. “Working with the City Department of Buildings, we successfully stopped the illegal conduct that could have had perilous results.”

Homeowner Facing Foreclosure Gets 50 Months Prison Time For Torching His Home In Attempt To Collect On Insurance Policy

In St. Augusta, Minnesota, the Saint Cloud Times reports:
  • A former St. Augusta man was sentenced [] to more than four years in prison after previously pleading guilty to arson and illegally possessing a firearm.

    Travis Lee Cox, 35, was accused of setting fire to his home at 1680 Forest Glen Circle in January 2014. Investigators learned that Cox and his wife were behind on their automobile, mortgage and utility bill payments and their house was in foreclosure.

    Fire investigators determined that the fire started in the basement laundry room. They ruled out appliances, the washer and the dryer and any electrical wiring as causes or contributing factors in the fire, according to the court complaint charging Cox.

    A state fire marshal and an investigator for the insurance company determined that the fire was set intentionally. Cox was the last person in the home before the fire was reported.

    Investigators found a firearm in the basement of the home that Cox said was his. He was prohibited from possessing firearms because he was convicted of a crime of violence, a burglary in Sherburne County in 2001.

    Stearns County District Court Judge Andrew Pearson sentenced Cox to 50 months in prison each on the arson and firearm charges and ordered that they run at the same time. Prosecutors dismissed a charge of insurance fraud as part of the plea agreement.

    That charge accused Cox of filing a false claim to collect on the home's insurance policy. The insurance company denied the claim based on investigators' opinions that the fire was intentionally set.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Escrow Company Owner Gets Four Years For Pocketing $540K+ In Deposits On Real Estate Transactions & Refusing To Give Back The Cash After Pending Deals Fell Through

In Orange County, California, reports:
  • A 40-year-old Yorba Linda real estate escrow con man is going to prison for four years for defrauding victims of more than $540,000 in what a prosecutor called an unsophisticated scheme.

    Andres Oman Pacheco pleaded guilty and was immediately sentenced to the prison term, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney George McFetridge. There were six victims, he said.

    “It’s not the most sophisticated of crimes,” McFetridge said.

    The victims put money on deposit to buy property and when the deals fell through Pacheco would not refund the money, McFetridge said.

    Pacheco owned Santa Ana-based Franklin Equity Corporation/Signature Escrow, McFetridge said.

    The worst loss for a victim was $185,000, McFetridge said. The defendant issued a refund check to one client, but it bounced, McFetridge said.

    The properties that the victims were trying to acquire were in Inglewood, Victorville, Moreno Valley and Santa Ana, McFetridge said.

    Pacheco pleaded guilty [] to two counts of grand theft, both felonies, and admitted a sentencing enhancement allegation for aggravated white collar crime exceeding $500,000. Multiple other felony charges were dismissed in the plea deal, according to court records.

Two Real Estate Agents Get Bagged For Allegedly Falsifying Real Estate Transaction Documents To Dupe Lenders Into Taking Haircuts On Loans To Facilitate Short Sales, Leading To Over $500K In Losses

From the Office of the Santa Barbara County, California District Attorney:
  • Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley announced [] that Angelo Gabriel Naemi was arrested on five counts of Grand Theft by False pretenses in violation of Penal Code Section 532(a), and one count of Conspiracy to Commit Grand Theft in violation of Penal Code Section 182(a)(1). The criminal complaint alleges losses of over $500,000 to victims.

    Steven Paul Gonzales was charged with one count of Conspiracy to Commit Grand Theft.

    The complaint alleges that Naemi, a real estate salesperson, and Gonzales, a real estate broker, conspired to falsify documents in association with numerous short sale transactions. Their actions allegedly resulted in a loss to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac of over $500,000.

    The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office investigated this case in conjunction with the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General, Los Angeles Field Office. Naemi’s bail is set at $395,000, [...].

Illinois Man Gets Collared For Allegedly Ripping Off Homeowner-Couple Seeking To Refinance Mortgage, Causing Them To Lose Home To Foreclosure

From the Office of the Illinois Attorney General:
  • Attorney General Lisa Madigan [] announced charges against a McHenry County man for defrauding a couple who was struggling to keep their home by deceiving them with a mortgage refinancing scam.

    Carlos Meza, 56, of Lake in the Hills, was arraigned [] in McHenry County Circuit Court on one count of continuing financial crimes enterprise, a Class 1 felony; one count of theft by unauthorized control over $10,000, a Class 2 felony; and one count of financial institution fraud, a Class 2 felony.

    Madigan alleged that between May 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014, Meza stole thousands of dollars from Randy and Lori Stroh, a married couple Meza met at church, under the guise that he could help them refinance their home mortgage.

    Meza led the Strohs to believe he had hired people to assist in the refinancing process and directed Randy Stroh to make checks payable to those people in various amounts. Instead of sending the checks to those individuals, Meza forged signatures and deposited the checks into his personal bank account. In the meantime, Meza had directed the Strohs to discontinue payments on their mortgage, and they have since lost their home.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

More On Trump's Dubious Pick To Run U.S. Treasury Department

Investigative reporter David Dayen writes in The Intercept:
  • ONEWEST BANK, WHICH Donald Trump’s nominee for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, ran from 2009 to 2015, repeatedly broke California’s foreclosure laws during that period, according to a previously undisclosed 2013 memo from top prosecutors in the state attorney general’s office.

    The memo obtained by The Intercept alleges that OneWest rushed delinquent homeowners out of their homes by violating notice and waiting period statutes, illegally backdated key documents, and effectively gamed foreclosure auctions.

    In the memo, the leaders of the state attorney general’s Consumer Law Section said they had “uncovered evidence suggestive of widespread misconduct” in a yearlong investigation. In a detailed 22-page request, they identified over a thousand legal violations in the small subsection of OneWest loans they were able to examine, and they recommended that Attorney General Kamala Harris file a civil enforcement action against the Pasadena-based bank. They even wrote up a sample legal complaint, seeking injunctive relief and millions of dollars in penalties.

    But Harris’s office, without any explanation, declined to prosecute the case.

Trump's Treasury Pick: A Chief Bankster For Outfit That Used 'Scorched Earth' Approach In Targeting Elderly Homeowners w/ Reverse Mortgages For Foreclosure

Investigative reporters Paul Kiel and Jesse Eisinger write in ProPublica:
  • In 2015, OneWest Bank moved to foreclose on John Yang, an 80-year-old Korean immigrant living in Orange Park, Florida, a small suburb of Jacksonville. The bank believed he wasn’t living in his home, violating the terms of its loan. It dispatched an agent to give him legal notification of the foreclosure.

    Where did the bank find him? At the same single-story home the bank had said in court papers he did not occupy.

    Still OneWest pressed on, forcing Yang, a former Christian missionary, to seek help from legal aid attorneys. This year, during a deposition, an employee of OneWest’s servicing division was asked the obvious question: Why would the bank pursue a foreclosure that seemed so clearly unjustified by the facts?

    The employee’s response was blunt: “You’re trying to make logic out of an illogical situation.”

    Yang was lucky. The bank eventually dropped its efforts against him. But others were not so fortunate. In recent years, OneWest has foreclosed on at least 50,000 people, often in circumstances that consumer advocates say run counter to federal rules and, as in Yang’s case, common sense.

    President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary has prompted new scrutiny of OneWest’s foreclosure practices. Mnuchin was the lead investor and chairman of the company during the years it ramped up its foreclosure efforts. Representatives from the company and the Trump transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

    Records show the attempt to push Mr. Yang out of his home was not an unusual one for OneWest’s Financial Freedom unit, which focused on controversial home loans known as reverse mortgages. Regulators and consumer advocates have long worried that these loans, popular during the height of the housing bubble, exploit elderly homeowners.
    ProPublica found numerous examples where Financial Freedom had foreclosed for legally questionable reasons. The company served several other homeowners at their homes to let them know they were being sued for not occupying their homes. In Florida, a shortfall of only $0.27 led to a foreclosure attempt. In Atlanta, the company sought to foreclose on a widow after her husband’s death, but backed down when a legal aid attorney sued, citing federal law that allowed the surviving spouse to remain in the home.

    It appears their business approach is scorched earth, in a way that doesn’t serve communities, homeowners or the taxpayer,” said Alys Cohen, a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center in Washington D.C.
For more, see Trump’s Treasury Pick Excelled at Kicking Elderly People Out of Their Homes (When Steven Mnuchin ran OneWest, the bank aggressively and in some cases, wrongly, foreclosed on elderly homeowners with reverse mortgages. The bank had a disproportionate share of such foreclosures).

Consumer Feds Squeeze Total Of $800K From Three Lenders Over Alleged Deceptive Practices In Peddling Reverse Mortgages

The New York Times reports:
  • Reverse mortgages, a type of home loan available to older Americans, sometimes are marketed in advertisements featuring reassuring celebrity spokesmen. But federal regulators have reminded lenders their pitches also must clearly disclose the loans’ risks.

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [last] month fined three companies for using deceptive advertisements to sell reverse mortgages. The bureau ordered the companies to stop the misleading ads, which dated to early 2012, and to pay combined penalties totaling nearly $800,000.

    Reverse mortgages, formally known as home equity conversion mortgages, are loans that let borrowers ages 62 or older draw on the equity in their homes. Homeowners can receive funds in a lump sum, in monthly payments or as lines of credit; repayment of the loan is deferred until the borrower dies, moves out or sells the home.

    According to administrative consent orders issued by the bureau, the companies promoted the loans as essentially risk-free. But borrowers of reverse mortgages can, in fact, default on their loans and lose their homes through foreclosure if they fail to make necessary payments for property taxes, insurance or home maintenance or do not meet other requirements.
For more, see Reverse Mortgage Lenders Fined for Ads That ‘Tricked’ Older Borrowers (Three companies fined because their commercials made it seem that the loans are risk-free).

Four Northern California Real Estate Operators Nix Prosecutors' Plea Offers; Roll Dice Instead By Going To Trial & Get Slammed By Jury For Running Bid Rigging Conspiracy At Public Foreclosure Auctions

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • A federal jury [] convicted four real estate investors for their roles in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions held in Alameda County, California, the Department of Justice announced.

    After a two-week trial, the jury convicted Alvin Florida Jr., Robert Alhashash Rasheed, John Lee Berry III and Refugio Diaz of one count each of conspiring to rig bids at foreclosure auctions between May 2008 and December 2010. The four defendants were charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of California on November 19, 2014.

    The evidence at trial showed that the defendants conspired with others to rig bids to obtain hundreds of properties sold at foreclosure auctions in Alameda County. The conspirators designated the winning bidders to obtain selected properties at the public auctions, and negotiated payoffs amongst themselves in return for not competing. They then held second, private auctions at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held, awarding the properties to conspirators who submitted the highest bids.

    In addition to [these] convictions, over fifty individuals have pleaded guilty to criminal charges as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging at public foreclosure auctions in Northern California. Indictments are pending against several other real estate investors who participated in the conspiracy.

    These convictions are the latest charges filed by the department in its ongoing investigation into bid rigging at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, California. These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Office, in connection with the president’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Ex-Homeowner Refuses To Accept $76K In Surplus Proceeds From Foreclosure Sale Of His Home, So Bankster's Attorney Now Goes To Court Seeking To Snatch The Cash

In Fulton County, Georgia, the Daily Report reports:
  • Many lawyers and law firms have encountered situations where a litigant is unwilling or unable to pay a judgment, but a recent filing in Fulton County portrays different scenario: a law firm that spent more than two years unsuccessfully trying to convince a man who lost his house to foreclosure to accept more than $76,000 in excess proceeds.

    Last week the firm, JF Legal (formerly known as Johnson & Freedman), filed an appeal in superior court seeking to have the Georgia revenue commissioner disburse the excess proceeds from the state's Unclaimed Funds Division to the law firm.

    Managing partner Larry Johnson, who filed the action, said he has resolved his difficulties with the state and expects to dismiss the appeal soon.

    But Johnson said he is still baffled by former Fayetteville resident Luther Murray's refusal to accept the money.

    "I spoke to him and his mom many times, and his basic stance was that he felt like it was blood money," said Johnson, who was unable to further explain Murray's reluctance to accept the funds.

    Johnson said much of his firm's business involves real estate transactions and that he had never before encountered such a situation.

    "Can you imagine?" he asked. The telephone number listed for Murray was disconnected, and there was no response to a message left for him at another.

    According to Johnson's filings, a house Murray owned in Fayetteville was sold at foreclosure, and Johnson & Freedman handled the sale on behalf of the bank.

    Afterward, the firm was left holding $76,602 in excess funds. Unable to locate Murray, the firm hired a private investigator who located him in Appling.

    The investigator went to Appling with a check and spoke to Murray and his mother. Murray told the investigator he did not want the money and the firm could "do whatever [it] wanted to do" with it.

    In July 2014, the firm sent Murray a letter containing a check for the funds, which was signed for. The check was never cashed.

    In March 2016, the firm sent Murray another letter confirming his earlier assertion that the firm or a personal representative could keep the funds and informed him it intended to file a claim for the money with the state.

    Murray never responded to dispute the letter's contents, and letters attached to the complaint indicate that the state Department of Revenue had requested something from Murray confirming his decision to eschew the money.

    The firm "tried to contact him subsequently to get him to sign something indicating his position, and we were unsuccessful," according to a letter from Johnson to a DOR employee dated July 22, 2014.

    The firm filed a declaratory judgment action against Murray in Columbia County Superior Court, and in October Judge Wade Padgett signed a default judgment allowing the firm to receive the money from the Unclaimed Funds Division.

    The firm's Dec. 19 appeal in Fulton Superior Court named DOR Commissioner Lynne Riley as the defendant and said the agency had failed to respond to multiple messages and letters in October and November.

    In addition to including a demand for the money, the petition also seeks attorney fees and expenses for the "unnecessary trouble and expense" the firm incurred filing the litigation.

Dallas Feds Pinch Four For Allegedly Ripping Off Dozens Of Distressed Homeowners With Phony Promises Of Financial Assistance (ie. Bogus Short Sale/Leasebacks, Fake Loan Closings, Abuse Of Bankruptcy Process To Stall Foreclosures)

In Dallas, Texas, the Star-Telegram reports:
  • Four Texans are accused of fraud in a federal indictment that alleges that they scammed at least 70 distressed homeowners with false promises of a new loan.

    The four defendants — Mark Demetri Stein, 36, of Carrollton, Richard Bruce Stevens, 51, of San Antonio, Bruce Kevin Hawkins, 52, of Desoto, and Christina Renee Caveny, 37, of Dallas — each face charges of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and five counts of mail fraud, a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
    The conspirators told homeowners they would use investors to purchase the homeowner’s loan from the original lender at a greatly reduced price through a short sale process, the indictment alleged.

    As part of the scheme, the conspirators required homeowners to start making all future loan payments to them and to ignore late payment notices sent by lenders. The conspirators also conducted fake closings for each homeowner where they caused the homeowner to pay them a large down payment on the new loan, the release said.

    The defendants then told the homeowners that they could sell their property back to the homeowner with another new loan, even though the conspirators knew they did not legally own the property, according to the release.

    The accused told homeowners to ignore notices of nonpayment from their present lender as they continued to unlawfully collect monthly mortgage payments and instructed several homeowners to file for bankruptcy and not follow up with the bankruptcy process to delay foreclosure and conceal the criminal conduct by the defendants, the release said.

NM AG Files Civil Suit Against Out-Of-State Foreclosure Rescue Outfit For Allegedly Engaged in Deceptive Marketing Practices & Clipping Distressed Homeowners With Illegal Upfront Fees

From the Office of the New Mexico Attorney General:
  • [A]ttorney General Hector Balderas announced that he filed a federal civil action against a group of individuals and businesses, located in California, who were taking advantage of New Mexicans facing foreclosure.

    The complaint alleges that the group violated state and federal consumer protection laws by sending deceptive mass mailings to over 4,400 New Mexico homeowners offering foreclosure relief and loan modification. These mailers were intended to look like official governmental communication and included a logo which used the name "Keep Your Home New Mexico" to induce homeowners into believing the program was official.
    The actual "Keep Your Home New Mexico" program is run by the Office of the Attorney General to help distressed New Mexican homeowners avoid foreclosure. In addition to deceptively marketing their services, the California group also charged up-front fees, which is illegal in New Mexico unless charged by a New Mexico licensed attorney.

Monday, January 02, 2017

More On Rent-To-Own Ripoffs That Lure People w/ Crappy Credit & Desperate For Stable Housing Into Foreclosed Money Pits

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports:
  • A North Braddock woman is fighting to stay in the home she thought she owned.

    Jacqueline Greene and her children live in a rent-to-own home, and after pouring thousands of dollars into the house to make it habitable, she could lose it after falling behind on rent payments.

    The property is owned by a limited liability company tied to Vision Property Management, a South Carolina-based firm that bills itself as the country’s largest provider of “affordable Lease-to-Own property opportunities.”
    The idea of rent to own can be be appealing to would-be homeowners who lack the resources to make a large down payment. But consumer advocates have criticized it as an arrangement that lacks the legal protections of either renting or home ownership, combined with the worst aspects of both, such as being responsible for major repairs while at the same time being vulnerable to eviction.

    Ms. Greene and another Vision client, David Turner of Wilkinsburg, have learned the drawbacks of such arrangements.

    Ms. Green said she and her boyfriend at the time paid thousands for costs that renters do not typically have to cover -- putting in a new toilet, a new bathtub, and having the fuse box fixed -- to make the house habitable.

    She believed she would own the home at the end of a seven-year period.

    “It said rent to own. That’s what attracted us to it,” Ms. Greene said.

    The repairs Ms. Greene made highlight one aspect of what advocates say are problematic about these agreements.

    Ms. Greene signed an “as is/​where is condition” lease, stating that she as the lessee was “solely responsible for maintaining the premises in a safe and non-hazardous condition... and for bringing the buildings and premises to a habitable condition,” according to court papers.

    After falling behind several months in her rent payments, Ms. Greene and two of her children are fighting to stay in the home.

    Ms. Greene's attorney, Eileen Yacknin, litigation director at Neighborhood Legal Services Association,(1) said she believes the agreement her client signed is really an installment land contract, which would provide her additional legal protections.

    However, if a court finds that it is a lease agreement, Ms. Yacknin said, then it is the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the home in a habitable condition.

    “My big concern is that the owners of these properties are deliberately taking advantage of the lack of knowledge that potential buyers or lessees have, which make them believe that they will be owning a home after seven years, when the owners of these properties know that is not the case. That's preying on people who are desperate to obtain stable housing and don't have the wherewithal to appreciate all the nuances that a complicated contract like this entails,” she said.
    David Turner, who has lived in a Wilkinsburg house owned by another Vision-linked company for about three years, said he was initially drawn to the house by the promise of affordable monthly payments -—only $340, he said he was told.

    “I have family that has seven children. So there wasn’t many places that would accommodate [us],” he explained. “If you don’t have good credit, it’s hard to get someone to accept you, even to rent... I was searching online and found Vision Property. And it seemed like a great thing, $340 a month, $400 down. And you’re like, ‘Wow.’ And then you go and it doesn't have a kitchen, and it doesn't have a ceiling. But if you could just get in, we could do all those things at $340 a month; you can afford to fix it.”

    But there were additional costs Mr. Turner said he did not become aware of until later.

    What they didn't explain to me...they don’t tell you that you are responsible for the back taxes, back water bill, back garbage tax. If I owned the house, the borough wouldn't let me get away with not paying the taxes, so how do they get to buy the house and not have to pay the taxes?”
    Ms. Greene still hopes to stay in her home, as does Mr. Turner.

    “Maybe we did get in over our heads,” said Ms. Greene, reflecting. “But it was under the assumption that [this] is an investment, at the end of it that at least we can say this is ours. But we can't say that, because it's theirs still.”
For the story, see Renting to own sounded good at first, but now 2 residents are finding flaws.

See generally, The New York Times: Housing That Ruins Your Finances and Your Health:
  • Of the nearly one million foreclosed houses sold by Fannie Mae, the government-run mortgage giant, since the housing bust, tens of thousands were decrepit, moldy and unfit for human habitation.

    Investor groups rounded them up anyway and turned them into cash cows by using “rent-to-own” leases or “contracts for deed.”
(1) Neighborhood Legal Services Association is a non-profit, public interest law firm that provides free civil legal assistance in the area of poverty law to poor and vulnerable residents of Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence Counties in Pennsylvania. land contract for deed

Rent-To-Own Scams Run By Some Mobile Home Park Landlords Offering Illusory Chance At Home Ownership To Financially Unsophisticated Low-Income Would-Be Buyers w/ Crappy Credit Are Alive & Well In Tucson

In Tucson, Arizona, the Arizona Daily Star reports:
  • From her father’s beige-stuccoed mobile home, Genesis Hollman has watched two families move into the trailer next door on a rent-to-own contract.

    And she has watched both of them leave the small south-side mobile home park in frustration after learning the landlord didn’t have proper title to the trailer.

    “They sell them and sell them and sell them,” says Hollman, 26.

    Housing advocates say it’s a familiar story in Tucson, where widespread poverty and a lack of affordable housing creates an environment ripe for victimization: Too many mobile home park owners are dealing trailers without proper paperwork.

    “They’re selling these things and half the time, they don’t have the title because it’s been abandoned by the original owners,” says Joe Scelza, vice president of the Arizona Association of Manufactured Home and RV Owners. The group advocates for mobile home park residents who own their trailers and rent the land underneath.

    For prospective homebuyers who can’t afford a site-built home or who don’t have the credit for a mortgage, rent-to-own contracts on mobile homes — in which part of the monthly rent goes toward buying the trailer — offer a rare chance at homeownership.

    But rent-to-own contracts are often full of loopholes, legal advocates say. Unscrupulous sellers collect on a trailer for months, then find a pretext to evict the buyer and resell the trailer. Other times the buyer finishes paying, only to find that the seller never actually owned the trailer.

    “It’s selling the American dream to poor people,” says Beverly Parker, managing attorney with Southern Arizona Legal Aid(1) in Tucson, who has seen this scenario play out repeatedly. Sellersdon’t think they’re doing anything wrong. It’s just business.”
    [I]n the justice courts, where evictions are heard, the burden of proof often falls on tenants, who rarely bring legal representation, says Stan Silas, senior staff attorney with Community Legal Services, Inc.,(2) in Phoenix.

    “There aren’t enough attorneys out there willing to help them do this,” he says.
    Justice courts are presided over by justices of the peace, elected officials who do not have to be attorneys. Sometimes filling in are judges pro tempore — part-time, appointed justice officers who also do not have to be attorneys.

    Many judges are diligent, Legal Aid’s Parker says, but “if your judge is not a lawyer, it’s hard to argue the law.”
    No one tracks how often would-be buyers get snared in rent-to-own deals gone wrong, but based on the number of victims seeking help at Southwest Fair Housing Council, “I’m gonna say it happens on a daily basis,” says Evelia Martinez, project manager at the Tucson nonprofit.


    Unscrupulous landlords and property managers have incentives to get tenants to abandon their homes: Abandoned trailers can be revenue streams.

    Tenants who own their trailer on rented land can find themselves in an impossible position if they want to leave: Relocating a trailer typically costs $3,000 to $5,000, assuming it’s is in good enough condition to be moved.

    The state offers mobile home relocation assistance, but many owners have no place to move their trailer even with that help. That’s because newer mobile home parks often have rules against accepting trailers of a certain age or condition, so costly rehabilitation may be required to secure a new space.

    Often, just abandoning their trailer is the best option, especially if they can’t find a buyer approved by their landlord, can’t continue to pay their space rent or utilities, or can’t afford repairs to make the place livable.
For more, see Tucson's aging mobile homes: Rent-to-own abuse common.
(1) Southern Arizona Legal Aid is a non-profit 501(c)(3) public interest law firm, established in 1951, which provides free, civil legal aid to low-income individuals and families in nine of Arizona’s 15 counties and in 11 of Arizona’s 21 Native American Communities.

(2) Community Legal Services is a non-profit 501(c)(3) public interest law firm, with offices in Phoenix, Arizona and neighboring counties, providing legal assistance, advice or representation; self-help materials and legal education to low-income Arizonans in connection with housing, domestic violence, unlawful/unfair practices by landlords, foreclosures, among other issues.

Illinois Supremes Nix Emotional Distress Claims Against Bankster, Trash-Out Contractor For Prematurely Breaking Into Foreclosed House While Homeowner Was Still Inside; Multiple Trespass Allegations Remain Pending

In Chicago, Illinois, the Cook County Record reports:
  • The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled plaintiffs need to suffer “physical impact” to pursue a lawsuit claiming negligent infliction of emotional distress, saying a lender had not breached the bounds of decency by sending contractors to change the locks and perform other maintenance on her home, which was in foreclosure, while she was still inside.
    The ruling involved a lawsuit brought by Melinda Schweihs against Chase Home Finance and others.

    Schweihs took a loan from Chase for a home in suburban Northbrook, on which she defaulted in 2007, with foreclosure in May 2010. Schweihs had until that August to vacate the property. However, per the agreement between Chase and Schweihs, Chase had the right to enter the home after foreclosure to inspect and protect its value, such as by making repairs.

    Chase contracted with Safeguard Properties, who then sent two subcontractors to the home in June 2010 to determine if the property was vacant, and if so, to change the locks and turn off utilities.

    After deciding the home was unoccupied, one of the subcontractors broke the locked back door and entered, but encountered Schweihs inside. The then 58-year-old Schweihs was alarmed and ordered the subcontractor and his partner, who had remained outside the house, to leave, according to the lawsuit. She then phoned police. Officers investigated, but no charges were lodged.

    Schweihs claimed she suffered anxiety and depression as a consequence of the incident. She filed a suit in Cook County Circuit Court against Chase, Safeguard and the subcontractors, alleging trespass, negligent trespass, private nuisance and negligence, as well as negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

    Defendants’ motion for summary judgment was granted in regard to the nuisance and emotional distress counts. Schweihs appealed the distress claims. The Illinois First District Appellate Court upheld the lower court in a 2-1 decision, saying Schweihs failed to allege she suffered a “physical impact” from defendants, and at any rate, the subcontractors did not engage in “extreme and outrageous” behavior. A dissenting justice said physical impact was not needed.

    Schweihs next sought relief from the state high court, saying the physical impact requirement has been abandoned by Illinois courts, including the state high court, as expressed by its rulings in cases from 1983, 1991 and 1995.

    Justice Freeman, speaking for the supreme court, disagreed, saying a “careful reading” of those rulings show physical impact remains a requirement in suits claiming emotional distress.

    Schweihs also contended that breaking into a house is by its nature an extreme and outrageous act, which in her case, would only have been permitted by court order. Freeman was not persuaded, saying the subcontractors spent 45 minutes trying to learn whether anyone was inside the home, taking such steps as talking to a neighbor, checking to see that the natural gas and water were already shut off and noticing, through sliding glass doors, debris was strewn around the interior.

    Freeman also pointed out Schweihs admitted seeing the subcontractors outside the house beforehand and ignoring their knocks on her door, all with the knowledge her home was in foreclosure. Further, once the subcontractors realized Schweihs was home, they retreated and awaited the arrival of police.

    Justice Freeman concluded Chase had the “right to enter the property to make reasonable repairs for the preservation of the property.” Schweihs argued repairs were not needed, but didn’t explain how Chase would have had that knowledge, according to Freeman.

    “There may have been a better and more commonsense way to determine if the property was occupied,” Freeman observed, but nonetheless, the subcontractors did not transgress “all possible bounds of decency.”

    The supreme court affirmed the dismissals of the emotional distress counts. The suit remains pending on the trespass and negligent trespass claims.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Mobile Home Park Landlord Agrees To Cough Up $15K To Settle Charges Alleging A Refusal To Allow Elderly Woman's Caretaker/Son & His Pregnant Wife To Live In Her Home After Child's Birth, Falsely Claiming Premises Was Housing For Older Persons

From the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (Washington, D.C.):
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [] it approved an agreement between the owners and managers of Maycliff Mobile Home Park in Las Vegas, Nevada, and a family to resolve allegations that the landlords refused to allow an elderly woman’s son and his pregnant wife to live at the property after their child was born. The property improperly claimed to be housing for older persons. Read the conciliation agreement.
    “Landlords and property owners have an obligation to treat every applicant the same, including pregnant women and families with young children,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Housing providers may not exclude pregnant women and children under 18 unless the housing meets all requirements for exempt housing for older persons.”

    In order to qualify for the “housing for older persons” exemption, a facility or community operating as housing for persons who are 55 years of age or older must satisfy each of the following requirements:
  • At least 80 percent of the occupied units must have at least one occupant who is 55 years of age or older;
  • The facility or community must publish and adhere to policies and procedures that demonstrate the intent to operate as "55 or older" housing; and
  • The facility or community must comply with HUD's regulatory requirements for age verification of residents.
  • The case came to HUD’s attention when a female resident of the mobile home park filed a complaint alleging that the owners and managers of the property required her son and daughter-in-law, who were also her live-in caretakers, to vacate the property after they found out that her daughter-in-law was pregnant.

    Under the conciliation agreement, the owner and managers will pay the elderly woman $15,000, and will ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act and HUD’s regulations. The owners and managers will also obtain fair housing training.

Housing Authority Slammed By HUD On Disability Discrimination Claim, Will Pay Tenant $50K Cash, 6+ Years Free Rent ($40K Value) For Allegedly Denying Transfer Request To Larger Apartment To Accommodate Needed Medical Equipment For Disabled Son

From the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (Washington, D.C.):
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [] an agreement involving the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority in Las Vegas to resolve allegations that it violated the Fair Housing Act by denying the mother the reasonable accommodation she requested on behalf of her son with disabilities. Read the Voluntary Compliance Agreement.
    The case came to HUD’s attention after a mother of a son with disabilities filed a complaint alleging that the housing authority failed to grant her request to be transferred to a three-bedroom unit in order to accommodate medical equipment her son required. The housing authority initially informed the mother that it would grant the accommodation, but failed to do so in a timely manner.

    Under the agreement, the housing authority will pay the woman $50,000; exempt her from paying rent for six and a half years, which equates to a monetary value of $40,170; provide fair housing training for its staff; submit a reasonable accommodation policy and procedure to HUD for review and approval; and post a fair housing poster in the public space of all of its offices.

    Disability is the most common basis of complaint filed with HUD and its partner agencies. Last year alone, HUD considered more than 4,500 disability-related complaints or nearly 55 percent of all fair housing complaints.

Probe By Non-Profit's Fair Housing Testers Leads To HUD Lawsuit Against Landlord, Managing Agent Of 48-Unit Housing Complex For Allegedly Refusing Disabled Tenants' Request To Keep Assistance Animal, Even When Medical Documentation Attesting To The Need Is Presented

From the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (Washington, D.C.):
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [] that it is charging the owner and manager of a Salt Lake City apartment complex with housing discrimination for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act by denying the reasonable accommodation requests of residents with disabilities. Read the charge.
    The case came to HUD’s attention when the Disability Law Center filed a fair housing complaint with HUD on behalf of a female resident with disabilities at Pine Cove Apartments, in Salt Lake City, who alleged that the owner, BJJ Enterprises, and the manager of the 48-unit complex had denied her request to keep an assistance animal.

    The Disability Law Center conducted fair housing tests, which revealed evidence that Pine Cove managers discriminated against people with disabilities. According to HUD’s Charge, Pine Cove strictly adheres to its “no-pets” policy, even when medical documentation attesting to the need for a reasonable accommodation is presented.

    Disability is the most common basis of complaint filed with HUD and its partner agencies. Last year alone, HUD and its partners considered more than 4,500 disability-related complaints, nearly 55 percent of all fair housing complaints.

Use Of Trained Fair Housing Testers In Hunt For Western Massachusetts Landlords Discriminating Against Families w/ Young Kids Continues; Four Owners, Agents Agree To Pay $13K To Settle Complaints That They Steered Families Away From Rentals Containing Lead Paint To Avoid State Law Requiring Hazard Abatement When Prospective Renters w/ Children Seek Housing

In western Massachusetts, the Amherst Bulletin reports:
  • Four landlords and rental agents in western Massachusetts — including one each in Amherst and Belchertown — will pay $13,000 in penalties after they agreed to settle allegations that they discriminated against families with children over the presence of lead-paint hazards in the homes and apartments they are attempting to rent.

    The Massachusetts Fair Housing Center,(1) based in Holyoke, announced that on Nov. 10 it settled the claims alleging that these companies, which own homes in Northampton, Amherst, Belchertown and other area communities, had intentionally directed families away from properties containing lead paint.

    They did so either by arguing that the homes were not suitable for rent as a way to protect children from the effects of lead paint, or by refusing to obtain a lead certificate by removing lead paint from the homes.

    Ashley Grant, legal director for the Fair Housing Center, said in a phone interview this week that the settlements came as the result of a “vigorous campaign” to protect families from this form of discrimination, and will be effective at lifting up all families seeking housing in the area by ensuring there is more safe housing available for rent.

    “We really are committed to redirecting our resources and ending this kind of discrimination,” Grant said.
    Lead paint rules

     In the four cases, filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, landlords or their agents corresponded with trained testers used by the Fair Housing Center to locate apartments available for rent on the website Craigslist.

    “In some of the cases they were discouraged from applying. In some they raised the issue of young children as a problem,” Grant said. “That puts families in a position where they are discriminated against, or denied housing, or offered housing that is not safe.”

    State law prohibits those renting properties from refusing to rent because of lead-based paint hazards, and if a family opts to rent these properties the property manager or owner must comply with requirements of deleading and removing all such hazards, Grant said.

    Both Bellicchi and Amaral have agreed to remove lead paint from their properties, Grant said.

    This proactive effort is the type of action appreciated by her agency, Grant said, as the housing stock in the region tends to be old, with three-quarters of residences built before the late 1970s ban on lead paint, and relatively few have been deleaded.

    “What we want to do is create more lead-safe properties,” Grant said.

    The money from the fines will be used to fund advertisements intended to inform families that they are welcome to rent any home, whether it has lead paint present. The funds will also pay for a public education campaign about this kind of discrimination.

    A similar effort in 2015 to identify lead paint discrimination, undertaken the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, led to a combined $9,500 against a local real estate company and two property owners.

    Massachusetts Fair Housing Center’s work is supported by grants from the HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives program.
For the story, see Landlords fined for alleged discrimination against families with children.
(1) The Massachusetts Fair Housing Center (also known as the Housing Discrimination Project, Inc.) is a Holyoke-based non-profit law firm that provides free legal services and accepts housing discrimination complaints based on race, national origin, color, ancestry, religion, sex, disability, presence of minor children, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, marital status, military or veteran status, receipt of public assistance, including Section 8 housing assistance, receipt of housing subsidies or rental assistance, and genetic information. MFHC serves western Massachusetts - Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester Counties. MFHC also preserves homeownership, by advocating for distressed homeowners in mortgage lending cases, and by assisting victims of foreclosure rescue scams.

Jury Convicts Crackpot Of Civil Rights Violation For Criminal Interference w/ Another's Housing Rights In Connection w/ Unprovoked Attack On Latino Man Standing In His Own Front Yard w/ Family, Shooting Gun In Their Direction While Hurling Racist Slurs; Incident Frightened Victims Into Moving From Neighborhood

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • After a five-day trial, a federal jury found Justin Cole Whittington, 25, of Bakersfield, California, guilty of federal hate crimes for firing a shotgun while yelling racist slurs at a Latino man.

    The conviction was announced by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert of the Eastern District of California.

    Whittington was convicted [] of interfering with a person’s housing rights because of his race, color or national origin by use of force or threat of force; use of a firearm during a crime of violence; and making a false statement to a special agent of the FBI. Whittington had earlier pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a prohibited firearm in connection to the same crime.

    “Whittington used violence to terrorize an innocent man and his family,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “The harm from hate crimes like this one extends beyond individuals and threatens the security, freedom and well-being of entire communities. No conviction can reverse that harm but this verdict does provide a measure of justice for the victim, his family and his community.”

    “The Eastern District of California is a community of different races, ethnicities and backgrounds,” said U.S. Attorney Talbert. “This defendant tried to strike at the diversity that enriches us by making a cowardly and unprovoked attack on a man who was simply standing in his front yard with his family. Hate crimes like this have profound effects not only on the victims, but on those in the victims’ communities, making them feel vulnerable and unsafe. Our office is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who violate the civil rights of others and enforcing laws against hate crimes will remain one of the core missions of this office.”

    According to court documents, on Dec. 19, 2012, the victim, a Latino man, was standing in his front yard with his wife and son when a dark-colored PT Cruiser drove past slowly and came to a stop in front of his neighbor’s house. Whittington, whom the victim had never seen before, got out of the front passenger seat of the car holding a sawed-off shotgun. Whittington used profanity and shouted a racial epithet as he fired one round toward the victim from about 15 yards away, and yelled that the victim should move out of Oildale, California.

    Whittington got back into the vehicle and drove off. Shortly thereafter, the shotgun was fired from the car at a nearby convenience store owned by a man of Middle Eastern descent. The blast left a large hole in the store’s glass door and circles of missing paint on the metal gate in front of the store.

    According to evidence presented at trial, the victim was able to describe Whittington and the car to Kern County, California, Sheriff’s deputies, and they found Whittington nearby standing outside the PT Cruiser. The deputies recovered a sawed-off shotgun in the trunk of Whittington’s Crown Victoria, which was parked near the PT Cruiser.

    Whittington was also found guilty of making false statements to an FBI agent when he claimed that on the evening of the incident, he had been paid by someone to keep the sawed-off shotgun in the trunk of his car.

    According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, the victim and his family no longer felt safe in their home and, as soon as they had the financial means to do so, they moved from the neighborhood.
Source: Federal Jury Convicts California Man of Hate Crime (Defendant Fired Shotgun Round Toward Victim and Shouted, “Move … Out of Oildale”).