Saturday, January 28, 2017

NYC Housing Authority Yields To Media Pressure, Reverses Course On Eviction Of Young Woman From Her Lifelong Public Housing Apartment After Mom's Death In Connection With Paperwork Technicality

In East New York, Brooklyn, the New York Daily News reports:
  • A Brooklyn woman facing eviction from her lifelong public housing apartment over a paperwork snafu will not be kicked out, the Daily News has learned.

    Leatha Harper, 20, has been fighting with the New York City Housing Authority to remain in her childhood apartment at the Pink Houses in East New York since the death last April of her mother, Shirley Harper.

    Leatha, who was legally adopted by Shirley when she was 4, was never listed in NYCHA’s records.

    In October, the Daily News reported on Harper’s ongoing legal battle with NYCHA to prove she has lived in the two-bedroom apartment her entire life.(1)

    Recognizing the exceptional circumstances in this case, NYCHA has determined that Ms. Harper can succeed to her late mother’s lease and remain in the apartment,” said Housing Authority spokeswoman Zodet Negron.

    Harper’s attorney, Jason Vendzules of Brooklyn Legal Services, told The News his client was “incredibly happy that NYCHA has reconsidered their position and that they are going to do the right thing here.”

Families' Emotions Run High As State Announces Shutdown Of Intermediate Care Facility For People w/ Intellectual Disabilities, Forcing Move For 80 Residents

In Berks County, Pennsylvania, WFMZ-TV Channel 69 reports:
  • Families met at the Hamburg State Center on Wednesday [January 18] for what they called a very emotional meeting about its closing.

    "People crying, people yelling, people just demanding. It was crazy in there," said Lynette Gearhart, the sister of a woman living at the center.

    Families said they received a call and a letter last week about the closure. The meeting on Wednesday aimed to explain the decision. Future meetings will take place monthly for more information.

    "They were talking about our options, and we pretty much already know that our options are either a group home or a nursing home," said Janene Coehler, the sister of a woman in the center.

    The Hamburg Center houses people with mental disabilities. The state Department of Human Services said the closure will reintegrate these people into society and most will go to smaller group homes.

    Frances Cramer is distraught. Her daughter lives there.

    "What is going to happen to my daughter when I'm gone? I'm just beside myself. This is very, very upsetting. I cannot handle this," said Cramer.

    Cramer lives in a senior center and can't bring her daughter home. The state DHS said no families will be forced to take relatives home. The population in state centers has drastically decreased, so families of the 80 residents here will get to pick individualized care plans.

    "They're going to have future meetings where they're going to have these representatives here from these places to answer questions also," said Lynetter Gearhart.

    Some 350 employees will lose their jobs, but state officials said they'll try to move employees elsewhere.

    "The staff members, they all love these people to death, and I know they're not going to get the same kind of TLC that they got at Hamburg," Cramer said.

    A public hearing is set for January 30 from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. at the Hamburg Borough Building. There, families will have the chance to voice their opposition.

    "We will be there and we will be very loud," Coehler said.
Source: Emotional meeting follows news of Hamburg Center closing ('We're just not happy,' says relative of resident).

Another Broken Elevator, More Stranded Disabled Seniors

In Kew Gardens, Queens, NY1 reports:
  • An 87-year-old Kew Gardens woman, who did not want to be named, knows exactly how many steps it takes to get to her third-floor apartment.

    "No elevator, 43 steps," she said. That is because she is forced to get down on her hands and knees, climbing one step at a time. "Very hard. I cry," she said.

    She is just one of many seniors with disabilities living in a building on Austin Street. The elevator has been out of service since December 7, leaving residents feeling stranded.

    "Today was the first day I've been out in three weeks," said Sidney Tesher, who has lived in the building for 52 years. "I had a doctor's appointment, which, fortunately my neighbor took me down and took me to the appointment."

    For Korean War veteran Ronald Peters, staying without a working elevator is not an option. "I have medical appointments at the VA, and how am I going to get to these appointments if I live on the sixth floor?" said Peters.

    Peters cannot manage the stairs and a walker. So he's been paying out of pocket to stay at the Holiday Inn on the Fort Hamilton army base, at the tune of almost $2,700 a week. "And I want management to give me back those funds," said Peters.

    While Peters has been staying at the Holiday Inn, his wife Virginia has been stuck in the apartment upstairs, unable to climb down the six flights of stairs.

    "They did it during the Christmas holiday and New Year’s," said Peters. "OK? I'm not going to be able to see my wife for 45 days. I have not seen her since December 7."

    When reached by telephone, a representative for the building's management company PSRS Realty declined to comment.

Hot Brooklyn Real Estate Market Continues To Feed Criminal Activity; Over Three Dozen Landlords, Former & Current Utility Company Employees Get Bagged For Allegedly Installing Illegal & Potentially Dangerous Gas Meters In Residential Buildings Throughout Borough

In Brooklyn, New York, DNAinfo (New York City) reports:
  • A ring of nearly 40 landlords and National Grid employees was charged [] with installing illegal and potentially dangerous gas meters across Brooklyn.

    Former National Grid staffer Weldon "Al" Findlay, 47, worked with current utility workers to open up accounts and install meters for landlords without required inspections in buildings in Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn Heights, Bushwick, Crown Heights, Midwood and Borough Park, according to the Brooklyn District Attorney.

    “This is an unprecedented case, in our opinion, showing that the hot real estate market in Brooklyn serves to feed criminal activity,” acting-DA Eric Gonzalez said during a press conference Thursday.

    "This corruption within a major company is particularly alarming, given potential lethal consequences."

    Findlay, who worked for National Grid until 2010, used current employees led by Phoebe Bogan, 41, to create accounts for landlords and install the meters without proper inspections by Department of Buildings workers or master plumbers, investigators said.
    Findlay and Bogan would then have other utility employees who were in on the scheme set up the meter and gas lines without regulation, sometimes using "cheap plastic flex piping" like the kind used in the building involved in the East Village explosion in 2015, Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters said.
    All the buildings involved have been re-inspected and gas was shut off while violations were addressed, Peters added.

    Investigators did not say how many buildings may have been impacted.

    DOI investigators first caught wind of the scheme while listening to wire taps during a separate case in Manhattan involving Department of Buildings inspectors, Peters said.

    In that probe they heard a landlord speaking with Findlay, who mentioned having an employee at National Grid working with him.

    Findlay and Bogan were indicted on felony charges including enterprise corruption in Brooklyn Supreme Court [].

    Landlords and property managers faced charges including falsifying business records and bribery.

    Findlay pleaded not guilty and was held on $750,000 bail, according to his lawyer, Stephen Zeitlin, who added that he felt the bond was "out of line" for someone with no prior record.

    Bogan also pleaded not guilty and was released on $350,000 bond.

Minnesota Feds Pinch Landlord, Tenant For Allegedly Failing To Disclose Family Relationship To Defraud HUD Of Over $35K In Section 8 Rental Subsidies

In Mankato, Minnesota, the Mankato Free Press reports:
  • Two Mankato residents are facing a federal charge after they allegedly lied about their relationship and living arrangement to obtain public assistance.

    Kyle Lewis Kirschman, 52, and Holly Kay Bloom, 37, were indicted last month for conspiracy to commit public assistance fraud, the U.S. Attorney's Office of Minnesota based in St. Paul announced [].

    Kirschman and Bloom lived together in a Mankato residence and Kirschman is related to a member of the Bloom family, the charges allege. The type of relationship isn't specified in the indictment.

    Kirschman allegedly failed to disclose the relationship and claimed he was renting a portion of his residence to Bloom and her family. He allegedly fraudulently collected over $35,000 in Section 8 rental subsidies.

    Bloom allegedly failed to disclose Kirschman as a member of her household when applying for government food and medical care assistance. She allegedly collected nearly $40,000 in benefits for which she wasn't eligible.
Source: Pair charged with federal public assistance fraud.

For the U.S. Attorney (St. Paul, Minnesota) press release, see Two Indicted for Conspiracy to Commit Public Assistance Fraud.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Cops Bust Suspected Burglary Ring Found Squatting In 78-Year Old Property Owner's Unoccupied House

In Fort Bragg, California, The Press Democrat reports:
  • A vacant house outside of Fort Bragg was taken over by squatters, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. Four people were found illegally living in the Turner Road home Sunday afternoon, sheriff’s officials said. A fifth was arrested later that night for burglarizing the house, which belongs to a 78-year old Red Bluff woman, officials said.

    Deputies were alerted to the situation after an astute neighbor told the owner that people were living in her house, officials said.

    When they arrived at the house, they found Daniel Neal, 40; Kyler Casey, 23; Jessica Craft, 26; and Megan VanHorn, 30, all of Fort Bragg, unlawfully living at the residence, officials said.

    Deputies also located property that had been stolen during other burglaries reported in the Fort Bragg area, along with methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, officials said.

    Neal was arrested on suspicion of first-degree burglary, possession of stolen property, forgery and maintaining a residence where a controlled substance was used. Casey was arrested on a warrant related to theft. The other two were released, but deputies filed a complaint with the district attorney’s office, alleging they unlawfully occupied a structure. Deputies returned to the house just before 10 p.m. to conduct a security check when they found that someone else had entered the home. They arrested Ryan Ivey, 37, of Fort Bragg as he was leaving, officials said.

    They found several items belonging to the homeowner inside Ivey’s vehicle, officials said.

    Ivey was arrested on suspicion of burglary and possession of stolen property. He also was arrested on suspicion of committing a felony while out of custody for another burglary.

Cops: Tenant Was Forced Into Sex Under Threat Of Eviction

In Jacksonville, Florida, WJXT-TV Channel 4 reports:
  • A Northside man was arrested [] on a felony charge of sexual battery following a month-long investigation by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

    A 54-year-old woman reported that Mitchell Ray sexually assaulted her in early December, according to his arrest report.

    The victim told police Ray forced her to perform oral sex, by threatening her with eviction from her apartment, the report said.

    During the course of the investigation, detectives said, information was obtained that supported the victim's report.

    Ray, 49, was booked into the Duval County jail and ordered held on $200,000 bond.
Source: Man accused of threatening to evict woman, sexually assaulting her (JSO: Mitchell Ray arrested following month-long investigation).

Landlord Dodges Jail Time In Attempted Self-Help Eviction; Gets 2 Years Deferred Adjudication After Copping Plea For Pointing Loaded Rifle At Tenants While Trying To Give Them The Boot

In Lufkin, Texas, KTRE-TV Channel 9 reports:
  • A 67-year-old Lufkin man accepted a plea bargain deal of two years of deferred adjudication for pointing a rifle at people he was trying to evict from his property back in May.

    As part of the plea bargain deal that was approved by Judge Paul White of the 159th Judicial District Court, Tex William Sutton pleaded guilty to a lesser charge – misdemeanor terroristic threat.

    Angelina County District Attorney Joe Martin said although the plea bargain agreement was made by the previous administration, his office is obligated to follow it. However, he did say he believes the sentence is fair.

    When Sutton was arrested on May 26, he was originally charged with second-degree felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was released from the jail on June 13 after he posted a bail amount of $2,500.

    According to Angelina County Sheriff Greg Sanches, Sutton went to the sheriff’s office on May 26 and said he wanted to evict some tenants from his property. Someone with the ACSO told Sutton that it was a civil process, and explained what Sutton needed to do.

    Sutton left the sheriff’s office, and ACSO deputies responded to a disturbance in the 3000 block of Oakwood Drive at about 7:24 a.m. on May 26. When deputies arrived on the scene, the tenants told them that when they went out to investigate the noise, Sutton pointed a loaded rifle at them in an effort to get them to leave his property.

    The sheriff’s office daily activity report said that Sutton also threatened them verbally.

Tenant With Past History Of Torching Landlords' Apartments Is Allegedly At It Again, Getting Bagged For Blaze Set After Being Served With Eviction Notice; Fire Authorities Evacuate 18 Other Residents In Building

In Cleveland, Ohio, The Plain Dealer reports:
  • A convicted arsonist is accused of trying to burn down an apartment building where more than a dozen people lived after getting an eviction notice earlier in the day, police said.

    Marvin Fisher, 54, is charged with aggravated arson. His bond was set [] at $25,000. He is also being held in jail while the Ohio Adult Parole Authority determines if he violated the terms of his supervised release.

    Fisher set fire to his apartment [...] in the 8700 block of Detroit Road, according to police.

    Eighteen others who live in the building were evacuated. The fire caused about $2,000 in damage to a door and wooden deck, police reports say.

    Fire investigators ruled out accidental causes and a surveillance camera showed no one went inside Fisher's apartment in the hours leading up to the fire, police reports say.

    Fisher's girlfriend told police Fisher had been increasingly aggressive recently and had been drinking more than normal. About six hours before the fire, the landlord gave Fisher a 30-day eviction notice, according to police reports.

    Fisher threatened the landlord and told him "I'm going to punch your lights out," according to police reports. The landlord told police Fisher's behavior is "extremely bizarre and threatening."

    Fisher told police that he was home with his girlfriend when the fire broke out, but denied setting the fire, police reports say.

    Fisher has been convicted of arson two other times. He spent four years in prison after his most recent conviction in 2010.

    In that case, he set fire to his porch at a home on West 65th Street. He also pleaded guilty to being a repeat violent offender.

    In 2002, Fisher set fire to his apartment in the 5800 block of Lawn Avenue two weeks after his landlord gave him an eviction notice. Fisher removed most of his belongings from the apartment and started drinking.

    He poured nail polish remover on the carpet and lit it on fire with a butane lighter. Police found him hiding in nearby bushes holding a hammer.

    Fisher was found guilty during a trial and was sentenced to four years in prison. He lost his appeal to the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Maryland AG Orders State Guarantee Fund To Reimburse $195K+ To Customers Of Now-Defunct Homebuilder That Failed To Complete Work On Their Houses Or Return Deposits

In Frederick, Maryland, The Frederick News-Post reports:
  • Several homeowners will be reimbursed for work that Nexus EnergyHomes left unfinished on their houses.

    The Consumer Protection Division Office of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office ordered the homeowners be paid out of the Home Builder Guaranty Fund(1) after finding that Nexus EnergyHomes failed to complete work on their houses or return their deposits, according to a decision filed Dec. 30.

    Among the 13 claims the office ruled on were seven from Frederick County residents, which totaled nearly $196,700.

    Nexus EnergyHomes signed on in 2010 to work on the North Pointe project, a collection of energy-efficient homes along Bentz and Sixth streets.

    Construction came to a halt in 2013, when the Maryland Attorney General’s Office accused Nexus of intentionally deceiving the state, homebuyers and contractors and of misappropriating money that buyers used to pay for energy-efficient houses.

    A new company, Lancaster Craftsmen Builders, took over and is working on the development. In October 2016, Mark Lancaster, the president and owner of Lancaster Craftsmen Builders, estimated that the project would be done by the end of 2017.

    Nexus EnergyHomes’ homebuilder registration is suspended until it pays back the Maryland Home Builder Guaranty Fund, which includes 10 percent annual interest. The business has since closed.
For more, see Homebuyers reimbursed for unfinished work on Nexus homes in Frederick.
(1) The State of Maryland has established a Home Builder Guaranty Fund that is overseen by the Consumer Protection Division of the state attorney general's office. This fund allows consumers to seek compensation for losses resulting from an act or omission by a registered builder who constructs a new home for a consumer.

Dubious Contractor w/ History Of Screwing Over Public Gets Bagged Again, Faces Multiple Felony Charges For Allegedly Pocketing $149K+ In Payments For Home Improvement Projects He Never Completed

From the Office of the Bucks County, Pennsylvania District Attorney:
  • A Bucks County contractor operating with fraudulently obtained licenses and insurance cheated five sets of homeowners out of tens of thousands of dollars since 2011, county detectives allege.

    Marc Haworth, 41, of the 100 block of Canterbury Drive in Fairless Hills, surrendered Thursday [January 19] on charges of home improvement fraud, deceptive business practices, theft by deception and insurance fraud. All of the charges are second-degree or third-degree felonies except for insurance fraud, which is a first-degree misdemeanor.

    Haworth was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Jan Vislosky and released on $250,000 unsecured bail. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing before Vislosky on Jan. 31.

    According to a probable cause affidavit, Haworth is accused of defrauding the owners of five homes in Churchville, Langhorne, Wrightstown and Levittown by accepting more than $149,000 in payments for home improvement projects that he never completed.

    The affidavit says that the homeowners have had to pay additional contractors close to $20,000 or more to complete the work. The projects included swimming pool construction and upgrades, garage remodeling, and roofing and paving work.

    The charges resulted from a three-month investigation by Bucks County Detectives Eric Landamia and David Coyne.

    Haworth is the owner of Pool & Patio Specialist, LLC, and former owner, with his wife, of three additional firms.

    While Haworth’s active companies were insured and registered as required by the Pennsylvania Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act, the charges allege that he obtained those credentials fraudulently.

    In registering the businesses, the detectives alleged, the Haworths lied by saying that they had not filed for bankruptcy or had any civil judgments entered against themselves or their companies. In fact, they had multiple judgments dating to 2004 in Bucks County and had filed jointly for bankruptcy three times, the affidavit said.

    In addition, Marc Haworth lied in his registration application by saying he had no history of fraudulent business practices, fraud, theft and/or deception, the charges allege. In fact, he pleaded guilty in 2005 to charges of deceptive business practices, theft by deception, criminal mischief and receiving stolen property, the affidavit said.

    Haworth also is accused of lying to Erie Insurance in order to obtain business insurance coverage in 2015. On his application to Erie, Haworth indicated that he had filed no insurance claims in the prior five years, that he never had been arrested and that he never had been cancelled or refused service by any carrier.

    In doing so, Haworth failed to disclose arrests in 2003 and 2015, a loss claim filed in 2012, and a policy cancellation for failure to make required payments in December 2014, the affidavit said.

    The case has been assigned to Deputy District Attorney Alan J. Garabedian for prosecution. Anyone with information about other questionable activities involving Haworth is asked to contact Detective David Coyne at 215-348-6333 or Detective Eric Landamia at 215-348-6358.

Already Facing 143 Charges For Allegedly Ripping Off 20 Pennsylvania Homeowners Out Of $250K, Home Improvement Contractor Gets Nailed With 140 New Charges When Another 20 Victims Come Forward After News Of Earlier Arrest First Broke

In Erie, Pennsylvania, reports:
  • The case against an Erie contractor has expanded to include 283 charges and 40 victims who claim they lost a total of $446,600.

    Lloyd A. Davis, 60, first charged in November with bilking 20 customers, was charged [] after 20 new victims came forward, a prosecutor said.

    State police [] filed an additional 140 charges against Davis, owner of LD Construction LLC.

    Assistant Erie County District Attorney Jared Trent said the charges were added after the 20 new victims came forward, claiming losses totaling $193,000. Trent said the new victims came forward after Davis was first charged.

    The 140 new charges are nearly identical to the 143 previously filed. The charges against Davis are largely felonies, ranging from deceptive business practices to receiving stolen property.

    In the original charges, Davis is accused of accepting payments for contracting work he never completed or never started.

    He is currently at the Erie County Prison on $250,000 bail on the first set of charges, and is scheduled to be arraigned Friday morning by North East District Judge Scott Hammer on the 140 new charges.
    Police in [the first] case charged that Davis took $253,600 in deposits from the original 20 customers who hired him to do home improvement work he never began or finished, starting in November 2013, according to the criminal complaint filed with the first set of charges. Those customers live in Erie, Wesleyville and five townships in Erie County, according to the criminal complaint.
For more, see Erie contractor faces 140 new charges (Charges cover 20 new victims, prosecutor says. The total claimed losses is now $446,600).

Serial Home Improvement Scammer Gets Add'l 4 To 8 Years Tacked Onto Earlier Prison Term For Targeting Seniors For Home Renovation Ripoffs; Prosecutor: "All Of My Witnesses Said They Trusted Him Because He Looked Like Captain Kangaroo!"

In Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, reports:
  • A contractor convicted of committing serial frauds across the midstate that targeted senior citizens was slapped with a 4- to 8-year prison sentence by a Dauphin County judge [earlier this month].

    Judge John F. Cherry hit 59-year-old Robert A. Kolovich with that penalty despite the Northumberland County man's claims of innocence.

    A county jury convicted Kolovich of theft by deception charges last month for bilking two local families out of nearly $25,000 for work he never performed. Kolovich has convictions for similar frauds in Mifflin, Bedford and Snyder counties as well.

    "None of these people got their work done. None of them got their money back," Cherry said. "It was quite a crime spree."

    Senior Deputy District Attorney David Wilson called two Dauphin County residents who were conned by Kolovich to address the judge. One of them, Richard Verbeken, called the crime "devastating."

    "I felt anger. I felt ashamed," Verbeken told the judge.

    "How much did he take from you?" Cherry asked.

    It was $22,000, Verbeken replied.

    "There is no shame in that," the judge said.

    Public Defender Elizabeth Ruby said Kolovich intended to do the work he was hired to do, but his business failed. "He does intend to pay the victims back," she said.

    "I do feel for my customers of my failed business," Kolovich told Cherry. "I'm a good guy who always feels for people." He said the victims all would have been paid if he hadn't been arrested in the other counties. He said he's spent 30 months in prison so far.

    Cherry ordered Kolovich to serve his new sentence consecutively to the prison terms previously imposed on him.

    "Somehow he managed to rip off half the people in the midstate. It was really astounding," Wilson said after sheriff's deputies led Kolovich away. "All of my witnesses said they trusted him because he looked like Captain Kangaroo."

    For those too young to remember, Captain Kangaroo, a.k.a Bob Keeshan, was the jovial, mop-haired and uniformed host of a children's TV show that ran from the mid-1950s to the mid-80s.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

NYS Attorney/Politician Who Dodged Criminal Prosecution (Because Of Expired Statute Of Limitations) For Ripping Off Over $400K In Surplus Proceeds Held In Trust While Working As Court-Appointed Foreclosure Sale Referee Gets Five Years Prison Time For Lying To Feds When Questioned About Pilfered Loot

In Brooklyn, New York, the New York Post reports:
  • He’s sorry all right — but mostly for himself.

    Disgraced ex-state Sen. John Sampson waffled [last week] about how he’s been “suffering” because of his corruption conviction, as a judge sentenced him to five years behind bars.

    The once-powerful Brooklyn Democrat took a moment in his mostly self-serving statement to “apologize for my actions” — but failed to say sorry to the constituents that elected him to the very office he abused.
    A jury found the 51-year-old guilty of obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI about illegally skimming more than $400,000 from foreclosure deals he worked on as a court-appointed referee.

    Embezzlement charges against him were dropped ahead of trial because the statute of limitations ran out.
    The judge [] noted that Sampson — a now-disbarred attorney — was driven by greed, even though he and his wife earned hefty salaries.

    “What level of greed do you have to have to engage in this conduct?” she said.

South Texas Feds Bust Group That Purported To Offer 'Second Chance Financing' To Prospective Homebuyers w/ Crappy Credit, Then Allegedly Pocketed Unwitting Victims' Downpayment Cash On Phony Real Estate Purchase Contracts

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (McAllen, Texas):
  • Three Rio Grande Valley men have been arrested on federal wire fraud charges involving a fraudulent mortgage lending scheme, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

    A criminal complaint was filed under seal Jan. 12, 2017, against Guadalupe Artemio Gomez, 31, Luis Antonio Rodriguez, 36, and Rogelio Ramos Jr., 36.
    The charges allege they all operated a “second chance” financing business under the names of T.G. and Wealth, Infinite Properties and Me In 3D, focusing on individuals who were financially unable to apply for traditional home financing. The defendants allegedly offered these individuals financing at a rate of 8.5 percent interest on the principle for a 20-year-term if they could afford a 10 percent down payment on the house of their choice.

    Gomez, Rodriguez and Ramos allegedly conducted business in the area of San Antonio by recruiting realtors to funnel prospective home buyers to Infinite Properties.
    The criminal complaint alleges buyers entered fraudulent purchase agreements for properties they selected. These buyers made down payments to Infinite Properties to be used toward the purchase of their intended properties and were told closings would occur within 45-60 days, according to the charges.

    The charges allege, however, that closings did not occur and the payments were never used for the purchases of the properties. In August 2016, Infinite Properties allegedly ceased to do business and the victims never received their money back.

Kansas Feds Bust Trio For Allegedly Operating Loan Modification Racket That Fleeced Homeowners Seeking Foreclosure Help

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Kansas City, Kansas):
  • A Missouri man is set to appear in federal court here [] on charges he and his accomplices scammed desperate homeowners with false promises to help them save their homes, U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said.

    A federal indictment alleges the defendants used the U.S. Postal Service and the Internet to target victims with financial problems.

    Tyler Korn, 27, St. Ann, Missouri, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, two counts of mail fraud, and five counts of wire fraud. Co-defendants Amjad Daoud, 32, Lutz, Fla., and Ruby Price, 72, Bonner Springs, Kan., already have appeared in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., in the case.

    The indictment alleges Korn and Daoud used the address of a UPS store in Overland Park, Kan., to form Reliant Home Financial Group, a company they operated out of the St. Louis metro area. Price operated The Arize Group from rented space in Overland Park. Together, they devised a scheme to defraud homeowners with false promises of protecting them from foreclosure.

    The indictment alleges the defendants fraudulently promised the victims to:
    -- Lower their interest rates.
    -- Lower their monthly payments
    -- Help them obtain loan modifications.

    When victims received foreclosure notices, the defendants allegedly advised them not to worry about it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tenant Changes Her Name In Scheme To Steal Dead Landlady's Identity, Then Goes On To Refinance Rented Home, Pocketing £1.2 Million In Loan Proceeds

In London, England, The Mirror reports;
  • A model daughter and her mum who stole the identity of a dead millionairess property owner in a £1.2 million scam face jail after being found guilty of the fraud plot.

    Diane Jean Moorcroft, 62, changed her name by deed poll to assume the identity of a dead landlady and opened bank accounts to convince solicitors she owned an upmarket home in Kensington.

    She was helped in the scam by her Dubai-based daughter Laylah Scarlett De Cruz, 31, reportedly a model, who played a “pivotal" role in the deceit.

    The pair now face jail after they were convicted at Southwark Crown Court of conspiracy to commit fraud.

    In 2014, they conspired with others to rent a property in Kensington, west London, using fake documents, police said. But when the tenancy of the property was secured, Moorcroft changed her name by deed poll to the genuine owner who had died.

    She then travelled to Dubai where she opened bank accounts with a new UK passport in the dead landlady’s name.

    Back in London, she applied for a loan of £1.2 million against the reported £3 million-valued property which was approved in October 2014 before funds were transferred to Moorcroft’s Dubai bank accounts. The loan was later withdrawn in cash and the money has never been recovered.

    Scotland Yard detectives launched an investigation later that month after the Land Registry flagged suspicious activity around the Kensington property.

    Moorcroft, of Blackpool, was arrested in February 2015 at her home and De Cruz was arrested as she entered the UK from Dubai in May last year.

    The pair were found guilty at Southwark Crown Court of conspiracy to commit fraud.

    Detective Constable Richard Kirk, of the Met, said: "Having gained access to the property by renting it, Moorcroft duped a solicitor into believing that she was the rightful owner and signed documents to that effect. "The suspects then approached a broker and obtained a bridging loan of £1.2 million against the property.

    "De Cruz played a pivotal role, she recruited her mother and persuaded her to change her name to that of the deceased owner of the address and open bank accounts in that name.

    "Having been promised a percentage of the proceeds of the fraud, Moorcroft willingly took part.”

    De Cruz and Moorcroft were released on bail and will be sentenced on March 10.
Source: Mother and model daughter convicted of fraud plot after stealing identity of dead landlady and moving into millionairess's home (The pair conspired to use the dead woman's name to take out a £1.2 million loan against her plush Kensington home).

On Eve Of Civil Trial & In Fear Of Getting Belted w/ Triple Damages, Abusive Landlord Throws In Towel, Agrees To Cough Up $400K To Settle Rent-Controlled Tenant's Illegal Boot Allegations; Renter's Lawyer: Getting Rid Of My Client Legally Would Have Only Cost Landlord $9,500; Instead, She Opted For Unscrupulous Path

In San Francisco, California, KQED-TV Channel 9 reports:
  • It was a spark for instant outrage in the midst of a San Francisco rental market gone mad: A woman renting an apartment in Bernal Heights announced on Facebook one weekend in March 2015 that her landlord was increasing her rent from $2,145 to $8,900 a month. And her security deposit was going up, too — from $1,500 to $12,500.

    The tenant, Deborah Follingstad, was forced to move from her home of 11 years on Bocana Street, and her erstwhile landlord, Nadia Lama, moved in. But that wasn’t the end of it.

    Follingstad sued Lama, who had acquired the property through the distribution of a family estate.

    In the August 2015 lawsuit, Follingstad and her lawyer, Joe Tobener, accused Lama of trying to get around a city ordinance that requires payments for tenants displaced in an “owner-move-in” eviction.

    That litigation proceeded without gaining much attention — until now.

    Tobener announced Tuesday [January 17] that, with a jury trial scheduled to begin next week, Lama had settled for the staggering-sounding sum of $400,000.

    Tobener said the high settlement amount reflected both what he called Lama’s “egregiousbehavior in raising the rent and the risk Lama ran in allowing the case to go to trial, where a jury could award triple damages for his client’s emotional distress claims.

    “It’s the highest constructive-eviction-by-rent-increase case we’ve ever had,” Tobener said, adding that such cases typically settle for amounts “in the high five figures.”

    Tobener said that under the city’s owner-move-in ordinance, Lama would have been required to pay Follingstad $9,522 for forcing her to move.

    Lama sought to move in to the property early in 2015 after removing an illegal in-law unit that had been built at the Bocana Street property in the early 1990s. That would have had the effect of making the dwelling a single-family home and thus exempt by state law from local rent control statutes.

    “Their defense was, hey, they took the lower rental unit off the market, they took out the kitchen, and therefore it became a single-family home, so they were allowed to increase the rent to whatever they wanted,” Tobener said. “Our argument was, ‘Look, you can increase the rent to market rate, but you can’t raise it way above market rate to force someone out to get around the owner-move-in eviction protections.’ ”

    Tobener said evidence made it clear Lama wanted Follingstad out simply so she could move in.

    “The intent was there, the bad motivation was there, and a jury would have heard that if Nadia Lama had done this right, she could have done an owner-move-in eviction for $9,500. Instead, she took the unscrupulous path and caused the tenant a lot of stress.”

    For Follingstad, an acupuncturist, the outcome is bittersweet. She said Tuesday she was “shocked and super-pleased” with the settlement. But she added that events since she was forced to leave the Bocana Street in early May 2015 property have been difficult.

    She spent more than a year couch-surfing and house-sitting inside and outside the city before she found a new apartment in San Francisco.

    She said the housing challenge pales in comparison to her main preoccupation for most of the last year: breast cancer, which was diagnosed last May, a year after she left Bernal Heights.

    “It was a really hard year on top of another really bad year,” she said.

Lawsuit Filings Accusing NYC Landlords Of Intimidation, Harassment To Drive Rent Regulated Tenants Out Of Their Homes Continue

In Bushwick, Brooklyn, DNAinfo (NYC) reports:
  • A Brooklyn superintendent is waging a campaign of intimidation and sexual harassment on the tenants of two buildings, telling residents that the neighborhood used to be a "n--ger area" and the landlord now wants "upper crust whites," according to two lawsuits.(1)

    The building handyman, Peter Minic, who is identified as Peter Doe in court papers, told one female tenant that he would like to "take [her] and give her a good f---k," threatened to move a drug dealer into an empty apartment to beat up another resident and offered repeated buyout offers despite renters' insistence they want to stay in their homes, according to sworn statements from multiple tenants.

    And the landlords, brothers Graham and Gregory Jones of GRJ LLC and Dallien Realty, who explained to The New York Times that they built their real estate empire by buying up buildings and getting rid of rent-regulated tenants, stand by Minic after four months of tenant complaints, warning letters from lawyers and two lawsuits.
    Beyond the harassment allegations in those two buildings, a group of disabled tenants in a third Jones brothers building at 946 Bushwick Ave. recently sued in federal court(2) to keep them from cutting off the building's only elevator during repairs that could last for up to six months.

    The brothers — who described a "track record" of purchasing old buildings and selling them for millions more a few short years later on their website — made their foray into Bushwick real estate last August, when they bought the three rent-stabilized buildings with about 100 apartments for a combined $27.5 million, property records show.

    About a week after the purchases, Minic unleashed a campaign of verbal and sexual harassment on several tenants, according to court affidavits.
    Despite tenant complaints going back to August, the landlords defend Minic, while admitting he was "rough around the edges."

    Caitrin Coccoma, a lawyer with Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A,(3) said that when she alerted the landlord about tenant harassment in September, Jones defended the super.

    "I'm not going to bring on someone else to do the repair work when Peter is more qualified," Jones wrote back on Oct. 3.

    When asked Friday about the slew of accusations detailed in two housing court allegations, Jones called them "categorically false."
For the story, see Landlords Use Abusive Super in Bid to Boot Out Rent-Reg Tenants, Suits Say.
(1) For the lawsuits, see:
(2) See Collado, et. al. v. 946 Bushwick Ave., LLC, et al.

(3) Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A is a non-profit public interest law firm that provides legal services (full legal representation, brief advice/services, and legal education) to low-moderate income individuals, families, not-for-profit community-based organizations (CBOs), and community development corporations (CDCs) in Brooklyn and throughout New York City.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Recently Revised HUD Policy On Reverse Mortgages To Protect Surviving Widowed Spouses From Foreclosure Not Working As Hoped, Say Housing, Senior Rights Advocates

In Northern California, the East Bay Times reports:
  • Reverse mortgages, which are typically used to supplement retirement income, allow homeowners to relinquish equity in their home in exchange for regular payments. In the past, just one spouse was often listed on the reverse mortgage application as a way of qualifying for a higher amount or in instances where the other spouse was not yet 62.

    But there was a downside many homeowners didn’t anticipate: If the mortgage wasn’t in someone’s name, the remaining occupant had to either pay back the loan or face foreclosure.

    In 2015, following intense pressure from lawmakers and lawsuits, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development updated its policy on reverse mortgages in response to a federal court ruling to allow the surviving partner to remain in the home and for HUD to take over the loan for the remainder of the surviving spouse’s life. But housing and senior rights advocates say it hasn’t exactly worked out that way.

    “Whether the breakdown is that there aren’t adequate rules, that they are not enforcing the rules or simply failing to do everything within their authority to help seniors stay in their homes, the hardship is real and needs to be fixed,” said Kevin Stein, deputy director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, a nonprofit housing rights and advocacy group based in San Francisco. “These people have recently experienced the death of a loved one, only to have the unexpected loss of their housing. It’s the worst possible double whammy.”

    In an attempt to learn whether the new rule was helping seniors, the California Reinvestment Coalition filed a Freedom of Information Act request last year asking HUD how many people in the country had applied for something known as a “Mortgagee Optional Election Assignment” seeking to remain in a home. It was shocked to learn that just 100 people had sought the benefit and only one-third were approved.

    “What this says to us is that either HUD and/or the servicers are not publicizing this policy, a policy they were essentially forced to do as a result of lawsuits,” Stein said.
For more, see Reverse mortgages costing some surviving spouses their homes (New law was supposed to protect older homeowners. Now, advocates aren’t so sure it’s actually working).

Screwed-Over Elderly Homebuyers Claim Their Retirement Homes Were Peddled As Primary Residences, Now Face The Boot After Learning That Community Is Licensed For Holiday, Vacation Use Only; Meanwhile, Local Real Estate Taxing Authority Continues Clipping Them For Charges Based On Primary Home Status

In Christchurch, England, UK, the Daily Echo reports:
  • RESIDENTS of a ‘holiday park’ facing eviction were mis-sold their homes, it has been claimed.

    The Daily Echo received a letter purportedly from the Tall Trees Home Owners’ Association which said many residents at the site, in Matchams Lane, “were led to believe that it was possible to live on the park permanently, as long as an emergency contact address was supplied”.

    Christchurch council says the park only has planning permission for use as holiday accommodation and it now plans to evict the residents, the majority of whom are retirees in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

    However, as the letter claims correctly, the council has been charging the residents the full band A council tax - £1,160 for 2016/17 - rather than the reduced holiday home rate.

    The letter states: “Prospective buyers were advised that Tall Trees Park enjoys a 12 Months, Full Use Licence, which is correct. What they omitted were the words ‘as a holiday park’. This constitutes mis-selling.”

    It further claims that only some of the contracts received by residents included the words “holiday use”.

    Also, it says: “Over the past four years purchasers were also quoted the band A council tax charge in the information pack, a crucial factor indicating acceptance by Christchurch Borough Council that Tall Trees is a residential park homes business.”

    The letter concludes: “We may have been gullible and naive when we bought our homes, but had no idea the hundreds of thousands of pounds we have cumulatively spent on our ‘forever homes’ could cause the stress this action has caused.

    “Several people have been seriously ill since this enforcement action was started, ranging from sleeplessness to strokes and heart attacks.”

    The Daily Echo has contacted park operator South Coast Park Homes for a response to these claims but has not received a reply.

    Christchurch council has acknowledged collecting band A council tax from residents, but said the decision was made by an external body.

    There are 88 plots on the site of which 76 have mobile homes, ranging in value from £100,000 to £300,000.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Convicted Ex-Lawyer Ordered To Reimburse $329K To State's Client Security Fund For Money Shelled Out To Some Of His Embezzlement Victims

In Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, The Oklahoman reports:
  • A former Norman attorney was ordered Monday [January 9] to pay more than a half-million dollars in restitution stemming from an embezzlement scheme that his attorney blamed on "an alcoholic downward spiral."(1)

    In 2011, Dane Thomas Wilson was a personal injury attorney who would receive funds from insurance companies upon settlement of his clients' claims, according to court documents.

    But Oklahoma City federal prosecutors alleged many of Wilson's clients never received any money from the settlements obtained on their behalf.

    Wilson, now 61, was charged in February with wire fraud and willful failure to file a 2011 federal income tax return. He pleaded guilty to both counts the same month.

    Wilson admitted he deposited client funds into a client trust account but would write checks and make cash withdrawals from the account that exceeded attorney fees, according to prosecutors.

    "The victims and loss amounts are a result of Mr. Wilson embezzling his clients' insurance money while he represented them as their attorney on personal injury cases in 2011 and while he was in an alcoholic downward spiral," Wilson's attorney wrote in a court document.

    U.S. District Judge Timothy D. DeGuisti sentenced Wilson in December to 30 months in prison for the crimes.

    On Monday, the judge ordered Wilson to pay $329,398 in restitution to the Oklahoma Bar Association, which has reimbursed some of Wilson's clients through the Client Security Fund.(2)

    Wilson was ordered to pay $141,772 to 19 other former clients in various amounts ranging from about $200 to more than $75,000.

    Wilson was ordered to pay $53,836 to the IRS.

    Wilson was admitted into the Oklahoma Bar Association in 1999. The Oklahoma Supreme Court approved his resignation in February 2012.
Source: Former Norman attorney ordered to pay more than half a million dollars in restitution.
(1) See, generally, Frederick Miller, "If You Can't Trust Your Lawyer .... ?", 138 Univ. of Pennsylvania Law Rev. 785 (1990) for more on the apparent, long-standing tolerance for deceit by many in the legal profession (although Professor Miller's essay is over a quarter-century old, it appears that his observations maintain their vitality to this day):
  • This tolerance to deception is encouraged by the profession's institutional civility. Seldom is a fig called a fig, or a shyster a shyster. No, our euphemisms are wonderfully polite: "frivolous conduct," or a "lack of candor;" or "law-office failure;" or, heaven forbid, a "peculation," a "defalcation," or a "negative balance" in a law firms's trust account.

    There is also widespread reluctance on the part of lawyers --- again, some lawyers --- to discuss publicly, much less acknowledge, that they have colleagues who engage in deceit and unprofessional conduct.

    This reluctance is magnified when the brand of deceit involves the theft of client money and property, notwithstanding that most lawyers would agree that stealing from clients is the ultimate ethical transgression.
    The fact is, however, that theft of client property is not an insignificant or isolated problem within the legal profession. Indeed, it is a hounding phenomenon nationwide, and probably the principal reason why most lawyers nationwide are disbarred from the practice of law.

(2) The Clients' Security Fund is a fund established by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reimburse clients who suffer loss of money or other property from the dishonest conduct of their Oklahoma-licensed attorney. The Fund is a remedy of last resort for clients who cannot be repaid or recover money from other sources, such as insurance, a bonding company or from the attorney involved. Claimants are expected to make reasonable efforts to collect from these other sources first before submitting a claim to the Fund.

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.

Accused Of Pilfering Over $900K In Trust Account Cash, Sleazy Attorney Now Faces Add'l Allegations For Pocketing Thousand$ More From Family Facing Foreclosure; Cons Them Into Signing Over Their Deed & Moving Out, Then Arranges To Flip Home To Unwitting Buyer In Rent-To-Own Scam

In Tampa, Florida, WFTS-TV reports:
  • Hiring a lawyer may be one of the most important decisions you will ever make, but when an attorney fails to represent their clients' best interest, the fallout can be devastating.

    As the I-Team uncovered, a local attorney is now under suspension by the Florida Bar Association, after bank records show he spent nearly a million dollars of clients' money at casinos, gun stores and fancy restaurants.

    “We loved that house. It hurt to leave,” said Janet Crawford.

    Janet and her husband Tom hired Tampa attorney James Lee Clark to save their Wesley Chapel home from foreclosure.

    “We were getting behind in payments on the house. My husband was sick, he had a heart attack,” said Janet Crawford.

    They paid Clark thousands, then followed his advice and signed their deed over to a company owned by Clark's paralegal and former roommate Eric Liebman.

    “They all worked together. They seemed like they were a team. And I trusted my lawyer,” said Janet Crawford.

    The Crawfords moved out, after they say they were told Liebman would pay them $5,000 and the bank would forgive their loan.

    But they say they got nothing.

    Liebman quickly leased the house to another of Clark's clients, who made a down payment and made monthly payments for nearly two years, believing they were leasing to own the home.

    She filed for bankruptcy to try to keep the bank from taking it, but the bank ended up foreclosing, giving them just days to move out.

    The Crawfords didn't know that Clark had been placed on probation by the Florida Bar Association while he was handling their case for failing to diligently represent other clients.

    “I didn't do research. I should have done research,” said Janet Crawford.

    “It appears as though Mr. Clark removed over $900,000 of my client's money,” said Morgan & Morgan Attorney L. Reed Bloodworth.

    Bloodworth’s clients are now suing Clark, alleging Clark took money the client received from selling two assisted living facilities.

    “I don't know if that are any assets left to recover for my clients,” Bloodworth said.

    The Florida Bar subpoenaed hundreds of pages of bank records related to that case, which appear to show Clark transferred money from his client's trust accounts into his own bank account.

    They show Clark spent more than $518,000 at the Hard Rock Casino, $13,000 at bars and liquor stores, $21,000 at gun stores and $17,000 on meals at a casino steakhouse.

    Clark also paid for vacations in the Bahamas, London, Paris and Amsterdam.

    “Using other people's money to enjoy himself, it makes me pissed off. I want him disbarred and thrown in jail as well,” said Janet Crawford.

    The Bar suspended Clark from practicing law last month.

    After multiple attempts to locate Clark, we found him working on his BMW at his South Tampa home, which is under foreclosure.

    “I can't talk about it. I'm sorry,” Clark told us.
    You can log on to the Florida Bar Association’s website to find out if any licensed attorney has been disciplined.
Source: Tampa lawyer accused of bilking nearly $1 Million from clients' trust accounts (Attorney was already on probation by Florida Bar).

For story update, see Disciplined lawyer petitions Florida Supreme Court to revoke his license (Suspended attorney has three active Bar complaints):
  • A Tampa attorney who the Florida Bar is investigating now plans to surrender his law license.

    James Lee Clark is currently facing three investigations by the Florida Bar.

    In a document he filed [earlier this month] with the Florida Supreme Court, Clark agreed to surrender his license in exchange for the bar dismissing the pending disciplinary cases against him. Clark is accused of misappropriating nearly a million dollars from a client's trust account. land contract for deed

Now-Disbarred Long Island Lawyer Cops Guilty Plea To Screwing Over Brooklyn Landlords By Pilfering Over $5.7 Million In Mortgage Refinancing Proceeds Out Of Escrow Account; Loan Was Secured By Eight Properties

From the Office of the Nassau County, New York District Attorney:
  • Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced that a West Hempstead attorney who stole more than $5.7 million from clients between September 2012 and February 2014 pleaded guilty [] to grand larceny charges.

    David Frankel, 52, pleaded guilty [...] to Grand Larceny in the 1st Degree (a B felony). The defendant is due back in court on March 1 for sentencing. The NCDA is recommending that the defendant be sentenced to five to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution.

    “In less than a year and a half, this defendant pilfered more than $5 million from his clients and egregiously used that money to fund his unsuccessful investments,” DA Singas said. “David Frankel was supposed to represent the best interests of his clients, but instead he defrauded them.”

    DA Singas said that Frankel represented seven realty companies between June 13, 2012. and September 12, 2012, with overlapping ownership in eight Brooklyn properties. The properties were refinanced and $5,769,281.17 was placed in escrow into an Interest on Lawyer Account, commonly known as an IOLA account. The companies were held by relatives and the principals were deciding how to distribute the funds.

    Several days after the money was deposited into the account, Frankel began drawing on it and using the money to fund his own unsuccessful investments and to make payments in unrelated real estate transactions. The account, in which other unrelated money was periodically deposited, was drawn down to a balance of $836.81 by February 28, 2014. Frankel was not authorized to use the funds for any purposes other than distributing them as instructed by the principals of the companies.

    The NCDA was alerted to the allegations and an investigation was opened in December 2015. The defendant was disbarred in October 2015.
Source: West Hempstead Real Estate Attorney Pleads Guilty to Stealing More Than $5.7 Million from Clients (David Frankel, 52, stole real estate proceeds to fund his own investments).

Lawyer Avoids Bar Boot, Gets 1 Year Suspension After Her Paralegal Filched $16K+ In Real Estate Escrow Funds; Payment Of Full Restitution To Victimized Client Mitigates In Attorney's Favor, Despite Keeping Crappy Escrow Financial Records, Allowing Non-Attorney Perpetrator To Be Signatory On Fiduciary Account, BS-ing Grievance Committee During Probe

Law360 reports:
  • The New Jersey Supreme Court has imposed a retroactive, reciprocal one-year suspension on an attorney who was disciplined in New York after her secretary stole from her real estate client escrow account,(1) according to an order and decision posted Friday [January 13].

    The high court’s Thursday order directed the suspension of Yana Shtindler to be retroactive to September 2013, the date she was administratively suspended from practicing law in the Garden State.
Source: NJ Atty Suspended For Paralegal's Theft Of Client Funds.
(1) Among the attorney's bad acts:
  • failure to safeguard escrow funds entrusted to her as a fiduciary, incident to her practice of law;
  • failure to maintain a ledger book or similar record of deposits into and withdrawals from her attorney escrow account;
  • misleading the client and another of client's attorneys that, despite numerous demands for the $16,386 in escrow funds in connection with a real estate closing which were at issue in this matter, she had the funds in escrow, when she knew or should have known that she did not have the money;
  • knowingly making false or misleading statements to the Grievance Committee;
  • failure to adequately supervise her paralegal; and
  • improperly authorized a nonattorney to be a signatory on her escrow account.
Among the mitgating factors allowing her to dodge the bar boot, getting away with nothing more than a one year license suspension were:
  • she made full restitution to the client;
  • her remorse;
  • her general reputation as an ethical and honest attorney.
See Matter of Shtindler, 2013 NY Slip Op 02583, 106 AD3d 173 (NY App. Div, 2d Dept. 2013).

Ex-Legal Secretary With History Of Financial Trouble Gets Bagged (Finally?) For Allegedly Fleecing About $200K From Clients Of Her (Snoozing?) Law Firm Employers; Indictment Lists 11 Victims; Handiwork Dates Back To At Least 2007; Prosecutor: "There’s No Telling How Long It Went On!"

In Elyria, Ohio, The Chronicle-Telegram reports:
  • A former secretary at two law firms has been indicted for allegedly stealing about $200,000 in funds from legal clients dating back at least to 2007.

    Cheryl Guthman, 50, faces 36 counts of theft and six counts of tampering with records, according to a secret indictment unsealed [] after her arrest.

    Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said Guthman used a variety of means over the years to steal from the clients of the law firms she worked for, including altering checks, writing checks to herself and taking cash from clients and keeping it. Guthman appears to have spent the money on her own expenses, he said.

    “She was basically shuffling quite a bit of money around,” Will said.

    He said his office launched an investigation into Guthman after irregularities were found by county Probate Judge James Walther and his staff last spring. Will said although the investigation went as far back as 2007, the thefts may have started earlier.

    There’s no telling how long it went on,” he said.

    Walther said his office noticed problems in the finances of a bank account linked to the estate of Emma Rothgery, who was the aunt of Kenneth Rothgery, head of Rothgery and Associates, where Guthman worked until she went to work for Smith, Illner and Gemelas a few years ago.

    Rothgery had served as the guardian of his aunt and later as executor of her estate, Walther said. The guardianship account also had problems as did other accounts linked to work Guthman had done, he said. The indictment listed a total of 11 victims.

    “When we became aware of it we started running all of the cases she had been involved with, and when we discovered something, we turned it over to the prosecutor,” the judge said.
    Guthman appears to have had financial problems over the years based on a review of court records that show unpaid taxes, civil liens, foreclosure lawsuits and a bankruptcy filing that date to the mid-1990s.