Saturday, February 04, 2017

Recently Disbarred Alabama Attorney Gets Two Years For Pilfering Over $430K In Trust Funds From Seven Clients; Similar Charges Remain Pending In Neighboring County For Allegedly Fleecing $132K From Two Others

In Birmingham, Alabama, reports:
  • Suspended Birmingham lawyer Ralph Bohanan was sentenced [] by a Jefferson County judge to serve two years in prison for his guilty plea to charges related to the theft of $431,141 from seven clients, including at least two senior citizens.

    Bohanan, 64, also faces a thefts first-degree charge in Shelby County alleging he took $132,000 from two other people.(1)

    Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bill Cole on Wednesday sentenced Bohanan to a split 20-year sentence with three years to serve. But the judge said he would lower the time to serve down to two years if Bohanan showed up on time to turn himself in to begin serving his sentence on Feb. 6.

    Bohanan had pleaded guilty in October to seven theft by deception charges. The charges were among 17 counts issued against him by two Jefferson County grand juries - one in 2015 and the other in 2016. The other counts, which included elder exploitation, unauthorized practice of law, and theft first degree charges, are being dismissed in the plea deal.

    Cole also ordered Bohanan to serve five years on probation after he is released and to pay a total of $431,141 in restitution to the seven victims. The amounts taken ranged from $4,994 to $176,617.(2)
    Bohanan was suspended from the practice of law by the Alabama State Bar in 2015. The bar had referred the Jefferson County cases to the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office. He was then disbarred effective December 15, 2016, by order of the Alabama Supreme Court, according to the Alabama Bar.

    The charges against Bohanan from both Jefferson and Shelby counties, according to various court documents, involve money won in settlements or verdicts that Bohanan was supposed to disburse to clients but didn't.

    Bohanan on Jan. 10 waived a preliminary hearing in the Shelby County case, which has now been turned over to the grand jury for possible indictment. In that case Bohanan is charged with taking $132,000 from two clients.

    Cole [] also ordered that Bohanan's sentence be served concurrently with whatever sentence he receives in Shelby County. Bohanan also will get credit for the time he spent in jail while his charges were pending.

    Bohanan also faces civil lawsuits by former clients.
For the story, see Birmingham lawyer sentenced for $431,141 theft from clients.
(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 (while 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 Client Security Fund was established by the Alabama State Bar to provide a remedy for clients who have lost money or other property as a result of the dishonest conduct of practicing attorneys. It provides some reimbursement to clients whose money or property has been wrongfully taken by attorneys licensed to practice law in Alabama. Download the Alabama State Bar's Client Security Fund Application here.

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.

Lawyer Who Pilfered $593K From Clients, Another Who Failed To Disburse Over $1.5 Million In Foreclosure Sale Proceeds Among Five Illinois Lawyers Disciplined By State Supremes For Playing Fast & Loose With Clients' Cash

On Jan. 17, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission announced the Illinois Supreme Court has disbarred four attorneys and suspended eight others.

Of those disciplined, the following five (5) were either disbarred or suspended for allegedly misappropriating or otherwise mishandling their clients' funds:(1)(2)

  • Michael J. O’Malley, of Schaumburg. The ARDC alleged he had “misappropriated $593,000 from six separate clients and attempted to mislead one … by sending them a copy of an order that had not been entered in court.”

    Sean P. Fleming, of Barrington. According to the ARDC release, Fleming “neglected 10 different bankruptcy matters, misappropriated over $3,000 in filing fees, made misrepresentations to his clients about the status of their legal matters and failed to return unearned fees.”
  • Laurence Kallen, of Oak Park, was suspended on an interim basis, and until further order of the court, while the ARDC considers a four-count complaint against him. The ARDC said Kallen is alleged to have failed to disburse more than $1.5 million in foreclosure sale proceeds from four different property sales;

    David M. Schrauth, of Winnetka, for three years and until further order of the court, after he allegedly “neglected a client’s foreclosure matter, dishonestly used his client’s retainer payment for his own purposes without authority, failed to return unearned fees to his client and engaged in a pattern of misrepresenting the status of the mortgage foreclosure matter to his client;”

    Harry A. Schroeder, of Chicago Heights, for one year and until further order of the court, for allegedly mishandling seven cases and not refunding $8,800 in fees.
Source: Cook County Record: Ex-Wrigley rooftop owner among four lawyers disbarred, eight suspended in Illinois in January.
(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 Client Protection Program of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) was established by the Supreme Court of Illinois to provide reimbursement to clients who have lost money or property because of dishonest conduct by lawyers admitted to practice law in the State of Illinois. The Program reimburses clients who cannot get reimbursement from the lawyers who caused their losses, or from other sources such as insurance. (But see Stolen Inheritances: I-Team lawyer warning, in which one Illinois victim said of the program, "Their rules are vague, ambiguous and they are applied at their own discretion, and you can't get a straight answer[.]")

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.

Another Lawyer Gets Bar Boot; NJ Supremes Yank Attorney's Law License For Ripping Off His Clients, Law Firm Of Over $350K

Law360 reports:
  • The New Jersey Supreme Court has disbarred a malpractice attorney who deposited more than $350,000 in client funds from his Haddonfield firm into his own account, according to a high court order and ethics decision made public on Thursday [January 19].(1)(2)

    The justices’ Wednesday [January 18] order stripping Jack S. Cohen of his license to practice law followed the recommendation of the state Disciplinary Review Board. The unanimous vote was cast in November by seven of the DRB’s nine members; two members didn’t participate.
For more, see NJ Atty Disbarred For Misappropriating Client Funds.
(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 (while 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 New Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection was established to reimburse clients who have suffered a loss due to dishonest conduct of a member of the New Jersey Bar.

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

Another Aging Lawyer To Begin Retirement Years In Prison, Getting Four Years For Embezzling Over $600K From Over A Dozen Clients

In Cleveland, Ohio, WOIO-TV Channel 19 reports:
  • A former Cleveland attorney was sentenced [] to four years in prison for stealing more than $600,000 from clients.(1)

    [Paul] Kaufman, 67, of Shaker Heights, had been charged with one count of theft, 20 counts of identity fraud, and 20 counts of forgery. The offenses took place between 2009 and 2014.

    Investigators said Kaufman would win judgments or settlements for his clients, forge their names on checks, and pocket the funds. They said that sometimes he eventually paid his clients some or all of their money -- though usually only after repeated complaints -- and sometimes he never gave them anything.

    There were at least 15 victims.

    Some of his clients have been made whole or at least partially compensated through the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection,(2) a program created by the Ohio Supreme Court to reimburse victims of attorney theft, embezzlement or misappropriation.(3) Money in the fund comes from registration fees paid by every Ohio attorney.
Source: Former attorney gets 4 years for stealing more than $600K from clients.
(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 (while 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) See Fund for Client Protection Reimburses $189,000 to the Victims of One Attorney.

(3) 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.

Lawyer Earns Bar Boot Over Misappropriated Client Funds, Failure To Maintain Trust Account, Failure To Provide Accounting For Services Provided, Refusal To Refund Unearned Fees, Referring To Retainer Fees As "Non-Refundable", Etc.; One Victim Credits Publicity From Local Media Consumer Troubleshooter For Initiating Probe

In Fargo, North Dakota, Valley News Live reports:
  • An investigation that Valley News Live has been following for nearly two years closed a chapter today [January 18].

    After a number of complaints brought to Valley News Live on our Whistleblower Hotline regarding attorney, Jesse Matson, the Minnesota Supreme Court disbars the attorney effective immediately.

    The Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility in St. Paul, Minnesota, filed a petition for disciplinary action against Matson.

    The Minnesota Supreme Court says that Jesse Matson’s misconduct happened over the course of three years.

    Seven Minnesota clients(1) and three North Dakota clients(2) stepped forward to complain to the Supreme Court.

    Three of those clients, called us on our Whistleblower Hotline. We spoke with them because they said Matson scammed them out of thousands of dollars.

    The State of Minnesota in Supreme Court document says, "Disbarment is the appropriate discipline for an attorney who misappropriated client funds, made false statements to clients, fabricated a document, neglected and abandoned numerous clients, failed to abide by court rules, filed a frivolous motion, failed to place client funds in trust, failed to return unearned fees, used improper fee agreements,(3) failed to cooperate with the investigation of several disciplinary complaints, and was suspended by the North Dakota Supreme Court. Disbarred."

    Matson also failed to cooperate in six disciplinary investigations.

    On August 31st, 2015, the North Dakota Supreme Court suspended Matson for 6 months and 1 day.

    Typically, North Dakota and Minnesota will react with reciprocal action. And we're told that North Dakota will be going through the reciprocal discipline procedure.

    As for Matson, his brief describes his struggles with his mental health, suffering from severe depression and PTSD. Claiming that caused him to lose the ability to function utterly and completely.

    We tried reaching out to Matson on the news of his disbarment, but the numbers previously given were not in service anymore.

    One of Matson's clients, Scott Heggestuen, says he is thankful for KVLY's help.

    "If it wasn't for you guys, you're the only ones that took it serious when I called all these other places. Nobody would listen, but Valley News Live did," Heggestuen says.
For the story, see After Valley News Live investigated allegations against Jesse Matson, Minnesota Supreme Court disbars attorney.

For the disbarment order, see In re Matson, A16-0137 (Minn. January 18, 2017).
(1) The Minnesota Client Security Fund was established by the Minnesota Supreme Court to aid those persons who suffer a loss because of dishonest conduct on the part of a lawyer during the course of an attorney-client relationship in this state. The fund may reimburse up to $150,000 for dishonest conduct committed by a Minnesota lawyer.

(2) The Client Security Fund of the State Bar Association of North Dakota was established to reimburse clients who have suffered a loss due to dishonest conduct of a member of the North Dakota Bar committed in the course of an attorney-client relationship, or other fiduciary capacity between the lawyer and claimant. Go here for Claim Form.

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.

(3) The nature of some of the misconduct, according to the disbarment order:
  • failure to maintain a client trust account;
  • acceptance of retainer fees from clients and failing to deposit those fees into a trust account;
  • failure to provide an accounting of any legal services provided and application of the retainer fees to those services, and failure to refund any unearned fees;
  • the improper fee agreements involved one oral contingent fee agreement not reduced to writing, and two written agreements that improperly referred to the retainer fees paid by clients as "non-refundable".

Friday, February 03, 2017

Connecticut Feds Score Guilty Plea From Sleazy Real Estate Operator Who Duped Financially Distressed Homeowners Out Of Their Homes, Then Used Vacated Houses In Rent-Skimming Racket; Defendant Copped Plea To Similar Charges In Seperate Scam Nearly 15 Year Ago

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Hartford, Connecticut):
  • Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that TIMOTHY W. BURKE, [...] 65, formerly of Easton, pleaded guilty [on January 24] before U.S. District Judge Michael P. Shea in Hartford to fraud and tax evasion offenses stemming from a long-running fraud scheme that targeted distressed homeowners.

    According to court documents and statements made in court, between approximately 2010 and November 2015, BURKE engaged in a scheme to defraud individuals, mortgage lenders and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by falsely representing to homeowners who were in, or facing, foreclosure on their homes that he would purchase their homes and pay off their mortgages.

    The distressed homeowners agreed to sign various documents, including quitclaim deeds, indemnification agreements, management agreements and third party authorization letters, which BURKE presented to them on the understanding that, by signing the documents, they would be able to walk away from their homes without the burdens of their mortgage or other costs associated with home ownership. BURKE also told homeowners that the process of negotiating with the lenders can take time and that, in the meantime, to ignore any notices regarding foreclosure. After he gained control of these houses, BURKE rented out the properties to tenants by advertising the properties on and other means and falsely representing to tenants that BURKE owned the property.

    BURKE or one of his agents then collected rent from tenants, in person, and BURKE used the funds for his own benefit. BURKE failed to negotiate with the homeowners’ mortgage lender or pay expenses associated with the home, including the homeowner’s mortgages and property taxes, and he failed to pay any rental income he was collecting to the homeowners. Many of the properties BURKE purportedly purchased were ultimately foreclosed upon by the mortgage lender.

    BURKE undertook extensive efforts to disguise his true identity, and hide his criminal past, from his victims through the use of multiple aliases and business entities, and to conceal the sources of and expenditures from his criminal proceeds. BURKE has been associated with multiple entities, including Quality Asset Management Services, LLC; Birmingham Investments, LLC; the Birmingham Group of Companies; Saunders Associates; New Haven Investments; Realty Partners Group; Preston Associates II; Landlord Maintenance Services, LLC; Turnkey Construction Services LLC; The Complete Handyman, LLC; and Woodbridge Associates.

    In addition, between 1994 and 2012, BURKE evaded paying approximately $403,726 in federal taxes.

    In 2002, BURKE was indicted by a federal grand jury in New Jersey on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, and equity skimming. BURKE subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit both equity skimming and mail fraud, and he was sentenced to 60 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. BURKE was released from federal custody in approximately August 2007 and began his federal supervised release at that time. One of the special conditions of BURKE’s supervised release was that he refrain from employment in the real estate business or mortgage industry. Based on his motion for early termination of his supervised release, the New Jersey federal court terminated his supervised release approximately one year early in August 2009.

Providence Feds Bust Racket That Allegedly Tricked At Least 14 Homeowners Seeking Foreclosure Help Out Of Their Homes, Then Flipped Vacated Houses To Duped Investors In Fraudulent Short Sale Scam

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Providence, Rhode Island):
  • A 14-count federal indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Providence charges two individuals, Hasan Hussain, 55, of Princeton, N.J., and Ricardo Abreu, 50, of Cranston, R.I., with allegedly participating in a conspiracy to defraud financial institutions, investors and financially distressed homeowners of at least 14 properties in Providence, Pawtucket and Cranston of fees, rental income, mortgage payment funds, property ownership and/or proceeds from the sale of their properties.
    It is alleged that Hasan Hussain, through his various enterprises, with the assistance of employee and co-conspirator Ricardo Abreu, offered distressed homeowners loan modification, property management and property short sales services for a fee. Instead, it is alleged, the defendants conspired to fraudulently steal those funds, and to acquire and sell at least fourteen properties owned by distressed homeowners, many of whom are not fluent in English.

    It is alleged that as part of the scheme, Hussain instructed distressed homeowners to vacate their properties while he worked to acquire loan modifications or short sales on their behalf. After taking control of the properties, Hussain not only pocketed fees and mortgage payments provided by the homeowners, he rented out some of the properties and pocketed rental payments without the owners’ knowledge.

    It is also alleged that as part of the scheme, Hussain and Abreu acquired the properties in short sales and then solicited investors to purchase these properties at much higher prices thereby earning substantial profit. It is alleged that Abreu and others damaged the properties in order to reduce their appraised value prior to a bank inspection. Investors were promised investment opportunities that would require no down payment. It is alleged that the defendants caused false mortgage applications and other documentation to be filed to lending institutions for conventional bank and FHA mortgage loans for the buyers. Some of the documentation contained the names and personal identifying information of individuals who were unaware that their information was being used.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Bay Area Federal Lead Paint Police Announce 12 Settlements Against Contractors That Allegedly Failed To Follow Rules Regulating Renovations Of Pre-1978-Built Homes & Elementary Schools

From the Office of the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (San Francisco, California - Region 7):
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced 12 enforcement actions taken over the past year against renovation firms that failed to comply with federal lead-based paint rules. The settlements, totaling more than $80,000, involved renovation projects at schools and homes throughout the Bay Area.

    Eleven violations involved firms seeking construction work at San Francisco Unified School District elementary schools without obtaining EPA certification to perform renovations involving lead-based paint. The settlements, totaling $42,000, were filed between March and October 2016. The school district now requires companies to be EPA-certified to bid on any similar future school projects.
    This month, EPA also reached a $38,990 settlement with Best Value Home Improvements, an Oakland-based general contractor. An EPA inspection found that, in working on four residential properties in Alameda, Millbrae, Oakland, and Piedmont between 2013 and 2014, the contractor failed to:
  • Become certified by EPA to perform residential work.
  • Keep complete records documenting whether the work followed lead-safe practices.
  • Common renovation activities like sanding, cutting and demolition can create hazardous lead dust and chips. When companies fail to follow lead-safe practices, the resulting lead dust and chips can contaminate surrounding surfaces. Exposure to such contamination through hand-to-mouth contact or breathing can result in lead poisoning for children, families and construction workers.

    Though harmful at any age, lead exposure is most dangerous to children. Children’s growing bodies absorb more lead, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to its damaging effects. Lead exposure can cause behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems and diminished IQ.

    The Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule was created to protect the public from lead-based paint hazards that occur during repair or remodeling activities in homes and child-occupied facilities, such as schools, that were built before 1978. The rule requires that individuals performing renovations are properly trained and certified, provide lead hazard information, and follow specific lead-safe work practices during renovations.

    Contractors that are certified under the Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule are encouraged to display EPA's "Lead-Safe" logo on worker's uniforms, signs, and websites. Consumers can protect themselves by looking for the logo before hiring a home contractor, and by being aware of whether a renovator is following lead-safe work practices when working on their property.

    Learn about lead-based paint requirements and hazards.

    Find a certified contractor in your area.

    Notify EPA about lead-based paint rule violations in California.
For more, including the list of the other eleven companies bagged by the San Francisco office of the lead paint police, see U.S. EPA protects Bay Area residents from hazardous lead paint.

Midwest Lead Paint Cops Bag Nearly Three Dozen Contractors, Landlords During Fiscal Year Ending September, 2016 For Alleged Violations Of Rules Regulating Renovation Of Pre-1978-Built Residential Property; 123 Settlements Reached Nationally By EPA, Pocketing Over $1 Million In Penalties

From the Office of the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (Lenexa, Kansas - Region 7):
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that 33 entities in the Heartland states of Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska were the target of federal enforcement actions over the last year that require entities like renovation contractors, landlords, and property managers to protect communities and public health from exposure to lead.

    Lead paint is the main way people are exposed to lead in the U.S., and lead exposure can cause a range of health problems from behavioral disorders and learning disabilities to seizures and death, putting young children and their developing nervous systems at the greatest risk.

    “Renovation companies and their contractors must protect children and other vulnerable people from lead-based paint exposure, especially in minority and low-income communities where housing with lead-based paint is more common,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “These enforcement actions show that EPA will hold companies accountable when they put public health at risk, and they promote a level playing field for businesses that follow the rules.”

    From October 2015 through September 2016, EPA entered into 123 settlements nationally for alleged violations of one or more of the three lead-based paint rules: Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule; Lead Disclosure Rule; and Lead-based Paint Activities Rule for abatements – and filed six complaints for ongoing actions. Each settlement requires that the alleged violator return to compliance and, in most cases, pay civil penalties. Collectively, the settlements require violators to pay $1,046,655 in penalties.

    The three rules are part of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act and the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, and apply to housing built before 1978 and child-occupied facilities. Ensuring compliance with all three rules enables EPA to identify and address a variety of lead exposure risks that occur in communities across the nation. These risks can occur when lead paint deteriorates or is disrupted during home renovation and remodeling activities. A blood lead test is the only way to determine if a child has a high lead level. Parents who think their child has been in contact with lead dust should contact their child's health care provider.
For more, including the details relating to each of the 33 companies that were bagged by the Region 7 federal lead paint police, see Enforcement Actions Help Protect Vulnerable Communities in the Region from Lead-Based Paint Health Hazards.

Landlord Agrees To Cough Up $9,800 To Settle EPA Charges Involving Alleged Failure To Follow Proper Procedures To Control Lead Dust When Prepping & Painting Exterior Of Pre-1978-Built Home

In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, The Spokesman-Review reports:
  • A Coeur d’Alene contractor was fined $9,800 for not following proper procedures to control lead dust while painting a 95-year-old house.

    David Rucker, owner of DLR Properties LLC, signed a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he neither admitted nor denied guilt.

    The problems occurred in 2015, when Rucker’s company was working on a 1912-era house at 408 Reid St. in Coeur d’Alene, according to an EPA complaint.

    While the house was being prepped for exterior painting, employees didn’t take precautions to ensure that lead dust and paint chips didn’t spread to other buildings or the adjacent properties, the complaint said.

    “The regulations are designed to protect the people living there and the employees doing the work,” said Suzanne Skadowski, an EPA spokeswoman.

    Home renovation is a frequent source of lead exposure for both children and adults, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Despite efforts to get the word out, many contractors continue to violate EPA rules for safe removal of lead-based paint that took effect in 2010, Skadowski said.

    The rules apply to paid contractors or handymen – including electricians, plumbers and painters – who work on homes built before 1978. Remodeling projects in other buildings from that era where children age 5 and younger are present, such as schools or day cares, also fall under the rules.

    A certified renovator who has taken an eight-hour class in dust management must be present at each work site to teach workers how to safely contain and clean up lead dust. Exemptions exist when the paint has been tested and is certified as lead-free.

    Lead was used as a pigment, preservative and drying agent in oil paint until 1978, when the U.S. Consumer Products Commission banned all but trace amounts. Sanding walls, repairing plaster or even removing carpet can release invisible clouds of lead dust.

    In children, lead exposure is associated with lower IQ, behavioral problems and delayed physical development. In adults, lead has been linked to low sperm counts, kidney disease and cardiovascular problems.

    Though the rules only apply to paid contractors, Skadowski also encourages home remodelers to go through EPA-certified training so they don’t unknowingly spread lead dust.

California Regulators' Soil Cleanup Plans To Be Accelerated Around Shuttered Car Battery-Smelting Plant Blamed For Spewing Lead Contaminants Around Seven L.A. County Communities For Decades, Affecting 10,000 Homes As Well As Day Care Centers, Schools, Parks; Expected Cost: Hundred$ Of Million$

In Los Angeles County, California, the Los Angeles Times reports:
  • California regulators moved [last month] to accelerate soil cleanups and other actions to prevent exposure to lead contamination at the highest-risk homes near the shuttered Exide Technologies plant in Vernon. The change of course follows months of criticism by community groups, lawmakers and health officials about government inaction.

    New guidelines issued by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control will allow for a “limited number” of residential properties posing the highest risk of lead poisoning to undergo expedited, “time critical removal actions.”

    The largest-ever cleanup of lead-contaminated homes in California has been at a standstill since June. The department argued previously that it could not complete any cleanups — even of homes whose lead levels amounted to hazardous waste — until a year-long environmental review is completed this summer.

    The cleanup spans 10,000 residential properties as well as daycare centers, schools and parks across seven southeast Los Angeles County communities surrounding the former car battery-smelting plant, which regulators blame for emitting dangerous lead contamination over decades.
    Lead, a potent neurotoxin, is most dangerous to young children who can ingest contaminated soil or dust. Even small amounts of the metal cause permanent learning and developmental deficiencies, lower IQs and behavioral problems.

    The state’s interventions at the highest-risk properties could include soil removal but could also be limited to less comprehensive measures, such as the installation of grass, mulch or rock barriers. The remediation steps would be taken only with the permission of property owners and tenants.
    Community groups and state lawmakers critical of the pace of cleanup welcomed the decision by the department to act sooner than this summer.

    “We're encouraged that there are steps forward to clean up those homes with immediate health risks, but still frustrated it’s taken this long,” said Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles). He said he spent months pushing the DTSC to address “an imminent danger to people in our neighborhood.”

    Mark Lopez, who directs East Yard Communities For Environmental Justice, welcomed the prospect of a quicker cleanup but fears a clumsy implementation, saying “there’s still a lack of trust in the department and how its contractors handle cleanup.”

    Lopez said he was also concerned the plan signaled “that barriers and ground cover will be used instead of cleanup in favor of saving time and saving money.”

    Exide agreed to close its Vernon plant permanently in March 2015 after years of environmental violations and a federal criminal investigation.
    Under legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, California allocated $176.6 million for soil testing and remediation of properties, which officials hope to recoup from Exide and any other responsible parties.

    Those funds will pay for cleaning lead from an estimated 2,500 of those parcels within a two-year period starting this summer.

    Full cleanup is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) said [] she was pleased state regulators’ decision to accelerate cleanup of the most severely contaminated homes. She urged the department to proceed “as soon as possible considering the health impacts of living with lead exposure.”

    These families have had no choice but to live in this contamination for years,” Garcia said. “They cannot afford to wait any longer. ”

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Manhattan Feds Bust Alleged Home Hijacking Racket, Accusing Pair Of Using Forged Deeds To Steal Title To Over 40 Foreclosed Homes In NYC, Miami Areas Worth $17+ Million

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (New York City):
  • Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Patricia Tarasca, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Region for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General (“FDIC-OIG”), announced the unsealing today [January 25] of an indictment charging ISSAK ALMALEH, a/k/a “Issak Izrael,” and ANTOANETA IOTOVA with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, and making false statements to the FDIC, in connection with a wide-ranging scheme to falsely claim ownership of more than $17 million worth of property in New York and Florida. [...] ALMALEH and IOTOVA were arrested [] in Hollywood, Florida,[...].

    Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Issak Almaleh and Antoaneta Iotova allegedly forged documents to falsely claim ownership over $17 million of property in New York and Florida. As alleged, the defendants’ brazen scheme led to at least one victim being wrongfully evicted from the victim’s own home and others signing leases and paying deposits to the defendants for homes the defendants did not actually own. Thanks to the work of the FDIC Office of Inspector General, the defendants’ alleged frauds have now been foreclosed.”
    According to the allegations contained in the Indictment unsealed [] in Manhattan federal court:

    From at least 2012, ALMALEH and IOTOVA have filed fraudulent and forged property deeds purporting to transfer ownership of more than 40 real properties located in New York City and the greater Miami, Florida, area, with a combined estimated market value in excess of $17 million, to entities controlled by ALMALEH and IOTOVA, specifically, New York Sport Foundation, New York Mortgage Corporation, and Women in International Relations, Inc.

    ALMALEH and IOTOVA identified properties that had been subject to foreclosure, and were owned by financial institutions insured by the FDIC. ALMALEH and IOTOVA then filed fraudulent and forged warranty deeds that supposedly reflected the transfer of these properties from the financial institutions to entities controlled by ALMALEH and IOTOVA for a nominal sum. ALMALEH, who was a commissioned notary, would notarize the documents as genuinely signed by representatives of the financial institutions. IOTOVA would sign the documents on behalf of the entities controlled by the defendants. ...

Single Asset LLCs: Prime Targets For Identity & Deed Theft?

From a recent commentary published in the South Florida Daily Business Review:
  • Surrounded by fun, sun, high rises and prime real estate, it seems like everyone wants to own a small part of South Florida for themselves. As such, we live in the epicenter of single-asset limited liability companies.

    Single-asset LLCs are typically an organizational structure where an LLC is formed to hold property as the entity's sole asset. Unfortunately, South Florida ranks as the nation's second most popular place to commit mortgage fraud.

    Single-asset LLCs are prime targets for identity theft, especially if the asset is unencumbered real estate. Why? Because single-asset LLCs rarely have more than a few members, take minimal effort to defraud and own valuable enough assets to make a fraud worthwhile.

    Criminals commit mortgage fraud against single-asset LLCs by stealing the LLC's corporate identity. An identity thief can easily identify real estate assets which are not encumbered by a mortgage through a public records search. If a real estate asset has no mortgage, an identity thief can ascertain whether the property has equity that can be stripped. Identity thieves attempt to strip equity from real estate assets by applying for and obtaining loans secured by mortgages on the property.

    In the case of a single-asset LLC, an identity thief will first attempt to amend corporate filings to put themselves in a position of authority. These changes will be reflected on the Florida Department of State website. Members of an LLC have the apparent authority to bind the LLC to obligations and liabilities. Identity thieves know the underwriter will independently check the Florida Department of State website to see if apparent authority exists. However, the underwriters do not actually verify a thief's relationship to the LLC.

    Red Flags

    The next step in the crime is to forge operating agreements and corporate resolutions authorizing the loan, if an underwriter requests. Alternatively, thieves can deed the property directly to themselves or an entity the thief controls. Once the property is deeded, the thief quickly applies for a mortgage backed loan. In most instances, identity thieves seek loans from private mortgage lenders because private lenders are less regulated than lenders subject to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. regulations.

    Though less regulated than their institutional counterparts, private mortgage lenders are required by federal regulations to have systems in place to recognize possible identity theft. Florida law also allows for disciplinary action against a private mortgage lender, even where the lender lends funds based on forged corporate records.

    Some identity theft red flags are obvious. If the new manager ascended to a position of authority at or near the time of the request for a loan, this is suspicious. Thieves want to get in and get out as quickly as possible.

    The longer the mechanics of their fraud, e.g. deeds or corporate amendments are of record, the more likely their fraud can be identified and prevented. For this reason, thieves amend corporate or public records at or near the time they request loans.

    It is an easily identifiable red flag if the new manager uses an operating agreement that is in any way inconsistent with the articles of incorporation. Stated differently, if the offered operating agreement has members that are not included in the original articles of incorporation, there is a solid chance the new member isn't really a member.

    What to do? Owners of a single-asset LLC comprised of real estate must be diligent in checking their corporate filings. Additionally, a well-thought-out asset protection plan may alert the owner of the single-asset LLC of an application for a mortgage before it's too late.
Source: Avenue for Fraud: Identity Theft and the Single-Asset LLC (may require subscription; if no subscription, TRY HERE, then click the appropriate link for the story).

Attorney Who Used Forged Documents To Dupe Unwitting Client Into Thinking He Was Paying For A Real Estate Investment Gets Frog-Marched To Begin 11 1/2 To 23 Month Sentence; Married Victim: Extreme Financial Pressures Created By $156K Fleecing Ultimately Led To Failed Marriage, Stress-Related Health Issues

From the Office of the Bucks County, Pennsylvania District Attorney:
  • A suspended lawyer was sentenced Friday [January 20] to serve 11 ½ to 23 months in the Bucks County Correctional Facility for stealing the money of a client who thought he was paying for a real estate investment.

    John Marcus Franklin, 48, of Philadelphia, also was sentenced to a concurrent seven years of probation, during which he must pay $156,350 in restitution to the former client, who said he lost his marriage and his life savings to Franklin’s chicanery.

    “This is a violation of the public trust by an officer of the court, a violation of his duty and sworn oath, and it brings disrepute to the profession of lawyers,” the victim, Mark Friel, told Bucks County President Judge Jeffrey L. Finley. “He needs to feel the shackles placed on him. He needs to smell the inside of a jail cell for what he did.”

    A short time later, Franklin was, in fact, handcuffed and led off to jail by sheriff’s deputies.

    To impose a lesser sentence, Finley told Franklin, “would send a horrific message to the community. You need to understand what it is like to be taken into custody, to be taken to a correctional facility.”

    In early 2011, Friel and his then-fiancée, who was a Realtor, hired Franklin to help them form a corporation and purchase a $200,000 investment property on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia.

    At a May 2011 closing on the property at Franklin’s law office in Bristol Borough, Friel and his fiancée signed a number of documents presented by Franklin, including a federal Housing and Urban Development form, a mortgage and a promissory note. Friel made repeated cash payments, ultimately totaling $156,350, toward the purchase price and for Franklin’s legal fees.

    Franklin created a false deed to the property and claimed to have filed it with the City of Philadelphia. He repeatedly told Friel that the city was delaying the recording of the deed. Not until 2015 did Friel learn that Franklin had pocketed his payments, had never purchased the property for him, and had forged documents to cover his tracks.

    In an interview with investigators in December 2015, Franklin admitted that he created the false deed on his computer to “stall” Friel from learning about his fraud.

    Franklin pleaded guilty on Nov. 28 to theft by deception, forgery, unlawful use of a computer and deceptive business practices. His sentence was deferred in part to give him time to raise partial restitution.

    He submitted a $25,000 check, written on his brother’s business account, prior to sentencing. Finley said he would approve of Franklin serving his sentence on work release to help him raise more money, and ordered him to repay a minimum of $1,000 per month to Friel.(1)

    “I went down a rabbit hole that I shouldn’t have gone down, and I started to play around with Mr. Friel’s money,” Franklin told Finley. He said that he originally had intended to complete the property transaction legitimately.

    Deputy District Attorney Alan J. Garabedian called it “ludicrous” to think that Franklin ever intended the deal to be a legitimate transaction. “He created a fraudulent deed from the outset,” Garabedian argued, and took advantage of his fiduciary duty to his client.

    “This was not just a grab,” Garabedian said. “There was a sophisticated method of doing this.”

    Finley agreed. “You gave this some real thought and you knew what you were doing,” he told Franklin. His crimes, the judge said, “reflect poorly on the (legal) profession and reinforce a negative viewpoint (of) some members of the public that lawyers are only out for themselves.”

    Franklin’s license to practice law was suspended by the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after his arrest last year. He said he does not expect to be able to work again as an attorney.

    Friel, who married his fiancée not long after hiring Franklin, said the extreme financial pressures created by his losses “ultimately led to our divorce” and created stress-related health issues for him.

    “I put my savings, which would’ve eventually gone towards my retirement, into the purchase of these properties,” Friel said. “I obviously feel completely and utterly used by Mr. Franklin … I am angry and disgusted at Mr. Franklin’s cowardly act of deception.”

    The case was investigated by Bucks County Detective Eric Landamia.
Source: Attorney Imprisoned for Bilking Client with Forged Documents.
(1) The victim may want to file a claim with the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security, which was established by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1982 to reimburse clients who have suffered a loss as a result of a misappropriation of funds by their Pennsylvania attorney. The idea is to file the claim before the time limit for filing claims expires and, in the event the perpetrator ultimately fails to make full restitution, the victim may be able to receive some reimbursement from 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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

After Feeling Intense Public Pressure, Facebook Co-Founder Reverses Course, Drops Quiet Title Suits Intended To Compel Public Sale Of Real State & Force Group Of Native Hawaiians Off Ancestral Land; Subject Parcels Located Within Facebook Co-Founder's Recently-Purchased 700-Acre Beachfront Estate

In Honolulu, Hawaii, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reports:
  • When Facebook’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg paid around $100 million for 700 acres of rural beachfront land on Kauai two years ago to create what Forbes magazine described as a secluded family sanctuary, he actually acquired a not-so-secluded property.

    Close to a dozen small parcels within Zuckerberg’s Kauai estate are owned by kamaaina families who have rights to traverse the billionaire’s otherwise private domain.

    Now the Facebook CEO is trying to enhance the seclusion of his property by filing several lawsuits aimed at forcing these families to sell their land at a public court auction to the highest bidder.

    The legal action known as “quiet title and partition” isn’t uncommon in Hawaii. Yet even with an order from a judge and financial compensation, forcing people to sell land that has been in their families for generations can be off-putting — especially when it’s driven by the sixth-richest person in the world.
    A Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law primer on quiet title and partition law titled “E ‘Onipaa i ke Kulaiwi” said using the law to compel land sales has reduced Native Hawaiian landownership: “Partition by sale in particular is highly problematic for the Native Hawaiian community because it severs a family’s connection to ancestral land.”

    Zuckerberg, through several companies he controls, filed the lawsuits against a few hundred people — many living and some dead — who inherited or once owned interests in what are known as kuleana lands where ownership is often largely undocumented.
    Hawaii’s quiet title law can be used to establish legal title to such land. However, quieting these “noisy” real estate titles is expensive and therefore doesn’t happen often unless someone with the financial resources and interest in the property becomes engaged.
For more, see Facebook’s Zuckerberg sues to force land sales.

For story update, see Mark Zuckerberg drops suits to force sale of Hawaiian lands:
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife are dropping controversial suits they filed in December to buy small plots of land that are part of a 700-acre waterfront estate they own on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.

    In a letter published in The Garden Island, a local newspaper, Zuckerberg wrote of the complex legal tangle, "it's clear we made a mistake."

    Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan bought the 700-acre waterfront estate on Kauai for $100 million in 2014. In December 2016, they filed eight lawsuits against several hundred people to buy 13 plots on eight acres partitioned during the 1850s.
    Some Hawaiians had harshly criticized the maneuver after the suits became public. The outcry grew louder after Zuckerberg took to Facebook to explain his intent, with some charging him with contributing to a trend with roots in colonialism.

Two Citibank Subs Agree To Fork Over $28.8 Million To Settle Allegations That They Jerked Around Foreclosure-Facing Homeowners Seeking To Save Their Homes By Keeping Them In The Dark As To Their Options, Burdening Them w/ Excessive Paperwork Demands

From the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) [] took separate actions against CitiFinancial Servicing and CitiMortgage, Inc. for giving the runaround to struggling homeowners seeking options to save their homes.

    The mortgage servicers kept borrowers in the dark about options to avoid foreclosure or burdened them with excessive paperwork demands in applying for foreclosure relief. The CFPB is requiring CitiMortgage to pay an estimated $17 million to compensate wronged consumers, and pay a civil penalty of $3 million [see consent order]; and requiring CitiFinancial Services to refund approximately $4.4 million to consumers, and pay a civil penalty of $4.4 million. [See consent order].

    “Citi’s subsidiaries gave the runaround to borrowers who were already struggling with their mortgage payments and trying to save their homes,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Consumers were kept in the dark about their options or burdened with excessive paperwork. This action will put money back in consumers’ pockets and make sure borrowers can get help they need.”
For more, see CFPB Orders Citi Subsidiaries to Pay $28.8 Million for Giving the Runaround to Borrowers Trying to Save Their Homes (Mortgage Servicers Kept Borrowers in the Dark About Options, Demanded Excessive Paperwork).

Monday, January 30, 2017

Tampa Bay-Area Man Faces Organized Scheme To Defraud Charge For Allegedly Using Craigslist To Illegally Peddle Vacant, Bank-Owned Foreclosed Homes For Rent, Sale; Cops: Suspect Collected Nearly $50K In Downpayments, Deposits On Eight Homes, Then Left Victims Holding The Bag

In Clearwater, Florida, The Associated Press reports:
  • Florida authorities said a man was arrested in Michigan for allegedly perpetrating a real estate scheme that defrauded victims of nearly $50,000.

    In a statement [last] Monday, Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Angela Starke said Kervin Moreno was arrested Friday [January 20] in Wayne County, Mich.

    Starke said Moreno will face a charge in Pasco County of organized scheme to defraud. Moreno allegedly posted ads online for homes for sale or rent from April 2012 through June 2014. Authorities say Moreno had no authority to sell or rent the properties.

    According to FDLE, Moreno collected down payments or deposits on eight homes throughout the Tampa Bay area. The victims only became aware of the scheme after receiving foreclosure notices or visits from lender representatives.

On Eve Of Eviction, Soon-To-Be-Booted Tenant Runs Craigslist Rent Scam, Snatches Cash Out Of Victim's Hand & Makes Run For It; Cops Collar Suspect Within 24 Hours After Recovering His Cell Phone Fumbled Away During Getaway

In Tampa, Florida, ABC Action News reports:
  • A Tampa family is out a deposit for a new place to live after a con man admitted to ripping them off in a rental scam.

    Stephanie Dunbar and Daniel Arizmendi were looking for a new home, leaving behind their cramped two-bedroom apartment.

    The couple care for three children together, one of whom is disabled, suffering from an intraventricular hemorrhage as a newborn.

    They found the home at 10904 N. 22nd St. to be a perfect fit. "It was enough room for our kids, for our disabled son to have his own room with his medical supplies, where he would be able to be comfortable," said Dunbar.

    The engaged couple immediately responded to an ad on Craigslist, featuring a single-story, four bedroom house with reasonable rent. They received a tour of the property the very next day. "He came totally dressed right as if he was actually a real real estate agent," said Daniel Arizmendi.

    That agent was nothing more than a con man, according to Hillsborough County investigators.

    Lenard Woolbright actually lived at the house and was in the process of being evicted.

    But before he was kicked out, Woolbright posted a phony ad providing a lease, business cards, and his driver's license in a show of good faith.

    Dunbar said Woolbright was convincing and she had no reason not to believe he was a legitimate real estate agent. "It was like the clouds opened up and told us to get this house," said Dunbar.

    The couple met Woolbright the next day at a Winn-Dixie parking lot on Fowler Street to get the keys and pay a $1,000 deposit. But before Woolbright handed over the keys, he snatched the cash right out of Dunbar's hand and took off.

    "You took from a needy family and now you have a record, for a few hundred bucks. There's no sense to that," said Dunbar.

    Woolbright dropped his cell phone in the parking lot during his getaway, reporting it stolen the next day.

    Deputies were able to quickly track him down thanks to his report and made an arrest within 24 hours of Dunbar telling HCSO what happened.

    Investigators were able to recover about half of the family's deposit, but the hard-working couple is struggling to save enough money again for a home they desperately need.

    "It has set us back drastically and it was kind of pretty much everything we had," said Dunbar. "We were putting everything into this house."

    Woolbright faces a felony charge of third-degree grand theft.
Source: Evicted tenant rips off Tampa family in rental scam (Family duped out of their 'dream home').

Alleged Squatter Picks Wrong House To Move Into; Gets Shot By Homeowner Defending Himself, Family When Returning From Weekend Trip

In Sarasota, Florida, Fox 13 News reports:
  • The sound of gunshots pierced the silence along Constitution Boulevard in Sarasota [earlier this month], shattered the nerves of residents.

    "I just can't imagine how scared and freaked out they must have been," neighbor Pam Zeck said. "There have been minor break-ins and things like that since I've lived here, but never anything like this."

    Sarasota County deputies said a family came home from a weekend trip and found Glenn Oliver inside their home. Oliver allegedly threatened the family with a baseball bat, and that's when the homeowner pulled out a gun, shooting the intruder in self-defense.

    "It was terrifying for this family. There's a small child there as well," said sheriff's office spokesperson Kaitlyn Perez.

    Deputies said Oliver broke in through a window and may have been living there for days.

    "It's possible, since we had such a cold weekend, that he was looking for a warm place to stay. We talked to his family members. He wasn't always staying at home. He was traveling around," said Perez.

    Deputies said Oliver had just been released from prison. He had served a 10-year sentence for robbery with a firearm and carjacking. He was out on probation from the Miami-Dade area.

    "He is a felony offender. He has an extensive criminal history. Unfortunately he was at the wrong place at the wrong time," Perez offered.

    Apparently for Oliver, he chose the wrong house and the wrong family to target.

    "The homeowner was in the right in this situation," Perez continued. "He walked into his home, he felt threatened. He shot this defendant in self-defense. He had a duty to protect himself and his family."

    Deputies said the homeowner does have a concealed weapons permit. They said he does not face any charges at this time.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

HOA That Denied Family's Request To Keep RV Used As Medical Transport In Driveway To Accommodate Travel Needs Of Severely Disabled Adult Daughter Loses Fair Housing Lawsuit; Trial To Potentially Slam HOA With Compensatory, Punitive Damages Pending

In Keizer, Oregon, the Statesman Journal reports:
  • A federal judge has ruled that a Keizer homeowners' association violated state and federal fair housing laws by not accommodating a family of former residents of McNary Estates,(1) whose daughter has multiple disabilities.

    Gary and Renee Kuhn bought a home in the Keizer neighborhood in 2005. Five years later, their daughter, Khrizma, 34, began living with the couple full time. The Kuhns are the legal guardians for their daughter, who has Down syndrome and autism, uses a wheelchair outside the home and suffers from severe bowel incontinence.

    Her incontinence problems worsened in 2014. Because she needs to be near a toilet at all times, the Kuhns and their medical providers decided in March 2015 that a motor home would be the best way for Khrizma to travel. She could always be near a restroom and use the motor home's shower in case she soiled herself.

    The Kuhns asked the McNary Estates Homeowner's Association for an exception to a rule preventing parking a motor home in their driveway, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.

    That request was not granted. After unsuccessfully trying to reverse that decision, the Kuhns sold their home and moved to Woodburn. The family filed a lawsuit in federal court in January 2016, alleging that the homeowner's association violated fair housing laws by not accommodating their daughter's needs. Almost exactly a year later, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled in their favor.

    "(The Kuhns) are feeling very vindicated," said Dennis Steinman , the family's lawyer.

    Not only are the Kuhns feeling justice for the years of strife and distress they endured, they also feel they spoke up for the disabled community. They stood up for their rights, Steinman said.

    "Unfortunately, too many people who are subjected to discrimination just accept it," he said.

    A jury trial will determine damages. The trial is not scheduled, but Steinman said he expects it to go forward in 2017. Representatives from the homeowners' association did not reply to requests for comment.

    The lawsuit asked the court to order the McNary Estates Homeowner's Association to take action to provide equal access to people with disabilities and award an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.
For more, see Judge rules for family in suit against Keizer HOA.

For earlier post on this story, see HOA That Denied Family's Accommodation Request To Keep RV Which Was Allegedly Used As Medical Transport For Daughter With Multiple Disabilities Gets Tagged With Fair Housing Discrimination Lawsuit.
(1) This homeowners' association appears to be establishing a track record for violating fair housing rights of those with disabilities. See, Court: HOA discriminated against disabled boy:
  • The McNary Estates Homeowners Association violated the Fair Housing Act by not accommodating a developmentally disabled boy, a Marion County judge ruled [].

    The Aug. 23 letter from Circuit Court Judge Joseph Guimond states the association was in error by barring a homeowner from installing privacy screens that he said prevents the boy from wandering off into the adjacent golf course. The 11-year-old child is the son of a homeowner’s girlfriend, who regularly stays at the house along with her son.

Local Ohio U.S. Attorney Joins HUD In Belting Housing Authority w/ Fair Housing Suit Over Denying Section 8 Tenant's Voucher Request For 4-Bedroom Home To Reasonably Accommodate Family's Disability Needs (Dedicated Sanitary Storage Space For Diabetic Dad's Dialysis Treatment Equipment & Supplies For End Stage Kidney Disease; Grade School Child w/ Chronic Enuresis, Learning Disabilities)

In Youngstown, Ohio, reports:
  • The U.S. Attorney's Office has filed suit against the Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority ["TMHA"], saying it violated the Fair Housing Act by denying housing to a family on the basis of disability.

    The lawsuit, filed Friday [January 13] in federal court, says housing authority employees refused to work with a family needing accommodations for a husband who required dialysis treatment for his type-1 diabetes and end-stage renal disease, and a child with special needs. The family is not identified, as the lawsuit refers to the husband as "JG" and the wife as "SP."(1)

    The lawsuit says the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development investigated the case and that reasonable cause existed to show that the housing authority discriminated against the family.(2)
    The suit says the family needed a home with four bedrooms, one of which was necessary so the husband's dialysis treatment equipment could be stored and used in a sanitary space.

    In September 2014, the housing authority approved a voucher for a three-bedroom home in Warren with additional space for the dialysis equipment. But a social worker for the husband later said that space would not work, as too many people would regularly use the room, the suit says.(3)

    On Oct. 1, 2014, Osman and Simeon emailed about the issues. Simeon wrote that she didn't know what dialysis entailed but wondered why the family couldn't make it work. Nevertheless, Simeon wrote to Osman that the decision was up to him, the suit says.

    They later told HUD investigators that the housing authority has a policy requiring applicants to move into a home once it's been inspected, and that they terminated the family's voucher assistance for failing to comply, according to the lawsuit.

    The housing authority could have waived the policy, as it had for other applicants, the lawsuit says. The housing authority also refused to amend their voucher, and the family was forced to move into separate homes because they could not find suitable housing.

    "The distance between JG and SP meant she often was not able to assist him with his dialysis and other medical needs, and his health declined dramatically," the lawsuit says. "In the eleven months they were living apart, JG was hospitalized on at least four occasions and twice contracted dialysis-related infections, which ultimately required that he return to in-clinic dialysis on August 25, 2015."
For the story, see Feds say Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority discriminated against family.

See also, U.S. Attorney sues Trumbull housing authority.

For the lawsuit, see USA v. Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority, et al.

For an earlier post on this story, see Local Housing Authority Faces Fair Housing Feds' Allegations That It Denied 4-Member Section 8 Family's Request (Voucher Ultimately Revoked) To Allow Move From 2-Bedroom Unit Into 4-Bedroom Apartment More Appropriate For Their Disability Needs (Dad's End-Stage Kidney Disease; Grade School Daughter w/ Learning Disabilities & Enuresis).
(1) From the lawsuit:
  • JG, SP and their minor children, AP and MH, were residents of Trumbull County, who sought to participate in the housing voucher program administered through TMHA. JG,who has type-1 diabetes and end-stage renal disease, and one of the minor children, who has learning disabilities and chronic enuresis, are persons with a disability as defined by the FHA [Fair Housing Act]. [...] SP and the other minor child are persons associated with persons with a disability for purposes of the FHA.
(2) See HUD Charges Ohio Housing Authority With Discrimination Against Family With Disabilities.

(3) From the lawsuit:
  • [J]G and SP described the Merriwether [Street] house to a social worker from JG’s dialysis center, who was helping him prepare to begin home dialysis. When she learned that the room where JG planned to do his treatments was in a basement, had no door, and was on a travel route from the garage to the main house, the social worker told JG and SP that the room was not suitable for dialysis. Her reasons included difficulty keeping the room clean and sanitary, given its basement location and the fact that other family members would be passing through it frequently. She also had concerns about the appropriateness of the sub-grade room for storing dialysis equipment and supplies. reasonable accommodation

Application Of Local Zoning Regulations Again At Issue In Fair Housing Lawsuit; City Accused Of Applying Allegedly Discriminatory Rule Against Home That Houses Three Adults With Intellectual, Developmental Disabilities & Operated By Non-Profit Group

In Springfield, Illinois, The State Journal-Register reports:
  • Most weeks William McCombs visits his son Jonathan in a small, ranch-style house on Noble Avenue in Springfield.

    His dad likes to take Jonathan, who has Down syndrome, to visit his grandmother or to get movies at the video store.

    It's a great arrangement for them both, his dad says. Jonathan, 34, lives with two other men in a house they rent, run by a nonprofit where he can get the regular care he needs.

    "I've been happy with it," William McCombs said. "He's right there in a nice neighborhood, he's able to walk to Hy-Vee with a staff person. He's very happy there. He considers that his house and his roommates."

    But it's unclear if his son will get to live in the Noble Avenue house much longer.

    Last month, city officials ruled the house is too close to another group home for people with disabilities. They denied a request for an exception by the homeowners and the Romeoville-based nonprofit Individual Advocacy Group.

    The city has a zoning requirement that group homes must be at least 600 feet from each other.

    "They failed to follow our code," said Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin, whose ward includes the house. He said the rule exists to avoid a density of group homes in one area. "If they'd placed the home 600 feet beyond the Sparc home, there would have been no problem."

    Now, the issue is in court.

    Individual Advocacy Group(1) has filed a federal housing discrimination lawsuit last month against the city. William and Jonathan McCombs aren't directly involved.

    The lawsuit accuses the city of discriminating against another resident of the home on the basis of his disability by enforcing the spacing requirement and denying the request for a reasonable exception. The lawsuit goes on to say the city's action violates the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act because it applies the spacing rule to people with disabilities and not families or residents who are not disabled.

    The house, the lawsuit contends, should be considered a family residence and not a family-care residence under zoning laws because five or fewer people live there, which is the city's definition of a family.

    "The next step and the way to combat that discriminatory behavior is by filing the complaint that we did," said Sarah Jane Hunt, an attorney for the nonprofit.
Source: City accused of discrimination in group-home lawsuit.
(1) Individual Advocacy Group is a CARF accredited not-for-profit organization dedicated to community- based supports and personal advocacy for individuals with special needs. IAG provides its services in 21 counties in Illinois from Chicago to the Quad Cities to Springfield, as well as the District of Columbia and Maryland.

NYC Feds Squeeze Another Landlord-Developer, Scoring Settlement In Fair Housing, ADA Lawsuit To Resolve Allegations That Apartments In Recently-Constructed Buildings Were Inaccessible To Those With Disabilities (ie. Excessively High Thresholds, Door Openings, Power Outlet Locations, Public Spaces Unfriendly To Wheelchair-Bound Residents, etc.)

In New York City, The Real Deal (New York) reports:
  • Silverstein Properties settled a lawsuit brought by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara alleging two of the developer’s rental projects are inaccessible to residents with disabilities and in violation of the Americans with Disabilities and Fair Housing acts.

    The lawsuit pertained to two of Silverstein’s projects — One River Place and Silver Towers on West 42nd Street — which comprise 920 units and 1355 units, respectively. The two projects are among the biggest in Manhattan that benefited from the 421a tax abatement program.

    The terms of the settlement were not immediately available. A spokesperson for Bharara’s office declined to comment.

    In the lawsuit, [], Bharara’s office alleged that excessive force was required to open doors at both projects and that there were excessively high thresholds at entrances to both individual units and bathrooms, openings were not wide enough for disabled access, power outlets were in inaccessible locations, and public spaces, such as laundry rooms and locker rooms, did not allow enough space for people in wheelchairs to turn.

    “The widespread inaccessible conditions at One River Place and at Silver Towers reflect a pattern or practice on [Silverstein’s] part of failing to comply with the FHA,” the complaint said.

    The suit also named the architect of the two buildings, Costas Kondylis and Partners, as a defendant.

    “Silverstein Properties is pleased to have resolved this matter with the government and remains committed to designing and building accessible housing for all New Yorkers,” a spokesperson for Silverstein said in a statement.

    It wasn’t clear how much expense and time would be required to update the buildings.

    The U.S. Attorney’s office brought similar suits against landlords such as the Related Companies and the Durst Organization in recent years.
For the story, see Silverstein Properties settles with US Attorney over disabled access at two projects (Preet Bharara alleged FHA violations at One River Place, Silver Towers).

Major Mobile Home Park Landlord Resolves Fair Housing Complaint By Agreeing To Cough Up $5K, Granting Complaining Tenants Permission To Erect & Maintain Chain-Link Fences Around Their Yards So As To Allow Their Hearing-Impaired Kids To Play In Controlled Environment

From the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (Washington, D.C.):
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [] two agreements between the owners and managers of Plainview Mobile Home Park in Casper, Wyoming, and two families who complained they were unlawfully denied the reasonable modifications they needed. Read the Conciliation Agreements here and here.
    The cases came to HUD’S attention when the Wyoming families filed complaints alleging that RHP Properties, Inc., located in Farmington Hills, Michigan, the company’s owner, and its former regional manager denied their requests of reasonable modifications needed by members of their families. Specifically, the families claimed that RHP Properties denied their requests to erect chain-link fences around their yards so that their children, who are deaf or hard of hearing, could play in a controlled environment.

    RHP is the largest mobile home park owner/manager in the nation, controlling more than 60,000 rental lots in 28 states.

    Under the two agreements, RHP agreed to provide monetary relief,(1) grant the families permission to erect and maintain chain-link fences, and purchase and install “Deaf Child at Play” signs at designated locations throughout the mobile home park. RHP also agreed to adopt reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification policies that are consistent with the Fair Housing Act, give copies of the policies to all new tenants applying to live at any of the properties they own and/or manage, and post fair housing posters in the rental offices for those properties.
Source: HUD Approves Fair Housing Agreements Between Wyoming Landlords And Families Claiming Discrimination.
(1) The mobile home park operator agreed to cough up $5,000, according to this agreement.