Saturday, May 20, 2017

Fair Housing & Reasonable Accommodation: Landlord Who Allegedly Failed To Give Known-Asthmatic Tenant Advance Notice Of Landscape Mulching Work Coughs Up $290K To Settle Tenant's Family's Lawsuit Who Say Fatal Asthma Attack Was Triggered By Mulching

In Hartford, Connecticut, the Connecticut Law Tribune reports:
  • The family of a 61-year-old Connecticut man who died from an asthma attack, allegedly because the owners of his apartment did not inform the family they were doing mulching and landscaping work, has settled a lawsuit for $290,000.

    Marcial Torres suffered a severe asthma attack in April 2008, about a year after his wife and then 8-year-old granddaughter asked the apartment manager to notify them in advance of any mulching work. The Torres family, who lived on the first floor in New Britain's Evergreen Apartments, were allegedly never notified and Torres had an asthma attack in November 2009. A 40-page lawsuit was filed in October 2010.

    While the defense denied that conversation occurred, the family's attorney said it did.

    "I believe, with every fiber of my being, that the meeting occurred," said attorney Tracey E. Hardman. "The mulch was applied just once a year and they were asking for a very minimal and reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act."

    The settlement was reached March 29 between Hardman and Simsbury-based attorney Peter Ponziani, who represented Evergreen Apartments, Roy's Landscaping and apartment manager Lorraine Ross. Ponziani, of Litchfield Cavo, was not available for comment. The two-day session was mediated by Hartford Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina. The case was scheduled for trial in April.

    During the 19 months following his asthma attack until his death, Torres suffered a severe brain injury and was in a coma-like state, Hardman said. "His wife would set her alarm every three hours during that period to turn him and to be sure he did not get bed sores or rashes which would have caused him even more suffering." Not once in 19 months "did she sleep more than three hours at a time," Hardman said.

    Hardman said Elba Torres, who now lives in Florida, "is relieved this is over. It honored her husband's memory."

    Hardman said she disclosed that, if there were a trial, Yale University pulmonologist Geoffrey R. Connors would have testified that "mulch is a known and active asthma trigger."

    The money should be dispersed to Elba Torres and her daughter later this month, Hardman said. It will be paid by Country Mutual Insurance.
Source: Fatal Asthma Attack Results in $290,000 Settlement (may require subscription; if no subscription, TRY HERE, then click the appropriate link). contamination epa environmental protection agency

Some Tenants Caught By Surprise By State Health Department's Vacate Orders For Homes Where Children Have Tested Positive For Lead Poisoning & Landords Have Failed To Comply With Abatement Orders

In Toledo, Ohio, The Toledo Blade reports:
  • Mesha Wallace knew her granddaughter had tested positive for lead poisoning more than a year and a half ago and the health department determined that her home was the likely source.

    She made sure Mariah Gaston, now 3, took the recommended vitamins and had a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and iron-rich food. But Ms. Wallace said she had no idea there was a vacate order on her home, or that in the eyes of health officials, it wasn’t safe for anyone to live there.

    “No one never told me that I was supposed to leave, the landlord or the health department,” said Ms. Wallace, 36.

    The Ohio Department of Health this month published a list of 540 addresses in the state that have orders to vacate. The orders were issued after children who lived in the homes tested positive for lead poisoning and property owners failed to comply with health department orders to make improvements.

    Lucas County has 27 properties on the list, the fourth most of any municipality in Ohio. All are in Toledo.

    No one should be living in any of the houses on list, said Josh Niese, who oversees the lead program for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, which provided the local addresses to the state for publication.

    But people are living in them.

    The Blade found more than half of the homes on the list are occupied or show signs of recent occupancy. Several residents — most of them renters — who answered their doors said they were unaware there were orders to vacate, though many were familiar with the property’s history of lead problems or the child who had been poisoned there.

    Each home on the list has been investigated for lead hazards after a child living at the address registered a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or greater, double the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s threshold for elevated levels. Owners on the list have not complied with orders to make improvements to the properties, prompting the order to vacate.

    A placard describing the vacate order should be placed on each home.

    Following inquiries from The Blade, Mr. Niese said health department officials are reviewing department policy. He said placards “should have been placed” on every home, but he said there is no way to guarantee that they stay up. The health department could not produce documentation showing when each property had a placard affixed to it or whether each property owner or tenant had been notified of the order.

    “We have understood the deficiencies in the current process, and we are doing everything to shore up the process so it is corrected,” he said. “We are changing our policies to make sure this doesn’t happen moving forward.”

    Lead poisoning can damage a child’s brain and nervous system, slow growth and development, and cause learning and behavior problems, according to the CDC. Lead-based paint, widely used in the United States before the federal government banned its residential use in 1978, is prone to releasing dust and chips that can be ingested.

    The lead-tainted houses appear across Toledo. A full list of all properties in the state that should be vacated because of high lead levels is available at​pbhazproperties.

    One woman answering the door with a young child in tow said she had moved in the previous week and knew nothing about lead hazards on the property; at another, a teenager said his family had moved in about a month ago and was unsure about the home’s history.

    Another said she was told her landlord had done the necessary repairs.

    A handful of houses where no one answered the door had signs of occupancy, including cars in the driveway, dogs barking inside, and children’s items on porches. The Blade found only a handful of the properties appear to be undergoing repairs.

    After a child tests positive with a blood-lead level of 10 or greater, the case is referred to the health department for assessment.

    “We will typically do a risk assessment of the home,” Mr. Niese said. “If we feel the home is a source we can issue orders on the home to have them corrected.”

    In addition to looking for visual signs of lead hazards such as peeling or chipping paint, inspectors use an X-ray fluorescence gun that detects the presence of lead, he said.

    Property owners have 90 days to correct problems and can apply for three, 30-day extensions, Mr. Niese said. After that, vacate orders are placed on the house and are lifted only after a follow-up inspection confirms required improvements have been made.

    He said the department is reviewing why so many people continue to live in properties that have been deemed unsafe.

    “We are working through ODH to clarify jurisdiction and authority and try to handle it on the local level,” he said, adding that they are determining what authority the department has to enforce the vacate orders and whether they will need to seek out additional public health or housing orders.

    “The situation we are in right now is unacceptable, so we need to address it and fix it,” Mr. Niese said. In the meantime, he said the department will work with property owners and tenants to answer questions. He referred tenants needing assistance to United Way’s 211 system for resources.

    The orders on homes like Ms. Wallace’s are separate from Toledo’s lead-safe rental law passed last year, and are on the state’s list because a child living there has been poisoned.

    The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department is also tasked with overseeing and enforcing the city law, passed by city council in August and amended in April. It mandates rental properties with one to four units built before 1978 and home day-care centers be inspected by independent local inspectors and issued lead safe certificates. Inspections check for visual signs of hazards such as peeling and chipping paint, and test with dust wipes for lead dust concentrations.

    Proponents of the law laud it as a preventive measure to keep children from being poisoned like those living in the 27 properties outlined by the state. But the law has met fierce criticism from landlords and some tenants who live in historic neighborhoods like the Old West End, who say it targets good landlords and is burdensome and expensive.

    An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 rental units are to be inspected over a three-year cycle with the first deadline next year.
For more, see State orders unsafe homes in Toledo vacated due to lead (Families unaware; Official says health dept. is addressing its ‘deficiencies’). contamination epa environmental protection agency

NYC Landlord Accused Of Using Harassment Tactics, Dangerous Construction Practices In Effort Drive Rent-Regulated Tenants From Their Apartments To Cough Up $225K To Settle NY AG Lawsuit; Unsafe Lead Dust Kicked Up Into Air Allegedly Triggered Asthma Attack Landing One Resident In Hospital Emergency Room

On the Lower East Side of New York City, DNA Info (NYC) reports:
  • Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached a $225,000 settlement with landlord Sami Mahfar following an investigation that uncovered harassment tactics, dangerous living conditions and failure to provide heat and hot water.

    The years-long investigation started by Schneiderman in November 2014 found that Mahfar's companies tried to force rent-regulated tenants at several Lower East Side buildings — 22 Spring St., 102 Norfolk St., 113 Stanton St., and 210 Rivington St. — out of their homes with dangerous construction and aggressive buyout offers.

    The companies carried out demolition and construction work on the properties that kicked up unsafe levels of lead in the air. Some of the tenants in the buildings were pregnant or had children, said the settlement.

    At 102 Norfolk St., dust covering the building's stairs was found to contain as high as 40,000 micrograms per square foot and 110,000 micrograms per square foot of lead, according to the settlement agreement. The limit for lead concentration on floors per the city's health code is 40 micrograms per square foot.

    The construction work caused health problems for tenants — a high school student at 210 Rivington St. had an asthma attack that landed him in the emergency room, which his family believes was a result of the lead-contaminated dust, according tot he settlement.

    The companies also hired Misidor LLC, a "relocator" whose principal repeatedly threatened tenants that if they didn't accept the buyout offers they would be forced to endure the disruptive construction. Mahfar's SMA Equities claimed that relocator was left over from a previous building owner and was dismissed when tenants complained.

    The companies continually carried out work without making the proper filings with city and state agencies and lied in filings made with the Department of Buidlings.

    The settlement, announced by Schneiderman's office Thursday [May 4], requires Mahfar to cough up $175,000 to the city's Housing and Preservation Department and $50,000 to the State of New York. The money allocated to HPD will go towards remediation of rent-stabilized housing, and will buy new X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) Equipment used to test for lead in paint.

    The settlement also called for a third-party manager to oversee the buildings.

    Tenants had brought their own lawsuits against Mahfar over the conditions in their buildings, resulting in rent abatements and other concessions, according to the settlement.

    “Landlords must not use harassment or subject tenants to unsafe construction to drive rent-stabilized tenants out of their homes. Unfortunately, across the city, unscrupulous landlords look to take advantage of New York’s real estate market at the expense of their rent-regulated tenants – and we won’t hesitate to fight back using all tools at our disposal,” said Schneiderman in a statement.
Source: Notorious LES Landlord and Attorney General Reach $225K Settlementcontamination epa environmental protection agency

NYC Health Dept. Temporarily Slams Brakes On Ongoing Renovations At Local Hotel Over Excessively High Lead Levels In Dust Created By Unsafe Construction Practices

In New York City, DNA Info (NYC) reports:
  • Dust created by ongoing renovations at the Chelsea Hotel has tested positive for lead 26 times the federal environmental standard, the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said.

    The department halted renovations at the historic West 23rd Street hotel and collected samples at the end of March after receiving a complaint about dust created by unsafe construction work.

    Some of the dust that was collected tested positive for lead, a spokeswoman said Wednesday [April 12].

    “We have recently identified dust lead hazards at [the hotel] and we’ve ordered the owners to address the conditions,” she wrote in an email.

    The hotel’s owners must “take steps to conduct work safely and contain exposure to dust particles,” she added.

    Dust from one of the windowsills was found to have 6,500 micrograms of lead per square foot, well above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's “acceptable standard” of 250 micrograms per square foot for interior windowsills, a test report provided by the Health Department shows.

    A set of stairs leading from the sixth to seventh floors of the hotel had dust that contained 280 micrograms of lead per square feet, above the 40 micrograms per square foot standard for floors, the report shows.

    Health Department inspectors visited the hotel twice after the initial inspection and didn’t find any “visible signs of dust” in areas where the hotel’s remaining tenants live, so construction has resumed, the spokeswoman said.

    "Minimizing exposure to lead in all forms is best," but young children are at the greatest risk of exposure because they're more likely to ingest lead-positive dust while playing, she noted.

    A trio of hoteliers, including BD Hotels co-founders Richard Born and Ira Drukier, recently purchased the hotel and are in the process of redeveloping it into condos and hotel space.

    Adding to the construction issues, the city’s Department of Buildings recently hit the owners with a series of stop-work orders and a slew of civil penalties.

    In December, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development took the owners to housing court after finding they hadn’t corrected violations that should have been remedied following an October 2015 order, an HPD spokeswoman said Wednesday.

    A housing court judge in February ordered the owners to correct all of the existing violations at the hotel, with the owners forking over $30,000 in civil penalties, she said.

    Nevertheless, there were 149 open HPD violations at the site as of Tuesday, the most recent of which was issued on April 5, she said.
Source: Chelsea Hotel Construction Dust Has Lead 26 Times Federal Limit, City Says. contamination epa environmental protection agency

Home Depot Admits It's Under Criminal Investigation For Alleged Unsafe Practices For Handling Lead Paint Issues In Home Renovation Work

In Atlanta, Georgia, WSB-TV Channel 2 reports:
  • Atlanta-based Home Depot is under fire over allegations that contractors skipped safety precautions, putting workers and customers at risk for lead poisoning.

    The company admits the EPA launched a criminal investigation into alleged unsafe practices for removing lead from homes across the country.

    Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston has learned the EPA’s criminal division are looking at several cases where workers with Home Depot may not have followed procedure to remove dangerous lead paint.
    Home Depot released information on the case [recently], saying in January, the company became aware of the investigation by the EPA’s criminal investigation division into the company’s compliance with lead-safe work practices.
    We’ve been in contact with Home Depot. They said they couldn’t go on camera because of the investigation. But they said in a statement: “Lead-based paint work make up only about 4 percent of our total business and these rules only apply to segment of that total. We’re taking it very seriously, we’ll continue to cooperate with the investigation.”
For the story, see Home Depot accused of unsafe practices; Criminal investigation launched. contamination epa environmental protection agency

As EPA Resumes Soil Cleanup For Lead, Arsenic At East Chicago Homes, Apartments, University Researchers Announce Plans To Conduct Study Of Lead Levels In Local Residents' Bones

In East Chicago, Indiana, The Times of Northwest Indiana reports:
  • [A]bout 50 residents, attorneys and researchers were in attendance [recently] at the East Chicago Library’s Pastrick branch, where Purdue University researchers announced a collaboration with Harvard and Boston University to test lead levels in East Chicago residents' bones.

    Linda H. Nie, an associate professor at Purdue University in Lafayette, said blood testing provided by the East Chicago Health Department offers only a snapshot of a person’s current lead levels.

    Bone lead levels, tested with an X-Ray fluorescence device, can measure long-term exposure. [...] The study will be limited to 20 to 40 people.

    Ellen Wells, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Purdue, said she hopes to launch a more in-depth, long-term study on other health impacts due to lead exposure in East Chicago.

    At [the recent] meeting, EPA staff said the agency will resume cleanup this month at “priority properties” — defined as properties with lead levels of at least 1,200 parts per million lead or 68 ppm arsenic in the top 6 inches; 400 ppm lead in the top 6 inches and a child under 7 or pregnant woman living at the property, regardless of blood lead levels; or 400 ppm lead in the top 24 inches and a child under 7 living at the property with blood lead level at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter.*

    The CDC recommends public health intervention at blood lead levels of 5 mcg or higher, but EPA on-site coordinator Dan Haag said after the meeting the consent decree reached in March with companies responsible for the pollution set the limit at 10 mcg/dl based on blood draw testing last year or later.

    About 120 properties in Zone 2, the middle part of Calumet, and more than 70 properties in zone 3, the eastern section of the neighborhood, will be cleaned this spring, according to the EPA.

    As part of the agreement, the EPA last month secured $16 million in funding from companies responsible for contamination in the Superfund site’s Zone 2.

    The funding, in part, will help pay for soil cleanup, indoor dust sampling and, where needed, indoor cleaning, Haag said. The EPA will also conduct preliminary testing for lead-based paint, EPA staff said.

    The state and federal government reached a $26 million settlement in 2014 with Atlantic Richfield and DuPont for the environmental cleanup in zones 1 and 3. Zone 1 encompasses the West Calumet Housing Complex and former Carrie Gosch Elementary School, while zone 3 includes homes in East Calumet.
For the story, see Purdue researchers want to test East Chicago residents' bones for lead.

See. generally, Where does lead go? Into bones. contamination epa environmental protection agency

Friday, May 19, 2017

State Appeals Court Refuses To Undo Developer's Purchase Of Mobile Home Park Sold Out From Under Soon-To-Be-Booted, Lot-Leasing Homeowners, But Leaves Door Open For Other Forms Of Relief If Violation Of Right Of First Refusal Under State Law Can Be Proven

In St. Anthony, Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports:
  • The court battle is likely to continue for Lowry Grove residents fighting to keep their mobile home park open.

    The Minnesota Court of Appeals said in a ruling issued Monday [May 8] that the sale of their St. Anthony park cannot be undone, though it left the door open for other forms of relief.

    A three-judge appellate panel upheld the $6 million sale of the park to The Village, an affiliate of Wayzata-based Continental Property Group. But the unanimous opinion reversed an earlier decision by the district court judge as to what forms of relief may be available to residents if they go on to prove that the transaction violated state law governing the sale of mobile home parks.

    The appellate court said the residents can ask Hennepin County District Judge Joseph R. Klein for non-monetary relief, such as court-ordered relocation costs, educational benefits for children displaced from schools, transportation benefits or even an injunction affecting the park’s planned closure. Residents can also still seek monetary damages.

    “It’s a partial win, but it’s not necessarily a partial win that will keep the park open,” said Jack Cann, an attorney for the Lowry Grove Residents Association.(1) “Still, the Court of Appeals’ decision makes it so it’s going to cost them.”

    The residents, working with Aeon, an affordable housing nonprofit, allege in their lawsuit that the sale of the land to The Village broke state law.

    Traci Tomas, vice president of The Village, has said that the deal complied with the law. She also described Monday’s ruling as “a win.”

    “I am confident the district court will determine that … there was nothing illegal about the sale of Lowry Grove,” Tomas said in a statement. An attorney for The Village said residents have signed an agreement that they will leave the park by the end of June.

    “The Village owns the property and that is not going to change,” said attorney William Skolnick, who represents The Village. “In terms of the Lowry Grove mobile home park, that is not going to exist after June 30.”

    The dispute traces back to the June 2016 sale of Lowry Grove to a development company. State law gives manufactured-home owners the right of first refusal to buy the land.

    Last year, Lowry Grove residents worked with Aeon to match The Village’s $6 million offer. The previous owners of the park, Lowry Grove Partnership, turned down Aeon’s offer, saying it didn’t meet the state statute’s requirements. The Lowry Grove owners then sold to The Village, which prompted the lawsuit.

    If the suit isn’t resolved in the coming months, it is expected to go to trial by the end of the year.

    At a neighborhood meeting Monday night, homeowners said they now plan to take their grievances to City Hall.

    About half the nearly 100 homeowners in Lowry Grove have already left. Those remaining say they have no place else to go.

    “I’m very frustrated,” said Antonia Alvarez, a Lowry Grove resident who has organized her neighbors against the redevelopment. “Lowry Grove is home. We want to keep it open.”
Source: Court reopens relief options for St. Anthony mobile home park residents (Lowry Grove residents, and the nonprofit Aeon, can still pursue other forms of relief).

For the court ruling, see Aeon v. Lowry Grove Partnership, LLP, A16-1755 (Minn. App. May 8, 2017).
(1) Representing the lot-leasing mobile home owners is the Housing Justice Center (HJC, formerly known as the Housing Preservation Project, or HPP), a St. Paul, Minnesota-based nonprofit public interest advocacy and legal organization whose primary mission is to preserve and expand affordable housing for low income individuals and families.

Oregon Affordable Housing Non-Profit Saves Troubled Mobile Home Park From Shutdown; Buys Out Landlord, Announces Improvement Plans To Stabilize Aging Premises For Low-Income Lot-Leasing Homeowners

In Saginaw, Oregon, The Register-Guard reports:
  • The low-income residents of Saginaw Trailer Park have a new landlord, one that is planning to improve living conditions in the long-troubled manufactured home park.

    The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County on Friday [May 5] purchased the 14-acre property with manufactured homes and recreational vehicles for $1.35 million from Michael Brown of Oakland.

    The nonprofit agency expects to spend another $1.8 million or so on renovating the park, bringing the estimated total investment in the property to $3.15 million, spokesman Paul Neville said Monday.

    The Saginaw Trailer Park is off Highway 99, about three miles north of Cottage Grove. Neville wasn’t sure how many people live there, but he said 40 of the 41 mobile homes and RVs are occupied.

    St. Vincent de Paul plans to make extensive improvements, including constructing a community center with a playground and replacing dilapidated living units, Neville said.

    “Our aim is to first stabilize things and keep this park in existence,” he said. “Over time, we incrementally will bring in new mobile home units. We have to inspect the (existing) units, and we have to talk to people. We have to figure out who has title to the units, because some are park-owned and some are tenant-owned. There is just a lot to be done.”

    St. Vincent de Paul will bring social workers to the park to meet with residents to help them “through this transition, and to provide general assistance in helping to improve their quality of life,” Neville said.

    Saginaw is the sixth mobile home park in Lane County acquired by St. Vincent de Paul. Other agency-owned parks include the Garfield Apartments and Trailer Park in Eugene, Harwoods Mobile Manor north of Eugene’s Santa Clara area, the Hillcrest and Oakridge mobile home parks in Oakridge, and the Tivoli Mobile Home Park in Junction City.

    The Eugene-based nonprofit agency also is acquiring the Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park in northeast Portland.

    “Affordable housing is in short supply everywhere in this state, particularly in rural areas,” SVDP Executive Director Terry McDonald said. “We need to take advantage of every opportunity to protect and preserve mobile home parks, which are a vitally important — and endangered — source of affordable housing.”

    The Saginaw Trailer Park’s previous managers had been fined by the state Department of Environmental Quality for failing to maintain the septic sewer system and improperly dumping ­partially treated sewage.

    Previous owners resisted Lane County orders to clean up the property and to obtain building and electrical permits, St. Vincent de Paul said.

    On at least two occasions, the county ordered that the park be closed because of violations, but previous owners managed to avoid closure, according to the agency.

    McDonald said the park’s troubled past is one reason the agency bought it. St. Vincent de Paul’s recent park acquisitions have been aimed at providing residents with better, safer places to live, he said.

    Three years ago, SVDP bought the 63-space Oakridge Mobile Home Park. Before St. Vincent de Paul purchased the park, it was the source of more than half the police calls in Oakridge, McDonald said. Since then, the number of crime reports has dropped from an average of four a day to three or four a month, he said.

    St. Vincent de Paul is paying for the Saginaw Trailer Park purchase and renovation through funding from the Oregon Housing and Community Services Manufactured Park Preservation Program, a loan from the Network Oregon Affordable Housing and a grant from the Affordable Housing Program.

    The park also will get a new office, roads, signs and lighting, Neville said. Construction is expected to start in the fall, he said.

    Saginaw Trailer Park residents will not face a rent increase in the first year, Neville said. After that, “modest rent increases” are likely, he said. “Part of our goal is to keep rents low and affordable,” Neville said. “We are in the business of providing affordable housing.”

    Oregon has about 130,000 mobile homes, he said. Most of the mobile homes are antiquated, but many occupants cannot afford to live in more expensive types of housing, Neville said.

    For a lot of these people, there is no other option, and the next step is homelessness,” he said. “It’s important to keep this sort of affordable housing.”

Over 200 Lot-Leasing Homeowners Get Help From Non-Profits To Form Co-Op, Then Purchase & Finance Buyout Of Mobile Home Park Landlord

In Kingston, Massachusetts, Wicked Local Kingston reports:
  • The residents of the 212 homes at Town & Country Estates can say they spent Wednesday [April 26] buying a mobile home park.

    The applause at the announcement “It’s done, It’s done” spoke for itself as the new owners of the mobile home park celebrated one of the most significant purchases of their lives.

    It was also a significant day for the nonprofit Resident Ownership Capital LLC (ROC USA) and its affiliate Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) celebrating their 200th resident-owned community.

    Joe Mauriello, president of the Town & Country Mobile Home Estates Tenants Association, joined by secretary Roberta Love and treasurer Mary Hayes, represent the seven-member board that has been hard at work on this deal. Just signing the papers Wednesday took several hours.

    Mauriello said they have been working on this off and on for 10 years now, and had tried once before to buy the park, but this time with the help of ROC USA and CDI they were able to finance the park. He said owning the park means they have control over their future.

    “We don’t have to look for a landlord, we are the landlord, so that being a co-op and a nonprofit we’re not out to make any money so the only rent that we’re going to be charging ourselves is that which is enough to sustain the place.” he said.

    He said resident Joe Bruno heard about ROC USA and CDI, the part of ROC that helped the association get organized, and contacted CDI’s Andy Danforth. ROC has been working with them for the last three years, he said, including the last year of actively working on the purchase. Love described the process as intense.

    The only cost to the residents is a $100 fee to join the co-op because ROC USA is nonprofit and a member-owned corporation. A website will be created by ROC and CDI for anyone who wants to live there to look for information. About 300 people live at the park.

    “Without ROC or CDI, we would not be owning this park today,” Mauriello said.

    When a property is for sale, ROC and CDI help the residents form a corporation, in this case the Town & Country Kingston Estates Cooperative Corporation, ROC Network’s Director Mary O’Hara explained. ROC approved two loans to the co-op. She said they are celebrating a real milestone.

    “We are really excited for this community and excited for the whole network of communities because they’re a great addition,” she said.

    She said members gain security, control over rents and control over decisions about any improvements they want to make under the direction of their board of directors. When Mauriello steps down as president, Donald Ducharme will take on that position starting July 1.

    Ducharme said they all appreciate the work that has been done by the board of directors and are looking forward to having the ability to make decisions for the people who live there. He said there’s a lot of talent among the residents and now their talents can be appreciated.

    An offer to purchase the park from the previous owner gave the residents the opening they needed to buy the property for $6.2 million. They had the right to match the offer. While there will be an increase in rents, from $346 a month to $410, the stability factor is huge.

    Housing specialist Colleen Preston works for CDA and lives in one of the Carver communities that was purchased by residents in 2012. She can speak from experience about the stability factor. Town & Country residents were convinced. O’Hara said 100 percent of them wanted to buy the park.

    The two cakes decorated with the words “We own it!” and the sign that reads “Hooray! Tis the day, to ourselves we now will pay. Congrats family!” say it all.
Source: Mobile home park purchase gives these Kingston residents stability (The residents of the 212 homes at Town & Country Estates can say they spent Wednesday buying a mobile home park).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Poor Residents In Another Recently-Purchased, Aging Housing Complex Get The Boot As Gentrifying Landlord Announces Plans For Major Renovations, Ending Participation In HUD's Section 8 Rent Subsidy Program

In Nashville, Tennessee, The Contributor reports:
  • “As a mother, it’s a very stressful situation to not know where you’re going, for your kids to ask you, ‘Are we moving?’ Many nights, I’ve broken down and cried,” Idella Woodard said. A mother of two boys, she is worried about where she’ll live after a real estate firm's purchase of her apartment building in West Nashville has forced her to exit her home.

    Woodard joined fellow renters April 24 to protest in front of Covenant Capital Group, the firm that earlier this year notified tenants at Prestige Pointe and Premier West Apartments of non-renewal on their leases, and stated the property group would no longer be participating in the Section 8 voucher program.
    Woodard, who was supposed to be out of her apartment days ago, is hoping for at least a 30-day extension so her sons can finish out the remaining few weeks of the school year without changing schools.

    Between the two complexes, more than 220 children will have to change school after residents are required to vacate the buildings.

    Virginia Tidwell, 71, attended the protest hoping to hear more options for her family, and worries that they won’t be able to find an affordable rental in Nashville on a fixed income. At this time, she isn’t sure where they will end up once they're required to leave.
    In a statement, [Covenant CEO Govan] White said the buildings are in poor conditions and “have been in bankruptcy and foreclosure for years.”

    "Due to the urgent need for extensive renovation to both properties — both have uninhabitable units due to lack of upkeep prior to our ownership — we cannot extend leases further and nor can residents remain during these major construction projects.”
Source: Facing displacement, Nashville renters protest real estate firm. section 8 contract expire rent subsidies

Dozens Of Poor Tenants In Building Financed w/ Federal Affordable Housing Tax Credits Face The Boot From New Owner; Legal Aid Lawyer Argues Recent Foreclosure Doesn't Completely Wipe Out Landlord's Obligation To Provide Apartments For Low-Income Renters

In Garner, North Carolina, WTVD-TV Channel 11 reports:
  • They arrived at Wake Baptist Grove Church, not far from their apartments, still in a state of confusion.

    "Just basically devastated; are you kidding me?" said Yolanda Smith. "We're trying to determine what is really going on."

    Smith is one the dozens of Forest Hills Apartment residents caught off guard by what they took as preemptive eviction notices. Wake County commissioners were surprised as well.
    The notices were placed on residents' apartment doors on Thursday by staffers at Eller Capital Partners, the complex's new owners, informing many of these low-income residents they have to move by this Sunday.
    "I think it's just cruel and vindictive. I think they're on an attack on the poor," said community activist Octavia Rainey.

    County commissioners, a Garner town councilor and the town manager all attended the community meeting at Wake Baptist. And residents got another dose of hope.

    "Your landlord cannot evict you," George Hausen told the audience. Hausen is the executive director of Legal Aid of North Carolina.(1)

    Hausen informed residents of their fair housing rights. He says for years Forest Hills' previous owner was entered in a tax credit deal with the federal government to provide low-income housing. That deal was canceled when the property went into foreclosure in 2015. But Hausen argues Eller Capital still has a legal obligation towards those low-income residents for 3 years following the foreclosure.

    "So my reading of that is that the foreclosure took place in February 2015, I think there's a strong legal argument that says you have a right to maintain your tenancy until February of 2018," Hausen said.

    Hausen will take that argument to a judge in his effort to block the evictions. In the meantime, he is advising resident to continue to make good faith efforts to pay their rent every month as a legal paper trail they met their commitments.
For the story, see Garner eviction notices called 'an attack on the poor'.
(1) Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. section 8 contract expire rent subsidies

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ringleader Of Loan Modification Racket That Screwed 10,000 Homeowners Out Of Over $33 Million Cops Guilty Plea, Agrees To Seven Year Prison Sentence

In Salt Lake City, Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune reports:
  • A ringleader of a massive Utah-based mortgage modification fraud has pleaded guilty for his role in a scheme that federal authorities said involved 10,000 victims nationwide who suffered losses of more than $33 million.

    Chad Gettel, 41, Salt Lake City, agreed to a seven-year prison sentence for operating the loan modification scam through CC Brown Law LLC and other names.

    Federal agents raided the businesses in Midvale and West Valley City in June of 2012. A federal grand jury indicted Gettel and five others in February of 2015 on 40 charges for a scheme that the U.S. Attorney's Office said took advantage of vulnerable homeowners trying to save their abodes from foreclosure.

    In his plea agreement signed last week, Gettel pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail or wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

    He also pleaded guilty to two other counts in a separate criminal case filed in April alleging he participated in an illegal telemarketing operation while charges in the original case were pending.

    U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball set sentencing for Aug. 3.

    Gettel admitted he and other co-owners approved false statements and advertisements that solicited clients for the companies.

    The falsehoods included claims that CC Brown was a national law firm that only accepted cases it could win and had a success rate of 90 percent or better. Gettel also admitted that refund guarantees were false.

    Two other people associated with the operation — Jeremiah Barrett and James Scott Creasey — have pleaded guilty to conspiracy. They face possible sentences of up five years in prison.

    An attorney who also participated in the scheme, John McCall, has a change of plea hearing set for next week. Charges remain pending against two other alleged participants, Noemi Lozano and Sheridan Black.
Source: Ringleader in $33 million Utah mortgage scam pleads guilty (Seven years in prison ordered for scheme with 10K victims nationwide).

Criminal Defense Attorney With No Foreclosure Defense Experience Who Hired Outfit Of Non-Lawyers To Run Loan Modification Operation Gets Law License Yanked After Screwed-Over Homeowners Filed Complaints

In Los Angeles, California, the Northern California Record reports:
  • The State Bar Court of California recently disbarred Joseph Lynn DeClue, a Santa Ana attorney, after an investigation into his misconduct into home mortgage modification matters found that he had “habitually” disregarded his clients’ interests.

    According to the March 31 decision, DeClue was a practicing criminal defense attorney in Orange County until 2012 when he began taking on foreclosure defense cases. Despite not having experience in that area of law, DeClue reportedly began this venture due to the issues his friends and family had faced with mortgage lenders.

    In August 2012, DeClue opened Millenia Law Group (MLG) and hired One World Alliance Inc. (OWA) to run the operation. The two owners of OWA had extensive knowledge of mortgages and foreclosures, though neither of them held law licenses. DeClue was allegedly aware that OWA had been involved with other attorneys in the past for loan modification practices, and that one specific attorney had been charged with misconduct.

    MLG worked with an estimated 500 clients during its operation, though none of the employees of MLG were licensed attorneys. In December 2013, DeClue discovered that one of the OWA partners had forged his signature on a filing he had no prior knowledge of. DeClue held a meeting with the OWA partners later that month to address the issue, and it was determined that the contract would terminate in spring 2014 and no further clients would be accepted.

    OWA failed to dissolve the relationship, and DeClue stole MLG’s client files. Upon review of the files, the attorney discovered that MLG had been working on matters that he had not approved of, which resulted in misconduct charges.

    The first matter stemmed from July 2013, when a woman entered into an agreement with MLG, under the impression that the non-attorney employee she had been communicating with was licensed. She paid a $25,000 retainer and was informed to stop making mortgage payments on her 10 properties, though she was not behind on her payments at the time. In April 2014, the client was informed that prelitigation had been completed, but she would need to pay an additional retainer of $5,000 for each property to continue. She requested a refund of the $25,000 from DeClue, who didn't know that she was a client prior to the refund request. He offered to help her file for bankruptcy and use the $25,000 as a retainer for the service. As of the disbarment order, the woman had not received the refund.

    DeClue was investigated for four other matters in which he had failed his clients. The California State Bar found that the volume of misconduct charges and moral turpitude involved in these cases warranted disbarment.

Indiana Lawyer Hit With 30-Day Suspension For Affiliation With Florida-Based Loan Modification, Foreclosure Defense Racket

The Indiana Lawyer reports:
  • A northern Indiana attorney who was involved in a Florida-based legal scheme that purported to assist clients in foreclosure and bankruptcy matters has been suspended from the practice of law for 30 days, the second of five Indiana attorneys involved with the Florida group to be disciplined by the Indiana Supreme Court.

    The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission first filed a complaint against Huntington attorney Justin Wall in September 2015, alleging numerous violations stemming from his relationship with McCann Law Group, doing business as Consumer Attorney Services P.A., a Florida-based corporation that purported to offer bankruptcy, mortgage modification and foreclosure defense services.

    CAS advertised in Florida and other areas, including Indiana, and created contractual arrangements in which most client work was handled by central staff in Florida, with local counsel services limited to the aspects of the case specifically requiring their work. Clients were charged an upfront nonrefundable fee of roughly $1,200, as well as ongoing monthly fees that ranged from $400 to $1,300.

    Wall first signed agreements with CAS in 2012, first as an “associate” and later as a “partner,” agreeing to provide discrete services to CAS bankruptcy and foreclosure defense clients in Indiana. He received fixed sums for some services, $25 as a partner for every case assigned to other CAS-associated attorneys in Indiana and minimum wage for 10-20 hours per week as “partner pay.”
    Brenda McCann, the owner of McCann Law Group, has been effectively disbarred from the Florida Bar, and she was never licensed to practice law in Indiana, though the companies were registered as business entities.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

City Threatens Thousands Of Outraged Residents With Possible Foreclosure Over Unpaid Bills For Toxic Tap Water

In Flint, Michigan, The New York Times reports:
  • Following a water crisis that saw sky-high levels of lead contamination in Flint, Mich., many homes in the city still do not have access to safe tap water.

    But that doesn’t mean they’re not being charged for it. And if they can’t pay in time, they may lose their homes.

    The city has mailed 8,002 letters to residents in an effort to collect about $5.8 million in unpaid bills for water and sewer services. If homeowners do not pay by May 19, property liens are transferred to tax bills, which begins a process that can end with residents losing their homes unless they pay their outstanding bills before March 2018.

    Flint generally sends these letters annually to property owners whose payments are at least six months late. But because Flint skipped this process in 2016, this year’s letters cover two years of past-due balances.

    The letters came as a shock to some Flint homeowners who had already been struggling to deal with the public health crisis caused by contaminated water.

    “While I understand this is the way that the law reads, we are in a totally different situation,” Melissa Mays, a Flint resident and activist, said in an interview with Fox 66 News, a local news affiliate. The city is asking her for $891.60 in overdue payments to avoid foreclosure.

    “I got scared, for probably the first time since this all started,” Ms. Mays said. “This actually scared me.”

    Flint’s water crisis can be traced back to 2014, when the financially struggling city went under emergency management. State appointees began getting drinking water from the polluted Flint River, rather than the more expensive Detroit water system.

Founder Of Outfit That Purports To "Specialize In Grammar Fraud" In Effort To Peddle Mortgage-Voiding Services Gets Pinched, Faces Multiple Felony Charges

In Lake Havasu City, Arizona, Havasu News reports:
  • Until this month, Leighton L. Ward helped customers throughout the U.S. – just ask the authors of more than a half-dozen anonymous testimonials posted on his website.

    Ward is the founder of the Advocacy for Consumer Rights, which advertised itself as a means for customers to assess their respective mortgage contracts, and determine if those contracts may have been misleading or predatory. “We specialize in grammar fraud,” reads one of the banners of the company’s web page. On May 4, Ward himself was arrested in Northern California on charges of “regular” fraud.

    The Lake Havasu City Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Unit this January began an investigation into Ward’s business, after receiving reports of an alleged fraudulent scheme involving mortgage contracts.

    According to LHCPD officials, Ward’s alleged scheme was elaborate. The police department alleges that Ward posed as an associate of the Advocacy for Consumer Rights, and offered to assist Havasu residents in escaping the binding terms of their respective mortgage contracts. For thousands of dollars, the department says, Ward promised to get mortgage customers’ money refunded to them based on the language of their mortgage contracts.

    The Better Business Bureau received complaints of alleged fraud by the organization as early as August 2016. The BBB’s website, which lists ratings and reviews for local businesses, received one positive review; and five customer complaints about the Advocacy for Consumer Rights.

    According to one such anonymous complaint, a customer was first approached by Ward’s business. The Advocacy for Consumer Rights allegedly informed the complainant that a “whistleblower” had accused the complainant’s current lender of mortgage fraud, and offered services at the cost of $3,400 in advance to help him gain a settlement from his lender.

    Ward allegedly told the complainant that he had posted a lien against his lender for fraud, and further told the complainant that as the result of a settlement in civil court, the complainant’s mortgage had been paid in full.

    According to the review, the complainant received authentic-looking court documents courtesy of the Department of Justice Civil Division’s Torts Branch. The complainant became suspicious when he noted that the documents were sent from a P.O. box. The complainant contacted the Department of Justice, who confirmed that the P.O. box was not used or owned by the department.

    The complainant contacted his lender, who confirmed that a settlement had never been reached in reference to the complainant’s mortgage.

    “The house has not been forgiven like we were told. We have yet to see any settlement,” the 2016 complaint said. “What we have now is close to foreclosure.”

    Ward remains in custody in California, pending extradition to Arizona. Ward will face multiple felony charges, according to LHCPD, including fraud, fraudulent schemes and artifices, theft and forgery.

    The department also says Ward is under investigation by other state and federal agencies for similar complaints nationwide, and there is an active felony warrant for Ward’s arrest in Tennessee for similar accusations.

    The police department has identified multiple alleged victims in the case, and anyone with additional information is encouraged to contact LHCPD Detective Brian Madsen at (928) 855-1171.
Source: Law enforcement arrest man on fraud charges in Northern California (Extradition to Arizona for similar felony charges pending; other states investigating).

Monday, May 15, 2017

After 12-Day Trial, Jury Takes Less Than 2 Hours To Slam Niece/Live-In Caretaker With Guilty Verdict For Duping Cognitively-Impaired, 97-Year Old Aunt Into Signing Over Title To Her Home

In Palo Alto, California, the Palo Alto Weekly reports:
  • A woman was convicted of felony elder abuse and fraud on Wednesday [May 10] after getting her aunt to sign over the deed to the older relative's East Palo Alto home, the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office said.

    Shirley Venoya Remmert, 71, lived with her 97-year-old aunt who owned the home and provided care for her older relative, who was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment in February 2015. In June of that year Remmert had her aunt sign a quitclaim deed to the home, which Remmert recorded with the county on January 2016, according to District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

    Remmert isolated her aunt from other family members, who notified the 97-year-old's bank that Remmert might be abusing her. The bank reported the concern to county Adult Protective Services. An investigation by the agency's Public Guardian/Conservatorship Program and the East Palo Alto Police Department revealed that Remmert had withdrawn between $40,000 to $80,000 from the victim's bank account and hid the money in the home without the victim's knowledge or permission.

    The victim did not know she had signed the quitclaim and believed she still owned the home. She thought the paperwork was to guarantee that the house and assets would be divided among family members when she dies, according to Wagstaffe.

    A jury deliberated for less than two hours after a 12-day trial and convicted Remmert on all charges: felony fiscal elder abuse by a caretaker, felony filing of a fraudulent document, and felony submitting a fraudulent claim. The jury also found the enhancements that could lead to a stiffer sentence to be true: fraud amounting to more than $500,000 and theft of more than over $200,000.

    Remmert served as her own attorney during the trial with a stand-by defense counsel. She will be sentenced on June 23 and remains in custody on $50,000 bail.
Source: Niece found guilty of fleecing 97-year-old aunt (Older relative was unaware she signed quitclaim deed to her East Palo Alto home).

Brooklyn Man Gets Bagged For Allegedly Using Forged Deeds, Imposters To Swipe Title To Six Homes; Targeted Properties Either Appeared Abandoned Or Belonged To Deceased Homeowners; Local DA Urges Real Estate Owners To Register w/ Citywide Alert System As Protective Measure Against Title Hijackings

In Brooklyn, New York, DNA Info (NYC) reports:
  • A Crown Heights man has been indicted for trying to steal six homes in Central Brooklyn using fake deeds — and imposters to pretend to be their owners, prosecutors say.

    Aderibigbe Ogundiran, 36, is accused of targeting properties that appeared abandoned or whose owners had died, illegally scooping up deeds in Fort Greene, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and East New York according to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office.

    The investigation of Ogundiran began in 2015 when the occupant of 176 Washington Park — a five-story 19th Century mansion located directly across from Fort Greene Park — received a notice to vacate the home that had belonged to her brother, who died in 2011.

    Prosecutors said Ogundiran took control of the home using an imposter who posed as the deceased man to create a deed. He then transferred ownership of the mansion to a corporation he controlled, prosecutors say.

    Ogundiran repeated that process at five other Brooklyn properties, sometimes filing fake documentation granting him or his corporations power of attorney at a home. Using those methods, Ogundiran took control of three properties in Bedford-Stuyvesant including a three-story building at 1424 Fulton St. and two small houses at 42 and 49 Albany Ave; a three-story brownstone in Crown Heights at 123 Albany Ave.; and a two-story brick house at 1024 Hendrix St. in East New York.

    Acting District Attorney Gonzalez said fraud like this is “inviting to thieves” to due the “escalating real estate values in Brooklyn.”

    “We vow to continue to vigilantly prosecute scam artists such as this defendant, but at the same time I would urge homeowners to protect themselves by registering with the Automated City Register Information System (ACRIS) so that they are automatically informed of changes made to documents associated with their property,” he said in a statement.

    Ogundiran was arraigned Tuesday [May 9] on 64 counts including forgery, scheme to defraud, identity theft, grand larceny and criminal impersonation, prosecutors said. He is being held on $200,000 bond or $100,000 bail and is set to return to court June 7. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
Source: Man Used Imposters of Dead Homeowners to Fake Deeds in Brooklyn, DA Says.

For the Brooklyn District Attorney press release, see Brooklyn Man Indicted for Deed Fraud in Connection With Six Properties, Including Landmarked Residence in Fort Greene (Also Attempted to Steal Properties in Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York, Scheme Mostly Targeted Homes of Deceased Owners).

Upstate NY Real Estate Operator Gets 4 To 12 Years For Running 'Snatch & Flip' Title Hijacking Racket That Targeted Homes In Foreclosure Or Bankruptcy

In Albany, New York, the Albany Times Union reports:
  • A Rensselaer man was sentenced to four to 12 years in state prison on Friday [May 5] after pleading guilty to three felony counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument, prosecutors said.

    The Albany County District Attorney's Office said Zarak Ali, 43, filed multiple false deeds with the county clerk's office between September 2015 and February 2016 on multiple properties throughout Albany County that were either in bankruptcy or foreclosure proceedings. Ali then rented out or sold those properties without the permission from the rightful owners.

    The DA's office said Ali pleaded guilty to several felonies in multiple counties after engaging in the same scheme in those places, which include Rensselaer, Schenectady, Columbia and Saratoga counties.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Long Island Closing Attorney Gets 3 To 9 Years For Filching Over $5.7 Million In Mortgage Refinancing Proceeds From Landlord Group Involving 8 Brooklyn Properties

From the Office of the Nassau County, New York District Attorney:
  • Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced that a West Hempstead attorney was sentenced today [April 24] to three to nine years in prison and ordered to pay restitution for stealing more than $5.7 million from clients between September 2012 and February 2014.

    David Frankel, 52, pleaded guilty on January 10 before Acting Supreme Court Justice Helene Gugerty to Grand Larceny in the 1st Degree (a B felony).

    Within days of receiving $5.7 million of his clients’ money to hold in escrow, this unscrupulous lawyer began stealing the funds, spending nearly all of it for his own personal purposes,” DA Singas said. “Thanks to our prosecutors and investigators this defendant will now go to prison and be forced to return the money to his former clients.”

    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.(1)

    The NCDA was alerted to the allegations and an investigation was opened in December 2015. The defendant was disbarred in October 2015.

    Assistant District Attorney Peter Mancuso of DA Singas’ Government and Consumer Frauds Bureau is prosecuting the case.
Source: West Hempstead Attorney Sentenced to 3 - 9 Years for Stealing More Than $5.7 Million from Clients (David Frankel, 52, stole real estate proceeds to fund his own investments).
(1) In New York, The Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection was created to provide a source of, at least partial, reimbursement to clients who have suffered monetary losses at the hands of dishonest lawyers licensed and practicing in the state.

According to their website, typical losses reimbursed by the Lawyers' Fund include the theft of estate and trust assets, escrow deposits in real property transactions, settlements in personal injury litigation, debt collection receipts, money embezzled in investment transactions with law clients, and unearned fees paid in advance to lawyers who falsely promise their legal services.

Perhaps the best of all the attorney ripoff reimbursement funds in the U.S. in terms of its payout limits, the Fund places a $400,000 maximum limit, per law client loss, on awards from the Fund, fixed by regulation of the Fund's Trustees. There is no aggregate maximum on awards involving one lawyer.

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

Long Island Lawyer Faces Charges Of Stealing $500K+ From Estate Of One Client, $80K In Escrow Funds Held On Behalf Of Another Client

In East Hampton, New York, the East Hampton Star reports:
  • An East Hampton attorney who was barred from the practice of law in August for “mental incompetence” has been charged with stealing over $500,000 from the estate of a North Fork woman, and with several more crimes including theft from another lawyer.

    Kyle Thomas Lynch, 42, turned himself in [] at the district attorney’s office in Riverside to face charges of second-degree felony grand larceny.
    According to the D.A.’s economic crimes bureau, which has been investigating the matter in cooperation with village police for a year and a half, Mr. Lynch took money from the estate of Helen Chalmers, who died in the fall of 2013, and deposited it into the business account of his law firm, Bainton Lynch, specialists in real estate.
    Village police charge that Mr. Lynch did not limit his alleged thievery to the dead woman’s estate.

    Another victim was another lawyer, Carl Irace, who was an associate in the Bainton Lynch firm. The police indicated [] that Mr. Lynch had drained most of the firm’s equity funds. Bainton Lynch was on Much­more Lane, in village jurisdiction.

    Mr. Irace contacted police after he noticed a discrepancy on two of his credit card statements. “He came in and made a complaint to us,” Detective Steve Sheades said yesterday. Mr. Lynch allegedly took out two credit cards in Mr. Irace’s name, running up charges of over $50,000, the detective said.

    Another victim was said to have been a client of the firm, Thomas Rudegeair. His case involved money held in escrow; police say, among other things, that $80,000 of that money was diverted to the firm.

    The charges include second-degree felony grand larceny, identity theft, illegal possession of another person’s identity information, and grand larceny third degree.
Source: East Hampton Lawyer Stole $500,000, D.A. Charges (Some money went to church, schools, hospital).
(1) In New York, The Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection was created to provide a source of, at least partial, reimbursement to clients who have suffered monetary losses at the hands of dishonest lawyers licensed and practicing in the state.

According to their website, typical losses reimbursed by the Lawyers' Fund include the theft of estate and trust assets, escrow deposits in real property transactions, settlements in personal injury litigation, debt collection receipts, money embezzled in investment transactions with law clients, and unearned fees paid in advance to lawyers who falsely promise their legal services.

Perhaps the best of all the attorney ripoff reimbursement funds in the U.S. in terms of its payout limits, the Fund places a $400,000 maximum limit, per law client loss, on awards from the Fund, fixed by regulation of the Fund's Trustees. There is no aggregate maximum on awards involving one lawyer.

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

Attorney With Past History Of Playing Fast & Loose With Trust Account Cash Now Gets The Boot For Fleecing 3 Clients Out Of Over $180K

In St. John's, Newfoundland, CBC News reports:
  • A St. John's lawyer has been stripped of his credentials to practise law after it was discovered he wrongly used hundreds of thousands of dollars of clients' money.

    Michael J.M. Drover, was disbarred on May 3 by the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, after a tribunal found he misappropriated $181,483.97 from three clients and used $220,775 held in trust for two clients to pay invoices from his firm — without giving the clients copies of the invoices.(1)

    It was also determined that he attempted to mislead the Law Society, and failed to respond in a timely and substantive manner to communications from the society.

    Not first time disciplined

    All of the actions that led to Drover losing his credentials happened between 2011 and 2014, according to the Law Society.

    In addition to having his rights and privileges as as a lawyer taken away, Drover is also struck from the Roll of Barristers in the province.

    Drover was also disciplined in 2007 and 2013 for failing to avoid conflict of interest between lawyer and a client, failing to protect his client's property, failing to perform undertakings and failing to respond to the Law Society in a timely manner.
Source: Lawyer disbarred for misusing more than $181K belonging to clients.
(1) The Lawyers’ Insurance Programme (LIP) of the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador administers in-house for members the Society’s mandatory professional liability insurance policy, the excess insurance plan and the Assurance Fund. LIP is a member of the Canadian Lawyers Insurance Association (CLIA), a reciprocal insurance exchange. It provides professional liability insurance for practicing lawyers in seven provinces and the territories. See, generally, Levy stays steady as lawyers’ insurance fund hits $10M.

Among other things this program handles claims from clients who have suffered monetary losses at the hands of dishonest lawyers licensed and practicing in the Canadian province of Newfoundland & Labrador.

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

Sticky-Fingered Attorney Gets 11 1/2 To 23 Months Jail Time After Coming Clean To Pilfering Over $96.5K From Clients

In Montgomery County, Pennslyvania, The Times Herald reports:
  • An apologetic former Norristown lawyer admitted to stealing more than $90,000 from clients and faces time behind bars for his conduct.

    Craig Kellerman, 57, who once had a law office in the first block of East Marshall Street, was sentenced in Montgomery County Court on Tuesday [May 2] to 11 ½ to 23 months in the county jail after he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received in connection with incidents that occurred between 2015 and 2016.

    Judge Gary S. Silow, who accepted a plea agreement in the matter, also ordered Kellerman to complete five years’ probation following parole, meaning Kellerman will be under court supervision for about seven years. The judge ordered Kellerman to pay a total of $96,500 in restitution in connection with the case.

    As he learned his fate, Kellerman, who is widely known in Montgomery County legal circles, apologized for his conduct but did not offer a reason for the thefts. Kellerman, who was represented by defense lawyer Keith Harbison, declined to comment further as he was escorted from the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies on his way to complete his jail term.

    With the charges, prosecutors alleged Kellerman pocketed $40,000 that a client he represented in a criminal matter had turned over to him and which Kellerman was supposed to put toward the client’s restitution in the criminal case. Additionally, Kellerman pocketed more than $50,000 that was part of a settlement awarded to a client he represented in a civil matter, according to prosecutors.

    “Mr. Kellerman kept the money and used it for his own benefit,” said county Assistant District Attorney Christopher Daniels, who sought jail time against Kellerman.

    “Mr. Kellerman was a respected, long-time lawyer in Norristown and all lawyers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, all of us, we all take oaths and we all have duties to our clients and Mr. Kellerman violated those duties here,” Daniels said.

    Kellerman’s conviction will be reported to the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and he potentially faces being disbarred for his conduct. Currently, Kellerman’s law license is under temporary suspension, officials said.

    An investigation began in July 2016 when the client Kellerman represented in a criminal matter reported to Norristown police that he had given $40,000 to Kellerman that was supposed to be held in escrow for future payment of restitution but which was spent by Kellerman, according to a criminal complaint.

    Investigators later became aware of the additional civil client who was “defrauded” by Kellerman, according to the arrest affidavit filed by Norristown Detective Corporal Nicholas Dumas.

    Kellerman has been in jail since Dec. 15, 2016, and will receive credit for that time served, according to the plea agreement.
Source: Norristown lawyer jailed for stealing $96K from clients.
(1) The Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security was established by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1982 to reimburse clients (at least partially, if not fully) who have suffered a loss as a result of a misappropriation of funds by their Pennsylvania attorney.

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

Career Coming To Screeching Halt For Western Kentucky Attorney? Soon After Cops Announce Arrest For Alleged Filching Of $93K From One Client, More Victims Come Forward With Similar Gripes; Cops Now Have 34 Complaints Under Probe

In McCracken County, Kentucky, West Kentucky reports:
  • A local attorney has been arrested on multiple counts of theft, and police say more charges are possible.

    The McCracken County Sheriff's Office says deputies began investigating after they got information that 43-year-old James “Grant” King had failed to pay collected settlement money to his clients.

    Detectives said a couple who had been involved in an accident hired King in February of 2016. King was to negotiate a settlement agreement with Nationwide Insurance. Within six weeks of being hired, police say King had settled both claims, collecting a combined $93,000 without consulting with his clients to seek their approval on the amounts being settled.

    According to police, King failed to notify his clients that he had settled and collected with Nationwide. Police said the clients only found out after they began investigating why the case had not been settled. After being told by Nationwide that the case had been settled, King was confronted. He reportedly told his clients the paperwork must have been misplaced and the money was still sitting in escrow.

    The clients, not believing this, filed a criminal complaint with the sheriff’s department. Through the investigation, detectives were able to view King’s escrow account statements, which showed he deposited the combined $93,000 in March and April of 2016. A few weeks later, police say all the money had been removed from the account.

    Police said transaction records showed approximately half the money went to King himself, with the rest being written for payroll, personal expenses, and what is believed to be other clients that he may have owed money. Detectives were unable to locate any records where the clients in this case received any money or where any medical bills associated from the accident had been paid.

    King was arrested Thursday [April 27] on two counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of property $10,000 or more.

    Detectives said another of King's former clients contacted them on Friday [April 28]. The man told them he was involved in an accident in April 2015 and hired King to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company. After not hearing anything for over a year, the victim checked with the insurance company and was told the case had been settled last May for $17,500. The victim told police he hadn’t received any payment to date from King.

    Detectives later learned King had deposited a settlement check of $17,500 made out to King Law and the victim on May 6[, 2016]. The victim did not get any of that money, and detectives were able to show that King had spent it.

    King was charged with another count of theft over $10,000.

    The Sheriff’s Department says it is investigating several other complaints [against] King, and more charges possible.
Source: Local Attorney Faces Additional Theft Charges.

For story update, see Affidavit Lists 34 Complaints Against Grant King:
  • More than 30 people have now come forward with criminal complaints against a local attorney accused of settling insurance claims and pocketing the money without the knowledge of his clients. According to the search warrant affidavit, there have been a total of 34 complaints against Grant King.
(1) The Kentucky Supreme Court (SCR 3.820) established a Clients' Security Fund (CSF) to promote public confidence in the administration of justice and the integrity of the legal profession” by providing some measure of restitution to clients who have lost money because of the dishonest, fraudulent acts, or other unethical conduct of a member of the Kentucky Bar. To fund CSF, a portion of each Kentucky attorney’s dues, as determined by the Supreme Court, is allocated to the CSF each year. No tax dollars support the CSF.

At present there are caps on recovery. There is a cap of $50,000 per claim, with a total cap per attorney of $150,000. If there are so many claims against an attorney that the cap is reached, awards may be reduced on a pro rata basis.

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