Saturday, July 01, 2017

South Jersey Nursing Home Offering Hospice, Palliative Care Shuts Down After Persistently Poor Conditions Force Feds To Terminate Medicare/Medicaid Reimbursement Contracts; State To Help Over 130 Residents In Scramble To Find New Accommodations

In Mount Laurel. New Jersey, the Burlington County Times reports:
  • More than 130 residents of the Mount Laurel Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center were transferred to other facilities [] after its provider agreement with Medicare and Medicaid was terminated because of poor conditions.

    Residents and their families were sent a letter May 30 that the Church Road facility could no longer accept payment through Medicare and Medicaid as of Friday [June 16], as ordered by the federal Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services.

    The facility closed Friday. It had 220 beds and offered various services that include palliative care and physical and occupational therapy.
    The Mount Laurel Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center is listed on the federal Medicare website as a special focus facility, a designation given to nursing and rehabilitation centers with a history of persistent poor quality of care.

    Multiple health inspections over the past year revealed various safety issues, including failure to report physical altercations between residents; unclean and unsanitary living environments; inadequate intervention for a suicidal resident; insufficient training for staff; and failure to investigate and report sexual abuse and harassment between residents.

    Brenda Leese, whose husband has been a resident at the facility since 2014, said he had an overall positive experience. But the Collingswood resident added that she was displeased with the way management treated the staff.

    “The employees are very dedicated,” Leese said. “I think at times the communication between management and employees and management and families was holding back progress.”

    The employees were not notified about the closing until after the residents had received word, she said. In some cases, employees were told by residents themselves.

    Leese’s husband has dementia and is in hospice. He was transferred to a facility in Cherry Hill on Wednesday.

    My husband is not able to process all this,” she said. “It’s better to be oblivious.”

    Leese said 10 residents per day were moving out in the week leading up to the closure. It was hoped the new owners would let the residents stay for free during the transition, as the new company would most likely accept Medicare and Medicaid, she said.

    Some residents needed to relocate to centers farther away because of bed shortages.

    “Their lives have been strained as a result,” she said.

    Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, has been working with the New Jersey Department of Health to ensure residents are accommodated as best as possible. The department is overseeing the transition.

    “I want to make sure residents are not collateral damage because we had a bad operator,” Singleton said.

Another Nursing Home With Uncorrected Health, Safety Issues Forced To Shut Down As Feds Terminate Medicare/Medicaid Reimbursement Contracts; State Steps In To Oversee Relocation Scramble For About 150 Residents

In Hagerstown, Maryland, the Herald-Mail reports:
  • The relocation of about 150 residents from NMS Healthcare of Hagerstown is progressing, with about half of them already moved out, according to a Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene official.

    The relocation of residents comes after officials at the nursing home at 14014 Marsh Pike in the city's North End announced on June 6 that they are closing the facility.

    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said previously that NMS Healthcare of Hagerstown had been out of compliance with Medicare requirements since Dec. 6. Medicare payments were terminated to the facility on June 6.

    It also lost its ability to receive Medicaid payments, state officials said.

    Medicare officials said there were dozens of deficiencies at NMS Healthcare of Hagerstown, including 14 found during a Feb. 24 survey that "posed immediate jeopardy to resident health or safety."

    The state contracted with Pennsylvania-based LW Consulting Inc. to manage the relocation of residents from the facility.

    Brittany Fowler, deputy director of communications for the state health department, said Tuesday that the relocation process is progressing with "good cooperation of all parties."

    As of June 6, about half of the facility's residents had been relocated, Fowler said.

    Asked when the process might be completed, Fowler referred to a May 19 letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to NMS Healthcare.

    For patients admitted to the Hagerstown facility prior to Feb. 26, Medicare payments may continue to be made for a maximum of 30 days for services furnished on or after June 6, providing that NMS is making reasonable efforts to relocate residents.

    Repeated attempts to reach NMS officials about the relocation of patients and the closure process were unsuccessful.

    Hagerstown resident Rhonda Schwartz said her parents shared a room at NMS Healthcare.

    Her mother went to the facility about three years ago, and her father followed her last year, Schwartz said.

    Officials at the facility have worked on the relocation of her parents. At one point, there was discussion of moving them to an NMS facility in Annapolis, she said.

    "They're not going there," said Schwartz, noting that she enjoys being able to visit her parents at the local facility four or five nights a week.

    Schwartz is working on getting her parents — who have recently ended up at Meritus Medical Center for different conditions — into a nursing home in Mount Airy, Md., she said.

State Shutdown Triggered By Lack Of Repairs At Aging Nursing Home Facility, Forcing Relocation Of Vulnerable Elderly Residents

In Lenoir, North Carolina, WSOC-TV Channel 9 reports:
  • The Department of Health and Human Services issued the Carolina Oaks Enhanced Care Center a suspension of admission following a visit in early June.

    For many of its residents, Carolina Oaks is the only home they have known since being placed at the Lenoir facility.

    A large portion of the assisted living center, once known as the old Caldwell Memorial Hospital, is in need of repair. "It's really bad. It's so deteriorated. The floors are rocking when you walk on them," one resident said.

    "They haven't told me anything. I asked them when I was going to get to go home, and they said they couldn't tell me," resident Annie Jeffcoat said.

    DHHS found several violations during the June 6 visit, including conditions that presented an imminent danger to the health, safety, and welfare of the residents.

    Workers said when the administrator showed up this weekend, he announced the closure and hasn't been back since. "He abandoned [us], just quit us. We're finding placement for the residents and everything. We're out of a job," Activity Director Roseshell Morrow said.

    "We, as employees here at Carolina Oaks, we gave our all. Every single last one of us, as employees, we did our best each and every day," employee Victory Harshaw said.

    Family members said they could see chipped paint and leaky faucets in the aging facility.

    They don't fault the more than two dozen employees who cared for their loved ones. "All of the nurses in here are very upset because the people here are like family to us," employee Tabitha West said.

    The assisted living center is supposed to be closed by 5 p.m. on Thursday.

    Some residents moved out Wednesday, but Channel 9 found that the facility won't actually shut down until Department of Social Services finds each resident a new home.

Numerous Regulations, Declining Cost-Based Reimbursements, Tightened Financial Pressures Force Hospital To Close Its Skilled Nursing Home Unit; 23 Patients Face Relocation, Two Dozen Employees Await The Boot

In Carthage, New York, WWNY-TV Channel 7 reports:
  • Carthage Area Hospital is closing its skilled nursing unit. The move means 23 people must find a new place to live, and two dozen employees need new jobs.

    The skilled nursing unit is basically a small nursing home within the hospital. Closing the skilled nursing unit is expected to take several months.

    Hospital officials received permission to close from the state Department of Health late Friday afternoon. They were notifying residents of the unit, their families and unit employees Friday night.

    The hospital plans to help move residents to other local facilities "whenever possible," according to a press release Friday night [June 16]. That includes Country Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre next to the hospital; Lewis County General Hospital's residential care facility; and Samaritan Health's nursing facilities in Watertown.

    “We are saddened that our residents will have to be relocated,” hospital chief executive officer Rich Duvall said in the press release.

    “Our team will help each resident and his or her family through this process in an attempt to make the transition as seamless as possible.”
    Why is the hospital closing the nursing unit, which has been open since 1965? In its statement, the hospital cited "numerous regulations" which have "tightened financial pressures." The hospital also said the unit is too small to take advantage of "economies of scale," and has suffered "declining cost-based reimbursement."

    Just two days ago, the hospital announced it's now operating in the black, for the first time in seven years.

    Hospital officials said Friday night that the Skilled Nursing unit lost about $100,000 in 2016. The hospital said it plans to concentrate on offering other services and will "repurpose" the space now occupied by the Skilled Nursing Unit, about 10 percent of the hospital, for other things. What those other things are was not clear Friday night.

    “Despite our unwavering commitment to quality resident care, it has grown evident in recent years that we are unable to continue to operate the unit,” said Duvall in the written statement.

    “This decision, while heart-wrenching, will strengthen the long-term viability of Carthage Area Hospital for our communities and the many patients we serve.”

Despite Getting High Grades For Care, Gov't Budget-Tightening Forces Nursing Home For Dementia Patients To Shut Down, Forcing Mentally-Impaired Residents Out Of Their Familiar Surroundings

In Rugby, England, the Rugby Advertiser reports:
  • A successful dementia care home in Rugby will be closing, leaving residents and their families devastated.

    Cherry Trees care home residents and staff will have to relocate to sister homes after its owners, Pinnacle Care, took the decision to shut it down.

    The Dunchurch Road nursing home was rated as ‘good’ after its last inspection by the Care Quality Commission, and manager Sharon Evans said the situation was ‘tragic’.

    “We’ve got really good CQC reports, there’s nothing wrong with the care home, it’s just not financially viable any more which is quite hard to take,” she said.

    “So we want people in Rugby to be aware, it’s not because we’re a bad home. “It’s like a big smack in the face. We’re one big family, everyone is so close and we’re all very person-centred – it’s tragic.”

    Many residents are funded by the local authority, and with social care budgets tightening, Cherry Trees does not make enough money to stay open, Pinnacle Care’s director and founder, Virginia Bowen, said.

    “I don’t know any care home like Cherry Trees,” she said. “It’s very special and this is very, very sad.”

    Ms Bowen said they are negotiating when Cherry Trees will shut after 30 years, and confirmed staff would be able to move to the same homes as the residents to give them some familiarity.

    Manager Ms Evans added: “Residents will be going off to different homes which is quite unfair as they’ve already done one move to this home and they don’t want to do it again.

    “The families are absolutely gutted, they are all like, ‘what can we do to keep it open’, it’s really hard.”

Friday, June 30, 2017

Lawsuit: Disabled, Low-Income Detroit Homeowner Loses Home "Ambush-Style" By Demolition OK'd By City's Land Bank Authority; Municipal 'Perpetrator' Says House Was Blighted, Abandoned, While Victim's Three Long-Time Neighbors Provide Sworn Statements To The Contrary

In Detroit, Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reports:
  • Daniel Murray says his lifelong home on Detroit's west side was seized by the city's Land Bank Authority in an ambush-style eviction — his photos, mother's antiques and the family china cabinet among belongings tossed into a Dumpster and hauled away. Two months later, the property was demolished with federal money at a cost of $22,030.

    The Detroit Land Bank says the building was blighted, utilities were shut off, Murray wasn't living in the house and he never owned the property. And he just wants to embarrass and harass the land bank with a lawsuit filed in Wayne County Circuit Court naming the authority and Rickman Enterprise Group, the demolition contractor, seeking more than $25,000 in damages.

    But earlier this month, the judge in the case, David Groner, denied the land bank's request to dismiss Murray's suit. Among his findings, Groner said Murray had "stated a claim for wrongful eviction" under state law and the lawsuit could proceed.

    Murray declined to be interviewed. But through his attorney, he issued this statement:

    “This house was my home. I grew up there, my family lived there, I lived there, and I kept everything there. I told the Land Bank I was living there and wanted to stay. By destroying the house, the Land Bank destroyed my life.”
    Josh Akers, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn who has followed the land bank and teaches geography and urban studies, said the land bank's issues reflect a lack of controls and expertise to manage a large-scale demolition program, especially one with a strong emphasis on speed.

    Akers said oversight is complicated by multiple sources of demolition funds, each with different rules.

    Akers said he is familiar with Murray's case, and believes the land bank should figure out what happened, instead of calling Murray and his neighbors liars, and being so "adamant ... about their right to tear down his house. You can't give Daniel his house back, but you can look at your processes to ensure it doesn't happen again."

    Akers said the land bank doesn't have "that kind of internal capacity. No wonder they're facing so many other outside challenges from the various agencies that oversee them."

    Fahle, the land bank spokesman, declined comment on Murray's situation, citing the pending lawsuit. But he pointed to stronger controls adopted in 2016 to ensure all state and federal guidelines are followed properly.

    According to his lawsuit, Murray's parents bought the house in 1961, when he was 8, and he continued to live there after their deaths; his father in the 1970s, his mother in the 1990s. But he didn't have title to the house. The structure was forfeited to the Wayne County treasurer for non-payment of taxes in September 2011 and ended up in the hands of the land bank in April 2014.

    Murray, who is 64 and receives federal disability benefits, said he was not aware that the land bank owned the property until he got a call from a neighbor, Maurice Gambrell, who said two men had pried open the door to his house with a crowbar, according to the lawsuit.

    Gambrell said the men told him in April 2016 that Murray's house was on the city's demolition list and they were there to empty it, the lawsuit said.

    Murray was in Southfield at the time, watching his grandchildren, and rushed back to Quincy Street, which is northeast of Livernois and Fenkell, to confront the men and make a police report, the suit said.

    The men took Murray's medications and about $250 in cash, the suit claims. They had also strewn other belongings around the house, damaged the blinds and removed the front door.
    "This ambush-style eviction has been deeply traumatic and disruptive to Murray's life. He lost the home he had lived in since age 8, that his deceased parents had purchased. He is now without a home and is renting a room at a family member's house," the suit says.

    "Additionally, Murray lost essentially all of his belongings that he kept in the house," including clothes and furniture. As a person who receives disability and food assistance benefits, "these cannot be easily replaced."

    "Moreover, a price cannot be put on the countless other of his deeply personal family possessions, including family pictures, his family china cabinet, and his mother's antiques," the suit claims.
    Three of Murray's neighbors have signed sworn affidavits saying he lived in the house.

    "Anyone who looked at 15745 Quincy from the street would have seen that the home was occupied and not abandoned. The lawn was continuously mowed and otherwise kept up, the doors and windows were locked, there were possessions in the home, and a gate was up around the yard," said neighbor Shona Butts.

    Two other neighbors, Dwayne Lee and Gambrell, said Murray would regularly shovel the snow, mow the lawn and take out the trash. Lee said he would "often see the lights on in Daniel's house."

    In an interview on his front porch, Gambrell said: "It's not fair the way they took the house down." He said Murray's house could have been fixed up for less than the more than $22,000 spent on the demolition.

    David Harris of Southfield said in an affidavit that he and Murray grew up as neighbors on Quincy and have known each other for more than 50 years. Harris said he would pick him up at his house twice a week to take him on errands because Murray didn't have a car.

    He said he went inside Murray's house frequently, and it was "where he kept all his possessions. He was not a resident at any other home."

Shortly After Elderly Homeowner Breaks Hip & Gets Placed In Assisted Living Facility, Squatters Move Into His Home & Tear It To Pieces; Eventually Get Booted By Cops

In Spokane, Washington, KXLY-TV Channel 4 reports:
  • When Josh Mulvey was making coffee Monday morning, he noticed a man trying to steal an ATV from his neighbor's garage near E. Grace and N. Havana St.

    "I ran outside, snuck up behind him, yelled at him, asked him what he was doing," said Mulvey.

    The man fled on a bike, and Mulvey decided to take a closer look, discovering something even more troubling.

    "I went around to the front of the house and the front door was cracked open," Mulvey said.

    The homeowner is a man in his 80's. Mulvey had only met him a few times, and decided to call authorities for a welfare check.

    "When the police officer showed up, they went inside just to make sure the homeowner was okay," Mulvey said. "When they got in there, they found a couple squatters, who were living inside the house and I guess they were asleep."

    Mulvey soon learned the homeowner had broken his hip months ago and was living in an assisted living home just down the street.

    Squatters had taken advantage of the vacant home and trashed the inside.

    "I mean, the inside of the house is just destroyed," he said. "I mean, they basically took everything that man built, the life that man built, and just tore it to pieces."

    The squatters were cited by police and have since left the house. Mulvey said he's being vigilant, and working with homeowner's family. He's put up "no trespassing" signs, installed padlocks, and plans to mount security cameras. Mulvey hopes his efforts will deter any future trouble.

    "This isn't a place you can come and break into and loot from anyone. You know, this is somebody's home, not an abandoned house," said Mulvey.

Central Florida Woman Loses Control Of Her Home To Squatters; Deadbeats Take Over Home For Two Months, Refusing To Leave; Giving Them The Boot May Require Formal Eviction

In Punta Gorda, Florida, WFTX-TV Channel 4 reports:
  • A Punta Gorda homeowner says squatters have been living in her home for two months and refuse to leave.

    Lucila Gale turned to Four In Your Corner in hopes of shedding light on the issue which she believes is a widespread problem in parts of Charlotte County.

    A damaged ATV is parked in the front yard of Gale's home, she says its a sign of the chaos squatters have created. “I cannot believe these people would do something like that. I mean they have destroyed everything, look in here, look in here!” said Gale as she opened a door with graffiti drawn on it.

    Inside the room was a pile of what appeared to be dirty clothes. “Look in here," said Gale as she walked through the debris on her patio. "I am without words I am completely baffled about this whole situation,” said Gale.

    Homeless people have taken over her home, trashing just about every corner of it. Gale says they even stole most of the furniture in the home.

    The electricity in the home has been off for months and so has the water, but there was running water in the home. Gale believes the squatters somehow reconnected the water service.

    Gale told Four In Your Corner her son, who once lived in the home, allowed a friend to stay there. She claims her son's friend invited other homeless people to the home and now they refuse to leave.

    "These are people who don’t belong in here,” said Gale.

    Inside a back bedroom, a man lied shirtless on a twin bed while a woman stood over him eating a cookie. The pair claimed they had no idea they couldn't stay at the home even though they had never paid rent or any utility bills.

    “You think you can live here free? said Gale. "Well," said the man. The female squatter also chimed in. “We didn’t know any of the situation,” said the woman.

    Florida Law requires that Gale formally evict the squatters through court which could take weeks. “I’m not in control of my own property; that can not be! That can not be.” said Gale.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Notorious NYC Landlord To Get One Year Jail Time, Cough Up $5 Million As Part Of State AG's Use Of Parallel Criminal/Civil Proceedings To Prosecute Owner Of 140+ Apartment Buildings For Allegedly Harassing Rent-Regulated Tenants Out Of Their Homes & Tax Fraud

In New York City, Crain's New York Business reports:
  • Manhattan landlord Steven Croman will serve a year in jail and cough up $5 million after pleading guilty Tuesday [June 6] in a tenant-harassment and tax-fraud case.

    Croman, who owns more than 140 buildings across the city, had a history of purchasing rental properties, quickly moving to force out rent-regulated tenants, then refinancing the loans at more favorable terms. At times he even employed an ex-NYPD officer to intimidate lodgers into moving out. But that shady business is not what did him in.

    In several instances, when Croman couldn't actually rid a building of low-paying residents, he would simply lie and tell banks that he had. The more market-rate units his buildings contained—even if only on paper—the better Croman's loan terms would be.

    "Steven Croman is a fraudster and a criminal who engaged in a deliberate and illegal scheme to fraudulently obtain bank loans," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement announcing the plea.

    But Tuesday's guilty plea represents just part of Croman's legal woes. In addition to his Rikers Island sentence and the payment of $5 million in income taxes he failed to withhold from one of his employees, Croman faces a separate civil case brought by Schneiderman that focuses on his alleged harassment of tenants. The attorney general has also penned legislation to make future efforts to prosecute landlords easier.

    Schneiderman argues that current tenant-harassment laws make it effectively impossible to bring criminal charges against a landlord, which is why it hasn't happened in the past two decades. In this case, the attorney general's office had to take a circuitous route by pursuing a tax case in criminal court and then filing a separate civil action.
Source: 'Fraudster' Steven Croman cops a plea, but the landlord's legal woes are just beginning (Croman will serve a year in jail at Rikers Island and pay $5 million).

Ten Rent-Regulated Brooklyn Tenants Who Were Subjected To Landlord's 'Pitbull/Baseball Bat' Brigade To Unlawfully Evict Them From Long-Time Homes Finally Pocket $250K Payoff As Part Of $350K 'Jail Buyout' Deal Allowing Perpetrators To Avoid Prison

In Brooklyn, New York, DNAinfo (New York) reports:
  • A homeless Brooklyn mother whose family was torn apart by landlord harassment and unlawful eviction can begin to rebuild her life following a $68,000 criminal settlement.

    Zaida Paris, 50, a former tenant of Brooklyn landlords Joel and Amrom Israel, who pleaded guilty to scheme to defraud and unlawful eviction charges in November, beamed as she read over the details of the court settlement, following a sentencing hearing Wednesday in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

    "I've never seen that much money before," she said, "Things like this don't happen."

    Attorneys for the Israel brothers wrote out a series of checks Wednesday [June 14] for a total of $350,000 — $250,000 of which will go directly to ten tenants and the rest to the state's Tenant Protection Unit that will set up a fund for further reimbursements, according to the terms of the November plea deal.

    Paris received the heftiest payout of any of the ten tenants who faced harassment by pitbulls and men with baseball bats, according to prosecutors. Some of the building residents lived without kitchens and bathrooms for months on end, and some of whom were unlawfully evicted once their apartments had been demolished.
    Before the details of the settlement was announced the tearful mother of two told the court about the nightmare ordeal she had been through since losing her 15 Humboldt St. apartment where she'd lived for 19 years.

    Her marriage fell apart. She lost her job.

    "I now currently live in a shelter. My family has been ripped apart. My two children live in two different places," said Paris, a social worker who said one day she and her daughter came home to find the kitchen and bathroom destroyed, forcing the whole family onto the street.

    Their eviction was followed by a months-long, unsuccessful fight in housing court to get back in, she said.

    "Opening your door and finding your kitchen gutted and your bathroom and your sink on top of all the bricks is the last last memory I have of where I lived with my children," she said. "Because of what they did to us our lives will never be the same. There's no amount of money that can ever repay what they've done."

    Michelle Crespo, 36, another Israel brother tenant, whose family lived in an apartment in one of their properties in Bushwick without a bathroom or a kitchen for a year and had gaping holes in their floor that allowed rats and stray cats inside, said she was happy that her landlords were held accountable for the trauma they caused her.

    But she said she didn't think that a fine, even a hefty one, didn't quite feel like justice had been served.

    "I think jail time would have been the best," Crespo said, following the hearing. "I don't even feel like it's enough. All the families [they] hurt. It's not enough."

    The Israel brothers made a deal with prosecutors in November that would allow them to avoid jail in exchange for paying $350,000 within six months.

    Their lawyer said that pair admitted their guilt and paid their debt.

Landlord Faces Criminal Charge For Allegedly Cutting Off Water, Electricity To Tenants' Apartment In Effort To Give Them The Boot, Despite Court Order Directing Against Doing So

In Bourne, Massachusetts, The Bourne Enterprise reports:
  • A landlord from Sagamore Beach has been charged with violating state law by cutting off utilities to people to whom she had rented the second floor of her home on Oakwood Drive.

    Elizabeth M. Cheney, 47, of Oakwood Drive was arraigned in Falmouth District Court last Thursday, June 8. Ms. Cheney was charged with failing to provide utilities to a couple who was renting the upper floor of her home. Court records show that, on several occasions, Ms. Cheney shut off the water and electricity to a second-floor apartment that she had rented to Joseph Saldi, his wife, Meredith Oldfield, and their two children.

    According to the court records, Mr. Saldi told Bourne police that utilities had been shut off on March 19, following a verbal altercation with Ms. Cheney that day.

    Mr. Saldi said Ms. Cheney warned them that she was going to cut the power and water, police said. Shortly after the encounter, utilities were shut off and not turned back on until the next day, he said. Mr. Saldi said he had a signed, one-year lease with Ms. Cheney that included all utilities. The lease expires in September 2017, he said.

    Police spoke with Ms. Cheney, who said she was in the process of evicting Mr. Saldi and his family. Bourne Police Lieutenant Brandon M. Esip said that the reason for evicting the couple was not part of the police investigation. Lt. Esip added that, barring an emergency situation under which keeping utilities on would pose a safety threat, there is no legal justification for shutting off power and water to tenants.

    “A landlord cannot shut off utilities as a punitive measure,” he said.

    Under state law, any landlord who is required under the terms of a signed contract or lease to provide utilities, and does not, can be fined up to $300, or imprisoned for up to six months. Police said that Ms. Cheney denied the existence of a lease agreement, and Mr. Saldi was unable to provide officers with a copy of the lease.

    Court documents showed that police were called to the residence again later in the month by Mr. Saldi who said Ms. Cheney had again turned off his water, despite being awarded a temporary restraining order against the landlord from Falmouth District Court on March 20. The order said that Ms. Cheney was to refrain from tampering with the water and electricity to the upstairs apartment, or face a civil fine.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Jury Reaches Guilty Verdict Against Out-Of-Control Landlord Over Endangering Efforts To Illegally Drive Rent-Regulated Tenants Out Of Their Homes By Cutting Off Heat & Hot Water, Exposing Them To Lead-Contaminated Dust, Friable Asbestos While Engaging In Unsafe Construction Practices

From the Office of the New York State Attorney General:
  • New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the guilty verdict of Crown Heights landlord Daniel Melamed, and the corporation that he controlled, on three counts of Unlawful Eviction of rent stabilized tenants. Melamed will be sentenced on September 13, 2017; he could face up to one year in jail.

    The guilty verdict follows a months-long investigation into Melamed’s ownership and management of an apartment building at 1578 Union Street, where the Attorney General found evidence that Melamed used construction and deprivation of services in an attempt to get rent stabilized tenants to give up their apartments. Melamed’s June 2015 arrest was the first resulting from the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force, a collaboration between State and City agencies announced by Attorney General Schneiderman, Mayor de Blasio, and Governor Cuomo in February 2015.

    “We won’t hesitate to bring the full force of the law against anyone who harasses, intimidates, and jeopardizes the health and safety of tenants,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Daniel Melamed intentionally endangered rent-stabilized tenants in order to push them out – and line his own pockets. Today’s guilty verdict marks another win for our Tenant Harassment Task Force and the strong partnership we’ve created between the state and the city to hold bad landlords accountable.”
    Prosecutors from the A.G.’s office proved that Melamed presided over a disturbing pattern of dangerous and unlawful construction that jeopardized the health and safety of building tenants with the intent of evicting the remaining rent stabilized tenants. The evidence presented at trial showed that Melamed illegally shut off heat to rent regulated tenants, even when temperatures dropped below freezing; repeatedly exposed tenants to lead dust that exceeded acceptable levels by as much as eighty-eight times the permissible threshold; and removed the boiler in the middle of winter from the building without permission from any City or State agencies.

    As proven at trial, almost immediately after buying the building, Melamed embarked on a campaign to rid it of rent stabilized tenants by cutting essential services such as heat, performing illegal construction and failing to contain and clean toxic lead dust. The three remaining tenants testified against their landlord and detailed how they adapted to life under his ownership, including using ovens to heat their apartments, bathing using buckets, and covering their noses and mouths to protect themselves against the lead dust. This trial exposed the lengths that Melamed went to force these tenants to leave their rent stabilized apartments.

    After taking part in a joint task force inspection of 1578 Union Street in Brooklyn and observing the extremely troubling conditions, such as a lack of heat and hot water, exposed friable asbestos in the basement, and a thick layer of dust that was present throughout the building, the TPU conducted tenant interviews and reviewed various records and then formally made a criminal referral to the Attorney General.
Source: Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Guilty Verdict For Brooklyn Landlord Who Harassed Rent Regulated Tenants (Daniel Melamed Found Guilty On Three Counts Of Unlawful Eviction; Could Face Up To One Year In Jail; The Case Marks A Victory For The Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force, An Unprecedented Collaboration Between City And State Agencies).

Go here for the Spanish version of the press release. epa environmental protection agency lead contamination

Bay State Housing Discrimination: State Law Requirement That Landlords Abate Lead Contamination In Homes, Apartments Built Before 1978 Before Renting To Families w/ Young Kids Leads Many Real Estate Agents To Illegally Steer Prospects Away From Offending Properties

In Boston, Massachusetts, The Boston Globe reports:
  • It’s hard enough for most people to find a reasonable apartment for rent in Boston, but when you throw a child into the mix, it can be almost impossible.

    Kara Olivere, a special education teacher in Arlington, spent nearly a year trying to find an apartment for herself and her 1-year-old. She rarely heard back from rental agents. “When I first started looking, I was very upfront about having a toddler,’’ Olivere said. After a while, she stopped mentioning her son, and voila, she got appointments to tour apartments. The agents would be friendly at the showing, she said, “but once I mentioned I had a child, their attitude would drastically change.’’

    At a showing in Somerville, Olivere told the agent the apartment was rundown and wouldn’t be safe for her son. “You never told me you had a son,’’ the agent barked, adding that none of the nearby apartments were deleaded either. Olivere asked him what she was supposed to do as a parent trying to rent with a young child. “He said, ‘People with kids just buy,’ ’’ she recalled.

    While getting the rental application for a nice apartment in Medford, Olivere asked who lived upstairs. The agent “said she wasn’t sure, but no one with kids, because the prior applicant was rejected for having a kid,’’ Olivere said. “I told her that was illegal and that I have a son.’’ Some awkward backpedaling followed, but Olivere didn’t get the apartment.

    Having rented with roommates for years, Olivere said, it was always tough to find a decent apartment in the city, but renting with a child has put past searches in perspective. “It’s not that it was easy,’’ she said, “but the realtors were eager to work with you — you’d practically have to beat them off with a stick.’’ Renting with a kid, meanwhile, was a nonstarter. “My profession, income, credit, and savings are all better than they’ve ever been in the past,’’ she said, “but I couldn’t even get called back, much less see a place.’’

    The law, meanwhile, is clear: It’s illegal not to rent to families with children or to offer them different rental terms — such as requiring families to live in a first-floor unit or charging them a security deposit when other tenants don’t pay one, said Jamie Langowski, assistant director of the Housing Discrimination Testing Program at Suffolk University Law School. The program tests for cases of housing bias primarily in Greater Boston, and unfortunately, Olivere’s experience isn’t unique. “There is rampant illegal discrimination occurring,’’ Langowski said.

    “The tests are pretty straightforward, much like secret shopping,’’ Langowski said. Two testers who are similar in virtually every way except for one key variable — such as familial status, race, or gender identity — inquire about apartments, documenting their interactions with rental agents and landlords. “What we’ve found is that discrimination against families with children is common,’’ Langowski said, and prospective tenants are often told right to their faces that an apartment isn’t available to them because of their kids or the presence of lead paint.

    In search of something homey with outdoor space, Olivere ruled out big apartment complexes and focused on one- or two-bedroom apartments in multifamily homes. “There’s no shortage of those around Medford, Somerville, and Arlington,’’ she said. However, the familiar two- and three-decker homes were usually built before 1978, when lead paint was banned. Langowski said many rental agents tell renters with children only about new construction or units that are already deleaded. “This severely limits the options to families with kids, and it’s against the law.’’

    “People should be shown any apartment they want to see,’’ said Al Norton, rental manager at Unlimited Sotheby’s International Realty in Brookline. “Real estate agents never have the ability to say to someone, ‘You can’t see this place because you have a kid under 6.’ ’’ Still, Norton added, “there are a lot of landlords and agents out there who do their best to skirt or circumvent the rules.’’

    There are a few reasons landlords may be reluctant to rent to families, said Skip Schloming, former executive director of the Small Property Owners Association. For example, kids tend to put more wear and tear on a unit, he said, but the threat of paying for lead abatement is the chief deterrent that makes more than a few of them willing to break the law.

    Massachusetts lead law requires that landlords make a unit and any common areas lead safe if a child under the age of 6 will live there — and that includes paying for alternative housing while the work is being done. “That’s a pretty costly thing to do,’’ Schloming said. “I think it ranges from $5,000 to $15,000 per apartment.’’

    It may be daunting, but it’s a reality landlords must accept, Norton said. “No one likes being in situations where you can be forced to do things you don’t want to do, but that’s part of being a landlord,’’ Norton said. “I tell people: ‘If you don’t want issues, sell your property and put your money in a CD. It will make you a lot less, but there’s no risk involved.’ ’’

    But lead abatement isn’t always the epic expense landlords fear it to be, Langowski said. “People wrongly assume that if a young child will live there they have to delead the entire property,’’ she said. “The actual requirement is to make it lead safe, and abatement might only mean encapsulating window and door areas.’’

    Lead poisoning can cause serious developmental damage to the brain, kidneys, and nervous system. But lead-based paint in good condition usually isn’t harmful, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, so encapsulation — containing intact lead paint with a special liquid coating instead of removing it — is often recommended.

    Schloming blames the high cost of abatement on the meticulous labor involved in carefully scraping and removing lead paint instead of encapsulating it. “If they got rid of all the scraping requirements, that would bring the cost way down,’’ he said. “And that would end a great deal of the discrimination against families from landlords who feel they can’t afford the expense.’’

    At one point, Olivere thought her problems were solved when she moved into an apartment owned by a co-worker’s son. But she soon moved out, forfeiting more than $2,000 in realtor fees and prorated rent, after she discovered chipping lead paint everywhere. “One especially large piece was even held on by Scotch tape,’’ she said, and it all tested positive for lead paint.

    Olivere was able to stay with family as her apartment search dragged on, she said, “but not everyone has that luxury.’’ In fact, studies have shown that low-income and minority children are at much greater risk of lead poisoning, partly because they’re more likely to be living in older and rundown housing.

    Langowski said renters who experience discrimination should report it right away to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, local fair-housing organizations, or a testing program like the one at Suffolk Law. “Families who have been discriminated against because they have children may be entitled to damages,’’ she said. Last year, the Suffolk program won a settlement of more than $22,000 for renters wrongly evicted after one family member got pregnant.

    Norton recommends finding an ethical real estate agent you’re comfortable with who knows the law and will actively represent your interests. If you’re denied a showing because you have kids, a good agent can call out the landlord or listing office. “I send them an e-mail and say, ‘This e-mail is to confirm that you’re refusing to show me this apartment because my client has children,’ ’’ Norton said. “And wouldn’t you know, almost always I suddenly end up with an appointment.’’ That doesn’t guarantee they’ll get (or want) the apartment, but it clears the biggest hurdle, Norton said. “They are just trying to literally and figuratively get through the front door.’’ After that, he said, it’s much harder for an owner to turn down a qualified applicant without demonstrating discrimination.

    Norton doesn’t understand why so many landlords still drag their feet on lead abatement and treat families unfairly. “My attitude at this point, 40 years in, is that even if you don’t like the law, if you think it’s ridiculous and too stringent, you knew what it was when you got into the landlord business,’’ he said. Massachusetts does offer some financial help to landlords who make their units lead compliant, including tax credits and zero- to low-interest loans.

    As for Olivere, she finally found an apartment in East Arlington through a local Facebook group. The landlords, a young couple who live upstairs, told her they deleaded the entire property for their own piece of mind, which she considers something of a miracle. “I’ve never heard of this in my nine months looking,’’ Olivere said. “I am so grateful.’’
For the story, see Families with young children face ‘rampant’ discrimination in apartment search. epa environmental protection agency lead contamination

After Laying Dormant For Decades, Poisonous Lead Hazards Make Big Comeback In Philly's Old Industrial Neighborhoods As Booming Residential Construction Churns Up Toxic Soil, Spreading Noxious Dust Across Gentrifying Neighborhoods

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: the Philadelphia Inquirer & the Philadelphis Daily News report:
  • Her Kensington neighborhood is full of charm. Swank cafes with rustic wood and vintage lighting. Stoops and decks with skyline views. Young parents who bond at parks while their children play.

    Jana Curtis, a mother of three, finds excitement in this urban renaissance.

    But with it comes a sad reality.

    Her daughter was poisoned by lead. The culprit wasn’t paint. Or tap water. But soil — in her own backyard.

    The yard was poisoning my daughter,” Curtis said. “It’s just so horrifying.”

    Curtis and her family live in the heart of what was once Philadelphia’s industrial hub. For most of the last century, the “river ward” neighborhoods of Fishtown, Kensington, and Port Richmond, which snake along the Delaware, were blanketed with hulking factories and lead smelters. It was a time when manufacturers used lead in everything from paints to plastics. Lunch-pail laborers walked to work from tightly packed row homes as lead dust spewed from smokestacks, coating sidewalks, stoops, and yards.

    Once in the soil, the heavy metal stays indefinitely. Even minuscule amounts can permanently lower a child’s IQ and cause behavioral problems.

    At one time, Philadelphia had 36 lead smelters — more than any other city in America. Fourteen alone operated in these river wards.

    The lead plants are long gone, either razed or shuttered. But their toxic legacy remains.

    Today a development boom is disturbing lead that has sat dormant for decades. Construction crews — unchecked by government — churn up poisonous soil that can spread toxic dust across these gentrifying neighborhoods. This renaissance puts a new generation of children at risk.

    In the area’s most sweeping environmental investigation to date, the Inquirer and Daily News tested exposed soil in 114 locations in the river wards — parks, playgrounds, yards. Nearly three out of four had hazardous levels of lead contamination — a problem of previously unknown severity.

    In addition, reporters discovered high levels of lead dust on rowhouse stoops and sidewalks near construction sites. In tests taken from a popular neighborhood playground — both before and after digging began at a vacant lot across the street — a once-safe play area was shown to contain lead dust.

    Developers are not required to test soil for lead as a routine precaution before disturbing land. Further, no single governmental agency is responsible for making certain a yard’s soil is safe.

    Federal, state, and city officials, who have known about lead in the soil here for decades, quibble over who, if anyone, should regulate development within a former industrial area. State and federal officials say they only oversee development and cleanup within the boundaries of known contaminated sites. City officials say they don’t regulate soil.

    The city’s Department of Public Health is supposed to enforce a regulation that requires construction crews to contain noxious dust. Reporters spent five months in these neighborhoods, testing soil, interviewing residents, and keeping tabs on at least two dozen ongoing construction sites. Not once did they see workers take dust-control measures, even something as simple as spraying water to hold down dust.
    Earlier this year, a reporter took a dust-wipe sample from the playground and found no detectable levels of lead.

    About three months later, in early May, a reporter took another sample from the same spot. At the time, construction workers were using backhoes to dig foundations for new homes going up across the street. Dust and dirt were swirling around as children were busy at play.

    This sample shot up to 127.4 micrograms of lead in dust per square foot. While there is no federal hazard level for outdoor surfaces, the limit for entryways and indoor floors is 10 and 40 for porches.

    Whether the lead came from a construction site across the street is uncertain.

    When construction manager Justin Kaplan was told that tests revealed high lead levels on playground surfaces, including where children had scrawled chalk drawings, he said he felt sick.

    “I have kids,” Kaplan said, his voice anguished. “I don’t want my kids rolling around in lead dust while they are chalk-drawing — believe me.”

    After his crews unearthed old storage tanks during excavation, they had to stop and have the soil tested, he said. It came back high for lead, he said.

For more, see In booming Philadelphia neighborhoods, lead-poisoned soil is resurfacing (Breakneck construction has unearthed a toxic legacy, coating playgrounds and backyards with dangerous levels of lead dust).

See generally, Toxic City: The Ongoing Struggle To Protect Philadelphia's Children From Environmental Harm. foundry smelter epa environmental protection agency lead contamination

L.A. County Health Officials & 1,500 Volunteers Go Door-To-Door Conducting Health Surveys Of Residents Living Within 1.7 Miles Of Defunct Battery Plant Who May Be Suffering From Effects Of Lead, Arsenic Contamination; $180 Million Set Aside To Date For Testing, Cleanup Of Estimated 10,000 Homes

In Los Angeles County, California, the Los Angeles Times reports:
  • Huundreds of Los Angeles County health officials and volunteers went door to door Saturday [June 10] conducting health surveys of residents who live around a shuttered battery-recycling plant near downtown, which is blamed for decades of lead emissions spread across seven southeast communities.

    The group’s efforts are focused on residents who live within a 1.7 mile radius of the former Exide Technologies battery plant in Vernon, organizers said. The targeted neighborhoods are in Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and Vernon.

    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.

    Angelo Bellomo, the county’s deputy director for health protection, said that 1,500 volunteers were participating in Saturday’s event. He said they were handing out information to residents about potential hazards and advising them on how to minimize their exposure to possible lead contamination.

    “Most importantly, we’re going to be gathering information directly from the families in the community as to any health concerns they have and whether or not they need access to medical care or health insurance,” he said. “We’re going to take that information to influence the cleanup decisions that the state is about to make on this community.

    “Government at the local, state and federal level have heard from this community for decades,” Bellomo added. “They’re finally getting the attention they’ve been asking for.”

    State regulators are testing thousands of homes to determine whether they must be cleaned of lead-tainted soil. They also have tested some schools and parks in the area.

    But work to remove contaminated soil from homes has been at a standstill since last summer as the state conducts an environmental review. Regulators also are investigating complaints about one of two contractors hired to test homes.

    State officials have faced repeated criticism from community groups and lawmakers over the pace of cleanup.

    Exide agreed to close the facility permanently in March 2015 to avoid federal criminal prosecution after years of community outcry over air pollution and a long history of environmental violations.

    California lawmakers have approved more than $180 million to expedite the testing and cleanup of an estimated 10,000 homes around the Exide facility and to remove lead from about 2,500 homes with elevated levels of neurotoxins. It is one of the largest state cleanup efforts.
Source: County officials conducting health survey among neighbors of former battery-recycling plant.

See also, 'Please help us.' Residents plead for clean-up at toxic Exide battery plant in Vernon:
  • [L]ead and arsenic from the plant is blamed for health problems of people in surrounding areas. [...] "Please help us," said Boyle Heights resident Theresa Marquez. "Open the door to the health department and let them know the illness in your family, illness that hasn't been able to be explained by doctors."

    The state has set aside millions of dollars to help with the cleanup effort, but county leaders insist more will be needed. foundry smelter epa environmental protection agency lead contamination

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Another Aging Lawyer In Hot Water: Pinched For Allegedly Swiping $63K+ In Sale Proceeds From Dead Client's Home; Investigator: Defendant Said He Needed The Loot For Son's Dental Work, Is Now Broke, & If Deceased's Four Kids Want Their Money, They'll Have To Get It From State Indemnity Fund For Victims Of Sleazy, Thieving Attorneys

In Niagara Falls, New York, The Buffalo News reports:
  • A Lockport lawyer accused of stealing more than $63,000 from the proceeds of a real estate sale told an investigator that he spent the money on his 26-year-old son's dental work.

    "It went in my kid's mouth," Edward R. Thiel told Investigator William Thomson of the Niagara County District Attorney's Office, according to court papers.

    Thomson interviewed Thiel at Thiel's apartment in May, more than two years after the sale.

    "He has had serious dental issues for the last four years," Thiel told Thomson. "It has cost me everything. I gave him the last of my money this morning to go to the dentist."

    Thiel, 73, a former Niagara County assistant public defender, pleaded not guilty to second-degree grand larceny at his arraignment Tuesday in Lockport City Court. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in state prison.

    The victims of the alleged theft are the four children of Donald K. Beutel of Wilson, a farmer and greenhouse owner who died in 2011.

    He left his property at 4740 Chestnut Road in equal shares to his four grown children. They decided to sell the property to Eric W. Beutel, one of Donald's grandchildren.

    On Sept. 2, 2014, a closing for the deal was held at the Niagara County Clerk's Office in Lockport. Thiel was Donald Beutel's longtime personal attorney, according to William Beutel, the only one of the four siblings who lives in Niagara County.

    William Beutel, in a sworn statement, said Eric Beutel brought a check for more than $7,000 to the closing, which was to be combined with mortgage money for a total of $63,684.54. Thiel took the checks and was supposed to deposit them in an escrow account.

    "Mr. Thiel was to divide the proceeds from the sale by four and distribute this money to myself and my three siblings," William Beutel said in his statement. "To this day, we have not received any money, not one cent. We made numerous attempts to resolve this matter by contacting Mr. Thiel. He never responded. In addition to that, he wouldn't respond to us to close out the estate, either."

    William S. Beutel, who lives in Wilson, said he hasn't talked to Thiel in at least two years.

    "I don't want to talk to him. I just want my money, and get out of my life," Beutel said in an interview Thursday.

    Niagara County Surrogate's Court records show that County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III tried repeatedly to get Thiel to court to close out Donald Beutel's estate, starting in 2014. At one point, the court sent Thiel a letter threatening to fine him $2,500 if he did not show up.

    It took two years before Thiel filed the mandatory accounting of the estate's assets in August 2016.

    On Sept. 20, Lockport attorney Walter E. Moxham Jr. informed the court that he had taken over the estate file because Thiel was "no longer practicing law."

    The estate work was finished in 10 days, but the money from the siblings' sale of the Chestnut Road property remains missing.

    Thiel, during his May 8 meeting with Thomson of the District Attorney's Office, acknowledged the sale proceeds were supposed to go to the children of Donald Beutel, according to the court file.

    "When asked if they got the money, he said, 'No,' " Thomson wrote.

    When Thomson said the Beutels want their money, Thiel answered, "Well, we will have to get them their money from the attorneys' fund," according to court papers.

    That appears to be a reference to the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection, maintained by the state [of New York] to reimburse people who have lost money to dishonest lawyers.(1) Thomson, according to the report, told Thiel that he would have to be arrested before that process could begin.

    At the arraignment, City Judge Thomas M. DiMillo released Thiel on his own recognizance.
Source: Lockport lawyer blames $63,684 theft on son's dental bills.
(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.

Escrow Agent Pleads Guilty To Pocketing Over $400K From Sales Of Phony Title Insurance Policies Involving 527 Real Estate Transactions Long After Title Underwriter Terminated Outfit's Agency Contract

In St. Louis, Missouri, the Kirksville Daily Express reports:
  • Adair County Title & Escrow owner Nancy Porter has pleaded guilty to one felony count of wire fraud as part of a plea agreement in a federal case stemming from a Missouri Department of Insurance investigation that accused her of multiple violations of state law and fraudulent collection of more than $400,000.

    Porter entered the plea June 7 in U.S. District Court in St. Louis. Records show she will be sentenced by District Judge Henry Edward Autrey at 11 a.m. Sept. 5.

    Terms of the plea agreement were not available.

    The government brought charges against Porter in documents filed June 7. According to the court filing, Porter sold home buyers title insurance policies supposedly underwritten by Stewart Title in 2013, 2014 and 2015, despite that company terminating its contract with Adair County Title & Escrow in December 2013.

    In the subsequent years, Adair County Title & Escrow closed 527 transactions while issuing the false policies.

    “Nancy Porter, for the purpose of executing the scheme described above, cause to be transmitted by means of wire communication in interstate commerce a wire transfer of funds in the amount of $79,583.80 from Bank of America to the American Trust Bank Account Escrow Account of Adair County Title & Escrow,” in violation of federal law, court documents state.

    Porter signed a consent order in June 2015 from the Missouri Department of Insurance, agreeing the department had evidence to prove multiple violation of state law.

    The Missouri Department of Insurance estimates Porter’s company fraudulently collected about $420,000 in Stewart Title premiums and kept those funds in accounts belonging to other individuals.

Oklahoma City Cops Warn Against Scammers' Home Hijacking Racket Where They Pay Off Unpaid Real Estate Taxes, Then Use Forged Documents & Phony Eviction Notices To Boot Unwitting Homeowners

In Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, The Oklahoman reports:
  • If you think someone has paid off your unpaid taxes in the spirit of generosity, think again.

    The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office has discovered a scam targeting homeowners with delinquent taxes in which scammers pay off other people's taxes and forge documents in an attempt to claim home ownership.

    The scheme starts with paying someone's unpaid property taxes, which by itself is not illegal, said Mark Opgrande, a spokesman for the sheriff's office

    However, the scammers will then use the payments as leverage when they contact homeowners and ask them to sign over their deed in an attempt to lay claim to the property.

    Despite what the scammers may say to convince their victims, anyone who pays another person's taxes does not have any claim on that person's property, Opgrande said.

    “They have no claim to your home just because they paid your past-due taxes,” Opgrande said.

    The Oklahoma County Clerk's Office has also discovered forged warranty deeds filed on homes by those responsible for the ruse. Some homeowners also have been disturbed to find eviction notices on their homes posted left by the same group of schemers.

    The end game is to fake ownership of a property in order to flip the house and make money, said Oklahoma County Treasurer Butch Freeman.

    "That's the only thing we can speculate," Freeman said.

    For those who receive what they believe to be a fake eviction notice, there are several telling points, Opgrande said.

    In cases of real eviction, homeowners would be notified well in advance of a paper notice stamped on their door, which would give them 48 hours to vacate the premises. The key difference is that a sheriff's deputy would be present upon eviction.

    The scam preys on those who are late on their taxes knowing that they are likely strapped for cash and unable to fight in court, Opgrande said. The sheriff’s office is working nine to ten cases at the moment, but expects to see more as they continue investigating, he said.

    The trend has only been reported in Oklahoma County and nowhere else in the state.

    Freeman said he has met with the sheriff’s investigative team and thinks the scammers will be caught quickly.

    “It’s absolutely a top-notch team,” Freeman said. “I would not want to be those people.”

    The scammers will most likely face charges of forgery or filing a false document, among possible other criminal charges that may come to light, Opgrande said.

    Anyone who is concerned about a fake eviction notice, forged home warranty or paid taxes may contact the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office at 405-713-1000.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Antitrust Feds Net 60th Real Estate Operator In Ongoing Probe Into Bid-Rigging Conspiracy At Northern California Foreclosure Sales

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • A Northern California real estate investor pleaded guilty yesterday [June 14] for his role in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

    California real estate investor Ramin Rad “Ray” Yeganeh pleaded guilty to one count of bid rigging in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland. He was charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of California on June 25, 2015.

    According to court documents, as early as September 2008 and continuing until in or about January 2011, Yeganeh conspired with others not to bid against one another, instead designating a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Alameda County. The selected properties were then awarded to the conspirators who submitted the highest bids in second, private auctions. The private auctions often took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held.

    The Department determined that the primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and eliminate competition in order to obtain selected real estate offered at Alameda County public foreclosure auctions at noncompetitive prices. When real estate properties are sold at these auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with remaining proceeds, if any, paid to the homeowner.

    The guilty plea entered yesterday was the result of the Department’s ongoing investigation into bid rigging at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, California. To date, 60 individuals have agreed to plead or have pleaded guilty.

    These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Office. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to real-estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office at (415) 934-5300 or call the FBI tip line at (415) 553-7400.

Another Foreclosure Sale Bid-Rigging Real Estate Operator Finds Himself On Short End Of Guilty Verdict; Count Now Up To 23 Who Have Either Been Convicted Or Pleaded Guilty In Ongoing Antitrust Feds' Probe Into Atlanta-Area Public Auctions

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • A federal jury convicted a real estate investor of bid rigging and bank fraud related to public foreclosure auctions held in Georgia, the Department of Justice announced today [June 16].

    Douglas L. Purdy was convicted today [June 16] following a two-week trial before the Honorable Richard W. Story in Gainesville, Georgia. The jury convicted Purdy on one count of bid rigging and two counts of bank fraud for participating in the charged conspiracy and scheme at Forsyth County, Georgia, foreclosure auctions from 2008 to 2011.

    The evidence at trial showed that Purdy and his co-conspirators agreed not to compete for real estate at foreclosure auctions in Forsyth County and defrauded lender banks and homeowners. Among other methods, the conspirators held secret “second auctions” of properties they had obtained through rigged bids, dividing among themselves the auction proceeds that should have gone to pay off debts against the properties and, in some cases, to homeowners.

    A federal grand jury in the Northern District of Georgia returned an indictment against Purdy on Feb. 3, 2016. Including Purdy’s conviction, 23 real estate investors have either pleaded guilty or been convicted after trial as a result of the Department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging at public foreclosure auctions in the Atlanta area.

    The Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal II Section and the FBI’s Atlanta Division conducted the investigation, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Georgia. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Washington Criminal II Section of the Antitrust Division at 202-598-4000 or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

Dallas Feds Score Guilty Pleas Against Pair For Roles In Foreclosure Rescue Ripoff That Milked 70 Homeowners Out Of At Least $242K

In separate announcements, the Office of the U.S. Attorney in Dallas, Texas recently announced that it scored guilty pleas against Christina Renee Caveny and Bruce Kevin Hawkins for their roles in a foreclosure rescue racket that tricked at least 70 homeowners out of at least $242,000.

From the news release announcing Caveny's guilty plea:
  • A federal grand jury in Dallas returned an indictment in December 2016 charging Caveny and three others with felony offenses stemming from a “foreclosure rescue scheme” they ran from approximately February 2012 through January 2013. Mark Demetri Stein, 36, of Carrollton, Texas, and Richard Bruce Stevens, 51, of San Antonio, Texas, are scheduled to begin trial on August 28, 2017. Bruce Kevin Hawkins, 52, of Desoto, Texas, is scheduled to plead guilty on June 20, 2017.

    According to plea documents in Caveny’s case, Stein operated Real Estate Solutions, Stevens used Texas Real Estate Services, and Hawkins formed ERealty Mortgage Group, LLC, as foreclosure rescue companies. The conspirators used third parties to contact homeowners and offer them an opportunity to get out of their present home loans and receive a new home loan with a reduced interest payment and reduced monthly payment.

    Caveny and other conspirators falsely represented to homeowners that they had “investors” standing by who were ready to quickly purchase the homeowner’s present loan from the lender holding the current mortgage. They also falsely represented that they would use investors to purchase the homeowner’s loan from the original lender at a greatly reduced price through a “short sale” process.

    Furthermore, Caveny and other conspirators falsely represented to the homeowners that the homeowners had the legal authority to transfer their homeowner’s deed to the defendants.

    As part of the scheme, the conspirators fraudulently required homeowners to start making all future loan payments to them based on fraudulent so-called “loans,” and they also told homeowners to ignore late payment notices sent by lenders. As part of the scheme, the conspirators conducted a fraudulent “closing” for each homeowner where they caused the homeowner to pay them a large down payment on the new “loan,” and they also had the homeowner sign fraudulent documents, such as a promissory note, deed of trust, special warranty deed, and/or a so-called “land trust.”

    Further, according to plea documents, the conspirators falsely represented to homeowners that the conspirators could “sell” their property back to the homeowner with a new loan, when the conspirators well knew they did not legally own the property. The conspirators also told homeowners to ignore notices of nonpayment from their present lender as they continued to unlawfully collect monthly so called “mortgage payments” from homeowners. In fact, conspirators instructed several homeowners to file for bankruptcy but to not follow up with the bankruptcy process as an additional means to delay foreclosure and conceal the conspirators’ criminal conduct. Conspirators concealed that all down payment and monthly mortgage payments fraudulently collected from homeowners was spent for their own personal benefit.

    The defendants recruited at least 70 distressed and vulnerable homeowners who were facing the imminent threat of foreclosure on their homes and fraudulently collected a total of at least $242,000 from them.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Jury Slams Lawyer With Guilty Verdicts On 13 Counts In Connection With His Abuse Of POA To Drain His 89-Year Old Grandmother's Trust Fund Out Of Over $1.3 Million; Leaves $24 Balance At Time Charges Were Filed

In Golden, Colorado, KDVR-TV Channel 31 reports:
  • A Lakewood attorney was found guilty of 13 counts for bilking his 89-year-old grandmother out of more than $1.3 million over a nine-year period, the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday [June 14].(1)

    The jury determined Glenn Gregory, 55, took the money from bank accounts opened in the name of a trust fund of his grandmother, Martha Villano.

    The trust fund was to be used until Villano’s death and was dwindled to $24 by the time charges were filed last year. Gregory was trustee for the trust and had power of attorney for Villano.

    Prosecutors said between August 2006 and May 2015, Gregory took more than $1.3 million from the trust’s accounts, including cash, online transfers to accounts that Gregory controlled and gifts to five family members.

    Villano was deposed before the trial because of health concerns and the recorded interview was presented to the jury.

    We believe this is the highest value theft from an at-risk elder in Colorado,” District Attorney Pete Weir said. “Crimes against our older adults are unconscionable and will be prosecuted vigorously.”

    The jury deliberated for two days after a four-day trial. Gregory was found guilty of seven counts of theft, five counts of theft of an at-risk adult and another count of theft.

    He is free on $150,000 bond. Sentencing was set for Aug. 18.
Source: Lakewood attorney found guilty of bilking grandmother out of $1.3 million.
(1) The Colorado Attorneys' Fund for Client Protection is a fund established by the Colorado Supreme Court to reimburse clients who suffer a loss of money or other property from the dishonest conduct of their attorney. The fund is a remedy of last resort for clients who cannot be repaid from other sources, such as from insurance or from the attorney involved. Claimants are expected to make reasonable efforts to collect from these other sources first.

"Dishonest" conduct includes theft or embezzlement of money or conversion of money, property or other things of value, refusal to refund unearned fees and costs deposits, or borrowing money from a client without intention or ability to repay it.

At the present time there is a limit of $50,000 per claim and an aggregate maximum limit of $100,000 for all claims against a single attorney. You must file a claim within three years of the date you knew or should have known about the dishonest conduct of your 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.

Unable To Resist Urge To Fleece Dead Clients' Estates, Long Island Lawyer Gets Shipped Off For 1 To 3-Year Stay In State Prison; $900K+ In Thefts Include $400K+ Sale Proceeds Of One Victim's Home

From the Office of the Nassau County, New York District Attorney:
  • Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced that a disbarred attorney was sentenced yesterday [June 12] to one to three years in prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $597,024.10 for stealing from his clients’ estates.(1)

    Robert Alan Wagner, 63, of Bellmore, pleaded guilty before Judge Robert Bogle on March 20 to two counts of Grand Larceny in the 2nd Degree (a C felony).

    This defendant swindled his clients, stealing more than $900,000 and used it to enrich himself and his business,” DA Singas said. “Our Government and Consumer Frauds Bureau has prosecuted more than 15 attorneys in recent years for scamming their clients and this sentence should send a clear message that lawyers who break the law will face serious consequences.”

    DA Singas said that Wagner was first arrested in September 2016 for allegedly stealing more than $400,000 which were the proceeds from the sale of the decedent’s home. At that time, he was released on $200,000 bail with a requirement that he wear a monitor tracking device as well as that he surrender his passport.

    The defendant paid most of the beneficiaries their entitled bequests prior to the commencement of the DA’s investigation, with the last beneficiary receiving $100,000 subsequent to the investigation and prior to the defendant’s arrest.

    The first investigation and review of bank records led to Wagner’s second arrest in November 2016. Wagner was retained by the administrator of a French estate to facilitate the transfer of money from the decedent’s Suffolk County-based bank accounts to accounts in France in November 2013. The defendant was not authorized to distribute, transfer or use the estate funds. However, the investigation revealed that Wagner transferred the estate funds into four of his own Nassau County-based bank accounts between June 2014 and January 2016, ultimately stealing more than $500,000.

    Between May 2014 and April 2015, the French estate administrator repeatedly attempted to contact Wagner to verify the status of the funds transfer. During that time the defendant gave false excuses, saying that he was attending to personal and family health issues, on vacation, or waiting for court approval to transfer funds. The defendant used the money for personal purposes, including cash withdrawals in excess of $250,000 and payments to support his law practice.

    The investigation continued after the second arrest and revealed an additional victim and client theft from a Family Trust of approximately $11,000. In total, Wagner stole more than $900,000.00 from his clients.

    The defendant was legally practicing law when he was retained, but was disbarred by the Appellate Division of the New York State Court of Appeals on March 11, 2015, proximate to the time when he was to facilitate the transfer of estate funds. The disbarment was unrelated to this matter.
Source: Disbarred Attorney Sentenced to 1-3 Years for Stealing more than $900,000 from Clients’ Estate Funds (Robert Wagner was arrested on two separate occasions).
(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.

Disgraced Lawyer Who Once Held Powerful Post In Rhode Island Legislature Gets 51 Months For Fleecing Dead Client's Estate Of Over $675K, Disabled Woman's Trust Fund $8,900

In Providence, Rhode Island, the Providence Journal reports:
  • Former state lawmaker Raymond E. Gallison Jr. is headed to prison for four years and three months for looting almost $678,000 from a dead man’s estate, stealing from a disabled woman’s trust and pilfering from a taxpayer-funded nonprofit where he worked.(1)

    U.S. District Chief Judge William E. Smith on Friday [June 16] sentenced the one-time chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee, saying Gallison’s crimes amounted more to a breach of his fiduciary duties as a trust fund lawyer and estate executor than public corruption.

    Still, said Smith, his abuse of that fiduciary responsibility harmed “the reputation of the General Assembly, the reputation of the bar and the reputation of the state.”

    Gallison’s lawyer Anthony M. Traini argued Gallison’s political position played little in his crimes and did not rise to the level of political corruption, which could have meant harsher punishment.

    Smith agreed to an extent, but said, “It’s just undeniable” when you are in a position of power and public visibility, as Gallison was, that when you engage in crime it has “all the same impact public corruption has.”

    To the average citizen, said Smith, the legal nuances of Gallison’s criminality “gets lost in the fog of public corruption that permeates the state.”

    Gallison stood during his sentencing and made a brief apology for the “hurt” he had caused his victims and “my family and friends who I have let down.” He will surrender himself on July 10.

    Earlier this week Traini asked Smith for leniency in recommending the Bristol Democrat and lawyer serve three years. He described his client as cooperative with investigators and has willingly paid $162,000 in restitution already.

    In response, prosecutors described in court papers an arrogant Gallison undeserving of a downward departure in sentencing guidelines. They described how Gallison had once confronted an undercover agent watching him, by asking if he knew “who he was [expletive] dealing with,” and who continued to cash dividend checks from his primary victim.

    And prosecutors noted that Traini only returned the stocks his client had stolen after the government seized the stock accounts. Prosecutors recommended that Gallison serve five years.

    “The defendant was a scoundrel who engaged in dishonest, unscrupulous behavior” and hid behind his political position, prosecutor William Ferland said during the sentencing hearing. He recommended Gallison serve up to five and a half years.

    Gallison exploited the trust a vulnerable and disabled woman placed in him — conduct Ferland called “reprehensible” and deserving of stiff punishment: “Stealing from our neighbors, stealing from vulnerable people is unacceptable.”

    And as well as being an embezzler, said Ferland, “he’s a tax cheat.”

    “The defendant was lulled into a sense of entitlement,” thinking that because of his powerful political position “that he wouldn’t be questioned,” said Ferland. “He stole for greed...Plain and simple.”

    A state representative for 16 years until his abrupt resignation in May 2016, Gallison pleaded guilty in March to nine felony counts including wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and filing false tax returns. The identity theft charge alone carried a two-year mandatory federal prison term.

    Prosecutors described a four-year scheme that began two months after Ray Medley, of Barrington, died in 2012.

    That’s when Gallison, as the will’s executor, began stealing from the estate. With the bachelor’s credit cards, he went to Sam’s Club, Walmart and Stop & Shop buying groceries, clothes and personal-care products.

    Gallison sold Medley’s Toyota cheap to his own son, a Bristol police officer, and pocketed the $500 rather than deposit the money into Medley’s estate account.

    Eventually he took $677,957 from Medley’s estate, money from stocks that Medley had asked Gallison to distribute to a dozen charities upon his death.(1)

    Gallison also pleaded guilty to misappropriating more than $64,575 from a Providence-based educational nonprofit called Alternative Education Programming ["AEP"], a recipient for years of taxpayer-supported grants.

    Gallison served on the House Finance Committee that approved many of those grants, which also paid his salary for what prosecutors described as a no-show position.

    In 2014 Gallison rose to Finance Committee chairman, even though seven years earlier he had paid a $6,000 ethics fine for repeatedly not disclosing the money he earned at AEP.

    Gallison also pleaded guilty to stealing from a disabled woman, who had hired him as her trustee. Gallison took $8,900 from her trust account and used it to try to hide his misappropriation of money from AEP.

    Traini downplayed the significance of Gallison’s crimes, noting all of the money stolen had been returned — largely because the federal government froze the stock accounts Gallison had taken charge over — and that the victims were largely charities.

    “The victim is also Mr. Medley,” the judge interjected. “He had wishes and intentions when he was alive. Those are part of what should be considered today.”

    Judge Smith said Gallison’s sentence hopefully will particularly deter other lawyers and estate executors, fearing that if they violate the trust given them, they too, could “end up like Ray Gallison.”
Source: Former R.I. Rep. Gallison gets 51 months for stealing from dead man, disabled woman and nonprofit agency.
(1) The Rhode Island Bar Association's Client Reimbursement Fund was established to provide a public service and to promote confidence in the administration of justice and the integrity of the legal profession by providing some measure of reimbursement to victims who have lost money or property because of theft or misappropriation by a Rhode Island attorney, and occurring in Rhode Island during the course of a client-attorney relationship. The Rhode Island Bar Association through a committee administers the Fund. The Fund is funded by annual contributions made by attorneys who are members of the Rhode Island Bar Association.

Not all losses are compensable by the Fund. A loss must have occurred while the attorney was providing legal services or while the attorney was serving in what is known as a fiduciary capacity, such as a trustee, guardian, conservator, etc. You must file your claim within one year of when you became aware of the theft or misappropriation or from the date when the attorney was publicly disciplined.

The maximum amount, which any one claimant may recover from the Fund arising from an instance or course of dishonest conduct is $50,000, provided, however, that the aggregate maximum amount for which the Fund shall reimburse losses as the result of the dishonesty of a single lawyer or group of lawyers acting in collusion is $200,000.00.

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.

Prosecutor: 20 Months Prison Time Not Enough For Now-Disbarred Attorney Who Purloined Over $600K From Unwitting (Or Dead) Clients, Announces Plans To Appeal Sentence; State Bar's Indemnity Fund That Compensates Victimized Clients Of Thieving Lawyers Shells Out $160K

In Moore County, North Carolina, The Pilot reports:
  • A former Pinehurst attorney and Moore County Board of Education member has pleaded guilty to embezzling money from her clients.

    Lu Pendleton “Penny” Hayes was charged with two counts of felony embezzlement in excess of $100,000, three counts of felony embezzlement and two counts of felony obtaining property by false pretenses. The charges stemmed from incidents that occurred between November 2011 and March 2014 and affected six of Hayes’ clients and their estates.

    Hayes was disbarred in October 2014 after admitting to misappropriating more than $400,000 in entrusted funds and engaging in fraudulent bank transactions. The State Bureau of Investigation began looking into her conduct at the request of District Attorney Maureen Krueger, which led to Hayes being indicted on Nov. 17, 2015.

    The indictments were connected to incidents that allegedly occurred between November 2011 and March 2014 and affected six individuals or their estates.

    In four indictments for embezzlement, a grand jury found that Hayes “unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did embezzle, fraudulently and knowingly misapply and convert to her own use” $335,843.64 from the estate of Joseph George Wilson between October 2012 and March 2013 and another $213,712.76 from Andrea Fabiana Ale between March 12 and March 17 in 2014.

    According to the indictments, the amounts Hayes is accused of stealing varied over the years. For instance, one indictment lists a $100,000 withdrawal on Feb. 25, 2014. Another $100,000 was withdrawn from the same account the next day, using a sequential check. On Feb. 28, a check for $1,600 was withdrawn from the same account.

    Hayes, who has been represented by local defense attorney and former colleague Eddie Meacham, pleaded guilty to the charges Tuesday in Moore County Superior Court. Assistant District Attorney Craig Slagle presented evidence during the hearing “that Hayes victimized numerous clients and the total amount of funds embezzled exceeded $600,000,” according to a news release from the District Attorney’s Office.

    The release also said Slagle “presented evidence that Hayes had not paid restitution to any of the victims,” although $160,000 worth of compensation was provided by the North Carolina State Bar through its Client Security Fund.(1)

    Slagle reportedly asked visiting Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Tally to sentence Hayes to two consecutive prison terms of 58 to 82 months — the minimum sentence under state law for felony embezzlement. But Tally sentenced Hayes on Wednesday [June 7] to 20 months in prison and 36 months probation. She was also ordered to pay $449,564 in restitution, the release said.

    Tally reportedly said the lighter sentence was justified by “extraordinary mitigation,” citing Hayes’ “good standing in the community.” The state Attorney General’s Office plans to appeal the sentence, according to the release.
For the story, see Local Attorney Sentenced to Prison for Embezzlement.
(1) In North Carolina, the Client Security Fund was established by the state Supreme Court in 1984 to reimburse clients who have suffered financial loss as the result of dishonest conduct of lawyers engaged in the private practice of law in North Carolina.

There is a dollar limit on reimbursements of $100,000 for an applicant who suffered a reimbursable loss (or losses) as the result of the dishonest conduct of 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.