Saturday, July 15, 2017

Accused Of Sexually Harassing Female Tenants For Over 10 Years, Landlord (Finally?) Gets Belted With Fair Housing Lawsuit By Civil Rights Feds Seeking Monetary Damages For Alleged Victims, Penalties, Preventive Measures

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department today [July 13] announced that it has filed a lawsuit against Robert N. Hatfield, who rents, sells, and finances homes in Wilkes County, North Carolina. The lawsuit alleges that Hatfield sexually harassed actual and prospective female residents and borrowers in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

    The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, alleges that for over ten years Hatfield has committed egregious acts of sexual harassment against multiple women who have lived in or inquired about his homes. According to the complaint, Hatfield operates some of his homes as rental properties, which he manages, and offers and provides financing to purchasers of his other homes. The suit alleges that Hatfield’s conduct has included making unwelcome sexual comments and advances, engaging in unwanted sexual touching and groping, offering tangible housing benefits in exchange for sex acts, and taking or threatening to take adverse housing actions against women who object to his harassment.

    “Sexual harassment in housing and lending is unacceptable, and indeed is illegal,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Every woman has the right to feel safe in her home, and the Justice Department will continue to vigorously enforce the federal civil rights laws to hold accountable those who violate this basic right.”

    “The victims in this case merely wanted to rent or buy a home, a place of sanctity and safety,” said U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose of the Western District of North Carolina. “Unfortunately, the process became sordid when Hatfield used the critical need for housing as leverage to make unwanted and aggressive sexual advances. This lawsuit should serve as fair warning that Mr. Hatfield’s actions were not only unlawful, but repugnant to the citizens of Western North Carolina - and this office will work vigorously to protect the women, families and other vulnerable individuals harmed by this type of conduct.”

    The lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate victims, a civil penalty, and a court order barring further discrimination and requiring additional preventive measures. The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must be proven in federal court.

    Individuals who believe they may have been victims of housing or lending discrimination by Robert Hatfield or who have information about this matter can contact the Justice Department by phone at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox number 3, or by e-mail at More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at

Incarcerated Earlier For Offenses, WV Landlord Agrees To Cough Up $600K In Damages, Penalties To Settle Fair Housing Allegations That He Sexually Harassed Female Tenants

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department today [July 10] announced a settlement with the owners and former managers of more than 70 residential rental properties in the Morgantown, West Virginia area to resolve allegations that Gary Walden, while serving as the manager of these properties, sexually harassed female tenants and prospective tenants, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

    Under the settlement, which was approved today by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, the defendants have agreed to pay a total of $600,000 in monetary damages and civil penalties, and Walden intends to transfer his ownership of these properties and to relinquish his role in managing them.

    “It is unacceptable that a woman should have to endure sexual harassment by her landlord in her own home,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This settlement sends a strong message that the Civil Rights Division will aggressively pursue those who engage in this egregious conduct.”
    The settlement requires the defendants to pay $500,000 to persons harmed by the discriminatory conduct and $100,000 to the United States in civil penalties. Walden will be enjoined from engaging in any property management, rental management, or maintenance responsibilities at the rental properties, and from entering the premises or having any contact with current or former tenants of the rental properties, including any individuals determined to be aggrieved persons.

    Individuals who believe they were subjected to sexual harassment by Walden should contact the Justice Department (“the department”) at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox 97, or by e-mail at

    The lawsuit arose when four female tenants filed complaints about Walden with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), which referred the complaints to the department. After conducting an investigation, the department filed this lawsuit in March 2016, alleging that Walden sexually harassed multiple female residents and prospective residents from at least July 2006 through July 2015.

    According to the department’s complaint, Walden engaged in unwanted and unwelcome sex acts with female tenants, including touching and groping their breasts and genitals; conditioned tangible housing benefits to female tenants in exchange for performance of sex acts; made unwanted and unwelcome sexual comments and verbal sexual advances; entered the homes of female tenants without permission or notice to sexually harass them; and took or threatened to take adverse action against female tenants when they refused or objected to his sexual advances.

    The department’s lawsuit names Walden, the estate of his late wife, Tina Walden, and business entities associated with the Waldens’ property ownership and management business, including Walden Homes, LLC, d/b/a Walden Rentals, and 973 Chestnut Ridge Road, Inc.

    In April 2015, Gary Walden pled guilty to sexual abuse and other charges in the Circuit Court of Monongalia County, West Virginia, and was incarcerated for those offenses from July 2015 to March 2017 in a state prison. In 2006, the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office filed a housing discrimination lawsuit in state court against Walden alleging sexual harassment, which was settled in 2008.

Another Landlord Gets Bagged By Fair Housing Testers, Agrees To Cough Up $107K To Resolve Allegations Of Race Discrimination When Showing Rental Apartments To Black Prospective Tenants

In New York City, the Fair Housing Justice Center recently announced:
  • [T]he Hon. Allyne B. Ross approved a settlement agreement to resolve a federal lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) by the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and four African American testers in October 2016. The lawsuit alleged that the defendants Martin Rankell, LP, Robert Rankell, Anastas Karakasidi, and Faina Karakasidi discriminated against African American prospective renters on the basis of race.

    The lawsuit stemmed from a 5-month testing investigation of a 60-unit apartment building in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. According to the complaint, the FHJC alleged that while white testers were told about and shown available apartments, African American testers were repeatedly lied to about apartment availabilities, quoted higher rents, and steered to other buildings.

    While the defendants deny the allegations, the 4-year settlement agreement reached with the FHJC contains injunctive relief to ensure future compliance with fair housing laws. Some of the key provisions include:
  • General injunction not to discriminate against persons on the basis of race or color in the rental of housing;
  • Adoption of a fair housing policy to be distributed to all personnel who are involved in showing and renting out apartments;
  • Agreement to advertise apartments made available for rent and include in any advertisements “Equal Housing Opportunity,” the number of bedrooms, amount of rent, and address for any available apartments, and the contact information for the person designated to show any available apartments;
  • Training on fair housing laws for all persons directly involved in renting apartments;
  • Maintenance of rental records that will be made available for review by the FHJC to document efforts made to comply with the terms of the settlement.
  • In addition, the settlement also provides a monetary recovery for plaintiffs of $107,500.

    The plaintiffs are represented by Mariann Wang and Alexander Goldenberg of Cuti Hecker Wang LLP.

    FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg commented that “The FHJC is pleased that the parties were able to reach a settlement that includes provisions to ensure future compliance with fair housing laws as well as damages for the plaintiffs.”

    Freiberg emphasized that while the testing in this case involved only one rental building, it should not be viewed as an isolated example. He added, “Nearly four decades after the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, our organization continues to document how African American renters in the New York City region have their housing choices restricted by landlords and real estate agents. Everyone needs to understand that pervasive racial discrimination in housing has enormous and perilous consequences for individuals, families, and our entire region. The fact that the practices are subtle, less visible, and rarely detected by actual home seekers does not make them any less insidious or harmful. The persistence of these invisible walls provides ample evidence that a color line still exists.”

    The mission of the FHJC, a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen fair housing enforcement in the New York City region.
Source: Race Discrimination Case Involving Brooklyn Rental Building Resolved (Agreement Aims At Ensuring Compliance With Fair Housing Laws).

Civil Rights Feds Squeeze Bay State Landlord For Another $70K In Fair Housing Case To Settle 'Steering' Allegations; Recent Charges Relate To South Asian Tenants Who Were Allegedly Placed In Certain Buildings Within 8-Building, 224-Unit Apartment Complex; Similar Accusations Were Resolved In 2015 (By Coughing Up $135,500) In Connection With Renting To Families w/ Kids

In North Attleboro, Massachusetts. The Sun Chronicle reports:
  • The owners of Royal Park Apartments will pay $70,000 in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over complaints they discriminated against tenants of South Asian descent.

    The Justice Department announced Thursday [July 6] it had reached the settlement with J & R Associates, owner and operator of the 224-unit multi-family housing complex on Route 1.

    The settlement resolves allegations that J & R Associates discriminated against tenants of South Asian descent in violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race and national origin.

    Based on its investigation, the department determined tenants of South Asian descent were steered to certain buildings in the eight-building complex over a period of at least five years, from 2009 through 2014.

    J & R Associates cooperated fully with the department’s investigation, which revealed that the discriminatory conduct had ceased by about 2015.

    Under the terms of the agreement, J & R Associates will establish a settlement fund in the amount of $70,000 to compensate victims of the discriminatory practices. J & R Associates also has agreed to train any new employees and to abide by the federal housing law from now on.

    Under the terms of the settlement, the federal government will not file a civil lawsuit against J & R Associates under the Fair Housing Act.

    The settlement “is a compromise of disputed claims and is not an admission by J & R Associates of any liability, wrongdoing, or noncompliance” of the housing law, according to the agreement.

    In a related matter resolved in 2015, J & R Associates agreed to make changes to its rental practices to resolve allegations that it had been steering families with children to certain buildings and units in violation of the housing law.

    In compliance with the court-approved settlement in that case, J & R Associates agreed to pay 19 tenants a total of $135,500. They also reformed practices and trained employees in order to provide housing opportunities to prospective tenants equally and without regard to their race or national origin, or to whether they have children.

Landlord Agrees To Shell Out $20K To Resolve Fair Housing Allegations That Building Manager Harassed Latino Tenants, Enforced Overly Restrictive House Rules That Singled Out Kids

From the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (Washington, D.C.):
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [in May] that it reached an agreement with the owner and manager of a California apartment complex, resolving allegations they discriminated against tenants because of their national origin and familial status. Two related complaints filed with HUD alleged that the manager of the Four Palms Apartments in Mountain View, California, made discriminatory statements about Latino residents and prohibited their children from playing outside. Read the Conciliation Agreement.

    The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in rental, sales or home lending transactions based on a person’s national origin or familial status. This includes discrimination based on a person’s ancestry or country of birth, and discrimination against families with children under the age of 18.
    The case came to HUD’s attention when two Latino couples that live at the Four Palms Apartments filed a complaint alleging that the owner and the manager of the complex discriminated against them because of their national origin and because they have children.

    In addition, Project Sentinel, a Santa Clara, California-based fair housing group, filed a complaint on behalf of the residents, alleging that the manager of Four Palms Apartments repeatedly made statements indicating that he did not like having Latino tenants at the property because they did not speak English, and accusing them of bringing pests, including bed bugs and rats, to the property.

    Project Sentinel further alleged that the manager prohibited children from playing at the property, enforced overly restrictive rules that singled out children, and terminated the lease of one of the Latino families that filed a complaint after their two-year-old daughter became agitated and cried loudly when the manager walked by the family’s door.

    Under the Conciliation Agreement, the owner will pay a total of $20,000 and revise the Four Palm’s rules to comply with the Fair Housing Act. In addition, the property’s manager will complete fair housing training.

Practice Of Allegedly Clipping Prospective Tenants With Disabilities For Pet Deposits When They Require Assistance Animals To Cost Landlord $20,500 In Settlement Of Fair Housing Complaint

From the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (Washington, D.C.):
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [] an agreement between a Nevada fair housing organization and the owner and manager of four apartment complexes in Reno, Nevada. The agreement settles allegations of housing discrimination against prospective tenants with disabilities who require assistance animals. Read the conciliation agreement.

    The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from denying housing to people with disabilities or imposing different rental terms and conditions. This includes refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices for people with disabilities.

    “Residents who require assistance animals shouldn’t have their housing rights denied to them,” said Bryan Greene, HUD General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD will continue working to ensure that landlords meet their obligation to comply with the Fair Housing Act’s requirements.”

    The case came to HUD’s attention when the Silver State Fair Housing Council filed four complaints against the owner and manager of Silver Lake Apartments, Vale Townhomes, Oak Manor Apartments and Angel Street Apartments. These complaints allege ERGS, Inc. and Silver Lake Apartments, LLC discriminated against prospective tenants who required assistance animals by requiring applicants who required support animals to pay a pet deposit fee.

    In addition to the Fair Housing Act’s protections, HUD provided guidance in April 2013 reaffirming that housing providers must provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities who require assistance animals. Read HUD’s notice.

    Under the conciliation agreement, ERGS, Inc. will pay Silver State Fair Housing Council $20,500. ERGS, Inc., and Silver Lake Apartments, LLC, will also adopt a written policies that are consistent with the Fair Housing Act and provide fair housing training for all employees who interact with tenants or applicants.

    Disability is the most common basis of fair housing complaint filed with HUD and its partner agencies. Last year alone, HUD and its partners considered over 4,900 disability-related complaints, or more than 58 percent of all fair housing complaints that were filed.

    People who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to, or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple and Android devices.

Friday, July 14, 2017

FBI: Cyberscams That Hack Into Real Estate, Closing Agent Emails To Hijack Closing Funds Are Fleecing L.A.-Area Homebuyers $5 Million/Month

In Los Angeles, California, Southern California Public Radio reports:
  • Cyberscams that trick homebuyers into wiring money offshore are costing the Los Angeles area $5 million dollars a month, the FBI reported [last] week.

    Hackers are posing as real estate agents or title companies over e-mail and giving clients bogus wiring instructions, said supervisory special agent Michael Sohn.

    By the time the crime is detected, sometimes just hours later, the money can be gone for good, with homeowners averaging losses about $130,000, he said.

    "It’s very devastating," said Sohn, who's based out of the FBI's Los Angeles field office. "It's their entire savings that gets stolen by these criminals. They have no recourse. They lost everything."

    Cybersecurity experts say the scam first surfaced in 2013, spurring the Federal Trade Commission to recently issue its second warning in two years.

    The real estate industry continues to be a draw for cyber thieves because homebuying transactions involve large amounts of money and typically require wire transfers.

    Sohn said scammers have not necessarily gotten more sophisticated over the years. Rather, "the tools that the cyber criminals have access to have become easier to buy or to download."

    Dominique Alepin, assistant regional director for the FTC in Los Angeles, said real estate agents make for easy marks because they're easily identifiable, and those that rely on Gmail or other email accounts that "are not very secure" create an opening for thieves.

    "Cybercriminals get access to the real estate agent, thereby seeing which deals are going to be closing that week," Alepin said.

  • Home buyers should never trust an email with a change in wiring instructions.
  • If you get scammed, get your bank to immediately do a wire recall. By the time 72 hours have passed after a crime has been committed, that money is usually gone for good.
  • Long Beach Realtor Jeannie Jones is still unnerved by the cyberhack she and her clients underwent in 2014.

    Scammers broke into Jones’ Gmail account then pretended to be her and e-mailed a client purchasing a townhouse. The criminals directed the client to wire money to a different account than what they had been told originally.

    By the time everyone put the pieces together a day later, $10,000 had vanished. With the bank involved in the transaction refusing to take any responsibility, Jones ponied up the replacement money.

    "First of all, I was shocked, then I was mad," said Jones, an agent at Coldwell Banker Coastal Alliance. "It’s just such an invasion of privacy. It felt like I was violated."

    Geoffrey McIntosh, president of the California Association of Realtors, said that he's been on a mission to educate members about cybersecurity and has sought the help of experts like Sohn.

    "Realtors are trusting. I think that makes us an easier target," McIntosh said. "I doubt this would happen as much to attorneys."

    CAR has been urging members to use strong passwords, regularly update computer systems and install anti-virus software.

    McIntosh said that he tells agents to never hand over wiring information to a client except in-person or on paper — if they do it at all.

    "Frankly, the client should deal with the escrow (officer) directly," McIntosh said.

    Alepin of the FTC said if homebuyers question the veracity of wiring instructions, they should immediately call their agent and escrow company to confirm.

    "We want to reinforce for consumers that the phone is cool again," Alepin said.
Source: Cyberscams are bleeding millions from LA homebuyers.

See generally, Federal Trade Commission: Protect your mortgage closing from scammers. non-secure nonsecure email

Warnings Continue On Cyberscams That Hack Into Real Estate/Closing Agent Emails To Hijack Homebuyers' Closing Funds

In Moorpark, California, the Moorpark Acorn reports:
  • Buying or refinancing a house is always a complicated endeavor, but add in a scam that targets homebuyers, and the process can turn into a nightmare.

    That’s why law enforcement officials are warning Moorpark residents to be wary of a mortgage loan scam that preys on the email accounts of Realtors and escrow companies.

    In the scam, a con artist will hack into an agent or escrow officer’s email account to monitor their correspondence with a homebuyer. The scammer will then create an email account identical to the Realtor’s by using similar logos and signatures.

    Around the time a homebuyer expects to receive instructions on wiring closing costs or down payments, police say, the scammer will email their victim instructions on wiring money to an account that belongs to the con artist rather than the intended Realtor or escrow officer.

    Amy Garcia, an investigator with the Moorpark Police Department, said once the money is wired, it’s nearly impossible to recover.

    “When it comes to any type of money transaction, know who you’re dealing with,” she said. “Know who you’re sending it to, and if something doesn’t seem right . . . we’re always willing to talk with people (about that). Don’t believe what you see on these emails and such because anything in email form can be counterfeit, and you don’t know who you’re really talking to over the internet.”

    To ensure residents don’t buy into this scam, police said they should contact their Realtor in person or over the phone to make sure the wiring instructions and account numbers are valid.

    Residents who do send financial information over the internet should ensure their computer’s security software is up to date.

    They should also think twice before opening files and attachments sent in an email. Homebuyers are urged to look for a URL that begins with “https,” as the “s” stands for “secure.” Rather than clicking on a link attached in an email, they should go to an organization’s site, find the URL and manually type the website into a search engine address.

    Though Garcia has seen reports of this particular scam in Thousand Oaks and Oxnard, she’s yet to see any mortgage loan cons in the Moorpark area.

    “It kind of just resurfaced fairly recently,” the investigator said. “We’re doing what we can to keep people from being victimized.”
Source: Con artists use email to swindle homebuyers. non-secure nonsecure email

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Atlanta Legal Aid Tags National Real Estate Investor With Lawsuit For Allegedly Screwing Over 17 Would-Be Homeowners By Unloading Dilapidated, Formerly Foreclosed Homes On Them Using Predatory 'Contract For Deed' Sale Agreements

In Atlanta, Georgia, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports:
  • A lawsuit filed in federal court accuses a Texas firm of preying on would-be homebuyers in Atlanta.

    The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, includes 17 plaintiffs, who say they were misled by Harbour Portfolio and associated companies into thinking they were becoming owners when they signed agreements that effectively made them renters.

    Harbour targeted black areas with the deals, known as “contracts for deed” or “land contracts,” which gave the plaintiffs “all of the obligations of homeownership with none of the rights,” according to the filing.

    Officials at Dallas-based Harbour declined comment Thursday.

    Several years ago, the company purchased thousands of foreclosed homes in a number of cities. They still own scores of homes in Atlanta, virtually all of them in African-American neighborhoods, according to Kristen Tullos, an attorney with Atlanta Legal Aid, which is representing the plaintiffs.

    “This is the most recent development in predatory lending,” she told the AJC. “They are targeting neighborhoods that have been hit time and time again.”
    The lawsuit cites a University of Texas study found that over the course of two decades, about 45 percent of contract for deed purchasers defaulted. Fewer than 20 percent received a deed for the property.

    In Fulton County, Harbour bought 85 properties between 2011 and 2015, according to the lawsuit. Of those purchasers, 34 have faced eviction.

    It is not the first time that the company has been called out for what critics see as predatory practices. In April, the city of Cincinnati sued Harbour, alleging that the firm owed more than $360,000 in unpaid fines, fees and violation notices.

    The city has charged the firm with failing to maintain homes, a neglect that the city says is linked to lead poising in a child.

    Last year, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit in federal court against Harbour for actions in more than a dozen states. Regulators recently complained that Harbour has been complying with the subpoena too sluggishly.

    Among the plaintiffs are some who are still in the houses owned by Harbour and some who have left or been forced out, said Tullos.

    Harbour and others who use “contract for deeds” have argued in the past that the purchases typically have tainted credit histories, as well as limited or spotty income, so they are unable to get a mortgage.

    The companies have argued that the “contract for deed” is a bridge to homeownership.

    Only that, Tullos says, is not what happens. Instead, they are set-up for failure, while thinking they already own a home.

    “The companies make it difficult for aspiring homeowners to ever achieve the goal of ownership – which is what they think they are doing,” she said. “None of the people in this lawsuit understood. They believed they were becoming homeowners and they later found out they were functionally renters. That was devastating.”

    The lawsuit, argues that Harbour has violated both federal and Georgia law asks that a court order Harbour to pay damages, but does not request a specific figure. The suit also asks that the court declare the plaintiffs to be the owners of the properties where they have been living.

National Real Estate Investor That Uses Predatory 'Contract For Deed' Business Model To Flip Dilapidated, Formerly Foreclosed 'Money Pits' Onto Unwitting Homebuyers Now Faces Add'l Scrutiny By Peddling Its Crappy Contracts To Receive Installment Payments Onto Unsuspecting Investors

From a recent story in The New York Times:
  • [L]ed by Charles A. Vose III, Harbour [Portfolio Advisors] once owned more than 7,000 homes in over a dozen states, but more recently it has been selling off the contracts for deeds it signed with borrowers over the last six years.

    Harbour’s business practices were featured prominently in a front-page article in The New York Times last year. Subsequently, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began an investigation into the firm’s use of contracts for deeds to sell formerly foreclosed homes “as is.”
    Those familiar with Harbour’s activities say it now owns fewer than 1,000 homes, having sold most of its homes and contracts to a wide array of investors, including hedge funds, small investment firms, mom-and-pop investors and even one Bitcoin entrepreneur from Canada, Haseeb Awan, who referred to his small investment in contracts for deeds as “gambling money.”

    Harbour has used Incenter, a service provider to mortgage lenders and an affiliate of the Blackstone Group, to assist with the sales.

    Cincinnati is not the only city struggling to follow the daisy chain of property title ownership. The firm bought homes from the government mortgage finance firm Fannie Mae in other cities, too.

    Robert A. Cutler, who runs Hamilton Green Crest, a small investment fund in Westport, Conn., says he now regrets buying a contract for deed from Harbour.

    In May 2016, Mr. Cutler bought a contract in Atlanta for a home Harbour sold on an installment plan for $41,000. Mr. Cutler and his firm are included in a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, contending that Harbour had targeted African-American communities to sell contracts for deeds on homes at inflated prices. (Ms. Hletko said there was “no basis for that deplorable allegation” in the lawsuit.)

    We thought we had done enough due diligence on this, but obviously we were wrong,” said Mr. Cutler, a corporate lawyer who added he had little prior experience with contracts for deeds. “We had no idea they were pushing properties on people with oppressive terms.”

    Legal Aid lawyers say that the woman living in the home, Anita Jordan, 39, was confused as to whom to make payments to when she received a letter last September from Mr. Cutler’s firm saying it had officially acquired the contract she signed with Harbour in August 2012. Mr. Cutler, who paid Harbour $16,000 for the contract, said he now believed he was misled by Harbour and an independent broker peddling the contract.

    [A Harbour attorney] said that buyers of Harbour contracts were “sophisticated real estate investors who are fully informed about the properties and transactions.”

    A representative for Incenter declined to comment.

    Nicholas Press of Clark Partners in San Diego, a small residential investment firm that is the current owner of [another] contract in Cincinnati, said he was looking to reverse the deal.

    Mr. Press, who bought a half-dozen contracts in March, said he faulted Park Street Group, a firm in Michigan, which sold him the contracts, for not being upfront with the looming problems facing Harbour in Cincinnati and elsewhere.

    I want my money back,” Mr. Press said. “I think Harbour is doing damage to low-income borrowers.”

    Mr. Press said he made numerous requests to Park Street to complete the necessary paperwork to record the deed of sale and transfer of the contract.

    David Prentice, who co-founded Park Street and also operates under the name DMP Holdings, said he was merely serving as middleman between Harbour and buyers — taking temporary title to contracts and homes before reselling them. He said he was no longer selling Harbour contracts or homes.
For more, see How a Home Bargain Became a ‘Pain in the Butt,’ and Worse. land contract for deed rent-to-own

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Real Estate Agent Faces Criminal Charges, Civil Lawsuit Variously Alleging He Duped Blind, Dementia-Stricken Senior Into Signing Away Mineral Rights, Home, POA, Control Of Bank Accounts

In Waco, Texas, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports:
  • A local real estate agent was arrested at his office Thursday [July 6], accused of deceiving a disabled man into selling mineral rights, valued between $85,900 and $143,280, for $10.

    Jody Glenn Scoggins, 31, a local real estate agent with RE/MAX Centex, was arrested on a second-degree felony charge of securing the execution of a document by deception and a third-degree felony charge of exploitation of an disabled person. Scoggins, a real estate agent who has worked throughout McLennan County for the past 10 years, was arrested Thursday afternoon, Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said.

    According to the arrest affidavit, Scoggins befriended a 66-year-old man who suffers from dementia and blindness while he was living at a nursing home last September and started having the man’s mail forward to Scoggins’ office.

    “(The victim) is an heir to mineral rights in Hood County, Texas, which has been passed down through his family,” the affidavit states. “On 09/27/2016, Scoggins, along with … a public notary for the state of Texas, went to (the nursing home). While at the nursing home, Scoggins had (the man) sign a mineral warranty deed granting his wife, Kimberly Scoggins, and he all interest in all oil and gas that may be produced from (the man’s) original mineral warranty deed for the amount of $10.”

    The notary told investigators the full form was never read to the victim, only explained by Scoggins, the affidavit states.

    “After speaking to (the victim), he told me he would never sign his mineral rights over because they have been passed down through his family and are his main source of income,” the affidavit states. “Scoggins was deceptive by tricking (the man) due to his disabilities into signing his mineral rights over to him for his pecuniary gain.”

    Scoggins told investigators last month he knew the man suffered from cataracts but was unaware of any other medical conditions, according to the affidavit.

    The victim’s wife also told authorities the full mineral rights document was never read to her husband, the affidavit states.
Source: Waco real estate agent arrested, accused of deceiving disabled man.

See also, Area realtor charged in alleged scheme to bilk elderly man out of home:
  • [I]n a separate but related issue Thursday lawyers for David and Brenda Menefee, of Moody, filed a civil action in 414th State District Court seeking relief after they say Scoggins and a group of others conspired to take ownership of the Menefee’s Moody home and to gain access to their bank accounts.

    The petition names the Menefees as plaintiffs and Scoggins, his wife Kim Scoggins, his mother Debbie Scoggins, the Scoggins Real Estate Team, LLC, Pennybags, LLC, Scoggins Enterprises, Inc, Hessco Roofing & Remodeling, LLC, and 1st Choice Fencing, Inc., as defendants.

    Brenda Menefee is rightful owner of a home on Highview Lane, in Moody, where she cares for her husband who is blind and has dementia, Waco attorney Ross Russell says in the lawsuit.

    The suit alleges that Scoggins forced David Menefee to sign over his power of attorney, blocked his wife’s phone number on his cellphone and told Menefee his wife had stopped calling him, and had his mail re-routed to Scoggins’ office address.

    Eventually, the lawsuit says, the defendants were able to gain control of the real property and all of the Menefee’s accounts. POA abuse

Tennessee Woman Victimized By State Guardianship System That Resulted In Her Losing Her Home, Car, Other Belongings Passes Away

In Hendersonville, Tennessee, The Tennessean reports:
  • A Hendersonville woman who lost her home, car and all her belongings in a highly contested conservatorship case has died.

    Ginger Franklin, 58, died Monday [July 3]. Her controversial conservatorship case was one of a handful that sparked a reform effort leading to a 2012 change in Tennessee law.

    Franklin also successfully sued the owner of a group home where she was placed against her will and put to work cleaning and cooking for other residents even as her bank account was being tapped for a monthly fee.

    Franklin's case came to the attention of a national organization established to halt abuse by guardians and conservators.

    "The system didn't just let Ginger down; it used Ginger and exploited her for its own benefit — at her expense and to her detriment, all under the deception of protection and on Judge David 'Randy' Kennedy's watch," said Elaine Renoire, head of the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse, referring to the Davidson County probate judge who presided over Franklin's case.

    Franklin ended up in a conservatorship without her knowledge in 2008 after she fell in her condo and suffered a brain injury. She was shipped to a rehab facility in another state, and when she returned to Tennessee she was told by her court-appointed conservator that her condo was empty and being sold.

    She was placed in a group home and put to work.

    A judge would later rule that Franklin was the victim of "egregious and intentional abuse."

    Salim Homes was ordered to pay Franklin $23,050.

    Franklin's conservator was Jeanan Stuart, then the public guardian for Davidson County. Stuart was eventually forced to resign from her job after a series of articles in The Tennessean raised questions about her billing practices.

    In Franklin's case, records showed that Stuart seized and then abandoned a car Franklin owned. It was subsequently seized by the garage owners and auctioned off.

    Franklin made several attempts to have the conservatorship lifted but was rebuffed by Stuart and Kennedy.

    She wasn't finally released from the conservatorship until 2010.
Source: Hendersonville woman who lost home, car in conservatorship case dies at 58.

See generally, The Wall Street Journal: Abuse Plagues System of Legal Guardians for Adults (Allegations of financial exploitation and abuse are rife, despite waves of overhaul efforts).

Go here for earlier posts on the ripoffs of the dead and incapacitated under cover of court-sanctioned guardianship/conservatorship/public administrator systems. granny-snatching

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

County Employee Gets Pinched, Arrest Warrants Issued For Five Others In Alleged Conspiracy That Used Forged POAs To Purloin $1.6 Million In Surplus Proceeds From Tax Foreclosure Sales Belonging To Over Two Dozen Former Property Owners

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:
  • A Broward tax office employee was arrested at work Thursday [July 6] in connection with a scheme that used forged documents to defraud 28 one-time county property owners out of $1.6 million, the Sheriff’s Office said.

    Five of the former property owners were dead and another one was in federal prison at the time they supposedly signed notarized documents allowing others to collect the money on their behalf, Detective John Calabro said.

    Roberto Martinez, 46, has been a county employee since 2006 and in recent years has handled surplus tax deed distributions for the county’s tax-handling Records and Treasury Division. Officials say Martinez was working in concert with five other individuals who provided forged documents, received and spent the ill-gotten money through companies they had created.

    Arrest warrants have also been issued for Marc H. Eugene, 34; Patricia Eugene, 36; Dim Villarson, 36; Denis Eugene, 41; and Gawens St. Victor, 38.

    Marc and Patricia Eugene, siblings from North Miami, have attorneys and are expected to turn themselves in, Calabro said. Officials are still looking for the other three, he said.

    The charges include an organized scheme to defraud, money laundering, grand theft and fraudulent use of personal identification information, all first-degree felonies; and uttering forged instruments, a third-degree felony. Martinez also faces multiple counts of official misconduct, a third-degree felony. The activity took place from May 2014 through July 2016, officials said.

    As the Sun Sentinel reported in May, the tax office called in authorities last year after receiving complaints from people filing claims who were told that their money had already been paid out to others. Martinez was reassigned pending the outcome of the investigation and removed from any cash-handling duties.

    Martinez has now been placed on leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing expected within the next week, County Administrator Bertha Henry said Thursday. He is facing a bond of $915,000, based on the 102 counts against him.

    “We have not seen any evidence that there were any other employees that could have been involved with this,” Henry said.

    The State Attorney’s Office and Fort Lauderdale Police Department also participated in the investigation.

    Martinez’s salary is $42,249 a year. Calabro said Martinez made 27 cash deposits into a credit union account totaling $89,100 in 2015 and 2016 “without a legitimate source of income,” and he paid $6,000 in cash for 2013 Kia Sorrento.

    In all of the 28 cases, the properties were sold involuntarily at auction because their owners owed taxes on them. Proceeds from the auction, called a tax deed sale, are used to pay the delinquent taxes and accrued interest, then any governmental liens, mortgages or other debts. The former owner is entitled to whatever amount remains.

    Sometimes, a former owner will sign an agreement with a company or individual to act on their behalf to get the money. The power of attorney document gives the company the right to file for and collect the remaining funds.

    It was forged power of attorney documents that were used in these cases, Calabro said. Also, all the notaries on the forged documents told police they did not notarize the documents and their signatures were forged.

    The money owed from the auction of the properties had sat uncollected for months or more, which indicated to the group that maybe no one would be coming forward to collect it, Calabro said.

    “Information was passed on when no one came forward to say we want this money back,” Calabro said.

    There have been court cases over the payments that were made using the allegedly forged documents:

    -- Two lawsuits filed last year charge that Nu Concepts Investments LLC of North Miami, CSC Equity of Miami Beach, and Marc Eugene filed forged documents to obtain $145,000 owed to property owners in Miramar. Eugene represented both companies.

    -- Patricia Eugene has been on trial in Miami-Dade County on charges that she collected $161,686 from a tax deed sale for a Pembroke Pines property after submitting a forged power of attorney form on behalf of her and her company, Concrete Capital LLC. A court order has frozen $124,745 that she paid to her attorney, David Joffe, who was representing her after her arrest, saying the money was proceeds from unlawful activity..

    -- A judge in February ordered the county to pay nearly $80,000 to the heirs of a Hallandale Beach property owner who had died four years before a document was signed with her name and used to collect money from the auction of her property. Those payments were made to St. Victor.

    Marc Eugene was involved with 15 of the fraudulent payments, St. Victor with six, Denis Eugene with 3, Patricia Eugene with two and Dim Villarson with one, according to the arrest warrant. The distributions ranged from $2,848 to $274,068.

    It was very unfortunate for a whole bunch of people,” said Miguel Grillo, one of the affected property owners who was out almost $40,000 after the auction of his Reflections at Pembroke Pines condominium. “I knew it was someone inside. It was so clear.”

    Grillo said he may have to hire an attorney to get the money he is owed. Henry said any money the county will have to repay to the victims is covered by insurance.

    While the county’s policies for handling notarized documents met state requirements, it beefed up verifications of powers of attorney after the concerns were raised, Henry said.

    Besides submitting a notarized document, people seeking power of attorney must provide some form of identification for the person they claim to represent, such as a copy of that person’s driver’s license, and contact information for the individual, officials said.

Reversing Earlier Trial Judge's Ruling, Florida Appeals Court Nixes Attempt By Winning Bidder At Foreclosure Auction To Snatch Away Sale's Surplus Proceeds From Foreclosed Former Homeowner

In Marion County, Florida, the Florida Record reports:
  • A case involving property owners who claimed a lower court incorrectly paid out surplus funds following a foreclosure has been remanded to a lower court, according to a recent opinion from the 5th District Court of Appeal.(1)

    The case began when Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) foreclosed on the property owned by Carlos M. Rodriguez and Rafael Rodriguez. The property was subsequently sold to Luzupozo LLC after the final judgment. There weren’t any lienholders listed in the case, according to court records.

    Funds remained with the court clerk after FNMA’s judgment was satisfied. The clerk gave the Rodriguezes and their assignee, National Equity Recovery Services (NERS), the surplus funds within 60 days, court documents state. More than 60 days after that, Luzupozo requested that the court releases the surplus to pay liens from FNMA’s mortgage.

    The trial court granted the request that Luzupozo should receive the extra money, according to court records.

    The Rodriguez family and the NERS appealed the judgment.

    The appeals court in its ruling cited Section 45.032 of Florida Statutes, which defines the owner as "as the person who appears to be the owner of the property 'that is the subject of the foreclosure proceedings on the date of the filing of the lis pendens'" and says the property owner should receive “surplus funds after the payment of subordinate lienholders who have timely filed a claim.”

    Based on this, the appeals court said the court clerk should hold the surplus pending a court order within 60 days of providing disbursements. If the owner claims the amount during that time, the court should pay it to the owner, less any relatable service charges.

    The appeals court wrote the Rodriguezes were considered the owners, and there were no subordinate lienholders so the Rodriguezes were entitled to the surplus.

    The appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded the case so the surplus amount would go back into the court system for additional proceedings.
Source: Florida appeals court sends case involving surplus funds to lower court.
(1) Rodriguez v. Federal National Mortgage Association, Case No. 5D17-196 (Fla. App. 5-DCA, June 23, 2017).

Monday, July 10, 2017

Central Florida Real Estate Investor-Couple Takes $458K Bath By Failing In Their Due Diligence When Purchasing Condo At Foreclosure Auction; Post-Sale Discovery Reveals Existing 1st Mortgage That Survives Sale & Would Have Been Disclosed Had Buyers Simply Obtained $150 Title Search

In St. Petersburg, Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reports:
  • On June 8, a condo overlooking the Gulf of Mexico in North Redington Beach sold at a Pinellas County foreclosure auction for $458,100.

    The winning bidders, an Orlando couple, thought they had gotten a good deal on the 1,500-square unit in the Ram-Sea Condominiums with heated pool and Jacuzzi. Owners can use their condos as permanent homes or lucrative vacation rentals.

    But the Orlando couple won't do either. After the electronic auction was over and the money paid, they made an alarming discovery: A bank has a superior first mortgage on the condo and could soon foreclose.

    That would leave them with no condo and out almost half a million dollars.

    Foreclosure auctions can be risky, and this couple aren't the first to learn that the hard way. But the amount of money involved and the circumstances around the sale make it stand out among the hundreds of foreclosure auctions held each year in the Tampa Bay area.

    "It definitely doesn't smell right, to say the least," said attorney Jon McGraw, who represents the couple, John and Christine Houde.

    Among the unusual aspects of the sale:

    • The condo's previous owner is a company, Outbidya, Inc., started by Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton. Although Outbidya lost the condo in the auction, another of Skelton's companies, Deutsche Residential Mortgage, collected $380,000 from the sale — $222,000 more than Obidya had paid for the condo.

    • Deutsche Residential obtained a final judgement of foreclosure based not just on the amount owed on the condo, but also on promissory notes for other properties owned by Skelton's Outbidya.

    • The attorney representing Deutsche Residential in the condo foreclosure, Bruce Harlan, once was suspended from practicing law because of misconduct in a different mortgage foreclosure case.

    McGraw said he plans to file an emergency motion to try to vacate the sale and get his clients' money back.

    "We're just trying to digest this whole thing," Houde said of the transaction that left him and his wife reeling.
    [B]y beating the bank to foreclosure, Deutsche Residential already has received $378,000 from the proceeds of the auction, If no one else files a claim or the sale isn't vacated, the company could also get the $78,000 "surplus'' — the difference between the judgment amount and the sale price.

    McGraw, the couple's attorney, says Skelton's companies "hijacked" Wells Fargo's case in order to foreclose ahead of the bank.

    Lawyer Matt Weidner, who has been involved in many Tampa Bay foreclosures, called the condo case "unprecedented." While Skelton's company might originally have overpaid for the condo, Weidner said, he was able to come out far ahead in the end.

    "No way would he imagine such a windfall," Weidner said "but the level of machinations to execute this plan is breathtaking."

    Weidner said a $150 title search would have revealed the pending bank foreclosure and presumably kept the Houdes from bidding $458,000.

    "Auctions are not for amateurs," he said. "I get a phone call once a week from somebody who went to a seminar, or saw a buddy do it and the stories are pretty sad. I've had people take their retirement income and throw it at one of the auctions. But the psychology of these investors is that this is a county auction and surely it must be legitimate and simple and so I'll bid."

    Harlan, Deutsche's Residential's attorney, got in trouble in 2011 over his role in another condo foreclosure case. The Florida Supreme Court suspended him from practicing law for three months for trying to block foreclosure of a Tampa man's condo without the man's knowledge. Harlan had been hired by a real estate agent who wanted to buy the condo in a short sale.
For more, see Florida couple stunned to learn $458,000 paid for gulf-front condo may be for nothing.

For story update, see Emergency motion: $458,000 condo sale should be voided because of fraud:
  • The $458,100 foreclosure sale of a gulf-front condo in North Redington Beach should be set aside and the money returned to the bidders because of “unauthorized conduct, misconduct and fraudulent acts” leading up to the auction, a new court filing says.

    In an emergency motion filed this week in Pinellas County Circuit Court, an attorney for John and Christine Houdes’ Orlando Realty Group LLC asks a judge to vacate the June 8 sale because of a “well-executed and sophisticated scheme” to deceive bidders in order to obtain a “windfall” profit.

Undisclosed Past Due $145 HOA Fee Owed By Prior Owner Purportedly Grows To $77K For Central Florida Woman Who Recently Purchased Condo Out Of Foreclosure; Claims Made Accusing Debt Collector Of Running Racket To Squeeze Victims Out Of Their Homes

In Winter Park, Florida, WFTV-TV Channel 9 reports:
  • A Winter Park woman claims a past-due homeowners association bill for $145 has turned into an astounding demand for $77,000.

    Ranya Hamza blames a debt collector that bought old association debts then, she claims, demanded homeowners pay sky-high fees.

    Hamza said these are scary times and she fears a debt collector may try to take her home. “This is killing me," she said. "I can't sleep. I cannot do anything.”

    She bought a Winter Park Villas condo in foreclosure but didn't know the previous homeowner owed $145 in association fees. Then, Hamza claims, out of the blue, LM Funding in Tampa sued to collect the debt that now totaled in the thousands.

    “They put a lien on my property just like that, just like that,” she said.

    HOAs often hire attorneys to collect unpaid dues, but Hamza faces something new and far more threatening.

    The condo association had been struggling so, like many other HOAs, it signed an agreement with LM Funding, which is a debt collector.

    LM Funding advanced the association money to cover maintenance bills and in exchange it took over right's to collect delinquent dues, like Hamza’s debt.

    But since she first disputed it, Hamza said LM Funding fees soared and now the company claims she owes $77,000. “And nobody is stopping them,” Hamza said.

    Several condo associations are trying to block LM Funding through a recently certified class-action lawsuit. The suit accuses the company of deceptive trade and illegally high interest rates.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

State Client Protection Fund Steps In After Thieving Lawyer's Suicide To Cough Up Over $200K Collectively To 35 Theft Victims Over Whom He Was Court-Appointed Legal Guardian

In Columbus, Ohio, The Columbus Dispatch reports:
  • Financial relief is finally coming for some of the victims of a former Columbus attorney who stole money from his court-appointed wards.

    More than $200,000 is being awarded collectively to 35 former wards of Paul S. Kormanik, who was the subject of a five-part Dispatch investigative series that prompted changes in the state’s guardianship system. If dispersed evenly, each former ward would receive a touch over $5,700.

    The money will be paid out of the Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection, which was established in 1985 to protect clients from potentially exploitative practices of attorneys.(1) All active attorneys pay into the fund through various fees associated with the profession. Previously, two claims brought forward by Kormanik wards were reimbursed a total of $28,057.11 by the board.

    “These situations can chip away at the public’s faith in the fiduciary responsibilities that wards entrust to their guardians, some of whom are attorneys,” said Janet Green Marbley, administrator of the fund. “It’s important for the public to understand that the fund can help rebuild that trust by reimbursing wards affected by the dishonest conduct of an attorney.”

    The Columbus Bar Association brought 15 charges of misconduct against Kormanik, who forfeited his law license. Over the years he amassed about 400 probate court-appointed wards.

    In court proceedings, Kormanik pleaded guilty to four counts of theft from an elderly or disabled person, one count of theft and five counts of tampering with records.

    Kormanik was found dead in 2015 of apparent suicide. He was set to appear in court later that day to face contempt of court charges after failing to pay back one of his wards.

    The Dispatch series invoked sweeping changes in the state’s guardianship system. The “Unguarded” series caused probate judges who award guardianship, state legislators and the Ohio Supreme Court to enact reforms.

    Additionally, Attorney General Mike DeWine issued guidelines in a handbook that is required to be available to every guardian in Ohio.

    A guardian is appointed by a probate court to manage care for the affairs of a minor or incompetent adult. Being designated a guardian or ward is “one of the most restrictive protective services available under Ohio law,” according to DeWine’s handbook.
Source: Former wards, victims of attorney, awarded total of $200,000.
(1) 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.

Judge Slams NC Lawyer With 12 To 16.5-Year Prison Sentence After Guilty Plea To Fleecing Dead Client's Estate (& 13-Year Old Surviving Child) Out Of $1.5 Million; State Client Security Fund To Cough Up $181K In Partial Reimbursement To Deceased Victim's Now 21-Year Old Son

In Lincoln County, North Carolina, the Lincoln Times-News reports:
  • Pete Capece, a former Lincoln County attorney with the Jonas Law Firm, was sentenced to serve two consecutive terms of 72-99 months in prison on Monday after pleading guilty to misappropriating a client’s $1.5 million estate.

    Capece was convicted on six counts of Class C felony embezzlement for crimes involving more than $100,000 and five additional counts of Class H felony embezzlement for crimes involving less than $100,000. In total, Capece was sentenced to 12-16.5 years in a state penitentiary followed by three consecutive suspended sentences of 6-9, 6-17 and 6-17 months. Upon his release from prison, Capece will be placed on supervised probation for 60 months and ordered to make restitution.

    Capece is responsible for stealing funds from the Fritz Detmers estate and using that money to pay himself, take care of phone bills and shopping debt, buy an engagement ring for his former secretary and finance their beachfront Hilton Head wedding. He also used the money to invest in his secretary’s failed boutique and he pawned Detmers’ coin collection for nearly $30,000.

    The majority of Detmers’ estate had been willed to his son, John Paul “Tols” Detmers, who was 13 at the time of his father’s death in 2009 and is now 21 years old.

    Tols Detmers will receive $181,000 from a Client Security Fund established by the North Carolina Supreme Court(1) in 1984 to reimburse clients who have suffered financial loss as the result of dishonest conduct of lawyers like Capece.

    The state alleges that Charlinette Detmers, Tols Detmers’ biological mother, received more than $500,000 from Capece rather than the $60,000 that had been willed to her. Charlinette Detmers told the State Bureau of Investigations that she and Capece had been involved in a sexual relationship. Charlinette Detmers is still facing charges for her role in the embezzlement of Frtiz Detmers’ estate, but no court date has been set at this time.
Source: Attorney who stole $1.5 million sentenced to at least 12 years in prison.
(1) 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.

Texas Attorney Admits To Playing Fast & Loose With $2.4 Million In Client Cash (Ultimately Stealing $800K Of It), & Forging Documents Purporting To Be Favorable Court Rulings To Support Billings In Separate Cases

In San Antonio, Texas, the Texas Lawyer reports:
  • A former San Antonio lawyer has pleaded guilty to wire fraud after federal investigators alleged he created fake Texas court rulings to dupe a pair of clients into believing he'd won their case and converted some of another client's $2.4 million trust fund for his own personal use.(1)

    Todd Prins plead guilty to a single count of wire fraud before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Primomo on June 28. Prins­—who resigned his law license March 7 in lieu of discipline, according to the State Bar of Texas—will be sentenced before Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra on Sept. 18.

    According to his June 7 indictment, Prins represented two plaintiffs in civil litigation but placed the case in abatement without their knowledge. Prins later told the clients he'd been successful in their case. To prove it, he emailed them forged rulings from a Bexar County District Court, the Texas Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, complete with faked signatures of various judges, the indictment alleges.

    Prins later sent invoices for his legal services to the clients, billing them for winning the fake rulings. Prins later filed for personal bankruptcy and issued the clients a $1.6 million promissory note, which he falsely claimed to be settlement proceeds from their lawsuit, it adds.

    Separately, Prins is alleged to have deposited $2.4 million intended for a real estate foreclosure sale into a client's Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA). But Prins later shifted $2 million of that money into his own law office account­—$800,000 of which he converted for his own personal use, the indictment alleges.

    Prins then emailed and texted parties in the real estate transaction what appeared to be a screenshot of IOLTA account, showing a balance of over $3 million, when in reality it contained only $1,000, according to the indictment.
Source: Former San Antonio Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Scamming Clients With Fake Court Rulings. (may require subscription; if no subscription, TRY HERE, then click the appropriate link for the story).
(1) For links to "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that will sometimes reimburse clients victimized by losses caused by the dishonest conduct of their lawyers, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc. ripoff reimbursement

Disbarred For Cheating Six Clients, Attorney Now Faces Grand Larceny Charge For Stiffing Another Client Out Of Over $1 Million In Settlement Proceeds In Connection With Lawsuit Against Hospital, Doctor Over Victim's Son's Death From Post-Surgery Blood Clot; Empty-Headed Bronx Judge Nixes DA's $150K Bail Request, Instead Allows Defendant's Pre-Trial Release On Own Recognizance

In The Bronx, New York, WPIX-TV Channel 11 reports:
  • Andre Halls Sr. hired attorney Louis Uvino to sue a hospital after his son died from a blood clot — but never received his settlement money.

    The attorney was finally arrested.

    “I’m happy that he’s been arrested, but I’m not happy with the judicial system," Halls Sr. said after learning Uvino had been arrested.

    As we reported in December 2016, after his son, Andre Halls Jr, died from a blood clot following surgery, his father hired Uvino to sue the hospital and doctor.

    The jury awarded Halls $1,200,000. After Uvino took out his fee, he was supposed to send Halls $744,000.

    Uvino strung him along for almost a year before finally sending Halls two checks. Both of them bounced and Uvino was nowhere to be found. He’d moved out of the Floral Park, Long Island, home he’d been renting.

    As for his office, also in Floral Park, Halls says, “I called his office. The office has been closed and the number disconnected.”

    Halls reported Uvino to the Bronx District Attorney and learned the attorney was disbarred in 2015 for cheating six clients.

    “This man is a thief. He’s not only a thief, he’s a cold, calculating, pathological liar,” Halls said.

    Fortunately there is now good news. After investigators spent months trying to find Uvino, speaking to his relatives, friends and colleagues, the former lawyer called the Bronx D.A. and said he was ready to turn himself in.

    Uvino is charged with Grand Larceny for allegedly stealing $1,025,000 from Andre Halls.(1) He appeared in court with a Legal Aid attorney.

    “That’s a sham to come in with a public defender to make you believe he has no money,” Halls said.

    What makes Halls even angrier is what happened at Uvino’s arraignment in Bronx Criminal Court, after he pled not guilty. The assistant district attorney asked Judge Masha Michael to set bail at $150,000. However, the judge released Uvino on his own recognizance and ordered him to return to court August 3.

    Halls is livid.

    “Here’s a man who evaded the law for six months and he’s telling you he’s gonna show up on his own recognizance? He is a flight risk and a liar too. How do you trust a liar?”

    We tried to reach Judge Michael, but she was unavailable for comment.
Source: DA’s office arrests attorney who stole from his clients.
(1) For links to "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that will sometimes reimburse clients victimized by losses caused by the dishonest conduct of their lawyers, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc. ripoff reimbursement  ripoff reimbursement

Attorney With Recent History Of Finding Himself In Hot Water Finally Gets Bar Boot After Allegedly Filching Over $200K From Minor Child's Trust Funds

In Nashville, Tennessee, the Nashville Patch reports:
  • A Tennessee Supreme Court panel disbarred a local attorney, alleging he wrote checks to himself out of the trust account of a minor client.

    Thomas McKinnie Jr., who at times has had offices in Davidson, Williamson and Rutherford counties, is accused of writing himself checks of more than $200,000, leaving a trust account's balance so low that the child was disenrolled from school because the tuition went unpaid.

    McKinnie can apply for reinstatement in five years. He must pay restitution.

    In 2015, McKinnie was suspended for one year after failing to pursue a case he told clients was moving forward, among other violations. He was suspended two years in 2013 for writing funds out of his trust account into his personal account. He had been previously disciplined for the same violation. He was also put on probation in 2011 for kiting checks between his law firm's account and his personal checking account.
Source: Midstate Lawyer With History Of Check Kiting Disbarred For Ripping Off Young Client (Local attorney Thomas McKinnie Jr. was disbarred for writing checks out of a trust account).
(1) For links to "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that will sometimes reimburse clients victimized by losses caused by the dishonest conduct of their lawyers, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc. ripoff reimbursement  ripoff reimbursement