Saturday, August 19, 2017

State Civil Rights Agency Shakes $40K Out Of California Landlord In Settlement Of Fair Housing Lawsuit Alleging Denial Of Tenant's Reasonable Accommodation Requests In Connection With Documented Need For Assistance Animal

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) recently announced:
  • The owners of an apartment complex in San Jose, California will pay $40,000, develop written anti-discrimination policies, and undergo annual fair housing training for three years to resolve a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the agency announced today [July 5]. The lawsuit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court charged the landlord with denying the reasonable accommodation requests of tenants with disabilities who presented medical documentation attesting to their need for an assistance animal, commonly called an emotional support animal.

    The case came to DFEH’s attention when Project Sentinel(1) filed a complaint on behalf of a mother and daughter, both with disabilities, who sought to engage their landlord in a discussion about their need for an assistance animal. After an unsuccessful attempt to mediate the claim, the DFEH filed suit (Case No. 16CV289823) against the apartment complex’s owners Timothy S. Chen and Timothy S. Chen Trust (Defendants) alleging multiple violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

    According to the civil complaint, the tenants made written requests for a reasonable accommodation supported by medical documentation, but the landlord refused to consider the requests because their doctor’s note did not state they needed a dog “to survive.” The landlord then subjected the tenants to retaliation by issuing them a notice terminating their tenancy.

    “The law is clear that the use of an assistance animal can be a reasonable accommodation for a disability,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish. “Landlords have a duty to engage in the interactive process when a tenant requests a reasonable accommodation for a disability, and those who refuse to do so because the requested accommodation involves an animal are in violation of the law.”
Source: Landlord To Pay $40,000 To Settle Fair Housing Case Involving Emotional Support Animal (Tenants faced eviction after landlord told them they didn’t need a dog to survive).
(1) Project Sentinel is a non-profit organization whose primary function is to assist individuals with housing problems such as discrimination, mortgage foreclosure & delinquency, rental issues including repairs, deposits, privacy, dispute resolution, home buyer education, post purchase education and reverse mortgages. Many of Project Sentinel programs are free, however several of our programs charge a nominal fee. Please review the Project Sentinel HUD fee schedule.

Forced To Move After 15+ Years, Ex-Tenant With Disability Scores $31K (With Fair Housing Group Walking Away With Add'l $41K) After Squeezing Landlord With Fair Housing Complaint Over Alleged Harassment In Connection With Service Dog

In Marin, California, the Marin Independent Journal reports:
  • An administrative complaint filed with a federal agency by a disabled Marin woman against managers of a Greenbrae apartment complex was settled in her favor, parties in the matter announced this [month].

    Stacey Kitchin, a former resident of the Bon Air Apartments, was awarded $31,000 last month in the settlement, filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fair housing office. Also, San Rafael-based Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California was awarded $41,000 in the settlement to offset the organization’s “frustration of mission” due to numerous hours of staff time spent assisting Kitchin in the complaint.

    Kitchin’s complaint of discrimination was filed against Schultz Investment Co., Greenbrae Management Inc., Belardo Co., L.P. and Thomas Allhoff, vice president of Schultz. It alleged that even though she was granted a “reasonable accommodation” in 2010 to have her service dog Zeus stay with her because of her disability, she was harassed by repeated notices of lease violations concerning the dog. That included, she said, false reports that the dog had attacked and bitten maintenance workers.

    “I want everyone to know that people with disabilities deserve the same opportunities to enjoy their living space as others, and that landlords need to consider reasonable accommodation requests,” said Kitchin, who lived at Bon Air for more than 15 years until mid-January, when she was forced to move out. She has since found other housing in Marin, said Caroline Peattie, executive director of Fair Housing Advocates.

    Allhoff, who was specifically mentioned by Kitchin as issuing repeated “threats to my tenancy,” did not return calls for comment on Wednesday.

    As part of the settlement’s “conciliation agreement,” the Greenbrae landlords will have to implement a “reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification policy consistent with the Fair Housing Act,” and revise their leases accordingly. They must also send a letter to tenants notifying them of the new policy and take fair housing training.

    Kitchin contacted Fair Housing Advocates in 2014 after receiving a “three-day notice to cure or quit,” related to removing Zeus. Management rescinded the notice after Fair Housing Advocates staff requested it, but the agency continued to get complaints from people with disabilities at the complex in 2014 and 2015, according to Fair Housing Advocates’ attorney, Casey Epp.

    HUD issued a statement that landlords or other housing providers are prohibited “from denying or limiting housing opportunities to persons with disabilities or imposing different rental terms and conditions. This includes refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices for people with disabilities.”

    Peattie said the nature of Kitchin’s disability was not available, and that housing providers are not allowed to make specific inquiries to that effect.

    According to the HUD statement, “(Zeus) alerts (Kitchin) when she is experiencing physiological changes and helps to ameliorate many of her disability-related symptoms.”

    HUD investigators “corroborated (Kitchin’s) need for the dog and discovered written discriminatory statements made by the property managers,” the statement added. “HUD found no evidence indicating that the animal was disruptive or had bitten anyone.”

Emotional Support Pooches Take $50K Bite Out Of Brooklyn HOA's Wallet In Settlement Of Fair Housing Suit Accusing Co-Op Of Hassling Unit Owners About Having Assistance Animals

In Coney Island, Brooklyn, the New York Daily News reports:
  • The feds are making sure Trump Village in Coney Island learns some new tricks about allowing emotional support dogs.

    The co-op built by the commander-in-chief's father has settled a case saying it refused to let residents live in peace with their support dogs, the Daily News has learned.

    Trump Village will pay $40,000 to three families and also pay a $10,000 civil penalty, according to Justice Department documents.

    President Trump has no ties to the site. His father, Fred, built the 1,144-unit development in the 1960s.

    Until around June 2015, Trump Village had a policy barring residents from keeping any animals.

    But the government found the co-op “did not have any policies or procedures for its residents to request reasonable accommodations to permit them to keep assistance animals."

    “Because Trump Village no longer prohibits residents from keeping animals, all residents who wish to have emotional support animals may do so,” the settlement stated.

    But if the rules change, and Trump Village once again bans animals, then the pact with the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's office makes it clear the place has to make an exception for support dogs.

    Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis signed off on the accord last week.

    The Fair Housing Act case zeroed in on incidents between May 2012 and March 2015. Court papers said the site's management tried evicting three residents who wouldn't capitulate on their canines.

    There were other forms of retaliation too, court papers say. Federal lawyers alleged Trump Village denied preferred parking spots and removed a woman from the board of directors who was married to an Army veteran with a support dog.

    Despite all the fuss, ultimately, no residents were separated from their pooches.

    A lawyer for Trump Village did not have an immediate comment, but the settlement papers said the development denied the allegations. A Brooklyn U.S. Attorney spokesman declined to comment.

California Landlord Coughs Up $4,500 To Settle State Fair Housing Complaint Over Alleged Refusal To Rent To A Couple Because Hubby Was A Marine & Possible Overseas Deployment Might Cause Them To Break Lease

In Orange County, California, The Orange County Register reports:
  • The [California] Department of Fair Employment and Housing has settled a complaint against a landlord who allegedly refused to rent to a couple because the husband was a Marine who might be deployed.

    Viridiana Mendez asked about renting a Dana Point condo in April 2016 to share with her husband Albert Quintanilla and their daughter, according to the DFEH.

    Mendez said the landlord had no issue renting to her until learning that Quintanilla was a Marine and the family might vacate the unit before the end of the lease term if he was deployed overseas. The landlord allegedly would not even give her a rental application because of her husband’s service.

    “The sacrifices made by service members, including their agreement to deploy overseas if duty calls, should not be compounded by refusing to rent to their families,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish in a statement [go here for Spanish version].

    Under the settlement, the landlord will pay $4,500 and undergo training on fair housing laws.
Source: Dana Point landlord to pay $4,500 for denying Marine’s family a rental application (A landlord will pay $4,500 for denying a woman a rental application because her husband was a Marine).

Friday, August 18, 2017

California Man Gets 15 Months In Prison For Mortgage Fraud In Obtaining Home Loan, Then Subsequently Making False Claims That Proposed Short Sale Was An Arms' Length Transaction, Resulting In $328K Loss For Bank

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Fresno, California):
  • Mahendra Prasad, 55, of Fremont, was sentenced today [August 14] by U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay $328,000 in restitution for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

    On May 22, 2017, Prasad pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud affecting a financial institution. According to court documents, in 2006, Prasad caused loan application packages that contained false statements to be submitted to a mortgage lender in order to buy a property in Sacramento. The false statements included statements concerning Prasad’s employer, income, and purported intention to occupy the property as his primary residence. Following his fraudulent purchase, Prasad, with the assistance of others, rented the property as Section 8 housing and collected rents. Prasad did not reside in or occupy the property as his primary residence.

    In 2013, Prasad applied to a bank to sell the property to another person at a loss to the bank. He falsely claimed to the bank that the “short” sale was an “arm’s length” transaction, and that neither he nor the buyer were related by commercial enterprise. Prasad’s conduct caused a loss to a financial institution of approximately $328,000.

Billionaire Real Estate Developer Faces Law Enforcement Scrutiny For Allegedly Filing Phony, Post-Breakup 'Revenge' Construction Liens, Then Threatening Foreclosure Against Ranch, Home Belonging To Woman Claiming To Be His Ex-Lover

In West Palm Beach, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:
  • Wellington mega-developer and president of the Palm Beach Polo & Country Club, Glenn Straub, is under criminal investigation, according to the Broward State Attorney’s Office.

    A spokesman for the office declined to comment on the nature of the investigation.

    Palm Beach Circuit Court records filed in March show Straub’s company, Palm Beach Polo, Inc. is suing a woman who claims to be an ex-girlfriend of Straub for failing to pay more than $77,000 for construction and improvements done on two of her properties.

    The company has filed two liens and is threatening foreclosure on Jessica Nicodemo’s Wellington and Loxahatchee residences.

    Nicodemo, 33, claims the liens are fraudulent.

    She also claims that there was never an agreement or expectation of payment for the work.

    “[Nicodemo] was in a romantic relationship with Glenn Straub,” court filings said. “[Nicodemo] was led to believe that there would be no charge for services.”

    “It’s a joke,” Straub, 70, said of the criminal investigation Wednesday night. “Anybody can make a complaint, and the state attorney’s office has to go ahead and pursue it.”

    His attorney, Craig Galle, said by telephone: “It’s improper to institute, or threaten to institute, criminal proceedings to affect a civil matter. Here, no crime occurred, and this is a simple civil dispute over money.”

    Nicodemo’s lawyer, Elizabeth Parker, said: “We look forward to the evidence coming out in court to prove Ms. Nicodemo’s claims.”

    Straub has a litigious reputation with a trail of lawsuits to his name, records show.

    His latest legal skirmish is a suit his company filed Aug. 9 against another woman, Ashley Maguire, a former Mrs. Florida beauty pageant winner.

    The company is suing Maguire for $250,000.

    Maguire, 33, failed to live up to “a working arrangement” as repayment for more than $100,000 the company paid to lease her a home at the polo club and provide her with luxury vehicles, according to the lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.

    “[Maguire] claimed to have strong ties in Wellington with wealthy equestrians and wealthy business executives with whom she could use her beauty and charms in assisting with selling expensive country club memberships, sponsorships and promotions,” the lawsuit said. “Defendant never commenced a single day of work for, or on behalf of, plaintiff.”

    Maguire, who was in the midst of a divorce, did repay a $6,200 cash advance, as well as $35,000 given to her for clothes and accessories, the suit said.

    “This is a classic example of the powerful abusing the judicial process and wasting judicial resources to attempt to create leverage in a demented love triangle,” Maguire’s attorney, Michael Pike said.

    “What they’re trying to do is put me on the defense rather than paying what we are due,” Straub said. “I’m a guy who doesn’t run scared.”

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Texas Title Agent Cops Plea To Siphoning Over $1.6 Million From Escrow Account For Closings In Real Estate Deals; Authorities Bagged Her In Illinois After She Abandoned Business & Skipped Town With Loot

In Southlake, Texas, KXAS-TV Channel 5 reports:
  • A former wealthy Southlake title agent pleaded guilty Monday [August 14] to stealing more than $1.6 million before she abandoned her business and skipped town last year.

    Nancy Jackson Spinks, also known as Nancy Carroll, was arrested in February 2016 driving a Mercedes Benz near Chicago, where she was renting a 6,000-square-foot estate.

    Carroll’s business, Millennium Title Company, was seized by the Texas Department of Insurance.

    Regulators said $3 million was missing from the company’s escrow accounts and $2 million from separate investor accounts.

    A sentencing date has not been set but her crime carries a range of punishment from five to 99 years in prison. Carroll also is eligible for parole, prosecutors said.

    Carroll pleaded guilty to misappropriation of fiduciary property and theft of $1.6 million.

    Carroll's attorney, Lance Evans, declined to say if she will seek probation.

    "Ms. Carroll admits her responsibility for the conduct alleged in the indictment and is prepared to receive her punishment at the appropriate time," he said.
Source: Former Southlake Title Agent Pleads Guilty to Stealing $1.6 Million (Nancy Jackson Spinks could get 99 years in prison -- or parole). closing agent theft

Another Attorney Gets Pinched For Allegedly Sticking Her Sticky Fingers Into Real Estate Escrow Account & Pilfering $40K Held As Downpayment In Home Sale Transaction

From the Office of the Nassau County, New York District Attorney:
  • Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced that a suspended attorney from Islip has been arrested for allegedly stealing $40,000 from a mortgage escrow account. The money had been earmarked as a down payment for a home.

    Nancy Enoksen, 49, was arraigned today [August 14] [...] and charged with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a D felony). [...] If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum of 2-1/3 to seven years in prison.

    “Attorneys who betray their clients’ trust and victimize those whose interests they have an obligation to protect, disgrace their profession and when they steal, we will hold them criminally accountable,” DA Singas said.

    DA Singas said in January of 2015, the complainants had retained Enoksen to represent them in the sale of their home in Broad Channel, Queens. The complainants’ buyers gave a cashier’s check for $40,000 payable to “Nancy Enoksen as Attorney” as a down payment on the house. However, in April of 2015, Enoksen’s law license was suspended due to unrelated professional misconduct. Subsequently, the complainants retained a new attorney but when it was time to close on the home in June of 2016, Enoksen is alleged to have refused to release the $40,000 down payment to the new attorney. Attempts to recover the funds by the complainants have been unsuccessful.

    A review of bank records showed that over the course of several months, Enoksen moved the money from her escrow account, located at a TD Bank in Hicksville, and into her operating account. She is accused of using the money to make payments to several credit card companies and make purchases at Stop and Shop, CVS, restaurants and other retailers.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

NYS, NYC Pension Funds Find Their Way Into Investments In Private Equity Outfit Accused Of Predatory Lending, Unnecessary Foreclosures; City Advocate: Municipal Workers' Retirement Cash Is Being Used Against Them To Foreclose On Their Homes

In New York City, WNBC-TV Channel 4 reports:
  • Despite a pressing need for more affordable housing in New York, the state's public retirement funds have invested more than $1 billion in Lone Star, a private equity company accused of predatory lending and unnecessary foreclosures, an I-Team investigation has found.

    According to a lawsuit filed by several homeowners in southeast Brooklyn and Queens, Lone Star has purchased large portfolios of distressed mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration. But instead of considering typical FHA modifications -- like interest-rate reductions or loan balance reductions -- Lone Star is accused of offering mostly loans with interest-only periods and balloon payments.

    Karen Morrison, a retired NYPD officer, says Lone Star offered her father one of the interest-only modifications when he fell behind on his mortgage payments two years ago. Now she says she's afraid he won't be able to afford the balloon payment when the interest-only period is up.

    "It's like four generations that live in the household and if we cannot afford to pay when the interest-only payment is up, we're all going to be out on the street," said Morrison.

    On top of the stress of potentially losing her family home, Karen Morrison said it was “like a shocker” to hear her own retirement fund, the New York City Police Pension Fund, has invested more than $100 million in Lone Star, the very company that may one day foreclose on her father's house.

    It’s almost like I co-signed it,” she said.

    After the I-Team contacted NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer to ask about the Lone Star investments, Stringer wrote a letter to Lone Star Chairman John Grayken, expressing concern about the interest-only loan modifications.

    “This kind of predatory lending is unacceptable,” Stringer told the I-Team. "When a company acts more like a predator, rather than an investor, we have serious questions of that company and we are now in the process of hunting down those answers."

    Public Advocate Letitia James is another city official who has expressed concern about city retirees investing in Lone Star. Last year, as a Trustee on the Board of the New York City Employees Retirement System, James successfully opposed an opportunity to make further investments in Lone Star. She said it is ironic that a cop or sanitation worker could face foreclosure at the hands of the very company financed by their own retirement savings.

    “Basically, municipal workers in the city of New York – we’re taking their money and using it against them and foreclosing on their property,” James said.

For more, see I-Team: NY and NYC Pension Funds Invest in 'Predatory' Lender (“Basically, municipal workers in the city of New York – we’re taking their money and using it against them and foreclosing on their property,” the city's public advocate said).

Cops: Woman Used Fraudulent Documents To Obtain Job As Home Health Care Worker, Then Began Draining Assets From 83-Year Old Dementia Patient; Attempt To Score Reverse Mortgage On Victim's Home Among Alleged Bad Acts

In Rockland Township, Pennsylvania, WFMZ-TV Channel 69 reports:
  • A home healthcare worker is in trouble with the law, accused of stealing from an elderly client with dementia.

    Grace Deguia-Reed, 46, of Perry Township, has been charged with identity theft, theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception, and related offenses. She is now free on $10,000 unsecured bail.

    The charges stem from an investigation that was launched in May by the Pennsylvania State Police, who said that Deguia-Reed began to drain the assets and savings of an 83-year-old woman she was paid to care for at the woman's home in Rockland Township.

    Investigators said Deguia-Reed took advantage of the woman's disability and either convinced her to cash in three life insurance policies for nearly $181,000, or she did so herself.

    Then, between April 2015 and April 2016, Deguia-Reed deposited $70,849.35 worth of checks from the woman into her own accounts, according to court documents released Thursday [August 10]. She also attempted to cash a $75,000 check, with plans to buy a property with the money, police said.

    Investigators also cited evidence that Deguia-Reed attempted to get the woman to obtain a reverse mortgage and have her property logged for more assets.

    Deguia-Reed was also in possession of a 2015 Jeep Cherokee that was leased and registered to the woman without her knowledge, police said.

    In addition, evidence points to Deguia-Reed using fraudulent forms to obtain her job as a home healthcare worker, according to court documents.
Source: Police: Home healthcare worker stole from elderly client (Grace Deguia-Reed free on $10,000 bail).

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Career Conman Again In Hot Water, Accused Of Using Forged Deed To Score $441K In Refinancing Proceeds Secured By One Victim's Home, Falling Short In Similar Effort Involving $250K Loan Against Another Homeowner's Property

In Miami, Florida, the Miami Herald reports:
  • In his most infamous scam, longtime con man George French Jones targeted wealthy celebrities and sports figures, promising them Miami Heat courtside season tickets during the height of the LeBron James era.

    Now, Jones is back in Florida facing charges in an audacious new enterprise: declaring himself the owner of other people’s luxury real estate.

    Posing as a high roller, police say, Jones used phony documents to try to gain ownership of a high-end South Beach condo while at the same time trying to take out a $250,000 loan against the property. He’s also facing a second criminal case, accused of impersonating a condo owner to secure a $441,000 loan against the woman’s posh Brickell home.

    In two other cases, civil lawyers allege Jones pulled similar scams — using phony driver licenses and court documents — to gain control of a beachfront Fort Lauderdale condo, as well as a mansion in the Cocoplum neighborhood of Coral Gables.
    It was in February that he began text messaging his neighbor, a high-end real estate agent named Linette Guerra, inquiring about buying her unit next door to where he lived.

    In a series of messages released by prosecutors, he casually offered $2.5 million for the unit while playing up a playboy lifestyle. In one text, he bragged that his girlfriend was “having too much fun at Ultra,” the popular Miami electronic music festival. In another, he apologized for taking too long to return a text. “Just woke up rock star evening,” he wrote.

    What Guerra did not know was that Jones was using her company’s name on documents to try to get the $250,000 loan against her own property, detectives said. When confronted by police, Jones acknowledged his “extensive white-collar criminal past” and numerous companies but refused to talk about the loan, according to an arrest report.

    Jones didn’t actually get the loan money wired to him.

    But in the case of Ana Marzal de Bolivar, the owner of a condo at Brickell Icon, lawyers say he succeeded in getting hundreds of thousands of dollars sent to him as a loan against her property in late 2015. According to court documents, Jones filed a phony deed giving himself control of the property, then got the $441,000 loan by signing his own name and Bolivar’s.

    Her attorneys, Henry Bell and Manny Reboso, won a suit against Jones and one of his companies, which never replied to the legal action. The lawyers also complained to police, who are now looking to arrest Jones.

    “Ms. Bolivar, like many other individuals, has been defrauded by George French Jones,” said Reboso, of Lagos & Priovolos. “We are confident that he will ultimately be held accountable for his criminal acts.”

Tampa Feds Squeeze $475K Civil Settlement From Real Estate Operator Accused Of Peddling Condo Apartments To Elderly Buyers By Recruiting Them, Paying Them To Artificially Inflate Sales Prices, Then Failing To Disclose Material Information When Obtaining Reverse Mortgages To Cash Out On Transactions

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Tampa, Florida):
  • Acting United States Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow announces a civil settlement with Alexander Olympus Zarris that resolves alleged violations of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (“FIRREA”) through reverse mortgage transactions engineered by Zarris at a Tarpon Springs condominium complex. Zarris will pay $475,000 to address the damage his conduct caused to a lending program overseen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This is the third civil settlement reached in this vital area of civil affirmative enforcement.
    From 2008 to 2011, the United States Attorney’s Office and HUD’s Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) investigated Zarris’s practices and concluded that he had improperly obtained the proceeds of federally insured reverse mortgages that, but for his conduct, would not have been underwritten by the lenders.

    Investigators learned that Zarris had engaged in sales transactions where he concealed the amounts that he had paid to the buyers to artificially inflate the appraised values of condominium complex units.

    He recruited elderly buyers (over the age of 62) to purchase units at inflated values and, as part of those sales transactions, required them to immediately apply for reverse mortgages in the maximum amount possible. Zarris, or others working with him, would then assist the elderly buyers in applying for reverse mortgages, including filling out their loan applications. The applications submitted on behalf of these buyers failed to disclose certain information that was material to the bank’s decision to underwrite the reverse mortgages. Through these practices, Zarris was able to create the appearance of equity so that the elderly buyers could obtain the reverse mortgages. The proceeds of the mortgages were then wired to a company owned by Zarris at the reverse mortgage closing.

Monday, August 14, 2017

NJ Feds Squeeze Guilty Plea Out Of Operator Of Loan Modification Racket That Screwed Over Two Dozen Homeowners Out Of $400K+

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Trenton, New Jersey):
  • The sole proprietor of a purported loan modification consulting company today [August 8] admitted that he fraudulently billed clients more than $400,000 for services that were never performed, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced.

    Jeffrey Halpern, 62, of Hewlett, New York, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan in Trenton federal court to an information charging him with one count of wire fraud.

    According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

    Between 2009 and 2016, Halpern operated JCK Marketing and solicited business from individuals who were seeking home loan modifications on their residential mortgages. Halpern told these individuals that, for a fee, he would negotiate loan modifications on their behalf.

    In actuality, Halpern pocketed the funds but performed little or no actual services in connection with the purported loan modifications. Halpern also repeatedly demanded money for “bank fees” from his victims, even though none of the related financial institutions charged fees for loan modifications. During the relevant time period, Halpern defrauded at least 26 victims of over $400,000.

Real Estate Managing Agent Pinched For Allegedly Bilking 15 Landlords For Over $330K In Rent Collections, Tenants' Security Deposits Held In Company Escrow Account

In Warwick, Pennsylvania, The Intelligencer reports:
  • A Doylestown Township woman who owns a real estate management company is charged with fraudulently using more than $330,000 to pay her business expenses, Warwick police allege in a criminal complaint.

    Helene Senior, 67, of Gatehouse Lane, is charged with four felony counts, including theft and receiving stolen property. According to court documents, a client contacted Warwick police after Senior failed to respond to numerous attempts to contact her, and a police investigation allegedly revealed that Senior had taken $338,494 from 15 customers out of an escrow account and used it for her personal business purposes.

    Police say that Senior owns Mark V. Realty and operates out of an office on Stout Drive in Warwick. The property management firm is primarily tasked with collecting rent for other property owners in Bucks and Montgomery counties and sending her clients the money.

    One of her clients, Scott Cornell, hired Senior to collect rent on three properties owned in Warminster and maintain security deposits paid by the properties' tenants, totaling more than $33,000, in an interest-bearing escrow savings account, police said. Under the agreement, Senior would collect the rent, pay herself a 6 percent commission and send the remainder to Cornell.

    According to the probable cause affidavit, Cornell began collecting the rent himself in April 2016 after Senior failed to perform her duties or call him back after numerous messages. Cornell made a formal request that Senior end the contract and return the security deposits in escrow, but she did not respond to his phone calls or mailed letters, police said.

    Warwick police allege they reached out to Senior's other clients and found 14 additional customers who could not get a hold of Senior nor recover security deposits she agreed to hold in an escrow account. After looking at her bank accounts, police found that the security deposits had been transferred out of escrow and used for business-related expenses, according to court documents.

    Senior met with the police in July and allegedly admitted that she transferred the escrow money into her general accounts and used the funds for salaries and other expenses without her clients' authorization.

    She told police that she intended to pay the money back but, "once it got out of hand she did not have the money to put back into her customers' escrow accounts," the affidavit says.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Federal Jury Slams Two West Palm Beach Lawyers For $16.4 Million Civil Court Judgment For Their Roles In "Holding Captive" A Wealthy 97-Year Old Texas Man In South Florida While Fleecing Him For "Unnecessary & Excessive Fees" Of $1 Million In Guardianship Racket

In West Palm Beach, Florida, the Palm Beach Post reports:
  • Advocates for guardianship reform clamored in vain for years that Florida’s system failed to properly protect incapacitated seniors, that its primary purpose had been perverted to line the pockets of greedy attorneys and professional guardians with the hard-earned life savings of the elderly.

    Now they can point to a new federal verdict awarding a whopping $16.4 million in a lawsuit claiming that two West Palm Beach attorneys breached their fiduciary duties while running up “unnecessary and excessive fees” of $1 million.

    “It’s really kind of a landmark case,” said Julian Bivins, who brought the suit as the personal representative of the estate of his father, Oliver, a Texas oil man. “It sends a message to these unscrupulous lawyers and guardians that they are not going to be able to get away with it anymore.”

    The Bivins guardianship case emanates out of the court of Circuit Judge Martin Colin, the subject of an investigation by The Palm Beach Post into the judge’s conflicts of interest because his wife is a professional guardian.

    Colin in open court had heaped praise on the attorneys who lost the case and refused to hold a hearing to decide whether the attorneys had “secretly” kept money from the sale of one of Oliver Bivins’ properties in an escrow account for more than a year, according to court documents.

    The Post’s award-winning series featuring Colin, Guardianships: A Broken Trust, resulted in an overhaul of guardianship rules in Palm Beach County. Colin retired last December after he was transferred from the Probate & Guardianship Division because of The Post’s reporting.

    Weeks after The Post published, Julian Bivins filed a motion to disqualify Colin, saying his concerns about the “close-knit atmosphere of the Guardians, their attorneys” and Colin had been “glaringly brought to light” in the stories.

    Held captive?

    The younger Bivins said he felt his father was “held captive” in South Florida by the guardianship so the attorneys could liquidate real estate assets — including a New York City Upper East Side mansion — and charge more fees. Colin granted an emergency order prohibiting the senior from returning to Texas.

    The jury found on July 28 that attorneys Brian M. O’Connell and Ashley N. Crispin of the Ciklin, Lubitz & O’Connell firm not only breached their fiduciary duty but committed professional negligence.

    The lawsuit claimed they failed to get appraisals on two high-end New York City properties being divided among family. They were not of equal value and as a result, Julian Bivins ended up with one that was worth millions less than other.

    The jury’s decision to award $16.4 million makes up the difference.

    But the fight over the property is far less important to reform advocates than the fact that attorneys who carry out the wishes of professional guardians and are paid with the ward’s money were held accountable.

    This case in one of the longtime hotbeds of guardianship abuse is a tipping point,” said Sam Sugar, director of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship.

    “This first salvo sends a serious message not only to the predatory guardians and lawyers who have been exploiting families all over Florida for decades but especially to the probate judges without whose complicity these cases could never happen.”

    Oliver Bivins died at age 97 in March 2015. He ended up in the court-ordered guardianship when he visited his condominium in Palm Beach in 2011 and a social worker became concerned with his well-being, according to court documents.

    Oliver Bivins appeared to be coming to Florida for a weekend vacation, leaving his refrigerator in Texas fully stocked, plaintiff attorneys told the jury. His son said he often didn’t visit his Palm Beach condominium for years at a time.

    The verdict takes a further step toward re-establishing that attorneys are supposed to represent the incapacitated ward, not the court-appointed professional guardian — a position many lawyers have argued in court to thwart families trying to rein in a fee frenzy.

    If it wasn’t for me, they would have completely depleted my dad’s estate,” said Julian Bivins, who now lives in Palm Beach. “I’ve been fighting them from the beginning to just get him back to Texas. Finally, I got him back there 35 days before he passed away.”

    As with many family members who challenge the status quo in guardianship in Palm Beach County, Julian said he found himself relentlessly attacked in court. He was even sued by one of the guardians in the case, Curtis Rogers.

    The biggest toll, he said, though, was his relationship with his father as Rogers told the elder Bivins that his son only wanted his money. “He turned my dad against me,” Julian Bivins said. “I could never explain to my father how he was being held for ransom, how they wouldn’t let him go.”

For more, see Jury hits lawyers with $16.4M for doing senior wrong in guardianship.

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 ripoff reimbursement

Lawyer Invokes 5th Amendment In Attorney Disciplinary Hearing, Then Promptly Surrenders Law License After Refusing To Answer Questions Surrounding Alleged Losses Of Over $183K Suffered By Two Clients (Estate Of Deceased 89-Year Old & Senior Care Facility-Bound 96-Year Old)

In Topeka, Kansas, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports:
  • Topeka lawyer Margo E. Burson faced a formal complaint based on the losses of more than $183,000 by two Topeka women.

    The family of one woman said she violated their trust. A nursing home had asked her repeatedly to fill out required paperwork for the other woman.

    But when Burson appeared at a disciplinary hearing before the Kansas Supreme Court and was asked what authority she had to remove money from a client’s account without a judge’s approval, she paused.

    “At this time, I decline to answer,” Burson said.

    “I’m sorry. What?” Justice Dan Biles asked.

    I decline to answer,” Burson said.

    Are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” Biles asked.

    Yes,” Burson said.

    With that, questioning about the status of the money ended. That hearing was June 15.

    The Fifth Amendment protects a defendant from testifying to something that might be self-incriminating. A witness may sometimes “plead the Fifth” in district court cases.

    But disciplinary administrator Stan Hazlett said he couldn’t recall the protection being used in an attorney disciplinary hearing.

    In a letter dated July 18, Burson voluntarily surrendered her Kansas law license, and the Kansas Supreme Court disbarred her a day later.

    Burson was facing two complaints filed by the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator, which polices the conduct of Kansas lawyers, based on the losses of more than $183,000 by two Topeka women.

    The estate of Dorothy May Harvey, an 89-year-old woman who died in September 2011, and a 96-year-old woman living in a senior care facility reported the losses. The name of the older woman hasn’t been disclosed in public documents.


    Family members were grateful for Burson’s help during Harvey’s final illness, and Burson got initial accounting to family within days of Harvey’s death.

    “We trusted her implicitly,” said Don Peters, a brother-in-law of Harvey who is married to her sister, June Peters.

    Peters, who lives outside of Kansas, said Harvey’s obituary even reflected respect for the attorney.

    “The family expresses their deep appreciation to Margo Burson, who lovingly managed her health care affairs,” the obituary said.

    But the closing of the estate is still ongoing, Peters said. The Peterses became a little suspicious about a year after Harvey’s death, and by September 2016, they registered a complaint with the disciplinary administrator’s office.

    “In essence, she violated our trust, very seriously,” Peters said. “We feel betrayed, not so much for the money lost but for the time (lost).”

    Ten internet transfers totaling $66,000 were made from the Harvey estate account, then were deposited into Burson’s operating account, according to disciplinary administrator’s records.

    The transfers started on Aug. 19, 2016, and ended on Jan. 30, 2017, and ranged from $1,000 to $19,000 for each transfer, the records show.

    “We did trust her for years, unfortunately, until we learned she didn’t merit our trust,” Peters said. “She is now our ex-lawyer.”

    In the other complaint against Burson, more than $117,249 wasn’t paid to the account of a 96-year-old woman living at Brewster Place, officials said.

    The disciplinary administrator received a complaint from an individual reviewing accounts on behalf of Brewster Place, where Burson had power of attorney for a resident beginning in 2005.

    Records show Brewster Place sent letters and emails to Burson “on numerous occasions” asking her to fill out and file a Medicaid application, a request that began in March 2014.

    By February 2017, the resident’s balance due to Brewster Place was more than $99,000, and on May 24, the balance was $117,249.

    When the complaint was filed in June, Burson hadn’t completed the Medicaid application process, and the resident remained at the facility.

    “Brewster Place does not wish to evict” the woman, the complaint said.

    ‘Worn out’

    In an interview last week, Burson said she couldn’t talk at length about the disciplinary case.

    “I am not in a position to discuss it at this time,” Burson said.

    The disciplinary action coincides with Burson’s planned retirement, she said. Burson said she had planned to retire at the end of the fiscal year, which was June 30.

    The timing “on the other matter” happened to coincide with her retirement, she said.

    “It was a surrender of the license,” Burson said, “rather than a knock down, drag out (disciplinary hearing). Some of us are worn out and ready to do something else.”

    A full evidentiary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 17 before a three-member panel of lawyers, but that was canceled after Burson surrendered her license.

    During her June 15 appearance before the Kansas Supreme Court, Burson asked for time to complete documents for several other clients. She cited her health as a reason for retiring, saying she developed arthritis in the mid-1980s.

    Lawyers facing serious allegations in disciplinary cases appear before the supreme court justices, and hearings are recorded on video. Serious cases include alleged acts of dishonesty, misappropriation of money and extreme misconduct.

    The day Burson appeared before justices, they temporarily suspended her law license.

Possible Disbarment Looms After Lawyer Gets Hit With Emergency Suspension For Allegedly Swiping $32K Of Client's Funds Held In Trust Account, Then Lying About It In Subsequent Legal Proceedings

In Edwardsville, Illinois, The Telegraph reports:
  • A state commission has suspended the license of an Edwardsville lawyer after he allegedly used $32,000 of a client’s money for his own purposes.

    William James Meacham, of 521 St. Louis St., Edwardsville, may also be disbarred after further proceedings in the case.

    The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has suspended Meacham’s license, and a hearing board of the commission has recommended he be disbarred.

    The commission claims Meacham not only misused the $32,000, he lied about it during legal proceedings and set up a scheme to deceive the commission concerning his involvement. He was also cited for allegedly neglecting two personal injury cases.

    The money was deposited in a trust fund at Bank of Edwardsville after the client, Mark A. Breeden, received a settlement for an automobile accident. Meacham had borrowed money against the possible settlement, and the $32,000 was due to the lender, LawCash.

    LawCash is a firm that lends money in advance of legal settlements to provide the clients ready cash and to finance the litigation. The settlement was for $160,000, and Meacham allegedly borrowed $32,000 against the settlement. By agreement, Meacham was to receive the customary one-third of the settlement amount.

    The money was supposed to be held in a trust account for the client to repay LawCash. The money was not available when the loan came due because Meacham had already spent most the $32,000 on himself. He failed to notify his client or the lender, the IARDC claims.

    LawCash prevailed upon Meacham for repayment of the loan and filed suit to recover what was due. In a deposition, Meacham was unable to give clear answers as to what happened to the $32,000. “I don’t know what in the world has happened here. It don’t look good,” he testified.

    The IARDC alleged that Meacham’s testimony was false.

    A document on file in the IARDC case claims Meacham left a message with Breeden, admitting he removed the $32,000 that was to be held in trust against the loan in order to hide the money from the lender. He said he planned to deliver the funds to Breeden after the LawCash suit expired. That statement was also false, the IARDC claims.

    Meacham then allegedly created fake receipts to indicate the funds had been paid to Breeden, the client. The commission claims that Meacham also lied to Breeden that he was holding the funds for Breeden at a later date.

    The commission also claims that Meacham lied during an IARDC hearing by testifying that he had disbursed the money to Breeden, but did not, and created false receipts to cover his tracks.

Accused Of Misusing Client Cash, Lawyer Gets Bar Boot For Failing To Prove Where Money Went; Crappy Trust Account Records Rendered Bar Auditor Unable To Determine Whereabouts Of Missing Loot

In Tallahassee, Florida, the Florida Record reports:
  • Miami attorney Dennis Roland Bedard has been disbarred following a May 25 Florida Supreme Court order following a complaint by former clients that he'd misused client funds.

    Bedard also was ordered by the state court to pay the Florida State Bar's costs of $10,313.89.

    The state Supreme Court issued its order of disciplinary revocation, tantamount to disbarment, with leave to seek readmission after five years. The Florida State Bar announced the discipline and the supreme court's order June 29.

    Bedard was admitted to the bar in Florida on July 27, 1988, according to his profile at the state bar website.

    He was suspended following a state supreme court order in November for failing to comply with subpoenas for his trust accounting and other records which were served on him in March and June 2016, according to the state bar's petition of contempt filed Feb. 27 with the court. Because he was already suspended, Bedard's disbarment was effective immediately.

    The documents requested included monthly bank statements, cancelled checks, check stubs, deposit slips and receipt and disbursement journals, as well as all client ledger cards with activity or a balance between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2015, according to the petition. Upon receiving the subpoenas, Bedard produced some but not all of the request documents and did not respond to a notice of hearing or offer any explanation for his failure to comply more fully with the subpoenas, according to the petition.

    On Sept. 29, 2016, a state bar auditor stated in a sworn affidavit included with the petition that without the records subpoenaed she could not complete her investigation into whether Bedard properly accounted for and disburse funds received from his former clients.

    The state bar's inquiry stemmed from a dispute between two former business partners who'd been represented by Bedard and disagreed over the disbursement of trust monies, according to the petition.

    Bedard made no factual admissions about any issues in the proceedings but did "acknowledge that the allegations, if proven, would form the predicate for significant disciplinary action by this court," the petition said.