Saturday, December 13, 2008

Central Florida Lawyer Gets 15 Years Probation For Stealing Foreclosure Surplus Funds From Clients

In Orlando, Florida, WFTV Channel 9 reports:

  • An Orange County lawyer can no longer practice law and is on probation for 15 years after taking advantage of foreclosure clients. Investigators said Norman Sanders Moss took advantage of the foreclosure crisis and kept money from auctions of foreclosed homes.(1) Moss pleaded guilty to grand theft and offered one of his victims an apology.


  • Moss was ordered to work 40 hours a week in order to pay the victim, Nicholas Cabrera, back the $31,000 he stole from him. However, the former attorney will have to obtain a job that doesn't allow him to handle money or practice law.

Source: Lawyer Apologizes For Stealing Victim's Money.

(1) This money, commonly referred to as Foreclosure Surplus Funds, are proceeds generated from the sale of a home at a foreclosure, trustee's, or sheriff ’s sale over and above the balance owed on the foreclosing mortgage. Where a foreclsoure sale yields such a surplus, the foreclosed homeowner may be entitled to the money, provided there aren't any secondary liens on the foreclosed property, in which case these lien holders could have priority in their claims to the surplus. In some cases, this surplus could total thousands of dollars, although in the current real estate market, the vast majority of foreclosure sales are not attracting third party bidders, are being acquired by the foreclosing lenders, and consequently, are not yielding surpluses.

Arizona AG: Complaints About Loan Modification Firms On The Upswing

From the Office of the Arizona Attorney General:

  • The Attorney General’s Office has experienced a recent increase in complaints from consumers who have been contacted by individuals claiming to have "connections" and expertise in negotiating with mortgage lenders to reduce consumers’ monthly payments and/or prevent foreclosure. These individuals charge consumers high upfront fees and say they can modify mortgage terms to make them more affordable.

For more, see Terry Goddard Warns of Fraudulent Mortgage ‘Assistance’ Businesses.

Florida Developers Cop Plea To Grand Theft Charges; Accused Of Pocketing $475K Of Customer Cash, Failing To Deliver

In Vero Beach, Florida, TC Palm reports:

  • Two developers of an unfinished subdivision north of Vero Beach pleaded no contest to criminal charges of first-degree grand theft of $475,000 in deposits from customers at the Indian River Courthouse on Wednesday.

  • Developer Richard Rendina of Palm Beach Gardens agreed to pay $80,000 in restitution in addition to serving five years probation. [...] Stephen Siegel of Boca Raton agreed to pay $388,936 in restitution — to be paid out of his cash bond of $500,000 — in addition to five years probation.


  • Construction of Eagle Trace Phase II was stopped last year, leaving empty lots and unfinished concrete block walls. Prosecutors allege they improperly took deposits from 11 customers who paid on homes, according to court files.

For more, see Eagle Trace developers plead no contest to grand theft charges, agree to pay restitution.

For more on homeowners left in the lurch due to actions by builders/contractors, go here, go here, go here, go here, and go here. StiffingContractorsTheta

Rhode Island Closing Agent Cops Plea To Pocketing Escrow Cash Intended For Payoff Of Existing Mortgage Loans; Title Underwriter Takes $1.3M Hit

In Providence, Rhode Island, the Office of the U.S Attorney announced:

  • Angela Raposa, who owned Title America Closing Services, pleaded guilty today to a federal fraud charge, admitting that she used about $1.3 million from her company’s escrow account to pay for personal expenses.


  • Proceeds of real estate transactions were deposited into the escrow account and were supposed to be used to be disbursed at real estate closings, primarily to pay off existing mortgages. Stewart Title served as an underwriter for Title America and discovered Raposa’s fraudulent scheme in February 2007. As the underwriter, Stewart Title had to pay off mortgages totaling $1,301,826 from five real estate transactions.

For the press release, see Title company president admits $1.3 million fraud.

Go here, Go here, Go here, and Go here for other stories of trust account / escrow account theft of funds. EscrowRipOffAlpha

Friday, December 12, 2008

Infantry "Basic Training" In Foreclosure Battle Continues In NYC

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

  • Topics: The foreclosure process; predatory lending practices; role of the settlement conference; how to hold off foreclosure; recent legislative initiatives to help resolve defaults; negotiating resolutions short of foreclosure. New state rules require settlement conferences in foreclosure actions. [Go here for formal agenda].

Held at the Queens County Bar Association, 90-35 148 St., Jamaica, New York. For information or to register, contact the New York State Bar Association.

Source: Upcoming Events in the Legal Community.

Use Of Lease Option Arrangement As Exit Strategy For Overextended Landlords Looking To Stiff Mortgage Lender & Pocket Some Walking Away Cash Continues

In Washoe County, Nevada, KOLO-TV Channel 8 reports:

  • A Sparks couple is just a step away from being homeless, after they say they were "ripped off" by their landlord. Shanna Mayer and Clinton Conroy leased a home in hopes of buying it ... but it turns out, the bank was already a step ahead.


  • Mayer and Conroy moved their family to Sparks in June. When they signed a lease, with an option to buy contract on a Wingfield Springs home, they thought the deal was too good to be true. "Then we came back here and signed a lease agreement and everything. He shook our hands and said 'congratulations on the purchase of your new home," said Mayer.

  • But nearly $15,000 dollars later in down payment fees and rent, Mayer says she received a foreclosure notice on the doorstep of her dream house. That's when she confronted the homeowner.


  • When [KOLO-TV Channel 8] looked up Mayer's home, it turns out, the seller is headed to foreclosure on Mayer's home, plus 16 other properties he owns in the Reno-Sparks area.

For more, see Sparks Couple is "Ripped Off" By Landlord.

For more on problems with Lease / Option, Contract for Deed, and Rent To Own real estate deals, go here and go here. rent to own lease purchase option scams yellowstone

Missouri Couple Sues "Contract For Deed" Operator For Allowing Home To Fall Into Foreclosure

In Republic, Missouri, the Springfield News Leader reports:

  • A Republic couple who made monthly payments but nearly lost their home is suing Greenleaf Cos., accusing the Springfield company of breach of contract and questionable business practices.


  • In the lawsuit, [David and Susan] Foster say they bought a house from Greenleaf in August 2007 for about $252,000 on a contract for deed. The house, located [...] in Republic, belongs to Talya Finn of Marionville.

  • As the middleman, Greenleaf was expected to collect money from the Fosters and pay Finn enough to cover her mortgage payments. But, without enough income, Greenleaf officials have said the company could not pay Finn and other investors.

  • In their petition, the Fosters say they made all the payments as agreed on time but had their house threatened with foreclosure when Greenleaf failed to ensure the loan on the house was properly paid. The Fosters say foreclosure proceedings were initiated but canceled when Greenleaf "made arrangements to remedy the deficiency."

Reportedly, the Fosters are seeking punitive damages of at least $100,000 and a release from their contract.

For more, see Couple takes Greenleaf to court (Lawsuit questions company's real estate program).

For Greenleaf's side of the story, see Greenleaf partner describes homeowner lawsuit as ‘frivolous’ (Greenleaf partner Scott Dasal said the story and other recent Greenleaf stories have hurt his business, because more and more Greenleaf clients began to question whether they should pay. “They have come out of the woodwork, and people don’t want to pay,” he said).

Go here for other "contract for deed" problems involving Greenleaf and The Real Estate Co.

For more on problems with "Contract for Deed," "Rent To Own", and "Lease / Option" real estate deals, go here and go here. rent to own lease purchase option scams yellowstone Arkansas

Fresno Cops Foil Fake Landlord Rent Scam; Charge Suspect With Renting Vacant Homes In Foreclosure Belonging To Others

In Fresno, California, The Fresno Bee reports:

  • An elaborate scam taking advantage of the mortgage crisis unraveled, authorities say, when Kristen Ables found another family living in her Fresno house. "It was a mixture of disbelief and anger" that she felt on learning that she had been victimized, Ables said Wednesday as Fresno police announced the arrest of Sam Haley, 66.


  • Police allege that Haley, who they said lost his real estate license in 1979 because of fraudulent business practices, carried out the scam at least 13 times -- and was likely to keep doing it if the unexpected visit by Ables hadn't uncovered the scheme.

  • Fresno police detective Donnie Dinnell uncovered evidence at Haley's home and business, Capital Investments Inc., that indicated he had people lined up to rent 19 other houses, police Chief Jerry Dyer said. Dinnell also found evidence that Haley had identified up to 126 other homes that he could possibly use in the scheme, Dyer said.

Reportedly, the cops said that Haley pocketed $26,000 over the seven months he allegedly ran the scam and faces felony theft charges.

For more, see Fresno housing scam uncovered (Police say man rented homes to victims who didn't know he was not the owner).

Go here, go here, and go here for posts on phony landlord rent scams. PhonyLandlordScamZeta

Unconventional Miami-Area Housing Activist Comes Up With "Bailout" Plan; Gets Homeless Off Streets By Moving Them Into Vacant Foreclosed Homes

In Miami, Florida, The Associated Press reports:

  • [Max] Rameau is an activist who has been executing a bailout plan of his own around Miami's empty streets: He is helping homeless people illegally move into foreclosed homes. ''We're matching homeless people with people-less homes,'' he said with a grin.

  • Rameau and a group of like-minded advocates formed Take Back the Land, which also helps the new ''tenants'' with secondhand furniture, cleaning supplies and yard upkeep. So far, he has moved six families into foreclosed homes and has nine on a waiting list.

For more, see Miami Activist Moves People Into Foreclosed Houses.

For other media reports on this story, see:

  • Miami New Times: Squatters Fight for Rights (A homeless mom wants her stuff back) (Thousands of homes in South Florida are in foreclosure, squatters are taking up residence, and when said squatters get booted, they demand a proper eviction notice),

Thanks to attorney Donald Marritz of Regional Housing Legal Services in Pennsylvania for the heads up on the Associated Press story.

Go here for posts on squatters moving into vacant homes, foreclosures. squatter foreclosure zebra

Thursday, December 11, 2008

NYC Prosecutors Call For System Changes To Address Deed Theft After Empire State Building "Heist" By Reporter For Local Paper

In New York City, The Daily News reports:

  • The city's top prosecutors called for sweeping changes in the system that let a Daily News reporter "steal" the Empire State building with a fake deed (see: It took 90 minutes for Daily News to 'steal' the Empire State Building). The News' "theft" of the $2 billion Fifth Ave. icon was carried out to reveal a gaping loophole in the city's system for recording property transactions. The loophole: Clerks in the city office of the register are not required to verify information on deeds and mortgages.

For more, see Daily News probe revealing scandalous property loopholes has prosecutors urging change.

More On Hedge Fund Suit Against Countrywide Over $8.4B Bank Of America Loan Modification Settlement

For those interested in reviewing the lawsuit filed in this matter, see:

Go here for links to Exhibits A through G of the above lawsuit (be sure to type in the letters you see in the picture, then click submit - you'll be taken directly to the links):

  • Exhibits A & B - representative examples of the pooling & servicing agreements involved;
  • Exhibits C & D - lawsuits against Countrywide filed by California & Illinois;
  • Exhibit E - Multistate Settlement Term Sheet regarding the settlement of the accusations of the Attorneys General against Countrywide;
  • Exhibit F & G - copies of the California and Illinois judgments.

For some of the media reports on this story, see:

NYC Lawmakers Urged To Establish Right To Counsel In Eviction, Foreclosure Proceedings

In a letter urging the City Council of New York City to pass laws which would establish a right to counsel in eviction and foreclosure proceedings for low income persons, Ann B. Lesk, President of the New York County Lawyers' Association, reminds us of the inherent unfairness in the results emanating from a judicial system where only one party is represented by counsel:

  • [T]he backbone of our judicial system is the concept that adversarial proceedings produce just results. For an indigent person facing eviction or foreclosure, this is a very theoretical proposition. Numerous studies have documented the unsurprising fact that having a lawyer improves the outcome for a litigant. In [New York City] Housing Court, 90 percent of tenants are not represented by a lawyer (in contrast, less than 10 percent of landlords are unrepresented). Unrepresented litigants face a complex set of procedural and substantive rules. They may have defenses of which they are not aware.

For more, see Don't Just Pass The Senior Citizen Right To Counsel Bill - Expand It.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hedge Fund Sues Countrywide Over $8.4B Bank Of America Loan Modification Settlement Of Predatory Lending Charges With State AGs

In New York City, Bloomberg News reports:

  • Countrywide Financial Corp., the home lender acquired by Bank of America Corp., was sued by Greenwich Financial Services Fund over claims an agreement to reduce payments on mortgages by $8.4 billion would hurt investors.

  • The hedge fund claims investors will be harmed by Bank of America’s settlement, reached on behalf of Countrywide, with 15 state attorneys general. The value of trusts that bought 400,000 mortgages will decline under the deal, the fund said.

  • In the proposed class action, or group lawsuit, the Greenwich, Connecticut-based fund demands a declaration that “Countrywide must purchase at par every mortgage loan that it sold to any of the 374 securitization trusts,” David Grais, a lawyer for the fund said today in an e-mailed statement. Grais said Countrywide could owe the trusts $80 billion.

For more, see Countrywide Sued by Fund Over $8.4 Billion Loan Deal.

See also:

1) The Wall Street Journal: Mortgage-Bond Holders Get Voice (Greenwich Financial's William Frey Challenges Loan Servicers Like BofA) (subscription may be required; if no subscription, try here, then click link for story):

  • [T]he new lawsuit, filed in New York state court, doesn't take issue with the actual settlement but focuses instead on who should bear the costs. Noting that the attorneys general accused Countrywide of "widespread predatory lending," the lawsuit alleges that Countrywide plans "to pass most or all" of the cost of the settlement to investors.

2) The American Lawyer (at Class Action Demands Countrywide Repay Hedge Funds for Losses.

3) Summons & Complaint: Greenwich Financial Services Distressed Mortgage Fund 3, LLC v. Countrywide Financial Corporation. MortgageServicingIssuesAlpha

Non Profit Lawyers Save Day For 80+ Year Old New Mexico Couple Facing Foreclosure Over $2 In Late Payments

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal reports:

  • Dixie and Paul Williams have much to be thankful for -- to wit, not being thrown out of their South Valley home for $2 in late mortgage payments. And they're thankful to the lawyers at the Senior Citizens' Law Office who helped make that happen.

  • Senior Citizens law office executive director Angelica Allen said that an order dismissing the foreclosure action against the couple, who are in their 80s and not in the best of health, has been filed in state district court. This time, she said the bank accepted the $4 in mortgage fees that it had previously rejected as payment.


  • The couple, who live on Social Security, had pledged their house as collateral on a Small Business Administration loan in the 1970s and arranged an extension with a new mortgage payment of $1 a year when Paul Williams became ill. The terms of the legal arrangement say the house will revert to SBA or its successor bank upon the deaths of the Williams.

  • The paperwork had changed hands, and the Williams never got any notice of where to send the $1 mortgage payment, legal documents said. The new mortgage holder filed a foreclosure lawsuit against the couple earlier this year when it failed to receive the $1 payments.

For more, see Couple Won't Lose Home Over $2: Order Dismisses Foreclosure Action (subscription required; if no subscription, try here).

Shorthanded Legal Aid Offices Bursting At The Seams With Foreclosure Defense Cases

National Public Radio reports:

  • Everyone accused of a crime is entitled to a lawyer, whether they can afford one or not. But in civil cases, such as home foreclosures, there is no right to an attorney. Legal aid attorneys say some people being kicked out of their homes might have been able to stay if they'd had legal help — help that isn't there for everyone.


  • Nationally, "half the people coming to the office at least are being turned away at the door," says Don Saunders, director of civil legal services at the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. That statistic does not count those who never make it to legal aid offices.

  • "The other side has a lawyer," Saunders says. "The bank and the foreclosure process is being brought by a lawyer, and the playing field is clearly not a level one."

For more, see Foreclosures Overwhelm Legal Aid Programs.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

No "Miracle On 34th Street" As Empire State Building Victimized By "Deed Theft;" Reporter Easily "Swipes" Historic Midtown NYC Edifice Valued At $2B

On 34th Street in New York City, the New York Daily News reports:

  • In one of the biggest heists in American history, the Daily News "stole" the $2 billion Empire State Building. And it wasn't that hard.

  • The News swiped the 102-story Art Deco skyscraper by drawing up a batch of bogus documents, making a fake notary stamp and filing paperwork with the city to transfer the deed to the property. Some of the information was laughable: Original "King Kong" star Fay Wray is listed as a witness and the notary shared a name with bank robber Willie Sutton.

  • The massive ripoff illustrates a gaping loophole in the city's system for recording deeds, mortgages and other transactions.


  • Of course, stealing the Empire State Building wouldn't go unnoticed for long, but it shows how easy it is for con artists to swipe more modest buildings right out from under their owners. Armed with a fraudulent deed, they can take out big mortgages and disappear, leaving a mess for property owners, banks and bureaucrats.

Reportedly, the Daily News returned the storied structure back to its rightful owners the day after the heist, which they pulled off on Monday.

For more, see It took 90 minutes for Daily News to 'steal' the Empire State Building.

For a copy of the deed to the stolen structure, see:

Trump "Convinces" Deutsche Bank To Fork Over $13.2M In Construction Cash To Finish Off Chicago Skyscraper

Buried in a recent Between The Bricks column in the New York Post is this blurb on the recent $3 billion lawsuit filed by Donald Trump against Deutsche Bank, in which (according to a recent Wall Street Journal article) the latter was accused of, among other things, "compromis[ing] the senior construction loan by selling pieces off to so many institutions, banks, junk bond firms, and virtually anybody that seemed to come along, that the lending group is unable to come to a consensus on how to deal with the matter":

  • In one closely-watched bank stand-off, Donald Trump just got a worried Deutsche Bank to blink - and fork over $13.2 million in construction funds towards his soon to be completed spectacular Chicago hotel and condo tower.

  • The lender filed a $40 million suit against him after he slapped them with his own $3 billion lawsuit. Trump claims they damaged his brand by ceasing funding after he invoked his specially worded "force-majeure" clause due to events and circumstances that "are not reasonably" within his control.

Source: Banks Threaten Foreclosures.

B'klyn Foreclosure Sale Set Aside, Judgment Vacated As Process Server Screw-Up Leaves Court With No Personal Jurisdiction Over Defaulting House Owner

A case decided last month in a Brooklyn, New York trial court serves as a valuable reminder to defaulting homeowners (and their attorneys) that, in cases where a foreclosure judgment has already been entered (and even if a foreclosure sale has already taken place), it is still possible to void the sale and the judgment if the process server failed to properly serve the property owner with the lawsuit upon commencement of the legal action.(1)

In this case, service of process upon the defaulting property owner was purportedly effected by resorting to what is referred to as "nail and mail service" (a form of substituted service that apparently is still allowed in New York) whereby the process server affixes one true copy of the the summons and foreclosure lawsuit on the door of the property owner's "actual dwelling place or usual place of abode." Service is completed when a second true copy is mailed to the property owner.

Unfortunately for the process server and the foreclosing lender, the two locations at which the nail and mail service was attempted (at the house that was the subject of the foreclosure action and at a second location) were not the property owner's "actual dwelling place or usual place of abode." In addition, the three affidavits of service that were filed in court by the process server relating to service on the delinquent property owner conflicted with each other.

The property owner (through counsel) presented an unrebutted affidavit to the court stating that she never lived at either of the two locations, and, for an 18 year period that included the dates on which service was purportedly attempted, she lived at another address.

In reaching his decision setting aside the foreclosure sale and vacating the judgment, Kings County Supreme Court Justice Martin Schneier reminds us of this basic, fundamental precept of law:

  • It is "axiomatic that the failure to serve process in an action leaves the court without personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and all subsequent proceedings are thereby rendered null and void" (McMullen v. Arnone, 79 AD2d 496, 499 [2d Dept. 1981]), irrespective of the question of merit. [emphasis added in bold]

For the decision, see HSBC Bank USA, N.A. v Fleurimond, 2008 NY Slip Op 52320(U), Sup Ct, Kings County (November 18, 2008).

Go here for other posts on foreclosures involving faulty notifications to property owners.

(1) As simple as serving a defendant in a lawsuit may appear to the unitiated, the statutes that apply (other than in cases where the process server actually hands an individual defendant the summons and complaint in a face to face encounter) can be somewhat nuanced (particularly when a corporate defendant is involved). It may be a good idea for foreclosure defense counsel to review the statutes regulating service of process and, (in my view) more importantly, take the time to familiarize oneself with some of the case law applying the service of process statutes to become aware of the types of facts and circumstances that have resulted in a finding of faulty service. Such instances can open up opportunities for counsel to void a foreclosure judgment and, where a foreclosure sale has already taken place, void said sale, thereby forcing the foreclosing lender to go back to "square one" of the legal action and start over again.

In my humble judgment, process servers screw up (either innocently, or intentionally - ie. "sewer service") more often than many may think. Accordingly, the careful scrutiny of the process server's actions (reviewing the affidavits of service for errors & inconsistencies, eliciting oral testimony under oath from the process server) is something deserving of serious consideration. SewerServiceAlpha foreclosure faulty notice

Monday, December 8, 2008

Alleged Hampton Roads Equity Stripping Scam Operation Leaves Homeowners Out On The Street, Straw Buyers Holding The Bag

In Hampton Roads, Virginia, The Virginian Pilot reports:

  • [T]he alleged scammers presented themselves as saviors of financially distressed - often first-time - homeowners, promising to repair their credit and save their homes. Instead, they recruited straw buyers to purchase the properties - in the process taking out bigger mortgages - and walked away with the proceeds. That left two classes of victims in the dust: dispossessed homeowners and empty-handed straw buyers stuck with inflated mortgages.


  • The figure at the center of the operation [...] is Shanita Lacy, owner of a Virginia Beach-based company called Clean Slate Financial Services. Settlement documents indicate that she pulled out more than $750,000 in equity from the nine properties identified so far.

For more, see Deals with Beach company put some owners out of homes.

For story update (12-5-08), see More report losing homes to 'credit repair' deals.

Washington State Victim Of Alleged Sale Leaseback Foreclosure Rescue Scam Goes To Court To Save Home Of 35 Years

In Bellevue, Washington, KING-TV Channel 5 reports:

  • Karen Handlin has been narrowly saved from eviction – for now. She’s filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit in Western Washington to save the house her family has owned for 35 years. Handlin almost lost it to foreclosure and then, she says, to a company called Alternative Investors, which claimed it could rescue her from foreclosure.

For more, see Investigators: Alleged foreclosure rescue scam goes to court (read text) (watch KING5 video).

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Texas A Handy Haven For Those Seeking To Dodge Debts?

Bloomberg News reports:

  • Homeowners fleeing underwater mortgages in California and Florida know where to come up for air: Texas.

  • "Texas is an extremely friendly place to live if you owe money and do not want to pay,'' said Marjorie Britt, a bankruptcy attorney with Britt & Catrett PC in Houston. "If you have a lot of money and even more debt and want to shelter your assets, you can live fairly normally.''

  • Distressed borrowers can hang on to luxury cars, a primary residence, paychecks, retirement accounts, and even jewelry that creditors might claim elsewhere, Britt said.

For more, see Deadbeat Homeowners Tap Texas Bankruptcy Laws to Duck Creditors.

Court Denies Dismissal Of Suit Accusing County Of Screw Up In Giving Proper Notice To Owner In Tax Foreclosure Action

In Hopewell, New York, the Daily Messenger reports:

  • A state Supreme Court justice has denied Ontario County’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit that claims the county and its treasurer mishandled the foreclosure of the Akropolis Family Restaurant.


  • The lawsuit alleged the county and county Treasurer Gary Baxter failed to follow correct procedures in the foreclosure auction of the Akropolis Family Restaurant in May 2007. The civil suit claimed Baxter and the county violated the civil rights of Hetelekides by mishandling the process regarding notification and other issues.

For more, see Judge rules for Akropolis owner.

For other stories on the Acropolis foreclosure, see:

Go here for other posts on foreclosures involving faulty notifications to property owners. foreclosure faulty notice