Saturday, January 10, 2009

Foreclosure Scams Growing, Continue Hitting Northern California

In Napa County, California, the St. Helena Star reports:

  • Rising foreclosure rates in Napa County are supplying scam artists with a steady stream of victims. Willing to do anything to keep their homes and get out of mortgages they cannot afford, these homeowners’ desperation is fodder for deceit.

  • It’s certainly a growing problem, not just here in Napa but throughout the state and country,” Napa County District Attorney Gary Lieberstein said. “It is a reflection of the mortgage scams that we’ve seen coming around nationwide, as well as the financial status of our economy right now.”


  • [Associate director for Fair Housing Napa Valley Steve] Cogswell said it is impossible to know how many people in Napa County have been targets of foreclosure scams. Fair Housing Napa Valley has had 55 cases in the last 12 months, but “that’s just the people that happen to end up coming in to us,” he said. Many times, the scams go unreported, either because victims don’t realize they’ve been victimized or because they don’t know where to go.

For more, see Foreclosure schemes growing.

Missouri AG Brings Civil Suit Against Homebuilder For Allegedly Pocketing Customer Cash & Either Failing To Perform Work Or Doing So In Shoddy Manner

From the Office of the Missouri Attorney General:

  • The Franklin County Circuit Court has entered an order against homebuilder Jason Woods that prevents him from doing any home repair or construction in Missouri while a lawsuit brought by the Attorney General's Office is pending.

  • The lawsuit,(1) filed in October, alleges that Woods, who does business as Timber Ridge Construction, took money for home repair or construction projects from consumers but then either failed to do the work or did the work in a shoddy manner.

For the Missouri AG press release, see Preliminary injunction prevents homebuilder accused of fraud from doing business while AG lawsuit is pending.

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.

(1) According to the Missouri AG press release, the lawsuit alleges that Woods entered into a contract with one consumer in which Woods was paid a total of $138,951 to construct a new home on property owned by the consumer. However, Woods allegedly failed to complete the construction of the house per the specifications listed in the agreement; and the work completed was also alleged to have been done using poor workmanship. The lawsuit also alleges the defendant entered into a contract with another homeowner couple to construct a storage building on the couple's property. The couple paid Woods a total of $30,000 to construct the structure, but he failed to do so, according to the AG's press release. StiffingContractorsTheta

Friday, January 9, 2009

Massachusetts AG Continues Effort Against Housing Discrimination

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office has recently issued news releases in connection with its efforts targeting housing discrimination:

  • AG Coakley Obtains Consent Judgment Against Cambridge Realty Company in Housing Discrimination Case: Resolved claims that company discriminated against a disabled Cambridge resident by refusing to rent her an apartment because it did not want to accept the lease requirements of the state-assisted housing program. The consent judgment permanently prohibits Oxford Street Realty, Inc. and its President, Jeffrey Indeck, from discriminating against tenants who have federal or state housing subsidies and requires defendants to pay the tenant $35,000 in damages.

  • AG Coakley Obtains Consent Judgment Against Pittsfield Property Owner in Housing Discrimination Case: Resolves claims that Wahconah Grove Realty Trust and its property manager, Douglas Malins, violated state antidiscrimination laws by discriminating against a tenant on the basis of race. The defendants have agreed to pay $10,000 to the tenant as part of the settlement of the case. The complaint alleged that Malins prohibited a tenant’s grandson, who is biracial, from visiting her apartment and that he interfered with the tenant’s right to have African-American guests at her apartment.

Feds Put Squeeze On Vegas Landlords Accused Of Discriminating Against Families With Children; Tenant Gets $30K Settlement To Resolve Claims

In Las Vegas, Nevada, the Las Vegas Sun reports:

  • The federal government recently settled a complaint against the owners of Las Vegas apartments who allegedly discriminated against families, the third such case in the valley in two years.

  • The repeated cases involving hundreds of apartments mean “there definitely is discrimination against families with children” in the Las Vegas Valley, said Chuck Hauptman, a representative of the Housing and Urban Development Department’s San Francisco office of fair housing and equal opportunity.

  • He said the agency wants valley landlords to be on notice that this is illegal, a message that’s especially crucial when families with children are among the many seeking rental housing in the wake of the valley’s foreclosure crisis.

  • In the most recent case, which was settled in October, HUD, rather than the victim, had filed the complaint, indicating the alleged discrimination was flagrant and easy to prove.(1)

For the rest of the story, see U.S. strikes at landlord bias against children (HUD gets payments to families, message to apartment owners).

(1) According to the story, the allegations were resolved when the landlord agreed to pay the tenant $30,000 and to set aside money for any other victims, as well as to stop the policy of not renting to children. In another case, HUD allegations were reportedly resolved when the landlord agreed to pay $75,000 total to four families the apartment management evicted or attempted to evict. Some of the settlement money was set aside to compensate any victims who come forth in the future.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Arizona Man Faces Charges Of Pocketing Upfront Fees For Allegedly Phony Loan Modification, Foreclosure Help

In Glendale, Arizona, KNXV-TV Channel 15 reports:

  • Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard announced Wednesday that a Glendale man has been indicted on charges related to a mortgage assistance scam.(1) Peoria police arrested Bobby John Herrera, 33, late Tuesday.


  • Investigators said Herrera solicited 10 Valley homeowners facing foreclosure by making fraudulent claims that he could modify mortgage terms or provide other assistance to help them keep their homes. Herrera often charged the victims upfront fees of $1,245, according to the Attorney General's Office. The suspect is alleged to have not provided any foreclosure relief assistance or mortgage loan modifications as promised.

For more, see Attorney General: Glendale man victimized struggling homeowners.

From the Arizona Attorney General's office:

(1) Herrera has been indicted on:

  • one count of fraudulent schemes and artifices (ie. knowingly obtaining any benefit by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises or material omissions, pursuant to a scheme or artifice to defraud, in violation of § 13-2310, of the Arizona Revised Statutes),
  • one count of money laundering (A.R.S. § 13-2317 ),
  • one count of illegal control of an enterprise (A.R.S. § 13-2312(A)), and
  • five counts of theft (A.R.S. § 13-1802(A)(1)).

Foreclosure Rescue Arrangement Leaves Los Angeles Homeowner Facing Eviction

In Los Angeles, California, the CBS Evening News reports:

  • Alexendria Craig's house is full of memories. It was her parents' home and she inherited it when they died. A picture of her great grandfather sits on the mantle. Now she is about to lose that home after taking out a series of high interest loans that have left her hopelessly in debt.


  • Desperate to hold onto her house, she answered a slick sounding ad that turned out to be too good to be true. Craig agreed to pay $30,000 and to share title on her house to a foreclosure rescue company. The company said it would use equity in her house to pay off her debts, and that her credit would be repaired. After a year she thought she'd get her house back.


  • Her house is in foreclosure, and next week she's facing eviction. Both the foreclosure rescue company and the bank foreclosing on her house deny any wrongdoing.

For the story, see For Desperate Homeowners, Scams Abound (How A Company Promising Help Cost One Woman Her American Dream). Go here for video. loan modification

St. Paul Homeowner Facing Foreclosure Opts For Free City Housing Counselor For Help; Proposal From Loan Modification Firm Didn't Feel Right, She Says

In St. Paul, Minnesota, Minnesota Public Radio reports:

  • When a man called Crystal Brown out of the blue promising to modify her loan, the St. Paul single working mother of three thought he was a godsend. "He was very smooth, very nice, very understanding, not critical," Brown said. "He would lead you to believe he's 100 percent on your side, like he's really fighting for you."


  • He identified himself as an employee of KirkLand Young, a loan modification company based in Miami Beach. Brown agreed to let him fax over some paperwork, and she almost signed the contract. But once she read it, Brown saw that she would have to pay a non-refundable fee of $500. If she accepted the new mortgage, she would have to spend an additional $1,200.


  • She said something didn't feel right about the arrangement. Brown never sent in the papers. Instead, she sought help from a foreclosure counselor with the city of St. Paul, who offered to work with the lender at no cost.

For the story, see Companies vow to change mortgage terms -- for a price (Loan-modification companies can charge thousands of dollars for this service, even though many nonprofits will do it for free. Housing advocates say the firms represent the latest form of industry predators).

Go here for the contract Crystal Brown refused to sign.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Oregon Equity Stripper Cops Plea; Now Faces Foreclosure Himself

In Portland, Oregon, Willamette Weekly reports:

  • Larry Jason Somera did something a week before Christmas that rarely happens in Multnomah County Circuit Court—he pleaded guilty to a mortgage-related crime.


  • Somera, a 35-year-old former mortgage broker, first attracted the attention of law enforcement after two 2006 home purchases from the elderly and disabled. In one deal, he and a partner bought the 1,300-square-foot Northeast Portland home of Evelyn Allen, a 73-year-old blind woman who faced foreclosure. They made a gross profit of $155,000, most of which they paid to Allen only after Allen’s family sued.

  • That same year, Somera and a partner bought the St. Johns home of an 80-year-old Portland man suffering from dementia. They paid $125,000, $45,000 less than it was worth, according to court records. After the man’s financial adviser challenged the purchase in court, Somera and his partner gave the home back.

  • Shen ultimately charged Somera with first-degree forgery, a Class C felony, for concocting a bogus rental agreement as collateral for the loan on a third property. [...] Somera, whose pitch in 2006 to Allen was rescue from foreclosure, now also faces the loss of his home.

For more, see Grounded Vulture (One “foreclosure-rescuer” pleads guilty in 2008. Will there be more in 2009?).

For an earlier story on this case, see Rescue Me (A Portland Cop is targeting foreclosure vultures).

San Diego-Area Foreclosure Rescue Operator Faces Felony Charges For Allegedly Screwing 17 Homeowners In 150 Year Old Land Patent Scam

In San Diego, California, KGTV Channel 10 reports:

  • A man accused of stealing more than $100,000 from people in a land patent foreclosure scam pleaded not guilty Wednesday to numerous felony charges involving the 17 alleged victims. Larry Smith, 60, allegedly told people who came to his seminars that if they gave him thousands of dollars, he would help them buy a land patent so the bank couldn't foreclose on it.


  • Five others are charged in the case with Smith, although only one has been arrested, [Deputy District Attorney Marlene] Coyne said. The prosecutor said she believes there are more people allegedly victimized by Smith, who have not yet come forward.(1)

For more, see Man Pleads Not Guilty In Alleged Foreclosure Scam.

For related KGTV Channel 10 reports on this case, see:

(1) Smith was charged with conspiracy to commit grand theft, conspiracy to commit deceitful practices by a foreclosure consultant and numerous counts of grand theft.

Atlanta Man Faces Theft By Deception Charges For Allegedly Taking Money From 11 Homeowners Facing Foreclosure, Failing To Deilver On Promises

In Atlanta, Georgia, Fox5 News reports that a man who made money off of people about to lose their homes to foreclosure has been arrested.

Dwayne Green, of Maximus Investment Group, has been charged with one felony count of theft by deception for taking $18,000 from one homeowner facing foreclosure, and one misdemeanor count of theft by deception for pocketing lesser amounts from ten other financially strapped homeowners. He failed to deliver on promises to help save homeowners out of foreclosure.

For the story (video only), see I-Team Maximus Arrest. loan modification

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mortgage Payoff "To Do" List

In a recent Q&A column, attorney/syndicated real estate writer Benny L. Kass gives this "to do" list when paying off a mortgage:

  1. Make sure that your mortgage/deed of trust is formally released from the land records in the county where your house is located. Ask your former lender to confirm that they arranged for this release (If you are having trouble determining whether the release/satisfaction was filed, the local recorder of deeds may be of assistance.),
  2. You should get your original promissory note and deed of trust returned to you, marked "paid and cancelled;"(1)
  3. Advise your county real estate tax office to start sending you the real estate tax bills;
  4. For those who had automatic bank withdrawals to pay your mortgage, make sure to stop these payments immediately.

For those of you looking to take advantage of the current low fixed rate mortgages available and are thinking of refinancing, you might want to keep the foregoing points in mind.

Source: Real Estate Mailbag (last Q&A in the article).

(1) I wonder how many homeowners actually realize that they are entitled to get back their original promissory note. Also, I wonder how many would be successful in getting back their original note nowadays, given that many of the geniuses in the mortgage industry (ie. lenders, servicers, securitizers, Wall Street wizards, etc.) never bothered to physically keep track of the loan documents after the mortgage was consummated, and have no clue whether they actually lost them, or simply forgot where they stashed them (possibly in a dumpster).

For an example of how clueless some in the mortgage industry are, see The Associated Press: American Home under fire over loan files, where a mortgage lender, through its legal counsel, makes an idiotic request of a bankruptcy court for permission to actually dump the original documents for 490,000 mortgage loans. KappaMtgDocsMissing

Difficulty Tracing Title To Home Involving Securitized Foreclosed Mortgage Stalls House Closing

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, FOX9 reports:

  • A Twin Cities couple is hoping to turn a foreclosed home into a home, but it has not been easy. Three different closing dates have fallen through. [...] In the Waite Park neighborhood in northeast Minneapolis, a little cottage on Benjamin Street has been sitting empty since spring. Heather Playman and her husband would love to buy it. In fact, they even have a purchase agreement, picking it up two months ago for a relative steal at $165,000.

  • But the bank won't close on the deal. The problem is with the paperwork: the title and the deed. Wachovia used to own the house, now it's Fannie Mae. The city of Minneapolis says it’s a common problem that keeps hundreds of homes in limbo. "Many mortgages were bought and sold between lenders over and over again and it is difficult to trace the title."(1)

For more, see Bank Ownership of Foreclosed Homes Causing Confusion (Closing dates missed on NE Minneapolis home owned by Fannie Mae).

(1) Given the gigantic mess created by the mortgage lending industry in this regard, I wonder how many in the title insurance industry (ie. underwriters, agents, closers, etc.) there are who are having a problem insuring the titles to homes that have a recent foreclosure appearing in the chain of title. Based on this story, there apparently is at least one who's having a problem. Are there any others??? KappaMtgDocsMissing

Colorado Man Cops Plea To One Count Of Forgery In Alleged Mortgage Scam; Gets Free Pass From Prosecution In Cases Involving 15 Other Properties

In Weld County, Colorado, the Greeley Tribune reports:

  • A Greeley man who holds himself out as a real estate broker and builder and is a defendant in a civil fraud case(1) pleaded guilty to forgery [...] in exchange for immunity on other mortgage crimes. Ernest Salazar Jr., 49, pleaded to the felony [...] and faces from one to three years behind bars.


  • Weld District Attorney Ken Buck said he will ask for jail time but would not discuss specifics. He said he had been talking with Salazar’s attorney prior to the grand jury indictment against Salazar, and agreed to pursue only one felony charge. “I think that our resources are best spent pursuing the other targets we have identified,” Buck said. “I’d say stay tuned.” Buck said he couldn’t elaborate about who else may have been involved.

  • Salazar said he would plead guilty to forgery if the Weld District Attorney’s Office agreed not to pursue charges in cases involving 15 properties(2) he worked with through his businesses, Sunset Construction, Sunrise Mortgage, A-1 Action Construction and All-Pro Mortgage.

For more, see Greeley man pleads in forgery case in deal with Weld DA.

(1) According to the story, the civil case against Salazar was filed in February, and alleges that he defrauded a man and other property owners in a series of real estate flipping schemes throughout Greeley and Windsor, designed to either steal equity, use others’ credit to obtain loans and skim off the top, and flat out steal money. Reportedly, the civil suit claims that the damage done to individual investors exceeds $800,000.

(2) Salazar's ostensibly sweet plea bargain may have possibly been obtained as a result of his "winning the race to the prosecutor's office" - which has been described as a natural phenomenon that arises whenever the government has multiple targets in its crosshairs. In this case, Salazar, the first "fish" to get to the prosecutor, negotiates a great plea deal for himself in exchange for an agreement to "sing" against the other "fish" (ie. his confederates in the alleged scam). The more "fish" Salazar can help the prosecutor "reel in" (through convictions), the less time he'll have to spend in the "frying pan" (ie. prison) when the "fish fry" takes place (ie. sentencing day).

Monday, January 5, 2009

Using Statute Of Limitations To Wipe Out Lenders' Right To Foreclose A Mortgage?

In a recent story on profiling Florida consumer foreclosure attorney April Charney and her approach to defending homeowners facing foreclosure, a point was made on the possible use of the statute of limitations to terminate a foreclosing lender's right to foreclose:

  • Charney said that in a number of her cases, once there is no longer an ability for the loan servicer to profit, the foreclosure “just goes to sleep, and unless I’m going to pursue it, nobody’s setting hearings, nobody’s pursuing anything to get it to trial.”

  • After five years, which is the statute of limitations to enforce a contract in Florida,(1) she can try to help her clients own their homes mortgage-free, Charney said. The first opportunity for her to help clients do that may arise next year.

  • And that legal limbo is where the lion’s share of her cases stand now, Charney said. So far this year, she has achieved two “workouts” and lost two cases. “Many, many, many” of the rest are in sleep mode or getting a single filing each year by plaintiffs’ attorneys just to keep them alive.

For the story, see 'Angel' of foreclosure defense bedevils lenders (Florida attorney trains hundreds of others to help troubled borrowers) (for the entire story on one web page, try here).

(1) Sec. 95.11(2)(c), 95.281(1)(a), Florida Statutes. KappaMtgDocsMissing

Lack Of Diligence Means Another Process Server Screw-Up, Another Void Foreclosure

A 2006 decision of a Florida appeals court adds a little fuel to the fire for those who believe that screw-ups by process servers (as well as attorneys for foreclosing lenders who, contrary to what they may think, have some responsibility for supervising the actions of a process server) in the course of serving homeowners with the lawsuit paperwork (ie. summons and complaint) in foreclosure proceedings are not all that uncommon.

The case involved a permanent resident of Canada who owned a second home in Spring Hill, Florida, and who was facing foreclosure on that home. At the time of the attempted service of process, the home was unoccupied. Because the process server couldn't find the homeowner after a couple of attempts at the premises, and an attempt at a second location, a decision was made to serve the homeowner by publication of a legal notice in the local newspaper.(1)

In reversing the lower court and deciding that service of process was no good in this case, the court ruled that the process server failed to meet the minimum requirements for conducting a "diligent search and inquiry" for the whereabouts of the homeowner prior to resorting to service by publication.(2)

For the details on the process server's lack of diligence in conducting a search and inquiry in connection with the homeowner's whereabouts in this case (sorry, no "easy-to-read" media report for this story; court decision only), see Godsell v. United Guar. Residential Ins., 923 So. 2d 1209; 2006 Fla. App. LEXIS 3884; 31 Fla. L. Weekly D 812 (5th DCA 2006).

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

Go here for other posts on process server screw ups.

(1) Pursuant to Sections 49.021-.041, Florida Statutes.

(2) The court indicated that the plaintiff must prove that it made “an honest and conscientious effort, reasonably appropriate to the circumstances, to acquire the information necessary to fully comply with the controlling statutes,” and that "it is basic that to constitute diligent search and inquiry to discover the whereabouts of a party, that inquiry should be made of persons likely or presumed to known [sic] such whereabouts." foreclosure faulty notice ScrewUpProcessServing

Attorney Malpractice For Obtaining Loan Modification From Lender Who Can't Prove It Owns The Promissory Note?

An article in the Decenber, 2008 issue of Trial Magazine highlights problems faced by lenders as a result of the mortgage securitization process that leaves them in a difficult spot whether they're attempting a foreclosure action against, or a loan modification with, a financially strapped homeowner. It also raises a question regarding an attorney's professional responsibility when representing a homeowner in these situations.

  • [B]ecause of lenders’ bundling and reselling of mortgages, [promissory] notes are often lost, misplaced, or corrupted. As a result, many lenders can’t prove that they are owed payments and entitled to foreclose.


  • Losing a note is like losing cash,” said Mitchell Roth, a lawyer in Sherman Oaks, California. “The right to payment depends, with limited exceptions, upon the actual possession of the note. To defend against a foreclosure, the first line of defense is, ‘Show me the note.’ And show me how you have the right to payment under the note by proper endorsement or assignment.”


  • Roth said confusion about the note holder is one reason lawyers should counsel their clients to avoid loan workouts or other negotiations offered by their banks or mortgage companies.

  • Why should we renegotiate unless we know that we are negotiating with the actual holder of the note?” he said. “In fact, I think lawyers are committing malpractice if they are negotiating with an entity that is not the original holder in due course in possession of the instrument.”

For more, see Homeowners bank on new ways to fight foreclosures (article reproduced and appearing on the website of The Consumer Warning Network).

In related posts, see:

  • 12-29-08: Foreclosing Lender Can't Prove Ownership Of The Note? So What's The Big Deal???,
  • 12-28-08: Judges, Homeowner Attorneys Begin To Wonder How To Do A Loan Modification When Lender Can't Prove Ownership Of Promissory Note?KappaMtgDocsMissing

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Federal Prison Sentences Expected To Get Stiffer As Tanking Real Estate Market Drives Up Lenders' Losses From Mortgage Fraud

Buried in a recent story in the South Florida Sun Sentinel is an observation that prison sentences in federal mortgage fraud prosecutions will begin becoming stiffer than they have been:

  • [U]ntil now, the punishments meted out to mortgage fraud offenders have been relatively mild — usually less than five years' imprisonment and sometimes nothing more than probation.

  • That's because under federal sentencing guidelines, penalities in such cases are tied to the amount of documented financial loss. When home prices were climbing, fraudsters generally paid off their loans and lenders had no direct losses.

  • Now the foreclosure crisis is driving up losses, resulting in stiffer punishment. In [one recent] case, prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed [a mortgage scam defendant's] crimes cost lenders at least $1 million because many of the properties he purchased were subsequently foreclosed on at a loss [he received eight years in prison].

Source: Mortgage fraud cases in South Florida might bring stiffer sentences (Judge imposes 8-year term, saying he wants to deter others).

HELOC Freeze Puts Squeeze On Family's College Tuition Plans

In Algonquin, Illinois, the Chicago Sun Times reports:

  • Jim and Cindy Ranallo are determined to give their two sons one thing they don't have: a four-year college degree. But the home equity line of credit they were relying on to get both boys through school was unexpectedly frozen by JPMorgan Chase weeks before their elder son's recent tuition payment was due.


  • The Ranallos' situation is a familiar one for hundreds of thousands of Americans who have found their home equity credit lines frozen or reduced this year. Their struggle to send their children to college also is familiar to parents patching funds together for higher education, constantly worried they will come up short.


  • Hysterical after opening the bank's letter, Cindy Ranallo feared her son would be kicked out of school because they couldn't afford it. A [college] official reassured the Ranallos that they would find a way for their son to stay, offering additional student loans, which the family accepted.

For more, see Frozen home equity loan hurts family (ECONOMY'S VICTIMS: Freezing of home equity loan threatens to kill Algonquin family's dream of sending sons to college).

The U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision recently issued a six-page letter of guidance which generally explains what obligations lenders have in connection with the freezing of home-equity lines of credit [HELOCs].

Go here for other posts on Frozen HELOCs.

More On Anticipated Home Mortgage "Cram Downs" In Bankruptcy

The Wall Street Journal reports:

  • Mortgage lenders who wake up Thursday with a New Year's hangover are likely to face another headache soon: The effort to give bankruptcy judges the power to rewrite mortgages is gaining steam.

  • The banking industry hoped the mortgage "cram-down"(1) measure died when Congress removed it from the $700 billion bailout bill that passed in October. But it has been gathering momentum in Democrat-controlled Washington, as evidence emerges that current voluntary foreclosure-prevention programs are falling short.


  • "It is absolutely clear that voluntary modification is just not working," says Rep. Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat. "Every plan that Congress has passed, we do it and nothing happens."

For more, see Mortgage 'Cram-Downs' Loom as Foreclosures Mount (may require subscription; if no subscription, go here - then click link for the story).

(1) In a cram-down, a judge modifies a loan, often reducing principal so a borrower can afford it. Lenders hate it because they have to absorb the loss. Bankruptcy judges currently have the ability to modify certain personal loans and even mortgages on vacation homes, but they can not cram-down mortgages on primary residences.