Saturday, May 23, 2009

NYC Pro Bono Recruiting Meetings Begin This Week; Outreach Program Needs Attorneys For Housing, Consumer Credit, Immigration Law For The Unrepresented

In New York City, the New York Law Journal reports:

  • The first of five meetings to recruit, motivate and inform attorneys for the new NYC Legal Outreach initiative will be held [Tuesday night, May 26] in Brooklyn. The campaign is an "unprecedented" joint effort by the judicial and executive branches to expand pro bono legal assistance, Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo said in an interview. The joint program is an attempt to address the growing number of unrepresented consumers with financial and immigration problems brought on by the weak economy.


  • At a press conference last month, Mr. Cardozo said New York City does not intend to "reinvent the wheel," but hopes to use the "mayor's bully pulpit" to boost existing volunteerism. In a May 12 letter to bar groups, law schools and the 100 largest law firms, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and [Chief Judge Jonathan] Lippman said that NYC Legal Outreach will target four key areas: foreclosure, eviction, immigration and consumer credit.

  • "Whether you are fully employed, retired, recently laid off or deferring employment, there is a place for you at this 'table,'" the letter said. At the press conference in April, Judge Fern A. Fisher, deputy chief administrative judge for courts in New York City, said there were some 600,000 filings last year in consumer credit and housing cases. Upward of 90 percent to 95 percent of litigants in housing cases are unrepresented, and as many as 99 percent of litigants in consumer credit cases appear pro se.


  • [The Tuesday, may 26th] meeting will be held at Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon St. at 6:00 p.m. Additional meetings will be held on June 8 in the Bronx, June 17 on Staten Island, June 22 in Manhattan and June 25 in Queens.

For more, see City, Courts Kick Off Campaign to Encourage Lawyers to Volunteer.

For times and locations of the five meetings, see the Mayor and Chief Judge's May 12th letter.

NY Fed Looks To Iron Out Conflict Of Interest Issues With City's Largest Law Firms On Pro Bono Help For Homeowners In Foreclosure

In New York City, The Am Law Daily reports:

  • The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has summoned lawyers at some of the city's elite law firms and largest banks for a meeting Wednesday to discuss the low participation in a year-old waiver program meant to allow firms to handle foreclosure cases for homeowners pro bono. [...] At the time of its launch, the program, called the Lawyers Foreclosure Intervention Nework (LFIN), stressed [conflict-of-interest] waivers for firms that represent financial institutions; the expectation was most of the lawyers would come from such firms. But a year later, the program's participants are largely solo practitioners and small firms, with only a couple lawyers from large firms.

  • Fed officials are now trying to figure out if there's a way to bolster participation. A copy of Wednesday's agenda, obtained by The Am Law Daily (download the document), outlines an array of possible fixes, including allowing lawyers at large firms advise volunteer lawyers for the homeowners anonymously.

For more, see New York Fed To Convene Meeting on Foreclosure Pro Bono.

Go here for Wednesday's meeting agenda.

Forged Documents Used To Swipe $140K+ In Home Sale Proceeds, Says Infamous Ex-Long Island Car Mechanic Says In Civil Lawsuit

In Chatsworth, California, Courthouse News Service reports:

  • Joey Buttafuoco, the former car mechanic who became famous after his underage girlfriend shot his wife in 1992, has filed a suit against a real estate agent and a home buyer that claims they cheated him out of the proceeds of a house sale. Buttafuoco and wife Evanka, in a Superior Court complaint, alleged that agent Ronald Berlinsky and LLC Investments, Inc. forged documents in connection with a $1.5 million house sale that purported to pay Berlinsky $62,000 for a "personal debt" and credit buyer Stewart Sank $75,000 for "funds paid by the buyer directly to the seller, outside of escrow."

  • Most of the money from the sale was to go pay off loans against the property. The Buttafuocos told Berlinsky they needed to sell the property quickly to avoid a foreclosure, the suit said. After the sale, the plaintiffs say they should have received at least $143,293 but they did not get any of the money.

Source: Buttafuoco Says Documents Forged in $1.5M House Sale. TheftOfDeedMeta

Stiffed Sub Slaps Lien On Homeowners For Unpaid Work, Leaving Them With Having To Pay Twice For New Pools Or Face Foreclosure

In Casselberry, Florida, WFTV Channel 9 reports:

  • Customers of a well known pool company got shocking news this week. A subcontractor was never paid. So there are now liens against their homes forcing the homeowners to pay a second time. [...] Greg Vanek paid Florida Pools of Casselberry in full more than 6 thousand dollars. Then a lien notice arrived by mail, a subcontractor was never paid by Florida Pools. So a lien demanded Greg pay another 5 thousand dollars. [...] Under Florida's Construction Lien Law----a homeowner is responsible for bills the contractor doesn't pay. Unless they pay off the liens, pay twice, worst case they face foreclosure. [...] 3 other Florida Pool customers have been liened, and others [...] were notified a lien's on the way.


  • The best protection, demand signed waivers of liens from all subcontractors before you pay - a complicated process for homeowners. "I don't know enough about liens to even ask that," said Greg Vaneck. If you have signed waivers of lien from subs and suppliers, you can't be forced to pay a second time.

For the story, see Pool Customers Face Liens On Their Homes. StiffingContractorsTheta

Recent Illinois Law Saves Homeowner From Failure To Obtain Lien Waiver & Paying Twice For Home Improvements When Fully Paid Contractor Stiffs Subs

In Chicago, Illinois, NBC Chicago reports:

  • There's a piece of paper that can stand between a homeowner and a construction calamity, between being done with a job and having it come back to drain you of more money. The waiver of lien is easy to get, yet many consumers don't hear about it until it's too late. Such was the case with the Harney family. A year after their kitchen renovation was done and paid for, they received a notice of lien on their home. It demanded payment of $3,900 within 10 days or the home would be foreclosed upon.(1)


  • But a "waiver of lien" can protect the homeowner from all the headache. A contractor who provides it "releases" and "waives" rights to placing a lien on the property, guaranteeing that "all suppliers" connected to the job "have been paid." It's a crucial document that many even in the industry don't comprehend. And while the Harneys are worried of what might happen, their lawyer is not.

  • "They can't do this," said attorney Dan Edelman, pointing to a relatively new state law that says that if consumers have paid once, and can prove it, they cannot be made to pay again. "It's to protect homeowners against exactly this type of problem. If the homeowner deals with the contractor in good faith and pays them, that ends their obligation," Edelman said.

For more, see Lien Times (Waiver of lien protects homeowners who have paid in good faith).

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) Reportedly, at the root of the problem was a dispute between the Harney's general contractor and the company that supplied the cabinetry. The companies reportedly sued and countersued each other, leaving the Harney's stuck in the middle. When the cabinet company didn't receive payment, it came after the Harney's home and slapped a lien against it. The problem in many cases is that the homeowners have paid the general contractor, who they assume will pay everyone else. StiffingContractorsTheta

Friday, May 22, 2009

Disbarred New Jersey Attorney Cops Plea To Illegally Pocketing Client Cash From Closing Proceeds In Real Estate Transactions

From the Monmouth County, New Jersey Prosecutor's Office:

  • On May 11, 2009, Gary Edelson, 48, formerly of Red Bank, N.J., appeared in Monmouth County Superior Court and pled guilty to the crime of second degree Misapplication of Entrusted Property. The charge resulted from an investigation which was conducted by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office regarding funds that Edelson, an attorney, illegally retained in and dispersed from his attorney trust account.


  • During the course of his representation of his clients in [various] transactions, Edelson deposited large sums of his clients’ money into his attorney trust account. [...] The investigation further revealed that instead of disbursing his clients’ funds in order to finalize the real estate transactions as Edelson was required to do, Edelson instead illegally retained and disposed of more than $300,000 which he was holding in trust. The investigation also revealed that Edelson used funds from his trust account to pay for personal expenses such as his rent, medical insurance, office expenses, and taxes, and that he improperly transferred funds from his trust account into his business account.

For the entire Monmouth County Prosecutor's press release, see Former Red Bank Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Misapplication of Client Funds.

If a New Jersey attorney, in the course of representing you, screws you out of money or property through dishonest conduct, go to the New Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection for more information.

For other states and Canada, see:

Arizona Mortgage Fraud Feds Targeting Strippers In Crackdown Against Gutting Of Homes In Foreclosure

In Phoenix, Arizona, The Arizona Republic reports:

  • The Northeast Valley's battered real-estate market is getting a federal bailout of sorts from an unusual source. FBI agents and local law-enforcement personnel have arrested five people in the past month for stripping their foreclosed homes of appliances, cabinets, countertops and plumbing fixtures. That includes cases in Fountain Hills, Anthem, Phoenix and Surprise of some of the more egregious violators who are taking everything they can out of homes, said Julie Halferty, a supervising special agent who oversees the FBI Mortgage Task Force.


  • To combat the theft, the task force is going after violators who have stripped multiple investment properties that they are losing to foreclosure, rather than homeowners who have lost their home, Halferty said. But the enforcement effort is also trying to discourage those thefts as well, she said.

For more, see Home strippers face arrest in crackdown.

Go here for other posts on pre-foreclosure homeowner fixture stripping. foreclosure fixture stripping apple

NY AG Sues Firm Accused Of Peddling Deceptive Home Warranty Plans That Ripped Off Homeowners Nationwide; Obtains Court Order Freezing Company Cash

From the Office of the New York Attorney General:

  • Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo [...] announced that his office has filed suit against National Home Protection, Inc. (NHP), a New York City-based company, and three principals, Leo Serrur, David Seruya, and Victor Hakim in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan for a deceptive home warranty scheme that defrauded consumers in New York and across the country out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

  • The Attorney General also applied for and was granted a temporary restraining order freezing the bank accounts and other assets of the company and principals, and preventing NHP from selling any more of its home warranty plans out of New York pending further order by the Court.


  • NHP sells yearly home warranty plans that include promises to repair or replace consumers’ household systems and appliances that break during the contract term. However, the Attorney General’s investigation into the company revealed [among other things] that, more often than not, the company failed to honor these warranties and routinely denied customers’ valid claims for fraudulent reasons.

For the rest of the allegations, see AG Cuomo Sues National Home Protection, Inc. For Home Warranty Scheme That Defrauded Consumers Nationwide Out Of Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars (New York-Based National Home Protection Victimized Consumers Across The Country By Failing to Honor Expensive Home Appliance and House System Warranties; To Ensure Restitution for Defrauded Consumers, Court Freezes Company and Principal Assets).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Real Estate Agent Suspected Of Key Role In Mortgage Scam Now Accused Of Rent Skimming By Disgruntled Tenant

In Tampa, Florida, the St. Petersburg Times reports:

  • Tampa real estate agent Lori Polin played a key role in one of the state's "most dramatic" mortgage fraud schemes, according to Florida's attorney general. Polin is still an agent — and she's still engaged in questionable dealings, an angry tenant claims.

  • Jeff Cole, who rented Polin's Tampa condo, says she collected over $14,000 in rent yet stopped making mortgage payments and did not inform him that the bank was foreclosing — an increasingly common problem for tenants in a tanking real estate market. Polin, who still has a $50,000 homestead exemption, also asked Cole and his mother not to tell the bank she was renting out the condo for fear it would kill a sale, he said.

  • "She accepted rent for nine months while lying to her mortgage company about her occupancy status," Cole said. "She asked me and my mother to keep her little secret … to save her own a---." Polin, who works for ReMax Power Advantage in Tampa, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Jeremy Anderson, head of the office, would not comment.

For more, see Tenant paid thousands in rent for condo that was in foreclosure.

Home Improvement Contractor Gets Prison Time In $80K+ Ripoff; Accused Of Shoddy, Incomplete Work On 88-Year Old Widow's Home

From the Office of the New York Attorney General:

  • Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo [...] announced the sentencing of a Western New York home improvement contractor who repeatedly pressured an 88-year-old widow into paying more than $80,000 for home improvements that were never done or “grossly substandard.”

  • Bryan Boone, 47, of [...] Kenmore [dba Urban Residential Maintenance], was sentenced to the maximum 2 1/3-to-7 years in prison [... and] ordered the defendant to pay full restitution. Boone pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the third degree (class D felony) on November 7, 2008.

  • This so-called home improvement contractor was nothing more than a con artist who thought he could get away with ripping off an 88 year-old widow,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “My office will aggressively pursue crooked contractors who prey on New Yorkers, especially the elderly and vulnerable.”


  • Boone’s work was careless and incomplete. [...] Independent experts who reviewed Boone’s work at the request of the Attorney General’s Office declared it to be grossly substandard and of little value to the homeowner. They estimated the cost of labor and materials to be between $11,000 and $13,000. Besides shoddy and incomplete work, Boone also failed to meet the legal requirements for home repair work, including obtaining the proper permits, providing a written contract to the consumer, and depositing payments into a trust account.

For the entire press release, see Home Improvement Contractor Sentenced To Prison For Scamming Western New York Senior Out Of More Than $80,000 (Bryan Boone pressured 88-year-old widow into writing more than 70 checks over seven months for ‘grossly substandard’ work).

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.

Go here, here, here, here, here, and here for other posts on elder financial abuse. FinancialAbuseOfElderlyAlpha StiffingContractorsTheta

Ninth Defendant Goes Down In Maryland $35M+ Equity Stripping, Foreclosure Rescue Scam

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Maryland):

  • Wilbur Ballesteros, age 33, of Lanham, Maryland, pleaded guilty [Thursday] to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in connection with a mortgage fraud scheme that falsely promised to help homeowners facing foreclosure keep their homes and repair their damaged credit, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.


  • According to his plea agreement, in May 2005, co-defendants Joy Jackson and Jennifer McCall incorporated Metropolitan Money Store, located in Lanham, Maryland, which offered foreclosure consultation and credit services to financially distressed homeowners. From September 2004 to June 2007, Ballesteros conspired with others to fraudulently promise to help homeowners, who had substantial equity in their homes but were facing foreclosure because of their inability to make monthly mortgage payments, avoid foreclosure and repair their damaged credit. [...] Ballesteros is the ninth defendant to plead guilty in the Metropolitan Money Store mortgage fraud scheme.

For the entire press release, see Real Estate Agent Pleads Guilty in over $35 Million Mortgage Fraud Scheme.

For the indictment, see U.S. v. JoyJackson, et al.

(1) Eight other defendants have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and are facing a maximum sentencing of 30 years in prison: Joy Jackson, age 41, President of Metropolitan Money Store, and Jennifer McCall, age 47, both of Ft. Washington, Maryland, a chief executive officer of Metropolitan Money Store and owner of JC and JC Investments LLC; Jackson’s husband Kurt Fordham, age 39, of Ft. Washington, Maryland, president of Fordham & Fordham Investment Group, Ltd. (F&F) and a director of F&F and Burroughs & Smythe Financial Services, Inc. (B&S) Katisha Fordham, age 35, of Washington, D.C., a loan processor at the Metropolitan Money Store; Richard Allison, age 37, of Camp Springs, Maryland, an attorney and employee of the U.S. Census Bureau; Clifford McCall, age 47, of Lanham, Maryland, president of Burroughs & Smythe Financial Services, Inc., based in Lanham and a director of the Fordham & Fordham Investment Group, Ltd., a foreclosure consulting and credit servicing business based in Lanham and Greenbelt, Maryland; Carlisha Dixon, age 31, of Hyattsville, Maryland, vice president and a director of Burroughs & Smythe Financial Services, Inc.; and Chandra Jones, age 31, of Lanham, Maryland, the daughter of co-defendants Jennifer and Clifford McCall.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Financially Strapped Oregon Couple Bail Out On Loan Modification Attorney; Stops Check, Opts For Free Counseling Instead

In Gresham, Oregon, KGW-TV Channel 8 reports:

  • A mortgage scheme nearly snagged a Gresham couple. [...] “My husband’s trucking business came to a stop and we got really far behind in our house payments,” said Patricia Harmon. A television commercial from Christian M. Dillon attorney at law seemed to have the solution. “It was pretty much a guarantee they could get our loan modified and our payments lowered,” said Harmon. The company wanted $3,000 up front. Harmon was desperate, she wrote a check.


  • Harmon said Christian M. Dillon attorney at law told her to stop all contact with her mortgage company. “Don’t talk to them, even if they call you. Now I discover that's one of the first signs of a scam, is when they tell you not to talk to your mortgage company,” said Harmon. Harmon learned the company had a history of consumer complaints in the nick of time. She canceled her check.


  • The BBB gives the California company an F rating and the Oregon Attorney General recently helped a homeowner in Newport get their money back from the company. Fortunately, you don't have to pay for mortgage counseling. A government approved counselor helped Harmon for free. Christian M. Dillon attorney at law has not returned calls from KGW.(1)

For the story, see Gresham couple avoid suspected mortgage scam.

(1) For a story from The Tampa Tribune on the experience of a Florida homeowner who paid an upfront fee for loan modification services, and who responded to a television commercial from California attorney Christian M. Dillon, see Home sweet home: Beware of foreclosure rescue scams, fees.

San Jose Cops, DA's Office Probe Outfit Suspected Of Masquerading As Loan Modification Law Firm; 100+ Homeowners Get Stiffed, File Complaints

In San Jose, California, KGO-TV Channel 7 reports:

  • Police in San Jose are investigating a business that claims to be a loan modification company but is suspected of preying on more than 100 homeowners. "Legal Support Services" says on its website that it is a law firm specializing in loan modifications, but police question whether it's a law firm at all.


  • Both [Adam] Bajaras and [Kenneth] Relloma hired Legal Support Services in San Jose in hopes of rescuing themselves from foreclosure. Bajaras said he paid $3,200. Kenneth said he paid $7,500. Both also said they did not get much for their money.


  • The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office says more than 100 complaints have been received about the company. San Jose police have launched an investigation. "It's mortgage rescue fraud. It's obviously portraying to do something or provide a service and then somehow fraudulently defrauding victims," explained Sgt. Ronnie Lopez with the San Jose Police Department. Police say many of those who complained hired Legal Support Services thinking they were hiring an attorney.(1)

For more, see SJ 'law firm' accused of mortgage fraud.

(1) According to the story, the company's website says it was founded by attorneys Russell Koch and Leo Kolligian. However, records from the California Bar Association show a Russell Milton Koch who is not eligible to practice law and Kolligian's license has been inactive since 2003. Police do not know if Koch and Kolligian are victims of identity theft or knowing participants with the company. A search warrant filed by police and obtained by 7 On Your Side also indicates that Kolligian is dead. That search warrant was served on the offices of Legal Support Services back in February. The office closed shortly after.

2nd Man Gets Jail Time On Contempt Charges For Role In South Carolina Alleged Foreclosure Rescue Scam

In Horry County, South Carolina, The Horry Independent reports:

  • A second man has been sentenced to jail in connection with a scheme that landed multiple distressed homeowners in foreclosure. Joseph R. Guernsey, 36, of Myrtle Beach was sentenced yesterday in Horry County Court to six months in jail after Judge Michael Baxley found him guilty of contempt of court.

  • Guernsey is associated with Jolly & Associates. Robert Steve Jolly, 60, of Lexington, N.C., was sentenced to jail April 16, also on contempt of court charges. [...] Jolly was sent to jail recently on contempt of court charges after seeking out financially distressed South Carolina homeowners and titleholders to real property and offering to help them avoid foreclosure of their homes.


  • Jolly encouraged homeowners to give his company a quitclaim deed, or a similar document, giving him rights to their property, according to a civil lawsuit filed by the S.C. Attorney General’s Office. In exchange, he promised to pay off their mortgages and, in turn, they agreed to make monthly payments to Jolly and Associates to pay down their debt, according to the lawsuit. [...] Jolly is connected with more than 45 mortgage foreclosures in Horry County and possibly some in Georgetown County.

  • Guernsey, the court found Wednesday, was directly involved with the scheme that took from people who were about to lose their homes and was sentenced to six months for his principal activities and 90 days for contempt of court to be served immediately. [...] Allen Myrick, of the S.C. Attorney General’s office, said there are no criminal proceedings against Guernsey at this time, but did say the investigation is continuing and Guernsey’s case may be presented to the Horry County Grand Jury at a future time. Two other bench warrants were filed at Wednesday’s hearing for other persons involved in the matter.

For the story, see Guernsey gets 90 days for contempt (Second to be implicated in foreclosure scheme).

For earlier report on this story, see State Attorney General mounts fight for distressed borrowers.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Florida Attorney Seeks To Jam Lenders In Foreclosure Actions For Allegedly Failing To Comply With Bailout Bill

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Daily Business Review reports:

  • Lenders receiving U.S. government stimulus money are required to offer distressed homeowners reasonable loan workouts to prevent more foreclosures. But critics say that’s often not happening. Claiming lenders aren’t working with borrowers, Weston attorney Jonathan Kline is in state court trying to block the first of dozens of foreclosure cases.

  • Kline has asked judges to dismiss or delay about 10 cases. He argued the lenders [...] are not complying with the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, the bailout bill that originally authorized the Treasury Secretary to spend $700 billion to purchase distressed assets of the largest U.S. banks.


  • The bailout bill requires lenders receiving federal money — including those servicing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans — to offer “reasonable loan modification based on three areas, including reducing the interest rate, reducing the principal amount of what is due and elongating the term of the loan,” Kline said. Kline said he is planning to file similar motions in all of the approximately 200 foreclosure cases he has working.

  • Last week, Kline presented the argument for the first time before Broward Circuit Judge Jack Tuter in a foreclosure case against U.S. Bank, the trustee for Homebank Mortgage Trust, which originated Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans. Tuter rejected Kline’s request for dismissal of the foreclosure. “He said it would have been better to present it in an evidentiary hearing, but he liked the argument,” Kline said. Kline said he may request a second hearing and will use that argument on other cases.

For more, see Weston attorney says banks fail to do required workouts.

Go here for Kline's Amended Motion To Abate Or Dismiss Foreclosure Proceedings.

For other posts on homeowners using state & federal laws to stave off foreclosures, Go Here, Go Here, and Go Here. UndoMortgageLoans TILAdelta EpsilonMissingDocsMtg SloppyForeclosuresAlpha

Texas AG Files Civil Suit Charging Loan Modification Firm With Selling Worthless Rescue Services To Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

From the Office of the Texas Attorney General:

  • A Harris County district judge froze several Houston firms’ assets after Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott charged the companies with running foreclosure “rescue” scams. According to the state’s enforcement action,(1) the defendants fraudulently charged their customers for worthless “rescue,” debt counseling and credit repair services. District Judge Patricia J. Kerrigan also granted the Attorney General’s request for a temporary restraining order.

For the entire press release, see Attorney General Abbott Charges Houston Firms with Conducting Fraudulent Foreclosure Rescue Scam (Assets Belonging to Excel Loss Mitigation, United Servicing, others frozen by Attorney General).

For more on this case from the Texas AG:

(1) The state’s enforcement action names Excel Loss Mitigation Inc., United Servicing LLC, Bell Investments & Developments LLC and key directors Frank Bell, David Bell and David Espy as defendants. All of the defendants were also charged with failing to post a bond with the Texas Secretary of State, which is required to legally conduct business in the state of Texas. Excel, which was renamed United Servicing after an influx of customer complaints, proactively contacted hundreds of homeowners who were struggling to pay their mortgages, according to the press release. The Office of the Attorney General is seeking civil penalties of up to $20,000 for each violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, as well as restitution for harmed customers. In addition, the Attorney General seeks penalties for numerous violations of the Texas Telephone Solicitation Act and the state’s Finance Code.

C. Florida Court Opts For "Rubber Stamp Method" In Effort To Bulldoze Undefended Foreclosures Thru Legal System, Despite Myriad Of Paperwork Errors

In Sarasota, Florida, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reports:

  • Starting Friday, hundreds of people could lose their property each month in foreclosure hearings scheduled to take less than two minutes. Often called a "rocket docket," the streamlined foreclosure court can schedule up to 250 cases per day, sending properties to auction in cases where the owners never showed up to defend themselves.

  • Speeding those cases through the court system will help unclog a glut of foreclosure cases, allowing civil judges to focus on cases where homeowners are fighting to save their property, as well as the other lawsuits they normally oversee. [...] "I don't want to have these undefended cases stacking up," 12th Circuit Chief Judge Lee Haworth said. "It just seemed to be the right thing to do."


  • Foreclosure defense attorneys, who have seen case after case where lawyers representing banks are giving false statements in court, worry that some homeowners will slip through the cracks and lose property they should not. [...] A retired attorney living in Sarasota, whose study of 180 Sarasota County cases found only one in four had complete paperwork, said the fast docket leaves less time to catch those kinds of mistakes. "There is no check, no screen, to make sure the most obvious, egregious errors are corrected," Richard Kessler said. "It's not a hearing, it's a hanging."

  • Haworth said the system puts the burden on the person being foreclosed on to point out any flaws there may be in the case against them. "If they decide for whatever reason they choose not to defend it, then they are defaulted," he said.

For more, see Two minutes, and home goes away.

For story update, see 'Rocket docket' for foreclosures begins.

For posts that reference the failure of mortgage lenders and their attorneys to file the proper paperwork when bringing foreclosure actions, Go Here, Go Here, Go Here, Go Here, Go Here, Go Here, and Go Here. EpsilonMissingDocsMtg

Clarification Of Judges' Legal, Ethical Duties In Hearing Uncontested Securitized Mortgage Foreclosure Cases To Be Addressed By Florida Task Force

The Miami Daily Business Review reports:

  • Florida Supreme Court task force on home foreclosures plans to propose uniform case management and design a model mediation program to deal with the glut of foreclosure cases tying up the state’s legal system. In an interim report released this week, the task force said uniform statewide solutions are needed “to avoid a patchwork of independent and confusing requirements.” But the task force is short on details, making it difficult for those working on foreclosure cases to comment on the proposals.


  • The task force plans to offer recommendations that would be cost-effective and affordable while staying consistent with existing laws and policies. A pending issue is the “clarification of legal and ethical obligations of circuit judges in hearing uncontested securitized mortgage foreclosure cases.”

  • Homeowner defense attorney Roy Oppenheim of Oppenheim Pilelsky in Weston seized on that point, claiming the constitutional rights of distressed homeowners may be sacrificed at the hands of overworked judges. “Why do we need clarifications if judges are really, really doing their jobs?” he asked. “It’s saying in a nice way that judges are not fulfilling constitutional obligations to protect those people not represented by counsel.”

  • On Sunday, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported(1) foreclosure lawyers for lenders are giving false statements in court and the lies and errors are slipping past overworked judges.

For more, see Task force hopes to standardize management of excessive foreclosures.

(1) See Lies a new tool in foreclosure (Lawyers, in rush to regain properties, can exploit judges' workload). Also from the Sarasota Herald Tribune this week:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Thousands Of Foreclosure Lawsuits Brought By Companies Lacking Standing To Sue Continue To Slip Through The Court System In Uncontested Actions

In Sarasota, Florida, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reports:

  • As a lawyer helping homeowners grapple with foreclosure, April Charney has praised Sarasota's Lee Haworth, chief judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit. But Charney now puts an asterisk in her rave review.


  • Though Haworth makes foreclosure mills follow the letter of the law when taking someone's homestead, Charney says that's only when a defense lawyer is involved. Spot checks indicate thousands of other cases going uncontested are filed without proof the filer has standing to be in court. Some include false claims that a homeowner declined to negotiate, or incorrectly say the house was not a homestead.

  • Charney insists those aren't mistakes. It happens because convenient lies usually go undetected and unpunished. "Whatever is expedient, they will do," Charney insists. So even when a property owner doesn't fight, Charney says judges and their staffs have a responsibility to check cases and hammer lenders' lawyers who make false claims.

For more, see Enforce letter of the law and check for little lies. EpsilonMissingDocsMtg

More On The Use Of Multiple Corporate Hat-Wearing Dummy Assistant Vice Presidents By Lenders & Mortgage Servicers In Foreclosure Actions

The issue of employees of so-called foreclosure / bankruptcy services firms being allowed to sign legal documents (with said documents to be filed in court in connection with foreclosure actions) as officers of multiple, foreclosing financial institutions was the topic of several past posts.

Examples of how one company, Fidelity National Foreclosure Services and affiliates, of Mendota Heights, Minnesota, has made available dozens of its employees to foreclosing lenders & mortgage servicers to act as authorized corporate officers for the limited purpose of signing necessary documents to be filed in court in the effort to obtain foreclosure judgments can be found in the following documents filed in the Massachusetts land records.

To access the following five links below, first go to, then come back to this page and click the following linked Book/Pages:(1)

With respect to one of the Fidelity National employees whose name appears as an authorized corporate officer for all of the above listed companies (a certain Laura Hescott), a quick search of the online New York court cases reveals that Ms. Hescott receives mention in at least the following four foreclosure actions in her capacity as a vice president of one of the entities having some involvement in the foreclosure action:

  • Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Ams. v Peabody, 2008 NY Slip Op 51286(U) [20 Misc 3d 1108(A)]; June 26, 2008, Supreme Court, Saratoga County, Nolan, J.; (Hescott was identified as vice president of Deutsche Bank, according to the decision);

  • Deutsche Bank National Trust Company v. Harris, 2008 NY Slip Op 30308(U); February 5, 2008, Supreme Court, Kings County, Schack, J.; (Hescott was identified as vice president of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, according to the decision);

  • IndyMac Bank, FSB v Bethley, 2009 NY Slip Op 50186(U) [22 Misc 3d 1119(A)]; February 6, 2009, Supreme Court, Kings County, Schack, J.; (Hescott was identified as vice president of both Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems and vice president of IndyMac, according to the decision);

  • Indymac Bank, FSB v Boyd, 2009 NY Slip Op 50094(U) [22 Misc 3d 1112(A)]; January 22, 2009, Supreme Court, Kings County, Schack, J.; (Hescott was identified as vice president of IndyMac, according to the decision).

Note that in none of these four New York cases is it reflected that Laura Hescott, although signing documents as a vice president for one of the financial institutions, appears to actually be an employee of Fidelity National who is merely out on loan to the institution.

Thanks to Mike Dillon at for the heads-up on the foregoing information.

(1) For evidence of additional similar arrangements between Fidelity National and other lenders and loan servicers in Massachusetts & New Hampshire (sorry, no direct links to the New Hampshire documents):

Massachusetts: first go to - then come back and click the following link:

New Hampshire:

First go to (Hillsborough County) - then do a "document search" for:

  • Book 8000 / Page 2106 (HSBC Consumer Lending (USA) Inc., Beneficial Company LLC, & HFC Company LLC.);
  • Book 8035 / Page 583 (Wachovia Mortgage Corporation; power of attorney that lists the functions that the "dummy" assistant vice presidents (employees of Fidelity National) are authorized to perform on behalf of Wachovia);
  • Book 8037 / Page 142 (Beneficial New Hampshire Inc.);
  • Book 8023 / Page 51 (Washington Mutual Bank Affidavit stating that Laura Hescott signed an assignment of mortgage as an assistant vice president for Washington Mutual);
  • Book 7833/ Page 2052 (HSBC Mortgage Corp.; Laura Hescott signs foreclosure deed as "attorney in fact" on behalf of HSBC).

First go to (Rockingham County) - then do a "document search" for:

  • Book 4922/ Page 2932 (Household Finance Corporation II);
  • Book 4945/ Page 2067 (Beneficial Mortgage Company of New Hampshire). EpsilonMissingDocsMtg

Massachusetts AG Squeezes $60M Settlement From Goldman Sachs In Connection With Subprime Mortgage Probe

In Boston, Massachusetts, The Boston Globe reports:

  • More than 700 Massachusetts homeowners struggling with subprime mortgages will have their monthly payments reduced - some by as much as 35 percent - as part of a $60 million settlement Attorney General Martha Coakley reached with Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

  • Goldman Sachs owns those homeowners' mortgages through subsidiaries and has agreed to rewrite the terms of their loans in order to stave off legal action by Coakley. The attorney general has been investigating the role investment banks played in promoting subprime mortgages that borrowers ultimately couldn't afford.


  • As part of the settlement, Goldman Sachs will reduce the outstanding balances of subprime mortgages for those 714 homeowners, most of whom live in Boston, Brockton, Lawrence, Springfield, and Worcester. Homeowners seeking to refinance or sell their properties could see a reduction in their first mortgages of up to 35 percent as well as much as a 100 percent cut in second mortgages.

  • Reducing those loan amounts will cost Goldman Sachs $50 million. It has also agreed to have its subsidiary, Litton Loan Servicing LP, help qualified borrowers who are in trouble on their loans to avoid foreclosure. Goldman will also pay the state $10 million.

For more, see State reaches $60m subprime deal with Goldman Sachs.

For the Massachusetts Attorney general press release, see AG Coakley and Goldman Sachs Reach Settlement Regarding Subprime Lending Issues.

Mortgage Company Employees Accused Of Stealing Refinancing Proceeds Intended To Pay Off Existing Lien; Leaves Customer With Ruined Credit, Unpaid Debt

In New Orleans, Louisiana, The Times Picayune reports:

  • A lawsuit filed in civil district court in New Orleans accuses a loan originator and branch manager at Allied Home Mortgage Capital Corp. of stealing money during a mortgage refinance and then conspiring with their employer to cover it up.

  • The suit contains sensational allegations against Allied employees Terri-Lynn Killett and branch manager Shane Smith, who purportedly had money wired to a personal bank account that was supposed to be used to pay off a mortgage for customer Sarada LeBourgeois. LeBourgeois asserts that their actions ruined her credit, stuck her with a mortgage on a home she no longer owns and sullied her reputation in the real estate community, where she works as a marketing manager for a home warranty company.


  • Allied Home Mortgage has moved to have the case transferred to federal district court in New Orleans, an action that LeBourgeois and her attorneys oppose.(1)

For more, see Lawsuit alleges that loan originator stole money from a client.

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

(1) Attempting to transfer a state court case to federal court is commonly used as a tactic by some defendants in civil cases to forum-shop for a friendlier venue, as well as to delay, discourage, and make more expensive, meritorious lawsuits for aggrieved plaintiffs. See:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Forged Documents Used To Swipe $140K+ In Home Sale Proceeds, Infamous Ex-Long Island Car Mechanic Says In Civil Lawsuit

In Chatsworth, California, Courthouse News Service reports:

  • Joey Buttafuoco, the former car mechanic who became famous after his underage girlfriend shot his wife in 1992, has filed a suit against a real estate agent and a home buyer that claims they cheated him out of the proceeds of a house sale. Buttafuoco and wife Evanka, in a Superior Court complaint, alleged that agent Ronald Berlinsky and LLC Investments, Inc. forged documents in connection with a $1.5 million house sale that purported to pay Berlinsky $62,000 for a "personal debt" and credit buyer Stewart Sank $75,000 for "funds paid by the buyer directly to the seller, outside of escrow."

  • Most of the money from the sale was to go pay off loans against the property. The Buttafuocos told Berlinsky they needed to sell the property quickly to avoid a foreclosure, the suit said. After the sale, the plaintiffs say they should have received at least $143,293 but they did not get any of the money.

Source: Buttafuoco Says Documents Forged in $1.5M House Sale. TheftOfDeedMeta

Cops Barely Beat 4-Year Statute Of Limitations; Charge Realty Agent With Duping Client Into Signing Over Condo; Victim Now Lives In Homeless Shelter

In Long Beach, California, the Press Telegram reports:

  • A felony embezzlement charge was filed [...] against a Long Beach real estate agent who allegedly conned a client into signing over his property, leaving the victim homeless. Donald Marshall Otis is accused of conning a former neighbor to sign over his Downtown Long Beach condominium, which the victim owned free and clear, in 2005 and then selling the property for more than $200,000, said Sgt. Rick Farfan, of the Long Beach Police Department's Forgery and Fraud Division. The victim, now 41, knew Otis as a neighbor and also knew Otis was a licensed real estate agent, Farfan said.


  • Farfan said it appeared as though Otis used the mountain of paperwork home owners must sign when selling a property to disguise the deed transfer. The victim, he said, was very naive and easily led by the accused, like many victims of forgery and fraud. "Anyone who has ever sold or bought a home knows there is a lot of paper work, it's easy to lose track, especially if you don't know anything about (the process)," Farfan said. Adding to the scheme, Farfan said, was the fact Otis was a licensed real estate agent and therefore trusted.


  • This case took about a year to put together, and was brought to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office for filing just before the four-year statute of limitations (for property crimes) was up, he said. Although the crime took place in 2005, police did not begin their investigation until 2008, when it was finally reported to authorities, Farfan said.

  • The victim first went to an attorney in 2005, who sued Otis over the matter and won a default civil judgment for the victim last year. But with the money already spent and Otis not working or holding any property in his name, the victim has not recouped a single penny of his loss, Farfan said. "The really sad thing is our victim is now homeless," the sergeant said, adding that the man lives in a homeless shelter in Carson.

For the story, see Long Beach real estate agent charged with embezzlement.

Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, and Go here for other posts related to deed or refinancing scams by forgery, swindle, power of attorney abuse, etc. TheftOfDeedMeta

Illinois Man Gets Five Years For Using Forged, Fraudulent Documents To Steal Homes From Elderly Widow, Deceased Man's Estate

From the Office of the Illinois Attorney General:

  • Attorney General Lisa Madigan [last week] secured a guilty plea from a Calumet Park man on two counts of theft over $100,000 for forging documents as part of a scheme to sell real estate right out from under elderly victims and their estates. Judge Douglas Simpson of the Circuit Court of Cook County, 6th District, Markham, sentenced Adrian Garner, 38, of Calumet Park, Ill., to five years in the Illinois Department of Corrections as a result of [last week's] plea.

  • During 2004 and 2005, Garner used fraudulent documents as part of two separate schemes to obtain real estate. In May 2005, Garner used forged documents to fraudulently establish that he possessed the power of attorney on behalf of Myrtle Hickson, a 76-year-old widow. Garner misled Hickson, who is now deceased, and her family into believing he would help renovate Hickson’s home and sell it for the family at a profit. Instead, Garner obtained the home’s deed by using the unauthorized documents with the alleged power of attorney for Hickson. Garner then sold the home to his father in June 2005, and transferred nearly $114,000 in profit from the transaction to his business account.

  • In the second scheme, Garner executed and used fake documents in December 2005 to fraudulently obtain part of approximately $100,000 in proceeds from the sale of a deceased man’s Chicago home.

For the Illinois AG press release, see Madigan: Calmut Park Man Guilty of Defrauding Chicago Senior in Real Estate Scam.

Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, and Go here for other posts related to deed or refinancing scams by forgery, swindle, power of attorney abuse, etc. DeedZetaTheft

Thieves Used Forged Signatures & Documents, Fraudulent Notarizations To Steal Two Tennessee Homes, Says Victimized Memphis Man

In Memphis, Tennessee, WREG-TV Channel 3 reports:

  • It's not a burglary or a home invasion, but thieves across the Mid-South are on a mission to steal your greatest possession. They're looking for more than what's in your house -- they want the home itself. "I called 911, my son called 911. And we told the police officers, someone had broke into my house," Abdul Zarif said.But someone didn't just break into Abdul Zarif's North Memphis home, they stole it.

  • Zarif says forged signatures and fraudulent documents cost him a second home, this time in Haywood County. Zarif blames two men -- Willie Lynch, the man who claims to own the house, and Talut El-Amin, the Notary Public who made it possible. When we first caught up with Lynch, he didn't have much to say. "I got deeds on it, I bought the house. That's all I'm gonna tell yall!" Lynch said. Talut El-Amin talked to us on the phone. He said he notarized the deeds for Abdul Zarif, but refused to talk to us on camera.


  • The process of stealing a home is so simple, it just takes a few steps. All a thief needs is a blank deed, a forged signature, and a notary stamp. Once it's filed, the house is considered "sold". But new legislation, introduced after the WREG News Channel 3 Investigators exposed the problem, is designed to stop it. [...] As Zarif waits for help from Nashville, he's heading to court to fight for his homes. It's taken five months of trying to prove ownership of the property in Haywood County, but finally a judge agreed that Zarif is the true owner.

For more, see NC3 Investigates: House Stealing Scheme (New legislation could cut down on the problem, by raising penalties and jail time).

Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, and Go here for other posts related to deed or refinancing scams by forgery, swindle, power of attorney abuse, etc.

(1) Reportedly, the house stealing bill is gaining support in Nashville will soon face a judiciary committee vote. You can keep tabs on the bill's progress by clicking here: DeedZetaTheft

New Mexico Couple Charged With Swiping Seven Properties Using Forged Deeds, Fraudulent Notarizations

In Valencia County, New Mexico, The News Bulletin reports:

  • A former employee of the Valencia County treasurer's department and her husband have been arrested and charged with a slew of crimes involving felony fraud and forgery involving ownership of land in the county. On April 30, Gladys Vigil, a former clerk in the treasurer's office, and her husband, Victor Paul Vigil, were arrested on a criminal complaint filed in magistrate court by state police. Police allege the Vigils deeded property over to a company they owned without the knowledge of the current property owners. The initial investigation cites seven such properties and alleged false deeds.(1)


  • [County Treasurer Dorothy] Lovato said all of the property was vacant, with no buildings. The criminal complaint charges that most of the property deed transfers were notarized by Gladys Vigil and signed by a Paul Vigil on behalf of Vigil Enterprises.

For more, see Ex-county employee charged with forgery (Complaint alleges woman, husband deeded property without owners' knowledge).

Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, Go here, and Go here for other posts related to deed or refinancing scams by forgery, swindle, power of attorney abuse, etc.

(1) The investigation was triggered by a phone call from a woman who had not received a property tax bill for her deceased father's land and needed the information to complete the arrangements of his estate. Reportedly, the investigation revealed that the fraudulent deed transfer was puportedly executed by the father in 2006. Unbeknowst to the perpetrators, however, he died in 2005. DeedZetaTheft