Saturday, January 16, 2010

Minnesota Man Gets 13 Months For Ripping Off Alzheimer's Victim & 86 Year Old Man Out Of Tens Of Thousands In Separate Home Repair Scams

In St. Paul, Minnesota, The Star Tribune reports:

  • James C. Somers, 57, of Roseville, was given a 13-month stayed sentence by [District Judge Teresa] Warner in October after he admitted swindling two vulnerable St. Paul residents out of tens of thousands of dollars for shabby or nonexistent work on their homes and yards. On Tuesday, he returned to court to ask Warner to impose the sentence rather than serve 10 years on probation. He was given credit for 100 days he has spent in custody.

  • According to two criminal complaints, Somers persuaded a St. Paul woman with Alzheimer's disease to write him 11 checks totaling more than $29,000 in the spring and summer of 2008. Only two of the checks had notations that gave some hint as to what they were for -- one for $950 said "tree removal," the other for $1,900 said "garage door."

  • He also was accused of swindling an 86-year-old St. Paul man in May out of $25,000 for roof repairs when all he did was spray-paint the roof vents so they appeared new. Somers pleaded guilty in the latter case; the former was dismissed. He must pay restitution to both victims.

Source: Two who preyed on elderly, vulnerable sentenced.

Home Repair Scammer Leaves Elderly California Couple Facing Foreclosure After $170K+ Ripoff

In Sacramento, California, The Scaramento Bee reports:

  • The crook and one-time killer who bilked Patsy and Oliver Davis out of $172,000 is going to prison, and the elderly couple have since moved into a rebuilt home built with the muscle of area volunteers. But this isn't a story with a feel-good ending for the Davises. The retirees who found themselves ripped off in a contractor scam say the events of the past 3 1/2 years have turned their golden years into what Patsy Davis, 70, called a "nightmare." [...] She told The Bee on Friday that the couple are facing foreclosure on both their homes and that it looks like they're going to file for bankruptcy.


  • [Keith Lidell] McGowan swooped in on the Davises in July 2006 after city code inspectors cited them for their dilapidated rental on Nogales Street. They took a quick liking to him, after he gained Patsy Davis' sweet side by calling her "mother" and appealing to their spiritual bent "by reading scripture and praying with them," the probation report said. As for the wreck of a rental that had been torn inside out and down to its studs by a parade of bad tenants, McGowan told the Davises he could fix it up for $25,000.

  • Three months into the job, he'd tagged them for $58,000 in costs. By October of 2007, they'd written him 57 checks for $252,650, according to the probation report. [...] The report said that experts who evaluated McGowan's work estimated that he did give the couple about $70,000 worth of value, leaving the final price tag on his rip-off at about $172,000.

For the story, see Con man gets prison; Sacramento couple he bilked face two foreclosures.

Nursing Home Resident Fleeced Of $160K+ By Power Of Attorney-Holding Employee, Say Cops

In Shenendoah, Pennsylvania, the Republican Herald reports:

  • A Girardville woman charged with stealing more than $160,000 over a two-year period from an elderly woman she befriended waived her right to a preliminary hearing Wednesday [...]. Michelle A. Connors, [...] is charged with two felony counts each of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property. By waiving her right to a hearing, Connors will now have to answer to the charges in Schuylkill County Court. The woman remains free on $5,000 bail that was posted for her at the time of her arraignment earlier this year.

  • Connors was arrested by Shenandoah police Patrolman Joseph Hall and Dolores Malec of the Schuylkill County District Attorney's Elder Abuse Unit and charged with taking the money between November 2006 and September 2008. Investigators said the thefts occurred while Connors had power of attorney for Mary O'Connell, now in her 90s. Hall said that in November 2006, Connors took over the woman's assets that totaled $222,692.61 and had control of the money until Sept. 11, 2008.

  • During that time, both Hall and Malec said Connors, who befriended O'Connell when she was a resident of a local nursing facility where Connors worked, bought items including a camera, computer and a cell phone using money from the woman's account. Connors also made numerous ATM withdrawals and large counter withdrawals from the bank, including $5,000 that she used to fix a roof, Hall said. He said Connors also withdrew $10,000 she said was to prepay for O'Connell's funeral. The prepayment was actually $7,110 and Hall said Connors never returned the remaining $2,890.

  • In all, Hall said Connors stole $160,468.93 in addition to the money never returned after paying for the funeral.

Source: Girardville woman waives hearing in elder abuse case.

Florida Man Faces Charges Of Swindling Elderly Dementia-Stricken Couple In Alleged Home Repair Ripoff

In Hernando County, Florida, the St. Petersburg Times reports:

  • A Spring Hill man has been accused of swindling an elderly couple suffering from Alzheimer's disease out of more than $1,000 for home repairs that he never did, according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. John Elmer Baker Jr., 34, was served with a warrant in Pasco on Monday and transported to the Hernando County Jail, where he was arrested Tuesday. He remained behind bars Wednesday in lieu of $10,000 bail. "Unfortunately, there are people out there who specifically prey on the elderly," said Lt. Cinda Moore, a spokeswoman for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.


  • Investigators determined that Baker "apparently realized the mental state of the (victims) and exploited this by returning several times and obtaining money under false pretenses" and that his "services were never needed but due to the mental deficiencies of the (victims) the suspect was allowed to complete work that he apparently solicited."

For more, see Man swindled elderly couple with Alzheimer's, Hernando authorities say.

Friday, January 15, 2010

San Francisco Court System Slammed For Judicial Bias Against Renters; Area Judges Refuse To Follow Laws Protecting Tenants, Advocate Says

Dean Preston, an attorney and director of Tenants Together, California’s Statewide Organization for Renters’ Rights, writes in BeyondChron:

  • As 2009 drew to a close, the Appellate Panel at SF Superior Court quietly upheld the eviction of long-term San Francisco resident, Susan Suval. Without any explanation, the court rubber-stamped the erroneous trial court ruling that allowed a landlord to invoke the Ellis Act(1) despite a written agreement with the City that he would do no such thing. The case stands as the latest example of judicial bias against renters in San Francisco’s Superior Courts. Despite its progressive political climate, San Francisco continues to be one of the worst places in California when it comes to judicial bias against tenants.

For more, see Judicial Bias Out of Control in SF Superior Court.

(1) The Ellis Act is a California state law that allows a landlord to boot a tenant against whom there may be no apparent reason for eviction if the landlord intends to move into and occupy the property.

Miami Foreclosure Actions Stall As Mediators Have Trouble Locating Delinquent Homeowners

In Miami, Florida, Miami Today reports:

  • Since Miami-Dade County launched a pilot program to mediate home foreclosures filed in the clogged court system seven months ago, about half the cases have stalled because mediators can't find borrowers. Of 14,000-plus foreclosures referred to mediation to seek agreement with a lender and avoid foreclosure in court, about 7,000 haven't advanced because mediators can't reach homebuyers. Sometimes the borrower has left the home or the address provided is wrong, said Rod Petrey, president of Collins Center for Public Policy, a non-profit running the pilot.

  • An area that needs work is definitely making sure lenders provide accurate contact information, Miami-Dade Civil Division Administrative Judge Jennifer Bailey says. Of the remaining cases, about 65% have reached workouts, Mr. Petrey said.

For more, see Miami-Dade foreclosure cases stall: 50% vanish.

Woman Returns To Previously-Vacated Home After Lender Abandons Foreclosure Suit; Seeks To Stop Demolition, Says City Failed To Serve Her With Notice

In Mansfield, Ohio, the Mansfield News Journal reports:

  • The City Planning Commission gave Tina L. Smith-Powell two weeks to explain how she'll manage to make $50,000 to $60,000 worth of repairs to a deteriorated house. Smith-Powell is appealing a demolition order on 152 W. First St.


  • Attorney Joe Olecki said Smith-Powell never received official notice of pending demolition, raising legal issues. "They (building and codes) were sending it to the mortgage company's address, and not to her," he said. [...] Building and codes manager Linda Price said the demolition notices were sent to the address listed on the county auditor's Web site -- which listed Smith-Powell's name, but an address for the mortgage company.

  • Smith-Powell said she moved out of the house after the mortgage company began foreclosing, believing she no longer owned it. The mortgage company later declared bankruptcy, abandoning the foreclosure action -- but she was not aware of that until October. [...] Commission members tabled making a decision on the appeal, saying Smith-Powell has many questions to answer. She was asked to return in two weeks with cost estimates for all repairs needed to bring the house to code, a plan for how she'd pay for or accomplish that, and a timeline.

For the story, see Woman tries to save her First Street home.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Active Duty Servicemembers Also Forced To Fight Sloppy Lenders & Landlords In Foreclosure, Eviction, Auto Repo Actions In Violation Of Federal Law

In Greenacres, Florida, the The Palm Beach Post reports:

  • It is one thing to worry about the safety of your spouse who is serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is another thing to be afraid that, while he or she is gone, the bank will take away your house and your loved one will have nowhere to come home to. Linda Kellam, 50, knows both those fears. Her husband, James, 49, is serving in Afghanistan with the 1218 Transportation Unit of the Army National Guard, which is based in West Palm Beach. By the time he was deployed July 8, they had both lost their jobs in layoffs and then the bank tried to foreclose on their Greenacres condo.


  • Elaine Martens, a Palm Beach Legal Aid Society attorney, works with the Armed Services Advocacy Project and with [non-profit] agencies [...]. Using the terms of the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act of 2004 Martens can, in many cases, fight foreclosures and evictions due to failure to pay rent, head off the repossession of vehicles or other goods bought in installments, and limit how much interest credit card issuers charge military families even on balances accrued before active service began.


  • Martens currently is fighting a local bank that foreclosed on a man while he was home after serving in Iraq and who is back in Iraq now. "One of the forms the bank has to file is an affidavit saying whether the owner is in the military," Martens said. "The affidavit the bank filed said this person wasn't in the military, but when he bought the house the proof of income he showed was a check stub from the military. Their claim that they didn't know his status is pretty far-fetched."

For the story, see Nonprofits work to spare deployed soldiers and their families from foreclosure.

Go here for other posts on the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act.

Media Spotlight, Police Report Alleging Theft By Deception Force Refund From Alleged Loan Mod Racket; Outfit Booted From NC, Now Operates In Georgia

In Decatur, Georgia, WGCL-TV reports:

  • An Atlanta woman who tried and failed to get her money back from a mortgage modification company got a different answer after filing a police report(1) and calling CBS Atlanta News. Latarese Johnson wanted her $60 deposit back from Loan Help Solutions in Decatur after discovering the company and its CEO Nathaniel Livingston had a shady past.


  • According the Better Business Bureau in North Carolina, Livingston's company, then called Mortgage Help Services, had 23 complaints lodged against it in 2009. In June of 2009, a North Carolina judge ordered Livingston to cease doing business. The North Carolina Attorney General's Office also asked to the court to permanently ban the company and order it to refund money to customers. Loan Help Solutions has been advertising in metro Atlanta for months.

For the story, see Woman Gets Money Back From Loan Company (Atlanta Woman Files Theft Charges Against Loan Company).

(1) Latarese Johnson filed a theft by deception complaint against the company last week with the Decatur Police Department, the story states.

More On Mortgage Lender's Employee Who Was Allegedly Fired For Speaking With Law Enforcement About Fraud-Laced Home Loan

In Denver, Colorado, another story on former Aurora Loan Services' quality control employee Michael Walker was published in The Denver Post:

  • His job was to uncover mortgage fraud. But he claims he was fired for doing it. In a lawsuit recently filed in Denver District Court, he claims Lehman's mortgage subsidiary wanted to remain profitably unaware of fraud.

  • Aurora Loan Services is a subsidiary of Aurora Bank FSB, a $4.7 billion savings and loan based in Wilmington, Del., that used to be called Lehman Brothers Bank. Aurora and its affiliates weren't part of Lehman's bankruptcy filing. But Aurora Loan Services made all kinds of exotic loans — Alt-A, Alt-B, subprime — for Lehman to wrap into securitized bundles. This contributed not only to Lehman's demise, but what almost became the next Great Depression, the lawsuit alleges.(1)

  • The case "is yet another example of a mortgage industry that believes it is above the law," said Walker's attorney, Mari Newman of Killmer Lane & Newman LLP in Denver. "Apparently, Aurora Loan Services was more interested in concealing potentially fraudulent loans than it was in allowing an honest and hardworking employee to respond to legitimate requests from federal law enforcement," she said.

For more, see Fired for doing his job, fraud finder sues.

(1) According to the story, Aurora made its loans through independent mortgage brokers, who often didn't have to meet any criteria to be brokers, not even criminal background checks in some cases. Inevitably, some percentage of the mortgage applications they took would be laced with fraud, the story states. But like everyone else, they reportedly got paid by loan volume, not by loan quality.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More On Questionable Short Sale Flipping

In Nashville, Tennessee, The Tennessean reports:

  • [S]ome short sale practices are controversial in an industry already battered by rising numbers of foreclosed or distressed properties, and a recent history of questionable mortgage practices. So, regulators and real estate brokers say homeowners must be alert to a slew of potential risks and consequences of a short sale.


  • For instance, some brokers or investors get distressed homeowners to give them a legal interest in the property with little or no compensation, via such documents as an option to purchase or power of attorney. The broker or investor then goes out and tries to find another buyer to flip the property to a new owner. In other words, the investor or broker buys it and then resells it quickly to someone else for a higher price, sometimes on the same day, pocketing the spread. That's all well and good if another buyer is found. If not, the flipper can just walk away and the home is foreclosed.

  • [Tennessee] State regulators and real estate brokers said that's all perfectly legal, as long as the practice is being properly disclosed to buyers and sellers. One of those doing it is Heather Benjamin, a broker for Reliant Realty in Hendersonville, who worked with Coldwell Banker Barnes a few years ago. Benjamin, a former model, said she got into the short sale business a few years ago as real estate sales lagged, her income fell, and her own home was foreclosed upon.

  • She said she discloses everything to homeowners, including the fact that she is planning to sell the home for a profit, and said the homeowners already are in a desperate situation and need someone with experience dealing with lenders. She said she offers them $10 to $100 for an option to purchase the property. [...] Benjamin said she wasn't getting rich off homeowners but did manage to buy a series of townhomes in Davidson County from an investor in December 2008 for $376,000 and sold them for $508,000 a few days later to another investor.(1)

For more, see Desperate homeowners turn to short sales to unload houses (Sales avoid foreclosure but can come with risk).

(1) Attorneys representing homeowners who, either knowingly or not, have had their properties flipped for profit by a real estate broker, agent or anyone else after receiving nominal or no consideration for the option to buy (or power of attorney or any other device) should take a close look at their state's real estate license law for a way to void the deal and recover, for the homeowner, the profit pocketed by the flipper.

For example, in Florida, the state real estate license law provides for a way to potentially undo such an arrangement for the homeowner and possibly recover, from the flipper, the derived profits (and without regard to any amount of disclosure given to the homeowner - interestingly, there are some people who think they can get away with anything and everything, as long as they "disclose" it). Chapter 475.43, Florida Statutes, provides:

  • In all criminal cases, contempt cases, and other cases filed pursuant to this chapter [ie. Chapter 475, Florida Statutes], if a party has sold, leased, or let real estate, the title to which was not in the party when it was offered for sale, lease, or letting, or such party has maintained an office bearing signs that real estate is for sale, lease, or rental thereat, or has advertised real estate for sale, lease, or rental, generally, or describing property, the title to which was not in such party at the time, it shall be a presumption that such party was acting or attempting to act as a real estate broker, and the burden of proof shall be upon him or her to show that he or she was not acting or attempting to act as a broker or sales associate.

  • All contracts, options, or other devices not based upon a substantial consideration, or that are otherwise employed to permit an unlicensed person to sell, lease, or let real estate, the beneficial title to which has not, in good faith, passed to such party for a substantial consideration, are hereby declared void and ineffective in all cases, suits, or proceedings had or taken under this chapter; however, this section shall not apply to irrevocable gifts, to unconditional contracts to purchase, or to options based upon a substantial consideration actually paid and not subject to any agreements to return or right of return reserved.

In the case involving a flipper who is not a Florida licensed real estate broker, and to whom is applicable the above referenced rebuttable "presumption that such party was acting or attempting to act as a real estate broker" in this type of arrangement, such flipper may be exposed to criminal liability for his/her actions, as set forth in Chapter 475.42(1)(a), Florida Statutes:

  • A person may not operate as a broker or sales associate without being the holder of a valid and current active license therefor. Any person who violates this paragraph commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083, or, if a corporation, as provided in s. 775.083.

As I read Ch. 475.43 and Ch. 474.42(1)(a), taken together, such a flipper in this case who lacks a Florida real estate broker's license may find him/herself in a position of being presumed guilty unless proven innocent of a third degree felony.

For those of you outside Florida, a careful review of your state's real estate license law should reveal whether you have a similar statute. (While I recognize that Florida, as a nationally recogonized "scam capital" may have a need for such a law, I find it hard to believe that it is the only state with such a statute. In addition, inasmuch as it appears to be well written, it wouldn't surprise me that this statute isn't the original work product of the Florida legislature, but rather, it may be an adaptation that's been patterned after the law of another state - possibly California).

Attorney Faces Charges Of Illegally Pocketing $85K In Proceeds From Client's Home Refinancing

In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports:

  • A Plum attorney is accused of taking about $85,000 from a client instead of depositing the money into the right account about four years ago. [Last week], Robert L. Williams, 47, [...] surrendered to Allegheny County detectives to face multiple charges of theft by deception and theft by failing to deposit a client's money as required.


  • According a detective's affidavit, Williams helped Alisha L. Branson to obtain a $197,000 mortgage to settle Branson's bankruptcy and improve a house that Branson would then rent out at a residence in Pittsburgh's East End. Prosecutors allege that Williams took about $85,300 from the money after the bankruptcy was settled.

For more, see Plum attorney to face theft charges.

Closing Agent Loses State License After Conviction For Forgery, Swindle; Admits Buying House With $300K+ Drawn From Title Company-Employer's Accounts

In St. Paul, Minnesota, the Minneapolis Star Tribune's The Whistleblower blog reports:

  • The Minnesota Department of Commerce revoked a Rosemount woman’s insurance license and notary commission and fined her $100,000 after she pleaded guilty to felony forgery and theft by swindle, according to an order signed Dec. 1. In May, Patrice Pouliot pleaded guilty to forging signatures on 38 checks while working for Title One, Inc., a title company. Pouliot deposited the checks, totaling $63,316.65, into her own bank account.

  • Prior to working for Title One, Pouliot worked for Midwest Guaranty Title Company. She admitted to buying a house during her employment there by falsifying closing documents and paying the seller $308,760 from Midwest Guaranty’s accounts, rather than using her own money.

  • Pouliot, 46, is currently serving a 17-month sentence at the women’s prison in Shakopee.

Source: Public record: Insurance license revoked after forgery and swindle.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Florida Title Agent Caves On Eve Of Trial; Cops Plea To $660K+ Swindle Of Clients' Real Estate Escrow Funds

In Lakeland, Florida, The Ledger reports:

  • A 31-year-old woman pleaded no contest [last] Monday to charges that she stole more than $660,000 while working as a Lakeland real estate title agent. [...] Daniels was the former owner of Independent Title Agency LLC in Lakeland.

  • She was arrested March 14, 2008, after an investigation concluded she took $660,786 set aside from clients to pay for title services. Daniels used some of the money to buy a BMW sedan, an in-ground swimming pool and a personal watercraft, according to an affidavit of Michael Hennessy, a detective with the Florida Department of Financial Services' Fraud Division.

  • Jury selection was to begin Monday in Daniels' case. Instead, she pleaded no contest to money-laundering, grand theft and three counts of misappropriating escrow funds.

Source: Lakeland Real Estate Title Agent Pleads No Contest to $660,000 Theft. EscrowRipOffKappa

Operators Of Section 1031 Qualified Intermediary Ripped Off Real Estate Investors' Escrow Deposits In $25M Ponzi Scheme, Say N. California Feds

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (San Jose, California):

  • John D. Terzakis, of Hinsdale, Ill., and Robert E. Estupinian, of San Jose, Calif., were arraigned [...] in federal court for 12 felony counts of wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, in an indictment that accused the pair of operating their company, Vesta Strategies, as a Ponzi-scheme, United States Attorney Joseph P. Russoniello announced.



  • The indictment alleges that Terzakis and Estupinian solicited and caused others to solicit prospective clients to deposit funds with Vesta based upon, among other false representations and promises, the promise that Vesta would hold those deposits and return them as promised. Instead, the defendants stole client funds for their own use, and also that they used new client deposits to pay redemptions owed to earlier clients.(2)

For the U.S. Attorney press release, see Owners Of Vesta Strategies Indicted For $25 Million Ponzi Scheme (Indictment alleges John Terzakis and Robert Estupinian Used Vesta to Steal Clients’ Section 1031 Exchange Deposits).

Go here for other posts on Section 1031 exchange ripoffs.

(1) According to the press release, a Section 1031 exchange generally allows taxpayers to avoid paying tax on capital gains by depositing the proceeds from an investment real estate sale, that would otherwise qualify as a taxable capital gain, with a qualified intermediary for up to 180 days. Under Section 1031, if the taxpayer purchases another investment property within those 180 days, the proceeds from the first sale may be rolled over into the new investment without being taxed as capital gains.

(2) This type of ripoff also triggers the Federal income tax liability that the real estate investors were looking to defer through this arrangement, leaving them in a bind if they lack other available sources of funds from which to pay the tax.

"Zombie Debt" Buyers Among Those Ordered By Feds To Turn Over Information About Business Practices

From the Federal Trade Commission:

  • The Federal Trade Commission has ordered the nation’s largest consumer debt buyers to turn over information about their practices in buying and collecting consumer debt, which the FTC intends to use for a study of the debt-buying industry. Consumers have reported that debt collectors frequently try to collect from the wrong consumers or the wrong amounts, or both. The FTC is seeking information to determine whether buyers of consumer debt are contributing to these problems.

  • The FTC sent the orders to nine companies that are in the business of buying consumer debts and then trying to collect on those debts, either on their own or by hiring debt collection firms. These nine companies collectively purchase about 75 percent of the debt sold in the United States.

  • Creditors often sell debt they have been unable to collect to companies known as debt buyers. When debts are sold, the buyers receive information about the debtor and the debt from the sellers. Debt buyers try to collect on the debt they purchase, and if they do not get paid, they often sell the debt to other debt buyers. Many debts are purchased and resold several times over a period of years before all collection efforts finally cease.

Source: FTC Orders Buyers of Consumer Debt to Submit Information for Study of Debt Buying Industry.

In related stories, see:

Go here and go here for more on zombie debt.

Maryland Couple Faces Foreclosure After Closing Agent Allegedly Fails To Pay Off Existing Mortgage In Home Refi; Others Find Themselves In Same Shoes

In Owings Mills, Maryland, WBAL-TV Channel 11 reports:

  • A local family who refinanced their home said they found out their original mortgage was never paid, and before they could get the problem resolved, the title company that did the leg work went out of business. According to state records, Maple Leaf Title Company had been in business since March 1999. But after August 2009, the company could not legally operate in Maryland because it did not renew its license.

  • "We get closer and closer to foreclosure, so it's stressful for us, because in a month we may have our house going up for auction," said Owings Mills resident Jim Wilkerson. The Wilkerson family recently received a notice to foreclose from a bank that they believed they had paid. This past summer, the couple refinanced their home and thought everything was fine until they started getting statements from two banks. They said they found it difficult to get answers.

  • "I think that's been the most shocking. When we refinanced, you never think you're putting everything at risk until that check makes it from the title company to your lender," Jen Wilkerson said.

  • The Wilkersons said they have plenty of questions for Maple Leaf Title, and so do other customers of the title company. All said they want to know what happened to the money that was supposed to pay off their original mortgages. The 11 News I-Team found Maple Leaf's offices closed and the phone disconnected. Company President Anthony Weis only told the I-Team to talk to his attorney, with whom reporter Barry Simms was not able to get in touch.

  • The I-Team discovered that a title insurance company is suing Maple Leaf. According to a civil lawsuit, Fidelity National Title Insurance asked Maple Leaf to terminate an agreement on Oct. 2, but then on Oct. 20, Fidelity National learned of a $600,000 misappropriation of funds by a former Maple Leaf employee. Maple Leaf took no action and did not report the theft to police, according to the lawsuit. On Oct. 21, Fidelity National discovered $3.3 million was missing from another escrow account.

  • The Maryland Insurance Administration regulates title companies and said it couldn't say if they were investigating the case. "I can't talk about our investigative activities. I can tell you that any consumers that have been harmed or fear they've been harmed, we urge them to contact us," said Maryland Insurance Commissioner Ralph Tyler. Tyler said in the past few years, his office has noticed an enormous increase in similar complaints of alleged theft of funds as the economy slowed.

Source: Family: Title Co. Never Paid Our Mortgage (Title Company Has Since Gone Out Of Business).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lenders' Failure To Comply With City's Foreclosure Mediation Ordinance Could Result In Broken Chain Of Title, Ownership Problem For Subsequent Buyers

In Providence, Rhode Island, The Providence Journal reports on a potential problem with the city's recently passed foreclosure mediation ordinance:

  • As it is written, the “foreclosure mediation ordinance” requires a meeting between lenders and homeowners prior to foreclosure. The goal of the meetings (moderated by an independent third party) is to modify a mortgage so that a homeowner can remain in his or her home.

  • Any lender failing to comply with the requirements would not be able to have a deed of ownership recorded by the city Recorder of Deeds, a step necessary to complete the foreclosure process. Mayor David N. Cicilline, whose administration developed the ordinance, says changes are being requested to address problems noted since the roll out of the new mandates in September.

  • One potential problem is the breaking of the chain of title if a bank or lender fails to comply with the ordinance. “Should the Recorder refuse to record the foreclosure deed, it would create a gap in the chain of title, which will affect the value of the property and create a problem for the purchaser,” according to a memo from the acting Recorder of Deeds, John A. Murphy.

For the story, see City seeks to add fine to foreclosure law.

Federal Judge Dismisses City Of Baltimore's "Ghetto Loans" Suit; Leaves Door Open For Amended Complaint

In Baltimore, Maryland, The Daily Record reports:

  • A federal judge has dismissed the city of Baltimore’s reverse-redlining lawsuit against Wells Fargo Bank and one of its units, giving it the option to narrow its complaint or appeal. Judge J. Frederick Motz said the city can tailor its claims to specific housing vacancies or their effect on a given neighborhood, if it can show a “plausible causal relationship” between the allegedly improper loans and the damages asserted.

  • It may be entirely reasonable to posit — as the city’s allegations amply support — that unscrupulous lenders took advantage of inner city residents living in a dysfunctional environment to induce them to make loans they could not afford,” Motz wrote in the opinion published Wednesday by the U.S. District Court. “It does not follow, however, that it is reasonable to infer — as the City argues — that the unscrupulous lenders themselves created the dysfunctional environment they exploited.”

  • Motz’s ruling is a mandate to “sharpen our pencils,” City Solicitor George A. Nilson said. He could not say immediately which course of action the city would pursue.

For more, see Judge dismisses Baltimore’s reverse redlining suit.

See also, The Baltimore Sun: City's Wells Fargo lawsuit dismissed (U.S. judge calls claims of millions in predatory lending damages 'not plausible').

For the court ruling, see Mayor And City Council Of Baltimore v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and Wells Fargo Financial Leasing, Inc.

Los Angeles Pair Sentenced For Filing Fraudulent Bankruptcy Petitions In Running "Fractional Interest" Deed Transfer Foreclosure Rescue Racket

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Topeka, Kansas):

  • Two Los Angeles men have been sentenced for running a scam in which homeowners who were behind on their mortgage payments paid them to hold off foreclosure by filing fraudulent bankruptcy petitions. U.S. Attorney Lanny Welch announced [...] that Isaac Yass, 43, a citizen of Israel who has been living in Los Angeles, Calif., and Andrew Blechman, 40, Culver City, Calif., were sentenced on January 4, 2010, in United States District Court, Topeka, Kansas. Yass was sentenced to 60 months and Blechman was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. A forfeiture order in the amount of $1,063,176.30 was entered against Yass and Blechman, jointly and severally.


  • During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Yass and Blechman conspired to operate a fraudulent service called Stopco claiming to be able to save homeowners who where behind on their mortgage payments from losing their homes.(1)

For the U.S. Attorney press release, see Los Angeles Men Sentenced For Filing False Claims In Kansas Bankruptcy Courts.

For a report issued by a California Federal Bankruptcy Court task force that details the types of foreclosure scams involving the abuse of the bankruptcy courts, see Final Report Of The Bankruptcy Foreclosure Scam Task Force (available online courtesy of the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review).

Go here for other posts on fractional interest deed transfer, foreclosure rescue bankruptcy scams.

(1) According to the press release, evidence at trial showed that:

  • Yass solicited homeowners who were going through foreclosure proceedings. He told them that for a fee he could help them keep their houses;
  • Yass and Blechman filed fraudulent bankruptcy petitions in federal bankruptcy courts in Topeka, Wichita, and Kansas City, Kan. The petitions were filed in the name of nonexistent individuals with businesses that claimed to be part-owners of properties that were in foreclosure;
  • The result was an automatic stay in the foreclosures, halting any further actions by creditors against the properties;
  • The petitions contained false names and Social Security numbers, and addresses for the creditors that were in fact mailboxes or UPS Store locations in Kansas.

Colorado Homeowner Demands Note, Alleges Fraud In Suit Seeking To Block Foreclosure

In Platt Park, Colorado, The Denver Daily News reports:

  • Platt Park resident Vicki Dillard is demanding that the bank that controls her mortgage “show me the note” if it wants to foreclose on her home. Dillard is joining a national movement in which homeowners are attempting to delay or block foreclosures by asking that banks produce the original mortgage note if they want to foreclose on a home. Because mortgages are sold and packaged into bonds many times over after a lender issues a mortgage note, many banks have been having trouble producing the original note.


  • She has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the foreclosure. In addition to her “show me the note” argument, Dillard also is arguing that her lenders violated federal regulations requiring them to be completely honest and disclose all terms and conditions of the mortgage agreements. The lenders have signed an affidavit of lost note acknowledging that they have lost the original mortgage documents, which Dillard believes will bolster her case.

  • But the law is vague when it comes to requiring banks to produce the note. It’s unclear whether in Colorado the “show me the note” argument is an acceptable defense. Mortgage counselors warn against the defense, instead counseling their clients to work with lenders to save their homes.

For more, see ‘Show me the note’ (Woman asks lenders to show original mortgage note in foreclosure).

Tensions Escalate As Mortgage Insurers Stiff Lenders On Policy Claims On Defaulted Home Loans Allegedly Originated Through Fraud

In San Francsico, California, Insurance Networking News reports:

  • Bank of America Corp.'s lawsuit against MGIC Investment Corp. reflects escalating tensions in the industry over mortgage insurers' denials of claims that lenders submit for defaulted home loans. In a complaint filed in the Superior Court of California for San Francisco, B of A alleged that MGIC is denying "millions of dollars in valid mortgage insurance claims" the lender has submitted. A spokeswoman for B of A would not elaborate on the dollar amount of claims in dispute.


  • B of A alleged that MGIC "has adopted unreasonable interpretations of its mortgage insurance policy language to justify its failure to pay claims" because of steep losses during the downturn. The Charlotte banking company asked the court to determine the appropriate interpretation of terms of its policies with MGIC. Among other things, B of A said, MGIC has improperly taken the position that the lender must prove it was not aware of an alleged borrower misrepresentation to avoid rescission of a policy.

For more, see B of A Suit Against Mortgage Insurer Shows Growing Rift.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

NYS Court System Institutes Volunteer Program To Attract Retired Attorneys In Effort To Reduce Lopsided Lawsuits Against Poor Defendants

The New York Times reports:

  • The recession has swelled the number of people showing up in New York State courts who cannot afford lawyers to 2.1 million annually, often turning eviction, foreclosure, debt collection and other civil cases into lopsided battles that raise questions about the fairness of the legal system.

  • In response, the state court system is beginning an unusual new program this week to try to fill the gap with volunteer retired lawyers, hoping partly to attract Baby Boomer lawyers who may be ready to slow down but are not keen on full-time golf.

  • New York’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, said in an interview that officials changed the state’s rules this week to add a new category of lawyer, attorney emeritus, that will free lawyers of some burdens of full-time practice, like paying for malpractice insurance, while channeling them to dozens of legal programs around the state that represent low-income people without charge. Until now, lawyers were required to register with the state as either active or retired.


  • In the New York program, lawyers over 55 who register in the attorney emeritus category will be trained and supervised in the work for low-income clients. [...] Bar associations and other groups around the country have worked for decades to increase lawyers’ volunteer efforts. Court officials said that at least six states, including Florida, Illinois and Nevada, have attorney emeritus programs like the one New York is adopting.

For more, see Courts Seek More Lawyers to Help the Poor.

Ex-Loss Mitigation Negotiator Cops Plea, Faces Up To 5 Years, $250K In Fines For Ripping Off Lender-Employer In Short Sale Scam

In Central Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports:

  • According to court documents, [former loss-mitigation negotiator with Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Richard] Nanan was part of a short-sale scheme with Victor Cedeno, a fellow Taylor, Bean & Whitaker employee. Nanan and Cedeno worked with real-estate agents, home buyers, title agents and lenders during short sales financed by Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, according to court documents.

  • Nanan negotiated and approved short sales of foreclosed homes owned by Taylor, Bean & Whitaker with mortgages for about 90 percent of the mortgaged value of properties, according to his plea agreement. Then, they falsely reported they approved the sales at about 80 percent of the mortgaged value, court records said.

  • Cedeno and Nanan intercepted the payoff checks, which were then fraudulently endorsed by Cedeno, Nanan's plea agreement said. Cedeno and his girlfriend, Genesis Valdez, would retain any amount from the closing in excess of that 80 percent, and paid Nanan for his role. Nanan, who pleaded to a conspiracy charge, spoke briefly during the hearing. He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Source: Two men plead guilty in mortgage fraud cases.

Register Of Deeds Implements New System To Alert Property Owners To Forged Deed, Real Estate Title-Hijacking Scams

In Grand Haven, Michigan, the Muskegon Chronicle reports:

  • The Ottawa County Register of Deeds office is encouraging everyone in the county who owns land to sign up for a simple program that might save property owners thousands of dollars and years of aggravation. The program, Property Fraud Alert, allows those registered to be notified every time a property with their name on it is registered with the county. “Most people don’t realize that property and mortgage fraud is the fastest growing white-collar crime in the country according to statistics provided by the FBI,” said Ottawa County Register of Deeds Gary Scholten. [...] “It’s like a smoke detector for your property,” Scholten said.


  • Scammers usually record a fraudulent quit-claim deed with a county register of deeds office, complete with the all of the legal transaction information and forged signatures and then let it sit for several weeks unbeknownst to the property owner. “Then, the scammers go to a local bank and apply for a mortgage for upgrades to the home and often walk away with $100,000 or more,” said Ernest Riggen, chief executive officer of the Fidlar Technologies.(1)

  • While the real owner of the property does not owe the money, the bank or mortgage company often comes after the homeowner and tries to collect the money the bank has now lost. It can cost the homeowner thousands of dollars to get the matter resolved. It is a lot like identity theft.” Often, Fidlar said, scammers hit the homes of “snowbirds” who are gone for months at a time and don’t know there is a problem until it is too late.

For the story, see Ottawa County launches new program for property owners (Electronic recording system one of three operating in Michigan counties).

(1) Even if cases like this result in successful criminal prosecutions against the scammers, the burden typically remains on the victimized property owner to file a civil lawsuit to establish that the forgery occurred in order to void or cancel both the illegal title transfer and any fraudulently-obtained mortgage scored by the scammer, thereby quieting the title to the property in the rightful owner's name.

Rhode Island Lawyer Suspended From Practice For Forging Client's Name On Satisfaction Of Mortgage & Failing To Pay Off Debt

In Providence, Rhode Island, The Providence Journal reports:

  • The state Supreme Court has barred Newport lawyer John T. Sheehan from practicing law indefinitely for violating a court order that he repay a loan to a former client. The court also suspended Sheehan’s law license for 42 months upon the resolution of that matter for a series of disciplinary infractions.


  • Sheehan asked client Mona Woo in 2006 to loan him $50,000, saying it would be secured by a mortgage on a Providence property. Sheehan executed a promissory note agreeing he would repay the loan, plus 12 percent interest, in monthly increments of $500. Sheehan also executed a mortgage deed in Woo’s name on the 61 Bergen St. property in Providence.

  • In September 2006, the owner of that property, Bergen 59 Associates, sold 61 Bergen St. Sheehan, at the time, was named as managing partner of Bergen 59 Associates. Sheehan provided the buyer’s lawyer with a “discharge of mortgage” purportedly signed by Woo that released her interest in the property. Woo did not sign the discharge, and Sheehan later admitted he signed her name without her knowledge or consent, the court said.(1)

For the story, see Newport lawyer barred from practicing law.

(1) Reportedly, Sheehan, said the court, violated court rules of conduct by not informing Woo to seek independent professional advice before loaning him money and by failing to get her consent before selling the property. In addition, he engaged in dishonest conduct by forging her name and falsely notarizing her forged signature, the story states.