Monday, November 28, 2011

F'closure Mill A Subtle Surplus Snatcher? Suits Say Outfit Failed To Cough Up Overage From Forced Sales; Agrees To Fork Over Loot After Media Inquiry

In Brooklyn, New York, the New York Post reports:

  • What’s in this law firm’s wallet? New York state’s beleaguered, largest foreclosure law firm -- which [] announced plans to shut down in the face of a firestorm of legal action -- has allegedly failed to turn over about $130,000 owed to three people whose co-ops were foreclosed on, and could be sitting on millions of dollars of hundreds of other people's money without those people knowing, The Post has learned.

  • Steven J. Baum P.C.'s move to shutter came a week after it was made ineligible to get new referrals on any Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgages -- essentially a death knell for the controversial firm. The two federally backed mortgage giants moved in the face of numerous complaints about questionable legal filings by Baum.

  • On Friday, a Brooklyn lawyer sued Baum claiming that the firm repeatedly ignored his attempts to obtain about $130,000 for three people whose co-ops were foreclosed on and later sold off in Baum-supervised auctions.

  • The lawyer, Andrew Tilem, said that given Baum's vast foreclosure business there could actually be “millions of dollars” more being withheld from hundreds of others. “I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” said Tilem, who filed the three suits in Brooklyn Supreme Court on behalf of the three former co-op owners Friday after his phone calls and letters to Baum went unanswered for months.

  • Tilem insisted that he already knows of about a dozen other people who are each owed between $2,000 and $100,000 by Baum’s firm, which handled the sales of their foreclosed co-ops on behalf of lenders. The money was left over after payments to the mortgage holder, maintenance fees and other costs. Baum already is under investigation by the New York Attorney General's Office for foreclosure work unrelated to the money allegedly being withheld from foreclosed co-op owners.

  • There’s nobody you can trust anymore. It’s disappointing,” said retiree Richard Adler, 69, one of Tilem’s clients who is suing. Richard Adler said he is owed about $80,000 from Baum for the February 2010 sale of his foreclosed Queens apartment. “I could use the money because I have a lot of expenses. My wife has liver cancer. You know how much that costs, all the medicines and everything?” he said.

  • Another Tilem client, guitar-store worker Eugene Glebas, 63, of Manhattan said he is suing Baum to reclaim the $45,000 he’s allegedly owed from the 2007 sale of his foreclosed co-op. “I don’t understand how somebody lets [Baum] hold my money,” he said.

  • Last month, the firm, without admitting wrongdoing, agreed to pay $2 million to the federal government to settle the Manhattan US Attorney’s investigation into its alleged misleading documentation in foreclosures. The US Justice Dept. put the firm under monitorship and supervision under the settlement.

  • In the past two weeks, federally backed lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also banned Baum’s firm from getting any new foreclosure or other legal business from banks that service their mortgages.

  • When notified Friday by The Post of Tilem’s claims, Baum within hours agreed to pay his clients, asked him not to file the suits and wrote that they “apologize for the delayed response.”

  • A company spokesman noted that the regulation that controls how co-ops are foreclosed “does not address how surplus monies — money left over after the sale of a unit — should be handled. “The firm places such surplus funds in its [trust account]. Upon appropriate demand, the funds are released,” the company said. “The firm’s operating procedures in these matters are proper.”

  • But when asked how much total money was in such accounts, the company replied,, “We cannot provide a total amount because that account is used for other things such as deposits on contracts and other matters.”

  • A spokesman for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — asked of the AG was aware of Baum potentially holding huge amounts of money from foreclosed co-ops — said, "While we cannot comment on ongoing investigations [Schneiderman] will continue to bring accountability to the firms responsible for the mortgage crisis, and put an end to the abusive foreclosure practices that have devastated families across the state."

For the story, see Foreclosure mill law firm Steven J. Baum P.C. shuts down.

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