Saturday, June 16, 2012

Dozens Of Bronx Tenants Get Temporary Boot On 2 Days Notice, Then Get Stiffed On 'Alternate-Digs' Hotel Cash After Fire Escape Removal Rehab Screw-Up

In The Bronx, New York, the New York Post reports:

  • They’re getting screwed again. Displaced Bronx residents whose fire escapes were mistakenly removed by construction workers say they’re receiving a paltry sum for alternate accommodations. “The money that they’re giving is for hotels for people living in the streets,” said Yadia Molina, 32, of the $120 per night she is being offered by the University Heights building’s owner, Goldfarb Properties.

  • I am paying a lot of rent here because I wanted my daughter to be in a safe place,” said Iliana Pena, 31, who has three daughters, one with severe asthma. “Now all of a sudden I have to pack and go to a motel where it smells like smoke and dust. It’s frustrating.”

  • The project’s engineer, Roland Draper, didn’t file the proper paperwork with the Department of Buildings, a DOB spokesman said. DOB is investigating Draper’s incorrect application, as well as the other 48 active projects where he’s involved. Draper did not return a call for comment. His state license was suspended for one month in 2005 after he was convicted of restraint of trade, records show.

  • On Monday, the nearly 200 residents of 2400 Webb Ave. were given 48 hours to find temporary digs after Colgate Restoration Corp. of Brooklyn, doing facade repairs, foolishly removed all fire escapes.

  • Some of the hotels available for $120 like the Concourse Hotel at $65 a bed a night are home to bedbugs, rats and malfunctioning toilets, according to online reviews.

Contractor To Stop Operating, Reimburse $160K To Settle Charges Of Pocketing Upfront Cash, Failing To Provide Full Services, Stiffing Subs & Suppliers

In Des Moines, Iowa, the Des Moines Register reports:

  • A West Des Moines business has been barred from future residential contracting and ordered to reimburse dozens of customers more than $160,000 after they complained that the owners failed to provide labor, materials and other services.

  • Iowa Attorney Tom Miller filed a lawsuit against IQ Renovation LLC and its owners Megan Troyer Marlow and Timothy Marlow, claiming they violated Iowa consumer fraud and door-to-door sales laws, Miller’s office said in a statement. Timothy Marlow also offered services under Energy Savers, the state said.

  • Miller’s lawsuit, resolved with a consent judgment, outlines several complaints, including that the company accepted advance payments without completing or even starting construction projects, and accepted payments from customers without paying subcontractors and suppliers, the state said.

Foreclosed Homeowner's Refusal To Leave Home Leads To Tear Gas, Gunfire Exchange With Cops

In St. Ann, Missouri, KMOX Radio 1120 AM reports:

  • St. Ann Police say they had to shoot a man who shot at them during a foreclosure eviction. St. Ann Police Chief Bob Schrader has known the man for years. The chief says the 51-year-old man was upset about losing his home to foreclosure.

  • He was just so stubborn about it and I told him what his options were and what was going to happen , he said I dont care I’m not coming out.” Chief Schrader told KMOX.

  • Schrader says after police fired tear gas into the house. The man fired shots out a window, out the back door as officers tried to get in..he then went back to the front. “He pointed the guns at me and my men and another officer saw it and took the shot” said Chief Schrader. The man was hit in an arm causing him to drop the gun and fall to the ground.

  • Schrader says the man’s mother had recently died and he’d been involved in a dispute with family members about the house. The man was being treated at a hospital.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Congressional Efforts To Bleed Non-Profit Law Firms Dry Continues, Leaving Poor With No Legal Help In Civil Matters

An excerpt from a column in Remapping Debate:

  • While the right of an indigent defendant to have counsel appointed for criminal cases is constitutionally-protected, there is no such right for lower-income people who need to bring or defend civil cases, leaving them with limited access to the justice system.

  • Congress, however, created the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in 1974 with the intention of providing high quality civil legal aid to poor and working class Americans — those in households at or below 125 percent of the poverty level (currently $27,938 for a family of four). And independent observers, including bar associations, sheriffs’ offices, and State Supreme Court justices, widely acknowledge that LSC-funded lawyers perform vital work for their clients.
  • Despite its achievements, conservatives have consistently targeted the LSC, attempting to strip it of resources, and, at times, to abolish it. This pressure began in earnest in 1981, just months after Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency. Until that year, the LSC’s budget had grown consistently. Reagan was unsuccessful in his attempt to shutter the LSC entirely, but he succeeded in cutting its budget by 25 percent. In the following decade, under House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Congress hit the program with even greater constraints. The LSC has been hamstrung by major budget cuts and service restrictions under both Democratic and Republican presidents ever since.

  • The push against the LSC continues. Just last month, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) proposed an amendment to the fiscal year 2013 House Appropriations Bill that would have ended all funding for the LSC. (The amendment failed, but garnered 122 votes.)

BofA, Fannie Give Homeowner In Process Of Moving From Foreclosed Home Abrupt Boot Anyway, Grabbing His Possessions & Sticking Them In Storage

In Boston, Massachusetts, the Jamaica Plain Gazette reports:

  • Ken Tilton was forcibly evicted from his Weld Avenue home on June 1 despite the fact he already was in the process of moving out. Tilton—the former owner of landmark JP businesses Zon’s restaurant and the novelty store Pluto—has been working with the local housing group City Life/Vida Urbana since Bank of America and Fannie Mae foreclosed on his house in 2009.

  • The eviction was not expected, as Tilton was already planning on moving to a new home, he said. Most of his belongings were already in boxes when the truck showed up and he planned to move the bulk of them to his new home the following day, June 2.

  • Fannie Mae, the owner of the loan, “didn’t give me a day. They didn’t give me an hour,” he told the Gazette as movers loaded the truck. City Life attorneys contacted the Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly known as Fannie Mae, to ask for a day’s delay but were denied, City Life Organizing Coordinator Steve Meachem told the Gazette. A Gazette email to Fannie Mae was not answered by press time.

  • Tilton’s belongings were taken by a court-ordered moving company to Extra Space Storage on Washington Street, a few minutes from Tilton’s house at 11 Weld Ave. He was not allowed to take the belongings to his new apartment.

Adult Daughter Files Suit To Recover 50% Interest In Deceased Dad's Home Improperly Conveyed By His Surviving Former Wife To Step-Brother

In Jefferson County, Texas, The Southeast Texas Record reports:

  • The only daughter of a deceased Beaumont man claims his former wife has wrongly conveyed her father's property to her son. Amy Murdock claims her dad, Gary W. Johns, owned a home on Fairfield Lane in Beaumont. Upon Gary Johns's death, he left Murdock a 50 percent undivided interest in the property and Shirley E. Johns the remaining interest in the property, according to the complaint filed May 15 in Jefferson County District Court.

  • Even though she owns only 50 percent of the property, Shirley Johns deeded 100 percent of the property to her son, defendant Jack Parham, the suit states.

  • "Despite several letters being sent to defendants in addition to phone conversations with defendants, defendants have failed and refused and continue to fail and refuse to rescind the deed and correct the transfer of ownership percentage," the complaint says.

  • Since then, Shirley Johns has moved to a nursing home and is no longer living at the property, Murdock claims. In her complaint, Murdock is seeking a declaratory judgment that Shirley Johns's deed to her son be rescinded and that he be given only a 50 percent undivided interest in the property. She also seeks a declaration that the property be sold, plus an award of costs, attorney's fees and other relief the court deems just.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rent Scams Promoted On Craigslist Creating Headaches For Home Sellers, Real Estate Agents

In Northwest Indiana, the The Times of Northwest Indiana reports:

  • A nationwide Craigslist rental scam has targeted some Northwest Indiana homeowners. A Lowell homeowner, whose house is listed for sale, reported to police June 1 that a neighbor saw the property fraudulently advertised for rent on Craigslist. The fraud perpetrator is enticing potential renters to send or wire deposit money.

  • The property owner’s real estate co-agent, Trinity McCormick, of Re/Max Integrity Group, said an unauthorized person copied the photos and information from the Greater Northwest Indiana Realtors Association multiple listing service website and then advertised it as a rental.

  • McCormick said this is not the first time she has encountered rental fraud. She said a three-bedroom Cedar Lake home, listed as renting for $1,175 per month was copied and advertised for $700 per month. McCormick said Craigslist immediately removed the false ads when notified.

  • GNIAR has been sending notices to its members warning of the scam. One Valparaiso home, priced for sale at $1.1 million, was fraudulently listed on Craigslist for rent at $800 per month including utilities. The seller was surprised by a “potential renter” who showed up at the home unannounced.

  • During the past two weeks, a client of Realtor Mitch Harris, of Coldwell Banker in Valparaiso, has "potential renters" showing up at her Portage Township home even talking to her children.

  • Harris has been inundated with calls from people seeing the fake ad listing the rent at $800 less per month than the actual amount. They call after driving by and seeing his name on the sign. Harris said the perpetrators claim to be the homeowners who are out of town and say they are firing their Realtor for doing a bad job. They ask to have deposit money wired and promise to mail the keys.

  • Harris had a similar problem with a Lakes of the Four Seasons last year. He said people were actually showing up and looking in the windows.

Law Firm/Bill Collector Fails To Track Payments Received, Refuses To Provide Account Statement, Decides To Sell Debt When Balance Nearly Fully Paid

In Elizabeth, New Jersey, The Star Ledger reports:

  • There was a judgment against [Jacqueline Halsey] for nonpayment of the credit card. The debt totaled $1,286.55, including interest and court fees. When Halsey called [debt collector/law firm Eichenbaum & Stylianou] to get more information, a rep asked if she wanted to pay off the debt, Halsey said.

  • I said no, that I didn’t have (the money) at this time. I asked if I could do a payment arrangement of $100 per month but I was told it would have to be more,” said Halsey, 54. “I was told they would have to take steps to get this paid off. I told them to do what they have to do since my amount was not acceptable.”

  • And it did. A lien was placed against Halsey’s bank account in January 2012. In the meantime, Halsey had started sending monthly $100 money order payments to the court. That apparently wasn’t enough. In March, Halsey’s paycheck was garnished $169.03, an amount that would be taken out every two weeks until the debt was satisfied.

  • But the recording of the debt was confusing. On each pay stub, it would indicate the amount being garnished and the remaining balance of the debt. But it didn’t add up, she said. The monthly $100 Halsey had started paying to the court was not reflected in the remaining balance.

  • Halsey said she called Eichenbaum & Stylianou several times in March, asking for an explanation. Halsey said she explained to a rep that the math was wrong when you added together the garnishments and the $100 monthly payments.

  • But it didn’t help. Halsey said the rep told her it had no record of the garnishments or of the money orders Halsey paid to the court, nor was an account statement offered. "(The rep) asked again if I wanted to pay off the balance,” she said. “I told her that her company was already being paid twice and that all I wanted at this point was a statement from Eichenbaum & Stylianou showing payments made and the balance due.” Halsey said she also reached out to the court, which told her to talk to Eichenbaum.

  • The weeks went by and the garnishments continued, but the balance shown on Halsey’s pay stubs remained incorrect. By the beginning of May, it was obvious to Halsey that the court and Eichenbaum still weren’t in sync. Halsey had paid $400 via money orders and $845 through garnishment for a total of $1,245, just $41 less than the total amount owed.

  • But her pay stub showed she still owed $457. “I’m happy to pay it, but I don’t want to overpay,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s fair, and I bet I’m not the only one.”

  • We reviewed the court documents, pay stubs and letters Halsey received from the court and from Eichenbaum. Then we called the debt collector.

  • We reached the rep Halsey talked to, and the rep said the company couldn’t discuss the debt because it’s being sold to a different company. It would be transferred sometime in the next few weeks, the rep said.

  • We asked if a current account statement could be accessed so Halsey could compare what she’s paid and what the firm has received. Nope. The rep said Halsey’s file couldn’t be accessed was because the debt is moving to another company. Has it moved yet? No.

  • So it would seem this company is collecting money on a debt but its employees can’t see how much it has collected to date.

Pair Face Multiple Felony Theft Charges In Alleged $76K Ripoff Targeting Wanna-Be Homebuyers With Offers To Sell Homes Recently Lost In Foreclosure

In Bryan, Texas, The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports:

  • A Bryan woman awaiting trial on multiple felony charges was arrested again Friday, accused of trying to bilk $76,050 from three couples who thought they were buying homes and later learned none were hers to sell.

  • Rose Rodriguez [...] was charged with four felony theft counts after an investigation by the Brazos County District Attorney’s Office. Her 50-year-old husband — Carlos Rodriguez — was charged with one related count of felony theft.

  • All three of the homes actually had been foreclosed upon: One had belonged to the Rodriguez couple, another to the husband’s relatives and the third to Rose Rodriguez’s mother. In all three schemes, the Rodriguez’s kept delaying in handing over keys to the homes, prompting each to investigate the situation themselves before heading to the police department, documents state.
  • Rose Rodriguez was charged with two counts and her husband with one count of theft between $20,000 and $100,000 — a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. She also is accused of two counts of theft between $1,500 and $20,000— a state-jail felony punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Another Force-Placed Insurance Screwing Over, Another Class Action-Seeking Suit By Victimized Homeowner Tagging Banksters For Dirty Deeds

In North Palm Beach, Florida, The Miami Herald reports:

  • Think your homeowners insurance is outrageous? Mark Kunzelmann likely has you beat. Kunzelmann, a 49-year-old network specialist, let the policy on his four-bedroom, North Palm Beach home lapse last year. It was a big mistake, he acknowledges.

  • But he can’t believe what the oversight (later remedied) cost him: $10,000 for just a few months worth of coverage. And he has his bank, Wells Fargo, and its insurance partner, Assurant, to thank.

  • As most homeowners are aware, if your property is financed, you have to have insurance to protect the lender. If a bank learns a mortgage holder is not covered, it is allowed to secure a policy and pass the charge on to the customer. In Kunzelmann’s case, Wells Fargo got him a policy that carried a startlingly high cost.

  • How high? Roughly $18,000 a year — of which, he says, the bank got an 11 percent commission. By comparison, Kunzelmann’s old policy, the one he let lapse, was costing him just $2,500. “It left a very bad taste in my mouth,” Kunzelmann said Wednesday. “I told them, ‘If you do this to me, I’m going to sue you and take my business elsewhere.’ ”

  • Kunzelmann has followed through on both threats. He recently refinanced his mortgage with another bank. And he has filed a federal lawsuit intended to recoup not just his lost funds, but also those of the thousands of fellow Wells Fargo customers who suffered the same fate.

  • Kunzelmann, with the help of consumer protection attorney Adam Moskowitz, has petitioned the court to broaden his complaint into a class-action suit against Wells Fargo, claiming the lender’s insurance rates have “driven many of their consumers into foreclosure, and saddled others with excessive debt from which they may never find relief.”

  • Kunzelmann’s suit says Wells Fargo received the same 11 percent commission from Assurant for every other force-placed policy the insurance company issued to the bank’s note holders. Wells Fargo has since stopped accepting those commissions, said bank spokesman Tom Goyda — but not before the bank collected $177 million in “pure profit” from Assurant on such transactions, the suit alleges.

  • Kunzelmann accused Wells Fargo of unjust enrichment, and is seeking damages — for himself and the “hundreds of thousands” who he says have been similarly fleeced. Assurant handles 80 percent of Wells Fargo’s force-placed policies, while QBE Insurance — a defendant named in another Moskowitz suit — issues the rest.

  • We allege that [these policies] are unjust, that they’re not in good faith, and that they’re deceptive,” Moskowitz said. “We’ve heard some really egregious stories.” [...] The suit is one of three similar actions filed by Moskowitz’s firm — Coral Gables-based Kozyak, Tropin & Throckmorton — against banks over lender-placed (or, as the suit calls it, force-placed) insurance policies, including one set for trial later this year.
For more, see Lender and insurer gouged me — and others — Florida homeowner says (A South Florida homeowner is suing, saying he and many others have been gouged by lenders working in cahoots with insurance companies to enact force-placed policies).

Antitrust Feds Continue Clean-Up In N. California Foreclosure Sale Bid-Rigging Scams As Two More Negotiate Pleas Before Charges Filed

From the U.S. Department of Justice:

  • Two Northern California real estate investors have agreed to plead guilty for their roles in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

  • Felony charges were filed [Thursday] in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland, Calif., against Douglas Ditmer of San Ramon, Calif. and Keith Slipper of Oakland.

  • To date, as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigation into bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, 24 individuals, including Ditmer and Slipper, have agreed to plead or have pleaded guilty.
  • According to court documents, Ditmer and Slipper participated in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud by agreeing to stop bidding or to refrain from bidding for properties at public foreclosure auctions in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, Calif., negotiating payoffs with other conspirators not to compete, purchasing selected properties at public auctions at suppressed prices, and participating in second, private auctions open only to members of the conspiracy, where the property was awarded to the conspirator who submitted the highest bid.
  • The department said that the primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and restrain competition in order to obtain selected real estate offered at Contra Costa and Alameda county public foreclosure auctions at non-competitive prices.

  • When real estate properties are sold at these auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with remaining proceeds, if any, paid to the homeowner. According to court documents, these conspirators paid and received money that otherwise would have gone to pay off the mortgage and other holders of debt secured by the properties, and, in some cases, the defaulting homeowner.

  • Each violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals. The maximum fine for the Sherman Act charges may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victim if either amount is greater than $1 million.
For the Justice Department press release, see Two Northern California Real Estate Investors Agree to Plead Guilty to Bid Rigging at Public Foreclosure Auctions (Investigation Has Yielded 24 Plea Agreements to Date).

magicJack A Handy Tool For Overseas Rent Scams & Other Ripoffs To Hide Behind Local Area Codes When Targeting Victims

In Hollywood, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:

  • Scammers from overseas could try to con you out of money using a new trick — calling from what you think is a local area code, prosecutors warn. It happened to Stuart Brisgel, 41, a financial adviser, who planned to sell his four-bedroom house in an upscale Hollywood neighborhood, when a scammer in Nigeria had plans of his own.

  • The scammer, possibly using legitimate information Brisgel posted online, was trying to rent the house for $800 a month to unsuspecting victims who didn't know the house wasn't actually for rent. Brisgel learned about the plan after a pregnant woman who had seen the rental posting on Craigslist came to check out the house and, perplexed by the "for sale" sign, called the real estate agent.

  • The scammer had set up a fake email address using Brisgel's name to correspond with potential victims. Using the IP address, Brisgel found out the scammer was in Nigeria. But the phone number provided had an Alabama area code.
  • Last winter, the attorney general in Mississippi warned consumers there about overseas fraud from callers in India using local area codes in attempts to extort money from Americans. And a woman in Santa Fe told police she had been swindled out of nearly $100,000 she had wired to someone in exchange for collecting millions of dollars in prizes that never came. The caller had a New Mexico area code but the calls originated from Jamaica.

  • In all of the cases, the callers were using magicJack, a telephone device made by a company with corporate headquarters in West Palm Beach. The device can be plugged into overseas phones so calls can be made using a U.S. area code. It is intended to allow somebody abroad — such as an American student in Europe — to make calls to the U.S. at a local rate.

  • When Brisgel searched the phone number with the Alabama area code on Google, he found an alarming post: "owner of this number is a scammer, cheat and a fraud — performing rental scams via Craigslist using this number!" A further Internet search revealed that the owner of that number was magicJack.
  • In the Mississippi case, a resident received a call from the 407 area code from someone who said he was a police officer in Orlando. He told the woman there was a warrant out for her arrest and she would be picked up the next day if she did not pay to settle the charge.

  • The call was really coming from India. At the request of the Mississippi Attorney General's Office, magicJack helped verify the scam and disconnected the phone number.

Indiana AG Continues With More Civil Suits Targeting Alleged Out-Of-State Loan Modification Rackets

From the Office of the Indiana Attorney General:

  • Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed five lawsuits on issues ranging from illegal foreclosure consultants to violations by local car dealerships [] in Lake County.
  • Foreclosure consultants First Financial Link, LLC and Josegan, Inc. both of Florida are accused of ripping off two Lake County victims for a total of $3,500.

  • According to the lawsuits, both businesses promised to reduce homeowners’ interest rates or monthly payments in exchange for an upfront fee. Consumers made payments ranging from $1,500 to $2,000 before realizing little or no progress had been made on their home loans.

  • The complaints allege the defendants violated the Credit Services Organization Act, the Mortgage Rescue Protection Fraud Act, the Home Loan Practices Act and Deceptive Consumer Sales Act (DCSA).

  • The companies did not register a $25,000 surety bond with the Attorney General’s Office to conduct business as foreclosure consultants in Indiana. The state seeks an injunction, restitution and civil penalties.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

'Clear & Convincing' Standard Of Proof Not Applicable When Only 'Preponderance' Of Evidence Is Needed By Homeowner In Evaluating '11th Hour' Allonge

An excerpt from a recent post in Naked Capitalism:

  • In a unanimous decision, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed a lower court decision on a foreclosure case, U.S. Bank v. Congress and remanded the case to trial court.
  • The [foreclosing bankster's] solution in the Congress case [in the trial court] appears to have been a practice that has since become troublingly become common: a fabricated allonge. An allonge is an attachment to a note that is so firmly affixed that it can’t travel separately.

  • The fact that a note was submitted to the court in the Congress case and an allonge that fixed all the problems appeared magically, on the eve of trial, looked highly sus. The allonge also contained signatures that looked less than legitimate: they were digitized (remember, signatures as supposed to be wet ink) and some were shrunk to fit signature lines.

  • These issues were raised at trial by Congress’s attorneys, but the fact that the magic allonge appeared the Thursday evening before Memorial Day weekend 2011 when the trial was set for Tuesday morning meant, among other things, that defense counsel was put on the back foot (for instance, how do you find and engage a signature expert on such short notice? Answer, you can’t).
  • The [Alabama appeals] court found that the [trial] judge put an improperly high burden of proof on Congress [in determining the validity of the allonge], applying a “clear and convincing evidence” standard.

  • The court said that was a misapplication of precedent based on cases dealing with recorded deeds. The document under dispute was an allonge to an unrecorded note. The appeals court found the evidentiary hurdle should instead be that of a preponderance of evidence.

  • In addition, the court also found that the lower court incorrectly focused on the issue of the validity of the signatures. The appeals court found that even though Congress seemed to be contesting the validity of the signatures (the appeals court notes the argument at points seemed to be a bit confused), her real bone of contention was that the allonge was bogus [...]
  • The fact that a higher court has finally decided to place the question of the legitimacy of suddenly-appearing allonges at the heart of a ruling is a welcome development.
For the ruling, see Congress v. U.S. Bank. N.A., No. 2100934 (Ala. Civ. App. June 8, 2012).

Loan Mod Fraud, Use Of Forged 'Conditional Approval' Letters In Phony Refi Offers Among Accusations That Bag Five; One Cops Plea, Gets Year In Jail

In Orange County, California, the Orange County Register reports:

  • Andrew Michael Phalen was sentenced [] to a year in jail and five years of formal probation [] for his role in a scam that offered home loan modification assistance to struggling mortgage holders across the country.

  • But four of the Mission Viejo 25-year-old's cohorts are looking at much more serious prison time for the scheme that relied on letters forged with CitiFinancial or CitiMortgage logos. Phalen's co-defendants are: Jacob John Cunningham, 25, of Irvine; Justin Dennis Koelle, 22, of Costa Mesa; Dominic Adam Nolan, 31, of Irvine; and John D. Silva, 27, of Irvine.
  • All five allegedly sent promotional letters to people throughout the U.S. with offers to restructure their home loans, with references to the individual homeowner's specific lender and principal balance. Those who signed on were charged upfront fees for loan modification services, despite California having outlawed such charges on Oct. 11, 2009.

  • Those who called a number on the letter were told they could get a complete refund of the fee if their loan was not modified, something that was unlikely, or so it seemed, because the company boasted a 95 to 100 percent success rate.

  • But Phalen pleaded guilty to, and the others are accused of, taking the money people paid without securing loan modifications, and of failing to return or refund the fees.To hide the thefts, company names, addresses and phone numbers constantly changed.

  • By late December 2011, more than 100 victims from California and other states had submitted complaints against the companies to various law enforcement agencies and better business bureaus, according to an OCDA statement.

  • It was then that Cunningham, Nolan and Silva are accused of launching a new fraud. Forged "Conditional Approval" letters with CitiFinancial or CitiMortgage logos in the letterhead were sent to distressed homeowners offered interest rates of 2.8 percent or lower to refinance their loans. "Escrow Instructions" attached to the letters directed the homeowner to deposit between $3,500 and $4,600 directly into the bank accounts of the accused.
For the Orange County District Attorney press release, see Man Sentenced For Defrauding Hundreds Of Victims In Real Estate Loan Modification Scam (Hundreds of fake letters with CitiFinancial or CitiMortgage logos sent as part of scam).

Fresno Feds Pinch Pair For Allegedly Running Loan Mod, Debt Consolidation Racket; Suspects Accused Of Using India Call Center When Targeting Victims

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

  • On May 31, 2012, a federal grand jury returned a 46-count indictment charging Sharanjit Kaur, 36, and Baljit Singh, 47, both of Fresno, Calif., with conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and international money laundering, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced following the defendants’ arrests [] in Fresno.

  • The indictment alleges that between July 2010 and June 2011, Kaur and Singh owned and operated several companies based in Fresno, Calif. for the sole purpose of defrauding hundreds of customers throughout the United States. Kaur and Singh touted to potential customers that their businesses, Consumer Financial Services, Consumer Credit Repair, and Client Financial Services, could provide debt consolidation services.

    They also falsely promised that they could renegotiate debts with creditors and mortgage lenders, obtain low-interest loans for customers, assist in avoiding lawsuits, lower car payments, replace high-interest credit cards with low-interest ones, and correct errors in credit reports. Kaur and Singh used a call center in India whose employees would call customers using aliases such as “Neil McKenzie” or “Anthony Jones.”

  • The indictment alleges that after luring customers into using these purported services, Kaur, Singh, and their agents instructed customers to send in monthly payments of $500 or more. Even though they collected regular payments from customers, the defendants did not contact creditors on behalf of customers. Nor were customers informed that the defendants were not in fact providing the promised debt renegotiation services.

  • To mislead customers as to the status of their debts, the defendants sent fake letters from creditors indicating that the customers’ loan modifications had been approved. When customers would contact the defendants’ companies about late-payment or default notices they had received from their creditors, the defendants and their agents would either hang up on customers or request that customers continue to make service payments to the defendants.

  • Customers sent over $400,000 in payments to the defendants. According to the indictment, Kaur and Singh used the funds received from customers for their own benefit. Kaur and Singh also wired a portion of the funds to an individual in Kolkata, India.

Real State Operator Accused Of Using Phony Mortgage Assignments In $1M+ Distressed Loan Investment Ripoff; Prosecution Limited By Expiring Statute

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:

  • A Cooper City man is being accused of defrauding a West Boynton investor of more than $1,000,000 in a distressed mortgage sham, according to a Broward Sheriff's Office report. Richard Brett Meyer, 53, was charged with grand theft over $100,000 and sale of security; he was released on $11,000 bond [].

  • The investor, Allen Pinkwasser, reported to the Sheriff's Office that, starting several years ago, he entered into an agreement with Meyers to purchase foreclosed mortgages that promised an 18 percent return. Meyers was to purchase the mortgages using his company, Rockland Trust, Inc.

  • Pinkwasser provided funds for 24 properties, but subsequently got nothing in return, according to the report. Due to the statute of limitations, only seven of Pinkwasser's payments can be considered for prosecution. Properties were located in Coral Springs, Deerfield Beach, Wilton Manors, Hollywood and West Palm Beach.

  • According to the arrest report, Meyers would present Pinkwasser with an attorney's title fund insurance policy and a fictitious assignment of mortgage.

Another Homeowner Falls Victim To Illegal Foreclosure Lockout; Chase, LPS Yet To Explain Why They Chaged Locks On Wrong Premises

In St. Augustine, Florida, First Coast News reports:

  • John Delaney of St. Augustine is bewildered, wondering why a mortgage company not his own changed the locks on his home without his knowledge. John Delaney drove in from Chicago Wednesday night and went to open the door of his second home condo in St. Augustine. The key didn't work. He got in through the back screen door, which fortunately in this case he had forgotten to lock.

  • "I discover there is this sticker here saying that the locks were changed at the request of my mortgage company, I couldn't figure out why, I am current on my mortgage."

  • Delaney spent 5 hours on the phone with LPS Field Services which changed the locks at the request of Chase Financial. But Chase is not his mortgage company. "I was a little uncomfortable that people have been in my house. I don't know what is going on. Everything is clean so I don't know if people have been using this house for something or what."

  • LPS Field Services did have the locks changed again the next day. "But I got no explanation from Chase or LPS other than it was a mistake. I'd like to have someone from Chase give me an explanation of why this happened or how it could happen because they could do it to anybody."

  • First Coast News contacted Chase and LPS and we are still waiting for an explanation as to why it happened. Michelle Kersch of LPS did send us an email saying, " We pledge to get to the bottom of this matter as soon as possible- and understand just how important it is." FCN reached Chase Financial but have not heard back from them. Delaney did file a police report with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office.

  • Local real estate attorney Daniel Copeland says he's not seen any similar cases. He believes Delaney will find out in his case, the companies involved just went to the wrong condo.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Recent Federal Case Creates Uncertainty In Arkansas Foreclosures

In Jonesboro, Arkansas, The City Wire reports:

  • A May 11 ruling from U.S. District Court Judge J. Leon Holmes is expected to unplug a bottleneck of foreclosure filings that began in the fall of 2011 when a bankruptcy court ruling essentially halted the sale of foreclosed homes.
  • In a Sept. 29 decision involving a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case in the Eastern District of Arkansas, Jonesboro Division, the court held that a lender not authorized to do business in the state of Arkansas was not in compliance with the state’s non-judicial foreclosure laws.
  • That case, In Re Johnson, concerned objections filed by J.P. Morgan Chase Bank and the related Chase Home Finance regarding the confirmation of three Chapter 13 plans for debtors who had lost their homes to the lenders through non-judicial foreclosure proceedings.
  • Arkansas’ Statutory Foreclosure Act was first approved in 1987. In 2003, the Arkansas Legislature added the following language: “No person, firm, company, association, fiduciary, or partnership, either domestic or foreign, shall avail themselves of the procedures under this chapter unless authorized to do business in this state.”
  • Judge Holmes rejected the notion that JPMorgan was out of compliance simply because it was not an Arkansas-based company. “A national bank chartered by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is authorized to do business within Arkansas, which is all that is required by Ark. Code Ann.18-50-117. Therefore, as a national banking association, JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., was authorized to avail itself of the Arkansas Statutory Foreclosure Act,” Holmes noted in his ruling.
  • He also said Arkansas law was never written to imply exclusion. “Had the General Assembly intended to require that an entity obtain a certificate of authority from the Arkansas Secretary of State, the Arkansas Bank Commissioner, or some other state office, as a prerequisite to performing nonjudicial foreclosures, the Statutory Foreclosure Act would have said so,” Holmes ruled.(1)
For Judge Holmes' ruling, see JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Johnson, No. 3:11CV00249 JLH (E.D. Ark. (May 11, 2012).

Thanks to Deontos for the heads-up on the story.

(1) Except for the actual litigants involved, unless and until this or a similar Arkansas case is referred out of the federal court system and to the Arkansas Supreme Court for a final adjudication, the legal issues involved in this case will never ultimately be resolved in Arkansas (and, contrary to The City Wire's headline, the foreclosure bottleneck will not be opened - unless, of course, the title insurance underwriters decide to proceed recklessly, anyway).

Under federal law, based on the so-called Erie Doctrine (see Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 82 L. Ed. 1188, 58 S. Ct. 817 (1938), and the 'handful' of cases thereunder), federal court rulings implicating issues of state substantive (as opposed to procedural) law do not necessarily constitute binding precedent on state or federal courts in subsequent similar cases. The final authority on issues of substantive state law, as the U.S. Supreme Court has reminded us a numerous occasions, is the highest court of the state, regardless of whether the federal court's jurisdiction in a particular case is based on diversity jurisdiction, or not (as is the case here).

  • "This is not a diversity case but the same principle may be applied for the same reasons, viz., the underlying substantive rule involved is based on state law and the State's highest court is the best authority on its own law." Commissioner v. Estate of Bosch, 387 U.S. 456 (1967).

Iowa Couple's Legitimate Move To Score 'Free House' Through Homestead Exemption Claim May Be Sunk After Feds Bring Charges For Alleged Mortgage Fraud

In Des Moines, Iowa, the Des Moines Register reports:

  • An Ankeny couple were engaged in bank fraud when they exploited an 1888 loophole in mortgage law to obtain a free house, part of a scheme that also involved a Des Moines police officer and his wife, according to a 26-page federal indictment unsealed Friday afternoon.

  • The 13-count indictment alleges that Jamie Bowers-Danielson, her husband Matthew Danielson, Bobbi Jo Wojewoda, and her husband, Des Moines police Lt. Wade Wojewoda, were part of a nearly four-year conspiracy of lying to banks and falsifying documents to get loans approved.
  • The Danielsons gained public attention last year when they used a century-old banking technicality to escape payments on a $278,000 home [...] in Ankeny. The couple persuaded Iowa appellate courts to void a foreclosure proceeding based on the fact that Iowa law requires both spouses to sign a mortgage.
For the Iowa appeals court ruling that allowed the homeowners to score a 'free house' in the first place, see Citimortgage, Inc. v. Danielson, 771 N.W.2d 653, 2009 Iowa App. LEXIS 1071 (Iowa Ct. App., 2009)

Supreme Court OKs 'Un-Split' Bogus Loan Fees Under RESPA; Opens Door For Expected Fee-Clipping Barrage Of Real Estate Closing 'Junk' Charges

Real estate columnist Kenneth Harney writes (appearing in The Washington Post):

  • In a decision that could have significant effects on the fees that consumers pay in real estate transactions, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “unearnedfees charged by lenders and other service providers do not violate federal law as long as they are not split with anyone else.

  • The court’s unanimous decision effectively reopens the door to controversialadministrativefees levied by real estate brokers, and could encourage the marking-up of fees by mortgage lenders, settlement agents and others, a practice that had been banned by federal regulators for the past decade.

  • The ruling also represents a stinging defeat for the Obama administration’s departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development — both of which had argued that charging unearned fees is illegal — and may be a shot across the bow of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has inherited the task of policing mortgage and settlement abuses from HUD.

  • The decision, handed down May 24, involved customers of Quicken Loans, the online mortgage company, who alleged that Quicken charged them “discount” fees but did not provide them lower interest rates on their mortgages, as is customary.

  • Each “point” in a loan discount fee is equal to 1 percent of the mortgage amount. The failure to provide a lower rate, the plaintiffs claimed, meant that Quicken pocketed their fees without providing anything commensurate in return, which is a violation of the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA).
See also:
For the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, see Freeman v. Quicken Loans, No. 10-1042 (May 24, 2012).

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Serial Squatter Turns Down $4K Cash For Keys Offer, Then Gets Pinched With 11 Felony Charges In Adverse Possession Vacant Home-Hijacking Racket

In Detroit, Michigan, The Detroit News reports:

  • Nine years ago, the six-bedroom, brick and stone Tudor Revival in the city's Palmer Woods neighborhood sold for almost $480,000. So neighbors got suspicious when its new occupant pulled up in a U-Haul last fall and used garbage bags to block the windows of the 4,400-square-foot house.

  • Thus began an elaborate cat-and-mouse game between some of the city's most elite residents — including judges and lawyers — and a man prosecutors allege is a serial squatter. For eight months, residents badgered a bank that owned the foreclosed home, persuaded utilities to shut off power, blocked the driveway with large rocks and put glue in the front door lock to keep the squatter out.

  • "The judges were calling here trying to see what we could do," said Anthony Cartwright, a broker whose firm, North American Real Estate, markets the home for Fannie Mae. "I said, 'You're a judge.'"

  • Residents won last week when prosecutors charged Clarence Boykin Jr., 53, with 11 felonies accusing him of filing false ownership paperwork on three houses, including two in Palmer Woods. A not-guilty plea was entered on his behalf Tuesday at Wayne County Circuit Court and he remains jailed.

  • Experts say the battle demonstrates the severity of the squatting problem in foreclosure-ravaged Detroit and the lengths homeowners must go to oust illegal occupants. [...] Even Detroit's finest neighborhoods aren't immune, and the odds are stacked against neighbors.

  • Fannie Mae couldn't evict Boykin from the six-bedroom house because the foreclosure was recent. By law, owners have six months to reclaim foreclosed property. And Boykin filed paperwork claiming it was his, Cartwright said.

  • Cartwright's firm even offered the squatter $4,000 to leave for "relocation assistance." He refused. "He (Boykin) said he was going to court to get the property," Cartwright said. "There's always a loophole, which he followed."

Mrtg. Fraud 'Small Fries' The Preferred 'Low-Hanging Fruit' For Cherry-Picking Prosecutors; White Shoe Lawyer-Defended Banksters Continue On Free Ride

An excerpt from a recent commentary by David Dayen on Firedoglake:

  • Joe Nocera returns to the story of Charlie Engle today. Engle is a marathoner who participated in a liar loan during the housing bubble. The IRS – really one vindictive agent of the IRS – tracked him down, searched through his garbage, sent an undercover agent with a wire to get him to admit guilt, and coming up empty on any tax violations, prosecuted him for the liar loans.

  • It turned out that the mortgage broker inflated his income on the loan document after the fact. But Charlie Engle, not the broker, was prosecuted, and sent to jail. He gets out this week, still burdened with a felony record and five years of probation.

  • Nocera makes a very provocative but accurate point about how the Justice Department has conducted itself during the aftermath of the financial crisis. It’s not just about avoiding any prosecutions for the top Wall Street executives whose fraud led to the crisis; it’s about making up for that through prosecutions of the bit players [...]
  • Just this week, Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a tiny bank catering to the Chinese community in New York City, was charged with mortgage fraud, with 19 of its former employees put under arrest.

  • The suit charges Abacus with selling loans to Fannie Mae with false information. However, “nearly all of the Abacus loans were still performing,” according to the indictment. This contrasts with the millions of loans that went bad when big banks engaged in the same exact scheme, selling securities based on loans without revealing their underlying status.

  • Also this week, the SEC admitted that they would rather go after smaller firms for paperwork violations than the JPMorgan Chases or Bank of Americas of the world for the systemic violations of securities laws.
See also:

Fourteen Cop Pleas In Conspiracy To Wrestle Control Of Nearly A Dozen HOAs; Racket Sought Influence To Land Lucrative Contracts From Associations

In Las Vegas, Nevada, the Las Vegas Review Journal reports:

  • Fourteen more defendants pleaded guilty Thursday in the sweeping investigation into fraud and corruption at Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations. It was one of the largest group plea deals ever engineered in Nevada by federal prosecutors. Yet the prosecutors made it clear in court they're not yet done.

  • Halfway into the group plea of the 14 defendants, Charles La Bella, a deputy chief of the Justice Department's Washington-based Fraud Section, told U.S. District Judge James Mahan that he planned to continue presenting evidence this summer to a federal grand jury. The goal is to obtain indictments against still more defendants, La Bella said.

  • Prosecutors are looking to charge as many as a dozen more co-conspirators in the scheme to take control of nearly a dozen homeowners associations between 2003 and 2009.

  • More than $8 million was funneled through secret bank accounts to fund the scheme, which allowed the conspirators to land lucrative legal, construction and community management contracts at the associations, prosecutors revealed in court documents Thursday.