Saturday, December 29, 2012

Watch Out For Those Government Logos On Solicitations Peddling Foreclosure Help

ConsumerAffairs reports:

  • You've seen the Internet ads. They feature President Obama's smiling face or the seal of a federal agency, suggesting the company making the offer has official sanction.

    They don't, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is urging consumers not to fall for this blatant scam.

    “No, really. Just because something has a government logo on it doesn’t mean that it’s legitimate,” the agency warns on its website.

    As a case in point, the CFPB points to enforcement action is has launched against two mortgage modification operations it accuses of ripping off struggling homeowners. The Websites, emails and other promotional materials bear government agency logos, letterhead or other markings that could mislead a consumer into thinking these services are associated with government agencies.

    The government claims these two companies took in more than $10 million by charging consumers for services that falsely promised to prevent foreclosures or renegotiate troubled mortgages.
For more, see Why you should be suspicious of government logos (Pretending to be government-sanctioned is a scammer's favorite ruse).

Russian Immigrant's 'Shtetl' Defense Mitigates Jail Time For Self-Made Millionairess Bagged For Pocketing $77K+ In Federal Low-Income Rent Subsidies; Agreed To Serve 1+ Year, Only Gets 2 Months

In New York City, the New York Post reports:

  • She’s headed for a different kind of public housing now.

    A self-made millionairess was sentenced to two months in the slammer [] for scamming nearly $80,000 in rent subsidies by illegally leasing a taxpayer-subsidized apartment after striking it rich in real estate.

    Russian immigrant Nataliya Dyakovskaya, 65, had agreed to serve more than a year behind bars in a plea deal with the feds, but caught a big break after her lawyer blamed her “crazy” crime on a “shtetl mentality,” using the Yiddish word for the former Jewish villages of Eastern Europe.

    “She has always believed that, notwithstanding her good luck and her success, she was afraid, and still is, that everything could disappear in a day,” defense lawyer Steven Kartagener said.

    Prosecutor Tatiana Martins countered by calling Dyakovskaya’s 14-year scheme “really egregious,” noting that 163,000 families are on a waiting list for the kind of low-income apartment she had in the Vladeck Houses on the Lower East Side.

    “Every time she sat down and took out the [qualification] form and put her name on the form, she knew she was ripping off the US government,” Martins said.

    Judge Alvin Hellerstein rejected Dyakovskaya’s bid for no jail time, saying: “What she did was reprehensible.”

    But Hellerstein also called her a “good person” who did “good things” for her friends and family, and noted that immigrants often fail to appreciate that “what was OK in a different society” isn’t acceptable here.

    In addition to the jail time, Hellerstein gave Dyakovskaya six months’ house arrest, fined her $25,000 and ordered her to pay more than $77,000 in restitution to the Housing Authority.
Source: Rental Yentl (Yiddish plea can’t save apt. cheat).

Minnesota Lets Robosigning Zombie Debt Buyer Off With Hand Slap; Consent Order Requires Outfit To Do What It Should Have Already Been Doing Anyway When Clipping Consumers For Unpaid Bills

From the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General:

  • Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson [] announced a Consent Judgment with Midland Funding, LLC, one of the country’s largest debt buyers and which has offices in St. Cloud, to settle a lawsuit she filed against the company last year for filing unreliable “robo-signed” affidavits in collections lawsuits and sometimes targeting the wrong people for payment of old bills that it purchased from credit card companies and banks for pennies on the dollar.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Litigating Miami-Dade Foreclosures Becomes A Joke As Judges Begin Bulldozing Cases Through System, Steamrolling Homeowners In The Process

In Miami, Florida, The Miami Herald reports:

  • Miami-Dade Circuit Court — choked with foreclosure cases, many dating to 2009 — has gotten tough on pushing cases through the system.

    Five months into a state-funded project, Florida’s busiest circuit court is conducting hundreds of foreclosure trials a week.

    With $626,000 in special funds for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2013, the court has added two senior judge slots and a staff of case managers to help clear a backlog of some 53,668 foreclosure cases.

    “It’s a rocket docket,” said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jon Gordon, a senior judge who is churning through about 50 trials a day.
  • Most trials are short and simple. Judges can plow through a one-witness foreclosure case in 15 minutes if it isn’t contested, the judge said. Contested cases with two witnesses can take a couple of hours.

    Attorneys, especially defense attorneys, don’t like the court’s tough line.

    Bruce Jacobs, a Miami attorney who specializes in foreclosure defense work and hosts a weekly radio program called Mortgage Wars on WZAB-AM 880 in Miami, said the court’s efforts are well intended but can hamper the defense’s ability to challenge a bank’s evidence that it is entitled to foreclose.

    Jacobs said he has shown up in court objecting that lenders have refused to provide documents he requested to prepare a defense until the day of trial. “They haven’t provided me anything, and the judge sends me outside the courtroom to look at them and then it’s, ‘Let’s go to trial,’ ” he said, expressing frustration at being asked to speed-read important documents.

    Jacobs said under the law, it isn’t enough for a lender to show that a homeowner hasn’t paid a loan; the lender must prove it has the right to foreclose. That often can be dicey when mortgage loans have been packaged into securities and are being serviced by a third party and have been passed from one institution to another.

    “I’m all in favor of moving these cases forward, but they’ve got to hold both sides to the rules of procedure,” Jacobs said.

    Last Thursday, Sergio Cabanas, a Pembroke Pines attorney, was in court arguing to postpone a foreclosure trial set for that morning, because, among other things, his attorney had another hearing in Broward County the same morning.

    Gordon, the senior judge, denied Cabanas’ request. “You’re here today,” the judge said.

    Cabanas, who defends foreclosure cases, claimed it would be “almost like a Woody Allen skit,” for him to be both a witness and the attorney in the case, but the judge brushed aside his argument.

    In Miami-Dade, the court typically won’t consider requests for continuances made the day of trial, except in an emergency. Such requests must be filed at least seven business days ahead of time for review by a judge on the foreclosure team.

    Forced to go to trial, Cabanas acknowledged that he hadn’t made payments on the loan since early 2009, even as the bank laid out its documentation to foreclose.

    Asked if a signature on a document was his, Cabanas said it looked like it, but he had “no specific recollection” of signing it.

    Cabanas then raised one issue after another — to no avail. Among other things, he said he was trying to get a loan modification for the rental property, held in a trust.

    He questioned the bank representative’s qualifications to be a witness in the case. He challenged the bank’s right to foreclose at all, demanding proof the mortgage had been properly transferred when the original lender, World Savings, was acquired by Wachovia, which in turn was acquired by Wells Fargo.

    The judge overruled his objections.

    “I’m running out of time, and I’m running out of patience,” Gordon finally told Cabanas. Soon afterward, he ruled in favor of the bank. Cabanas later said he plans to file an appeal.

    “In my case, they’re overlooking certain burdens of proof and other evidence that would never be tolerated in other proceedings,” Cabanas said. “They’re under the gun, no matter what, come hell or high water, to push these cases off the cliff.’’
For the story, see Miami-Dade court puts foreclosures on fast track (Miami-Dade Circuit Court is aggressively setting foreclosure cases for trial as it tries to clear the backlog that ensued from the ‘robo-signing’ delays).

More On The Out Of Control Miami Judiciary In Handling Foreclosure Cases

A recent post on the website for Loan Lawyers, LLC, Plantation, Florida foreclosure defense lawyer Matthew Bavaro describes a recent courtroom confrontation he had with an arguably out of control Miami-Dade, Florida Judge Alan Schwartz during a trial while representing a homeowner in foreclosure.

As described by Mr. Bavaro, the judge's conduct was outrageous enough that it drove him (Bavaro) to ask the judge to disqualify himself from the case. Apparently sensing that he (Judge Schwartz) may have inappropriately pushed the wrong foreclosure defense attorney, granted Mr. Bavaro's request to recuse himself from the case.(1)

In concluding his post, Mr Bavaro offers this observation on foreclosure proceedings as they are apparently being conducted in Miami-Dade, Florida:

  • Miami-Dade county is just setting hundreds of foreclosure cases for trial at a time without regard to whether any attorney is available or ready. I think this is a problem and shows that in Miami-Dade county, they are just interested in plowing through foreclosures, not administering justice and due process.
For Mr. Bavaro's post, see Fireworks in open court today. Matthew Bavaro and Judge Alan Schwartz did not see eye-to-eye in today’s Miami-Dade foreclosure trial.

Go here for the Order Granting Motion to Recuse.

Thanks to Deontos for the heads-up on this post.

(1) For more on the problem of bad judges -- judges and magistrates who are incompetent, self-indulgent, abusive or corrupt, see (appropriately named): Bad Judges, by New York University Law Professor Geoffrey P. Miller:
  • In jurisdictions across the country, complaints are heard about judges and magistrates who are incompetent, self-indulgent, abusive, or corrupt.

    These bad judges terrorize courtrooms, impair the functioning of the legal system, and undermine public confidence in the law. They should not be allowed in office. Yet many retain prestigious positions even after their shortcomings are brought to light. The situation, moreover, does not appear to be under control. If recent scandals in New York and other states are a guide, incidents of judicial misconduct may be on the rise.

    The problem of bad judges is embedded in broader considerations about the optimal design of the judiciary in American political culture. The basic tradeoff is between independence, accountability and quality. To preserve independence it is necessary to insulate judges from external controls over their behavior. If judges are protected from external controls, however, they have fewer incentives to provide quality services. To ensure accountability judges must be subject to democratic processes. But influence and patronage, enemies of good judging, are inevitable when judges are chosen by political means. The challenge is to select, retain, supervise and remove judges in such as way as to maintain independence and accountability while not unduly sacrificing quality.

Days From Retirement, Bronx Judge Dodges Bench Boot For Failure To Fire Estate Lawyer Subsequently Indicted By Feds For Allegedly Ripping Off Dead People; Majority Ruling A "Big Blank Check" For Future Fleecings: Dissent

In New York City, Reuters reports:

  • Bronx Surrogate Lee Holzman should be censured but not removed from office for failing to fire a lawyer in his court who charged estates hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees before performing any work, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct ruled on Tuesday.

    The commission filed charges against Holzman after Michael Lippman, the former counsel to the public administrator, was indicted in 2010 for stealing $300,000 in excess fees. Lippman has pleaded not guilty.

    The public administrator handles estates for which there is no designated heir, and its counsel is subject to oversight by the surrogate.

    The commission faulted Holzman for not firing Lippman upon learning that he violated court protocol and for failing to alert law enforcement and disciplinary authorities about his actions.

    "Instead, respondent failed to report Mr. Lippman's misconduct and permitted him to remain in a position of public trust for three years under an ill-conceived plan to repay the unauthorized monies he had collected, thereby putting the estates under his care at further risk and conveying the appearance of favoritism," the commission wrote in its decision. "Respondent's abdication of his ethical responsibilities, which was influenced by his long and close professional relationship with Mr. Lippman, constitutes serious misconduct."

    The commission, however, dismissed other charges of misconduct, including a claim that Holzman rubber-stamped Lippman's fee requests without proper documentation.

    Holzman, who has served as surrogate judge in the Bronx since 1988, is already set to leave the bench at year's end after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

    Holzman's attorney, David Godosky, said Holzman had only done what he thought was best for the estates under his supervision.

    "Once the surrogate was informed of any departure of protocol, not a penny of harm occurred to any estate of the public administrator's office," he said.

    Holzman has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals. Godosky said a decision on whether to do so has not been made.

    In two dissenting opinions, three of the commission's 11 members said they would have gone further and recommended that Holzman be removed for his actions.

    In one dissent, Richard Emery faulted the majority for a punishment that "defies logic," given the findings.

    "Removal is the only sanction which is commensurate with respondent's uncontroverted, sustained, self-aggrandizing misconduct," he wrote. "And that is because it is clear that respondent's three-year cover-up of the criminal acts of his appointee and long-time colleague was actually an attempt to protect himself from scandal and cover up his own misconduct."(1)

    The commission's counsel, Robert Tembeckjian, had pushed for Holzman's removal from the bench despite his retirement plans.

    "I believed removal from office was the appropriate result based on the judge's egregious misconduct," he said in a statement following the ruling.

    In Tuesday's decision, the commission largely accepted Shea's findings that other charges of misconduct should be dismissed, including the claim that Holzman broke the law by routinely approving a 6 percent fee based on "boilerplate" documents with insufficient detail about the work Lippman was supposedly doing.

    Shea noted that other surrogates often did the same thing and that Holzman should not be held responsible for following what had become standard procedure, even though it might technically violate state law.

    The 6 percent fee is intended to be a maximum fee for public administrators under state guidelines but has become the default payment in almost all cases, Shea said.

    In a dissenting opinion joined by Thomas Klonick, Nina Moore found that charge should have been sustained in order to establish that the 6 percent figure should not be abused.

    Noting that the Bronx administrator's office handles tens of millions of dollars in estates at any given moment, the majority's ruling "gives a blank check to counsels to the Public Administrators," Moore wrote. "It is in all likelihood a big blank check."

    A Bronx civil court judge, Nelida Malave-Gonzalez, won the election for Holzman's seat in November and will take office after his retirement.(2)
For the story, see Bronx Surrogate Holzman faces censure but escapes removal in misconduct case.

For the ruling of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, see In re Holzman.

Go here for other posts on the sanctioned grave-robbing of people who die without wills in New York City and elsewhere.
  • Cover-ups, as we have come to learn, in many walks of life are often more egregious than the substantive offenses being concealed. But for a judge to protect himself by covering for an appointee he supervised is a particularly grievous assault on the majesty of the judiciary. It is equivalent, in my view, to corruption.

    In this case, respondent's misconduct was worse than a simple cover-up. It was compounded by his bizarre scheme to have Lippman handle estate funds after 2006, when it was discovered that he had systematically taken fees that he had not earned. By constructing this scheme that allowed Lippman to continue earning fees for years - ostensibly to pay back what he had stolen but really to avoid the scandal of thefts by his appointee on his watch - respondent enabled a continuing fraud. It is as if the United States attorney's office told Madoff when his Ponzi scheme was discovered, "Keep the investments going so that what you make in the market can be returned to your victims."

    Remember, even if Lippman had been fired in 2006, he would have been responsible for repaying the monies he owed. Respondent has no excuse or justification for secretly helping him repay those monies - especially by retaining him in a position of trust. In effect, respondent was imposing on future estates a person whom he knew could not be trusted. And he told no one other than his trusted insiders, even while he knew law enforcement agencies were breathing down Lippman's proverbial neck.

    Respondent knew that as long as he kept his secret scheme in-house, the scandal in his court would not be revealed. He knew better than anyone that Lippman's victims were virtually all intestate estates where the beneficiaries had no one to look to for oversight other than the judge (respondent) who is the sole "disinterested" repository of trust and accountability in the system of public administration. Instead of carrying out his sworn duty, he hid the truth from the victims by not disclosing Lippman's dishonesty and not reporting Lippman to the law enforcement agencies that were engaged in ongoing active investigations, or to disciplinary authorities with oversight over attorney malfeasance.

    As we all know, it is all too common for disciplinary committees to disbar attorneys for misuse of client funds. Knowingly enabling that conduct is no less culpable.
(2) For more on the problem of bad judges -- judges and magistrates who are incompetent, self-indulgent, abusive, corrupt, see (appropriately named): Bad Judges, by New York University Law Professor Geoffrey P. Miller.

Court Slams Horndog Judge In Disciplinary Proceedings For "Conducting Photo Sessions Featuring The Judicial Penis" From Cell Phone While Allegedly 'Putting The Moves' On Young Female Courthouse Employee

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Legal Intelligencer reports:

  • Even though a former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge contends that he did not intend to show photographs of his genitals on his phone to a Philadelphia Parking Authority contractor,(1) the Court of Judicial Discipline found that he did intentionally show the images.

    By doing so, Willie F. Singletary brought the judicial office into disrepute in violation of the state constitution, said Judge Timothy F. McCune, writing for the panel of President Judge Robert E.J. Curran and Judges Bernard L. McGinley, Charles A. Clement Jr. and John R. Cellucci.

    "We think that the public — even those members of the public who register the lowest scores on the sensitivity index — do not expect their judges to be conducting photo sessions featuring the judicial penis and then to be sending the photos over the electronic airwaves to another person," the opinion said.
  • The opinion resulted in an unusual holding.

    "We hold that a judge who intentionally grooms his penis for photography, and then intentionally photographs his penis for the purpose of display to others, had better remember that the photographs are in his phone lest they 'slip out' at some inopportune (albeit unplanned) time under circumstances which are likely to offend another person or persons, for, if they do, we will hold such conduct satisfies the 'mens rea requirement' so as to support a finding that the conduct is such that brings the judicial office into disrepute," according to the opinion.
  • Singletary has previously been the subject of judicial discipline.

    Singletary previously received a public reprimand and probation over a YouTube video in which he was recorded soliciting campaign funds from motorcycle riders while running for judge for the first time in 2007.

    When Singletary was previously subject to judicial discipline, the court found that Singletary violated the state constitution by bringing the judicial office into disrepute by soliciting campaign funds and intimating that he would give favorable treatment to anyone who donated to his campaign. The court sanctioned him with a public reprimand and probation.

    During his donation solicitation, Singletary asked the bikers, according to court papers: "Now you all want me to get there, you're all going to need my hookup, right?'"
For the story, see Court finds picture of 'judicial penis' matter of disrepute (A traffic court judge has been found to have brought his office into disrepute by showing photos of his penis taken with his phone to a contractor).

For the ruling of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline, see, see In re Singletary, No. 3 JD 12 (October 9, 2012).

(1) According to the ruling, this contractor to whom the cell phone photograph of the "judicial penis" was displayed was:
  • "a twenty-two year old female employee [...] assigned as a cashier at Traffic Court’s location at 800 Spring Garden Street to collect [Philadelphia Parking Authority] fees for booting, towing, and impoundment operations." (Findings of Fact No. 12).
As described in the ruling at Findings of Fact No. 28, this judge ("Respondent") apparently took a personal liking to the twenty-two year old female employee ("F"):
  • Respondent’s discussions with F during the time period described above included Respondent’s statements that he thought F was “a beautiful young lady,” that he “would like to go out with” her, and they might choose to have an “intimate relationship.” “But whatever we do, it has nothing to do with Traffic Court. You’re an adult, I’m an adult. It’s a private matter.” Additionally, he told her that, alternatively, he “could be a friend there for you if you need somebody to talk to or if you need help in any other area that I can help you in, whatever that might be,” including “a ride somewhere” or "helping paying a bill or anything.”
The shit began to hit the fan for this judge the following day when, obviously upset, the young woman clocked in for work and asked a female Philadelphia cop with whom she was friendly for advice on how to handle the situation, at which point the judge began to feel the heat, as described in the ruling at Findings of Fact Nos. 44 to 55.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Illinois AG Tags Two Outfits In Seperate Suits For Peddling Forensic Mortgage Audit Services To Homeowners, Allegedly Pocketing Illegal Upfront Fees While Providing No Assistance

From the Office of the Illinois Attorney General's Office:

  • Attorney General Lisa Madigan [] sought to crack down on a new form of “mortgage rescue fraud,” filing lawsuits against two companies for preying on struggling homeowners and promising loan assistance while actually adding to their targets’ financial hardship.

    In this new scam, a fairly new variation of mortgage rescue fraud, con artists falsely claim that an audit of a homeowner’s mortgage will identify errors and can reduce a homeowner’s monthly mortgage payments. In some cases, Madigan said, scammers specifically targeted struggling homeowners and convinced them that the audit would reduce their mortgage as a way to help them avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.

    Madigan filed two lawsuits [] against Mortgage FACS Corporation and Enlightened LLC [which operated as A.M.T. Auditing Services LLC and the Mortgage Auditing Program] for posing as professionals who can help consumers by completing so-called “mortgage loan audits.”

    In exchange for illegal upfront fees, the scammers promised to review whether lenders complied with state and federal lending regulations and to identify errors that could help the homeowner’s case for reducing their monthly payment or modifying their loan. In reality, many victims of the scam paid the upfront fee but received no assistance.
For the Illinois AG press release, see Madigan Sues "Forensic Loan Audit" Schemes for Ripping Off Homeowners Seeking Loan Savings, Help Fighting Foreclosure (Attorney General Files 2 Lawsuits in Crackdown on New Form of Mortgage-Related Scam).

Indiana AG Files Civil Suits Against Two More Out-Of-State Outfits Peddling Purported Foreclosure Assistance

From the Office of the Indiana Attorney General:

  • Two foreclosure consultant companies face state lawsuits [] after taking more than $2,600 from local homeowners and not providing services or refunds.

    Nevada-based Blue Chip Group, Inc. and California-based Certified Legal Processing and Legal Preparation Services were illegally operating in Indiana when each company entered into contracts with homeowners.
  • Blue Chip Group and its owner William Damiter contracted with two residents – from Lake County and Spencer County – and charged up-front fees for foreclosure consultant services ranging from $495 to $730. Zoeller filed the lawsuit [] at the Lake County courthouse.

    Certified Processing and Legal Preparation Services and its owner Shaun Lambert are accused of collecting $1,400 in up-front fees from a Porter County resident for similar services.

    Both defendants are accused of taking the money and not rendering the promised services or providing refunds. The companies did not obtain certificates of authority from the Secretary of State’s Office to conduct business in Indiana and did not register $25,000 surety bonds with the Attorney General’s Office. These bonds are required before services can be performed, including collecting money up front.

    According to the lawsuits, both businesses violated the Credit Services Organization Act, the Mortgage Rescue Protection Act, the Home Loan Practices Act and Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. Zoeller is seeking injunctions against the companies, restitution for the victims, civil penalties and attorneys' fees.

Federal Court Issues 'Time-Out'/Asset Freeze Order On Outfit That Allegedly Ripped Off Homeowners With False Low-Interest Debt Consolidation Offers

The Federal Trade Commission recently announced:

  • At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a U.S. district court has temporarily halted a debt relief operation that allegedly charged cash-strapped consumers hundreds of dollars based on the false claim that it could obtain rates as low as zero percent.

    The agency estimates that the operation’s gross revenues since January 2008 were at least approximately $11.8 million, according to documents filed with the court. The FTC complaint names as defendants Southeast Trust, LLC (formerly known as The Debt School, LLC, also doing business as Financial Freedom Credit Counseling), and the companies’ principal, Paul A. Wexler. The court order stops the illegal conduct and freezes the operation’s assets while the FTC moves forward with the case.

    According to documents the FTC filed with the court, the defendants “callously take advantage of consumers who seek debt relief services in this difficult economic environment.”

    The complaint alleged that the defendants claimed to be a non-profit group that targeted consumers with robocalls, and with ads on websites such as and The defendants promised a single monthly payment, an interest rate ranging from zero percent to six percent, and that consumers would be debt free in three to five years.
For the FTC press release and links to some available court filings, see At FTC’s Request, Court Halts Operation That Allegedly Deceived Consumers with Bogus Debt Relief Services (Defendants Routinely Called Consumers on the Do Not Call Registry, Complaint Alleges).

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mozilo's Unloading Of Countrywide: Beleaguered BofA Continues To Choke On Stockpile Of Inherited Crappy Loans

Bloomberg reports:

  • Bank of America Corp. has amassed $64 billion of mortgages that are at least six months delinquent and have yet to enter foreclosure, more than twice the amount held by its four largest competitors combined.

    The loans are monitored as part of February’s $25 billion settlement between the top five U.S. lenders and state attorneys general over allegations of abusive foreclosure practices. Bank of America’s stockpile of deteriorating debt is mostly from its 2008 acquisition of Countrywide Financial Corp., once the nation’s largest mortgage provider. Wells Fargo & Co., the biggest U.S. servicer, has $15.3 billion of such unpaid loans.
For more, see Bank of America Delinquent Loans Mean Losses: Mortgages.

In a related story, see Forbes: As Bank Of America Tries To Recover, Mozilo Says Countrywide Was Never The Problem (The man at the top of the mortgage company that nearly crippled Bank of America says he has no regrets).

Revoked Bar Ticket For Attorney Convicted Of Forging Documents To Snatch $500K+ In Foreclosure Surplus Sale Proceeds From Unwitting Foreclosed Ex-Homeowners

In Madison, Wisconsin, The Associated Press reports:

  • The state Supreme Court has revoked a Brookfield attorney's license after he was convicted of stealing more than half-a-million dollars from Milwaukee County. The court said in a revocation order Tuesday that Thomas Bielinski hurt the integrity of the court system.

    Prosecutors accused the 53-year-old Bielinski in 2011 of defrauding the county out of $542,000. They say he targeted mortgage foreclosure cases in which the owners had failed to file claims for surplus funds. He claimed to represent the owners, filed claims on their behalf and kept the money for himself.

    He pleaded guilty this past February to one felony count of theft and was sentenced to five years in prison. His attorney, Michael Hart, declined comment except to say Bielinski has cooperated with authorities.

Banksters To Score Major Advantage In Lending To Consumer Borrowers: Protection Against Homeowner Lawsuits

From The New York Times' Dealb%k blog:

  • As regulators complete new mortgage rules, banks are about to get a significant advantage: protection against homeowner lawsuits.

    The rules are meant to help bolster the housing market. By shielding banks from potential litigation, policy makers contend that the industry will have a powerful incentive to make higher quality home loans.

    But some banking and housing specialists worry that borrowers are losing a critical safeguard. Industries rarely get broad protection from consumer lawsuits, and banks would seem unlikely candidates given the range of abuses revealed during the housing bust.

    "A lot of bad things are done in the name of expanding access to credit, as we found out," said Sheila C. Bair, former chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and now a senior adviser to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

    The legal protection stems from the Dodd-Frank Act, the sweeping regulatory overhaul passed in 2010 to help repair the financial system.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Antittrust Feds Score Another Guilty Plea In Ongoing Probe Into Northern NJ Tax Lien Auction Bid-Rigging Scheme

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):

  • A New Jersey company in the business of receiving the assignment of municipal tax liens pleaded guilty [Wednesday] for its role in a conspiracy to rig bids for the sale of tax liens auctioned by municipalities in New Jersey, the Department of Justice announced.

    A felony charge was filed [Wednesday] in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark, against Mercer S.M.E. Inc., a company located in Burlington, N.J. According to the charges, from at least 2003 until approximately February 2009, Mercer, in conjunction with a nonprofit corporation and others participated in a conspiracy to rig bids at auctions for the sale of municipal tax liens in New Jersey.

    As part of the conspiracy, the co-conspirators agreed to allocate the liens on which each would bid. Among other things, Mercer was assigned tax liens it understood were purchased in accordance with the unlawful agreement.

    “The conspirators agreed to coordinate their bids and allocate the tax liens amongst themselves, at the expense of distressed property owners,” said Scott D. Hammond, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program. “Today’s guilty plea sends a message that those who profit from illegal, anticompetitive conduct will be held accountable.”
  • [Wednesday]’s plea is the 11th guilty plea resulting from an ongoing investigation into bid rigging or fraud related to municipal tax lien auctions. Eight individuals – Isadore H. May, Richard J. Pisciotta Jr., William A. Collins, Robert W. Stein, David M. Farber, Robert E. Rothman, Stephen E. Hruby and David Butler – and two companies, DSBD LLC and Crusader Servicing Corp., have previously pleaded guilty as part of this investigation.
For the Justice Department press release, see New Jersey Company Pleads Guilty for Role in Bid-Rigging Scheme at Municipal Tax Lien Auctions (Investigation Has Yielded 11 Guilty Pleas).

Baltimore-Area Foreclosure Mill Lawyer Gets Spanked In Court For Having Others Sign, Notarize His Name On Court Documents

In Baltimore, Maryland, The Baltimore Sun reports:

  • A Hunt Valley attorney who admitted to having his employees sign his name to foreclosure documents was found by a Baltimore County judge to have violated three of Maryland's rules of professional conduct for lawyers, according to court records.

    Thomas P. Dore engaged in behavior that was "prejudicial to the administration of justice" by "routinely and repeatedly" filing "with the courts affidavits purportedly signed by him and attested to by notaries" he employed, according to court documents. Affidavits are the written equivalent of taking the stand to testify under oath and Maryland law does not allow for them to be signed by a proxy.

    The decision against Dore is the latest stemming from a series of petitions by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission against lawyers who, during the height of the foreclosure crisis, cut corners in thousands of foreclosure cases in order to manage overwhelming workloads. So far, one attorney has been reprimanded by the state's highest court for such behavior and several other cases are working their way through the legal system.
For more, see Foreclosure attorney violated rules by having others sign his name, court finds (Sanctions, if any, will be determined by Court of Appeals).

Ohio Payday, Auto Title Lending Outfits Do End-Run Around State Interest Caps To Lock Financially Strapped Borrowers Into E-Z To Get, Hard-To-Pay-Off Loans

In Columbus, Ohio, the Dayton Daily News reports:

  • Storefront and online lenders are offering a new form of expensive credit — with fees and interest rates totaling more than 300 percent in some cases — by exploiting the same legal loopholes used to sidestep voter-approved rate caps on standard payday loans, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.

    “Auto title loans” give borrowers quick and easy access to cash but at a steep price. Not only do the agreements carry high fee and interest costs — far above the 28 percent rate ceiling that Ohio voters endorsed for short-term loans in 2008 — but consumers risk having their vehicles repossessed.
  • An employee at a newly opened LoanMax store at 2601 S. Smithville Road in Dayton told an undercover Daily News reporter that someone taking out a $400 loan would have to pay back $536 after 30 days. On a $1,000 loan, a borrower would have to repay $1,325, the employee said.

    If those fees and interest were calculated as an annual percentage rate, both loans would have an effective APR of around 400 percent.

    Consumer advocates call auto title lending a dangerous practice that traps people in debt and sometimes takes away an asset that is worth more than the loan: their car or truck. In Texas, an average of 93 people a day have their cars repossessed by auto title lenders, which works out to be a 6 percent repossession rate, according to 2012 data from the Texas Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner.
  • Critics say lenders are doing an end-run around the state’s 2008 Short Term Loan Act, which was heavily opposed by the payday lending industry and overwhelmingly approved by voters in a statewide referendum.
  • Payday and auto title lenders sidestep the strict limits imposed by the Short Term Loan Act by licensing their businesses under the Second Mortgage Loan Act or the Credit Services Organization Act. Both laws permit fees on top of whatever interest rate is charged.

    The Second Mortgage Loan Act was originally designed for borrowers taking out a cash loan with their house put up as security. The CSO act was aimed at regulating the credit repair businesses that collected fees but did little to help consumers consolidate debt or clear up credit blemishes. Now payday lenders licensed as CSOs offer to help borrowers repair their credit by obtaining a payday or auto title loan.
  • When the Daily News undercover reporter visited the LoanMax store on South Smithville, the employee outlined a dizzying array of potential fees. Asked what would happen if a loan wasn’t repaid in 30 days, the employee said as long as a borrower made a “minimum payment” roughly equal to the fees and interest (paying $142 on the $400 loan), they could essentially start over with a new loan of the same amount.

    The employee pointed out that the minimum payment would only pay down $6 of the principal on the loan, then added that “you can do that as many times as you need to.”

    If a borrower did that three times, the dollar amount on fees and interest would be higher than the original loan amount.

    The cost is more steep for those who can’t pay off the loan or make the minimum payment. “If you don’t pay either one of these, there’s 30 days before we would repo the car,” the employee said.
For more, see Popular auto title loans offer fast cash at steep price (Lenders exploit legal loophole to exceed caps on payday loans).

Monday, December 24, 2012

Vegas Juries Convict Ex-Process Server Of 35 Felonies In "Sewer Service" Racket; Bogus Docs Filed In Debt Collector Lawsuits

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

  • A jury convicted former process server Maurice Carroll [] of 17 forgery counts in a scheme to file false affidavits in Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas justice courts. The 12-member panel deliberated for three hours after a week of testimony and arguments.

    Carroll, 43, a former Las Vegas police officer, was previously convicted of 17 counts of filing false court documents and one count of obtaining money under false pretenses in the 2010 scheme.

    At the request of prosecutors, District Judge Elissa Cadish ordered Carroll remanded into custody while he awaits his Jan. 16 sentencing on all 35 felony charges. "I think it's finally caught up with him," Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Staudaher said afterward.

    The charges focus on phony court affidavits Carroll was accused of putting together in civil cases involving one of his clients, debt collector Richland Holdings.

    Carroll was accused of failing to serve documents in 17 Richland Holdings cases in May and June 2010, though he certified them as served in Justice Court affidavits.

    As a consequence, people named in the affidavits were not notified they were being sued by Richland Holdings.

    Earlier in the weeklong trial, Staudaher told the jury many of the people Carroll swore he had served weren't even home at the time. Some were at work, one couple was in England, and one address didn't exist, Staudaher said.
For more, see Ex-process server convicted of more counts in affidavit scheme.

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

'Independent' Foreclosure Review Not So Independent

Investigative reporter Paul Kiel writes in ProPubica:

  • The Independent Foreclosure Review is the government's main effort to compensate homeowners for harm they suffered at the hands of banks — and, as its name indicates, it's supposed to be independent.

    But until recently, that was hardly the case with Bank of America. Supposedly independent, third-party reviewers would sit at a computer, analyzing each homeowner's case by going through hundreds of questions, such as whether the bank had properly reviewed a homeowner for a modification or had charged bogus fees.

    But the reviewers weren't starting from a blank slate. Bank of America employees had already supplied the answers, which the reviewers would have to override if they did not agree.

Bail Set At $25K For Westchester County Man Facing Grand Larceny, Scheme To Defraud Charges Revolving Around Upfront Fees Collected For Purported Foreclosure Rescue, Refi Services

In Peekskill, New York, the Peekskill-Cortlandt Patch reports:

  • A 50-year-old Peekskill man faces grand larceny charges after he allegedly bilked residents with a home refinancing scam.

    Anthony Vecchio is scheduled to appear in Peekskill court [] after city police arrested him and charged him with fourth-degree grand larceny, a felony, and scheme to defraud, a misdemeanor.

    Vecchio allegedly obtained money from residents for refinancing and foreclosure on their homes, but never processed the required paperwork. Police said they arrested Vecchio following a six month investigation. Vecchio was arraigned and sent to Westchester County Jail with bail set at $25,000.
Source: Peekskill Man Charged in Home Refinance Scam (Police are reaching to anybody who may have been victimized by Anthony Vecchio, 50, Peekskill. Police said Vecchio charged clients for home financing and foreclosure processing, but he never submitted any paperwork).

Sunday, December 23, 2012

County Lawsuits Tagging Fannie, Freddie Over Failure To Pay Deed Transfer Taxes Continue

In Springfield, Illinois, WRSP-TV Channel 55 reports:

  • Macon County is the latest Illinois county to file a lawsuit against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over failing to pay real estate transfer taxes on foreclosure properties.

    Officials in the central Illinois county filed suit Dec. 4 in federal court in Springfield, asking a judge to order the two federal mortgage finance companies, as well as the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees them, to pay the transfer taxes; issue a declaration that they are subject to having to pay them; and award damages, interest, penalties, costs and attorney fees.

    Macon County also wants its suit to be certified as class-action to include all 102 counties in Illinois.

    A transfer tax is an excise tax that has to be paid when a property is sold or transferred to a new owner. Illinois’ statewide transfer tax rate is 50 cents for every $500 of the property’s value. There also is a county transfer tax that is 25 cents for every $500 of value.

    Macon County officials say Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have handled numerous foreclosure sales in Illinois but have not paid the transfer taxes. The few times the agencies paid the taxes, they did so “under protest,” insisting they are exempt because they are governmental bodies, officials say.

    Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not governmental bodies, Macon County officials argue, saying they “are, and have been, private, publicly traded corporations since approximately 1968.” A Michigan judge agreed earlier this year in a similar suit there, saying the entities are not exempt from the transfer taxes because they are excise taxes, not direct taxes.

    It’s unclear from the lawsuit how much back taxes are at stake in Macon County.
    In June, several northern Illinois counties filed a similar lawsuit. DeKalb, Will, Winnebago, Whiteside, Kendall and Kane counties all are asking a judge to rule that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are subject to the taxes. DeKalb County officials estimated they were owed about $40,000 for the past five years.

    The Federal Housing Finance Agency responded to the suit, saying that while it recognizes the hardship faced by local officials because of shrinking tax bases, it must resist local governments imposing “unlawful” tax-raising programs that end up costing taxpayers across the country.

    Counties in other states also have filed similar suits, including Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio and Florida.

NYS High Court: County Not Required To Seek Out Landowner's New Mailing Address After Move When Tax-Foreclosing On Real Estate

In Warren County, New York, the North Country Gazette reports:

  • The state’s highest court has ruled that Warren County officials were not constitutionally required to try and seek out a new address to give a property owner notice before seizing his property in the Town of Chester for overdue taxes and selling the property at a foreclosure sale in 1999 after he had moved and his forwarding address had expired.

    In an unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that W. James and Andrea Mac Naughton of Short Hills, NJ, had not been deprived of their property without due process of law and that the county had satisfied due process requirements in its effort to notify the property owners that an in rem tax foreclosure proceeding had been been initiated against their property after documents sent to the address listed for them on the tax roll were returned by the postal service as undeliverable.

    When an owner of real property moves and does not give a new address to the collector of real property taxes, he or she may fail to receive notices of overdue taxes and related legal proceedings and the property may consequently be lost in foreclosure.

    The U.S. Supreme Court and NY Court of Appeals have held that, in such situations, due process requires taxing authorities to take reasonable steps to track down the missing taxpayer being seizing and selling her or her property.

    This case raised the question of how much a taxing authority is required to do. The MacNaughtons had argued that, when notice mailed to them at their last known address, in New Jersey, proved undeliverable, the tax collector was required to find some means of making personal service on them, or to address a notice to “occupant” at the former address, or to search New Jersey public records for a new address.

    In 1988, the MacNaughtons acquired a vacant lot in the Town of Chester in Warren County. They then lived in South Orange, NJ, and their South Orange address appeared on the deed.

    The Town sent them real property tax bills at that address, and the MacNaughtons paid them.

    In 1993, the MacNaughtons moved from South Orange to Millburn,NJ. They arranged with the post office to forward their mail, but they did not then inform the Town of Chester taxing authorities of their new address.

    The 1994 tax bill was forwarded from South Orange to Millburn, and paid.

    The MacNaughtons claim that, after receiving the forwarded bill, they gave their new address to the Town in a handwritten note and in a telephone call, but plaintiffs have no record of either communication, and neither is reflected in the Town’s records.

    To accept undocumented claims of this kind would be to invite abuse”, the court wrote, “and we therefore conclude that plaintiffs’ ‘bare allegation’ is insufficient to defeat summary judgment on the issue of whether they gave notice of their change of address to the Town; we take it as established that they gave no such notice”.

    A year after the MacNaughtons moved, their forwarding arrangement with the post office expired. Tax bills for the next three years, mailed to them at the South Orange address, were returned to the Town.

    In 1998,Warren County sent a warning letter to the South Orange address that was also returned, and then began a foreclosure proceeding. It served plaintiffs with the petition and notice of petition by certified mail addressed to the South Orange address. The mailing was returned with the notation: “Undeliverable as Addressed – Forwarding Order Expired.”

    The MacNaughtons defaulted in the foreclosure proceeding and title to the property passed to the County, which sold it at auction in 1999.

    The MacNaughtons did not learn of these events until 2003.

    After unsuccessful federal litigation, they began the state action in 2005, asserting that the attempts to give them notice of the foreclosure were constitutionally inadequate, and seeking a declaration that they still owned the property.

    Supreme Court granted the County’s motion for summary judgment, and the Appellate Division affirmed. The MacNaughtons then appealed to the Courty of Appeals as of right.

    At the time the county began its foreclosure proceeding in 1998, the Real Property Tax Law required that notice of the proceeding be published in at least two newspapers and that it be “mailed, by ordinary first class mail” to the owners of the property. It is not disputed that the County complied with the statutes. The question is whether the State or Federal Constitution required it to do more.

    The Court says no. However, it should be noted that the law has been changed and Real Property Tax Law now requires that notice be mailed by certified and first class mail. If these documents are returned, additional steps must be taken by municipal authorities to locate the property owner, including contacting the postal service to determine if other mailing addresses are available and on file.
Source: Court: County Didn’t Deny Due Process In Property Sale.

For the ruling, see Mac Naughton v. Warren County, 2012 NY Slip Op 08442 (NY December 11, 2012).

Homeowner: Mortgage Servicer Belted Me For $6K+ In Charges On $2,289 Loan Balance For Being 91 Days Late In Payments, Refuses To Allow Principal Payoff

In Green Cove Springs, Florida, First Coast News reports:

  • Diane Ham is done with Ocwen, her mortgage servicing company. "I cannot get them to even understand," she said. Ham, who lost her law enforcement job three years ago, said they were trying to keep their mortgage loan current until it happened.

    "We had gotten behind," said Ham, "and my bank account was wiped out by identity thieves." She said it left her account $325 in the negative balance before her credit union was able to correct it.

    Her husband's income was the only cash coming in and soon, they were 90 days late. Ham said in November, she tried to make a payment to Ocwen Loan servicing and it was rejected.

    "They told me I was 91 days past due," said Ham, "and I would have to pay $1707 by the end of December and that would solve the issue."

    Her mortgage balance is $2,289 so she asked for a pay off and Ocwen sent her a statement for $8,507.56. "I was just overwhelmed," she said.

    She is being charged thousands in foreclosure fees, but according to court records she is currently not in a foreclosure lawsuit. There was a lawsuit in 2006, but the records show that was dismissed and not relative to 2012.

    "I'm trying to pay my bill, but when you turn around and hit me with $5,000 additional money, that is not right," said Ham.

    Attorney Tim Pribisco with the Oughton Law firm said most mortgage agreement have a provision for the lender to recover foreclosure fees if it has to retain an attorney, but there has to be a foreclosure. "If there's no foreclosure action started what are the foreclosure fees?" asked Pribisco.

    He said given the evidence he has seen this seems like an act of bad faith. Pribisco said Ham needs an attorney to walk her through the legal mess. Ham said she just wants the fees removed.

    "Give me a justified payoff so that I can pay this off," said Ham.

    Attempts for comment from Ocwen were unsuccessful.