Saturday, April 13, 2013

City Bulldozes Vacant House Into The Ground On Eve Of Owner's Suit To Halt Demolition

In Lorain, Ohio, The Chronicle Telegram reports:

  • On the same day a lawsuit was being filed to prevent the city from tearing down a house it deemed dilapidated, a work crew was busy pulling it to the ground.

    “Even as we were filing suit, we learned, to our amazement, the city had demolished the property,” attorney Brent English said.

    The Cleveland lawyer is representing George Schneider, a Lorain man who owns numerous rental properties in the city and county, including the duplex that was at 500 W. 25th St. in Lorain.

    The unoccupied house was torn down as English said he was in the process of filing suit to halt the demolition by seeking a temporary restraining order against the city. English contends the house wasn’t slated to be torn down until later in the week as part of a weeklong demolition of housing declared nuisances to public health or safety.

    “They had a contractor there despite the fact the house was scheduled for (demolition) Thursday,” English said. “We don’t know what happened, but the house is gone. Now we’ll be amending the suit to seek damages for wrongful destruction of my client’s property.”

    English estimated he would seek damages in the $50,000 range for the value of the house.

    It appears they fast-tracked this to tear it down,” English said. “The same city that tore it down issued a permit to fix it,’’ English said. “Now they can just pay for it.”

Pair Claiming Adverse Posession In Attempt To Swipe Title To Vacant Bank-Owned REO Get Pinched For Unlawful Entry, Trespassing; Actual Payment Of $2K In R/E Taxes Not Yet Due Fails To Immunize Duo From Arrest

In Ada County, Idaho, the Idaho Statesman reports:

  • A woman sent a certified, notarized letter to the Ada County Sheriff's Office on March 26 saying that she had paid the taxes on a $340,000 home on South Cloverdale Road and would be living there henceforth.

    After determining that the property was owned by a bank after a foreclosure, sheriff's deputies went to the rural home and told the woman that she had no legal right to be there. When deputies demanded that she leave, she refused.

    On Thursday, deputies returned with warrants and arrested Tara Mashburn, 44, and her 21-year-old son, Kassidy McDaid, and charged them with unlawful entry and trespassing, both misdemeanors. Four children living in the house were sent to stay with other relatives.

    Officials say Mashburn might have been attempting a real estate scheme similar to those that have gained traction elsewhere in the country, especially with foreclosed homes.

    Under the plan, a person attempts to use a real estate law called "adverse possession." The person pays taxes on a property and then possesses it; if they can do it long enough, they might be able to claim legal title.

    The Cloverdale case is the first he knows of in Ada County, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Roger Bourne said.


    Officials say that Mashburn walked into the Ada County Courthouse on March 19 and paid the property taxes on the Cloverdale home and its 12 acres, using three postal money orders totaling about $2,000.

    About the same time, Mashburn and her children moved into the 3,000-square-foot home and changed the locks, the sheriff's office said.

    Mashburn has no known connection to the home, which Bank of America has owned since foreclosing in August, officials said.

    The property taxes on the home, assessed at $339,700, were not delinquent; the next payment was not due until June, according to the county treasurer's office.


    The most notable recent case of people attempting to use the adverse possession plan, sometimes called squatter's rights, occurred in Boca Raton, Fla., where a man tried to claim ownership of a $2.5 million home.

    In her letter to the Ada County sheriff, Mashburn used language similar to what's been used in national cases, claiming that she had paid the property taxes and had a right to the home and its land, said Ada County sheriff's spokeswoman Andrea Dearden.

    Under Idaho's adverse possession law, a person who occupies improved or fenced property and pays taxes on the property for 20 years may claim ownership of the property even without the owner's consent, according to county officials.

    The law usually is used to remedy accidents and oversights, experts say. For example, if a property line fence was misplaced and for at least 20 years the owner paid taxes on and maintained the property, that owner can claim adverse possession and take the property.
Source: Mom, son could be squatting in court over Ada County home scheme (Ada officials say it could be the first squat-to-own prosecution here).

County Appraiser First Miami-Dade Official To Move Against Adverse Possession Hijacking Rackets Targeting Vacant Homes In Foreclosure; Targets Crackpots Who Have Filed Paperwork, But Failed To Cough Up The Unpaid R/E Taxes

From a recent editorial in The Miami Herald:

  • As the foreclosure mess continues in South Florida, it’s overwhelming the courts while scammers and squatters are finding loopholes in the law to try to live the high life on the cheap.

    Squatters like the ones recently found living in a Coral Gables mansion claiming they were renting from owners who don’t exist. Scammers who rent abandoned homes they do not own to unsuspecting renters while the true homeowners are in the foreclosure process.

    Then there was the case of a pool home in foreclosure “rented” to a pimp and hookers just up the street from the Broward County property appraiser’s home.

    The Florida Legislature can’t continue to ignore this mess.

    At least Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera is moving swiftly to set the legal records straight in the county and end some of the abuses that his office can control: the so-called adverse possession claims.

    Mr. Lopez-Cantera did the necessary due diligence to get rid of 44 percent of all adverse-possession claims that were pending since he took office in January. It wasn’t that difficult to do. He checked with the Tax Collector’s Office to see who had been paying the property taxes on those homes to determine the true owners.(1)

    The “adverse possession” gimmick has served scammers well. They just have to come in to the Property Appraiser’s Office, sign some forms, and — presto! — they can make a claim on the land and the building that sits on it. Except they never owned the property, which likely is waiting for resolution in the foreclosure process.

    The adverse possession law dates back to 1876, when quick access to property records over the Internet couldn’t even be imagined. In truth, the law doesn’t protect swindlers, but it does become a costly mess for the true homeowners to set the record straight in court.

    That’s why Mr. Lopez-Cantera’s due diligence is a good first step in stopping the abuse.

    If this law is to remain on the books, then it should be updated for the 21st century to put the burden on those seeking to take “adverse possession” of property to prove that there are legitimate reasons for them to take ownership.
Source: No more land grabs for squatters (OUR OPINION: Miami-Dade property appraiser right to move swiftly on ‘adverse possession’ cases).

(1) It appears that the county property appraiser is taking the position that if the "owner of record" has paid the taxes, the claim of adverse possession is automatically disqualified, a position that finds strong support in Section 95.18(7)(d) of the Florida Statutes.

As a casual observation, it seems to me that, as used in Section 95.18(7)(d), the term "owner of record" can refer to either:
  • the individual homeowner,
  • the bank holding the mortgage, on behalf of the homeowner pursuant to its recorded security interest in the home and/or pursuant to an associated mortgage escrow agreement,
  • a purchaser at a foreclosure sale (which could include the foreclosing lender now holding title to the home as an REO), or
  • anyone acquiring title from a foreclosure purchaser.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Head Polk County Cop To Adverse Possession-Claiming Crackpots: Try That Crap Here & We'll Cart Your Can Off To Jail! "They’re Not Even Going Far Enough w/ Their Fraud & Their Scheme To Pay The Taxes..."

In Lakeland, Florida, Bay News 9 reports:

  • A Lakeland woman whom authorities say moved into a foreclosed-upon home without permission found herself residing in another free residence this week:

    The Polk County Jail.

    Deputies arrested 31-year-old Stacy Ann Fuchs on Tuesday and charged her with burglary and grand theft of $100,000 or more.

    "You just can't move into someone else's legally owned property," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. "There is no such thing as a free lunch, and we are going to arrest people who try this scam to steal homes in Polk County."

    Neighborhood watch President Jean Lichtel first noticed something was wrong and contacted the homeowner, Cynthia Westley. “I was shocked to think people can just go and put this claim in and just move into somebody’s home,” said Lichtel.

    Westley, who had reached an amicable foreclosure agreement with her lender and voluntarily vacated her home at 6383 Tierra Vista Cir., Lakeland, noticed that the locks on the house had been changed. Westley said she contacted her lender, who told her no one had been granted permission to enter the home.

    Deputies went to the home and met Fuchs, who told them she had researched the legal process known as adverse possession and believed she had a legal right to move into the home.

    Deputies disagreed and arrested her. Judd said the adverse possession form he said the suspect filled out before moving in, only applies to homes a person is paying taxes on.

    “In this particular case they’re not even going far enough with their fraud and their scheme to pay the taxes. They’re just changing the locks, moving in and filing the form with the property appraiser,” said Judd.

    Polk County sheriff's deputies arrested 40-year-old Lessie Hurd in a similar case last month.

    She was charged with scheming to defraud, burglary, and grand theft for changing the locks on three houses and claiming adverse possession.

Squatter w/ History Of Getting The Boot Now Making Herself At Home In Vacant $400K Foreclosed REO Free Of Charge; Befuddled Miami-Dade Cops Fiddle

In Miami, Florida, WPLG-TV Channel 10 reports:

  • Neighbors claim a woman moved into home that was once for sale for $1.1 million in southwest Miami-Dade and has been living there for 16 months for free.

    That home, located in the 34600 block of Southwest 218th Street, has since depreciated but is still worth more than $400,000.

    "We paid good money for our home. She's not paying anything. It's ridiculous," said a neighbor who didn't want to be identified. "Why is she there living for free for [nearly] two years now?"

    Police reports show a Kenia Souto has lived there since at least November 2011.

    "She doesn't belong here," the neighbor added. "She just very rude and very mean. We don't need people like that. It's just very threatening when you pass by there."

    Neighbors say Souto simply showed up with boxes early one morning and started unloading. "It was a red flag instantly," said the neighbor. "That's when my husband called 911."

    Police reports show Souto answered the door for officers. She had keys, electricity, furniture, and the house appeared to have someone living in it, the report said. She told police she was in negotiations with a bank to buy the home, but couldn’t remember the name of the bank.

    Miami-Dade police let her stay.

    "She always provides them with some sort of bogus document," the neighbor claimed. "Something needs to be done."

    According to records, $29,158 in property taxes are owed on the home. The original owner lost it during a foreclosure and now Mercantil Commerce Bank owns the home.

    "Are you a renter here? Do you own the home?" Local 10's Ross Palombo asked at the front door. "I have no idea," Souto said. "Well, what are you doing inside the home?" replied Palombo. Souto offered no answer.

    Anyone currently occupying the home is not on the premises through any formal agreement,” the bank said in a written statement to Local 10.

    The original owner, Ranchos Del Sol, tried ejecting Souto from the home in 2012 but gave up as the house was being foreclosed upon. "We had to stop [the lawsuit] because we were spending bad money," said a business associate who also didn't want to be identified.

    Records show Souto was removed from a Miami property in 2004. She was also removed from a Coral Gables property in 2010.

    Local 10 tried several times to get Souto’s side of the story, but she refused any further comment. The man she claims is her attorney did not return several phone calls. As it stands, Miami-Dade Police have neither tried to evict her nor charged her with any crime.

    Neighbors see no end in sight as Souto shows no sign of leaving.
Source: Woman lives for free in once $1.1M home (Neighbors claim Kenia Souto moved into southwest Miami-Dade home in Nov 2011).

Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Puts Kibosh On 44% Of County Adverse Possession 'Hijackings'; Subsequent Tax Payments By Record Owners Disqualify Claims

In Miami, Florida, WPLG-TV Channel 10 reports:

  • The Miami-Dade property appraiser canceled 44 percent of adverse possession claims in the county in response to the growing problem of squatters.

    In a news release mailed out Tuesday, the office said it received 41 claims in the first three months of 2013, which is more than half the total amount received in 2012.

    The office, which has 160 claims for all years on record, found 71 of them were non-compliant with Florida Statute Section 95.18, which states that if there is record of a tax payment by the property owner before April 1 following the year in which the tax is assessed, it no longer meets the requirements for claiming adverse possession.(1)

    “Our goal is to help put an end to the abuse of adverse possession claims," said Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera. "This effort is making it easier to ensure that those who file an adverse possession claim are complying with Florida law."

    A Local 10 investigation found squatting nearly tripled from 2011 to 2012 in Miami-Dade County.
Source: Property appraiser cancels adverse possession claims (Office cancels 44% of claims to respond to growing problem of squatters).

(1) Section 95.18(7) provides:
  • A property appraiser must remove the notation to the legal description on the tax roll that an adverse possession claim has been submitted and shall remove the return from the property appraiser’s records if:

    (a-c) [...],

    (d) The owner of record or the tax collector provides to the property appraiser a receipt demonstrating that the owner of record has paid the annual tax assessment for the property subject to the adverse possession claim during the period that the person is claiming adverse possession.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

'Republic of uSA' President Goes Down In Jury Verdict For Using, Teaching Others To Use Bogus Bonds To Pay Taxes, Giving Guidance In Filing Retaliatory Liens Against Gov't Officials Who Dared Interfere With Processing Crackpot Paperwork

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Montgomery, Alabama):

  • After a five-day trial, a federal jury in Montgomery, Ala., found James Timothy Turner, 57, also known as Tim Turner, of Skipperville, Alabama guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States, attempting to pay taxes with fictitious financial instruments, attempting to obstruct and impede the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), failing to file a 2009 federal income tax return, and falsely testifying under oath in a bankruptcy proceeding, announced Sandra J. Stewart, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

    The FBI began an investigation after Turner and three other individuals sent demands to all fifty governors in the United States ordering each governor to resign within three days or be “removed.”

    The FBI’s investigation revealed that Turner was the self-proclaimed “President” of the so-called sovereign citizen group “Republic for the united States of America” (“RuSA”).

    As “President,” Turner traveled the country in 2008 and 2009 teaching others how to defraud the IRS by preparing and submitting fictitious “bonds” to the United States government in payment of federal taxes. Witnesses at trial testified that Turner used special paper, financial terminology, and elaborate borders in an effort to make the fake bonds look “real” and thus, more likely to succeed in defrauding the IRS.

    Turner was convicted of sending a $300 million “bond” in his own name and of aiding and abetting others in sending fifteen other “bonds” to the Treasury Department to pay taxes and other debts. The evidence at trial also established that Turner taught people how to file retaliatory liens against government officials who interfered with the processing of fictitious “bonds.”

    Turner himself actually filed a purported $17.6 billion maritime lien in Montgomery County, Alabama, Probate Court against another individual.

    “The jury’s verdict in this case sends a message that defrauding the government and others through the use of bogus financial documents will not be tolerated,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Tax Division Kathryn Keneally. “Disagreement with the law is no excuse for the real harm caused by these self-interested tax defiers.”

    “These sovereign citizen groups use these retaliatory tax liens and fraudulent tax schemes as weapons against the United States and its citizens,(1) stated Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra J. Stewart. It is only the hard work of law enforcement that can stop these criminals from using these financial weapons. I would like to thank the law enforcement officers who worked vigilantly on this case to bring this criminal to justice.”

(1) The filing of retaliation liens (a long-time favored 'paper terrorism' tactic) against government officials by crackpots and others believing in this self-help remedy has led at least one state attorney general to issue a consumer alert addressing the problem. See Texas Attorney General: Wiping Out Fraudulent Liens.

It has reportedly also moved at least three state legislature to pass a statute specifically addressing the problem of retaliatory liens as used against public officials, but reportedly not as used against private citizens or businesses. See:
Federal law specifically addresses this problem in 18 U.S.C. 1521 - Retaliating against a Federal judge or Federal law enforcement officer by false claim or slander of title.

For a report on retaliatory liens, generally, see Anti-Defamation League's The Militia Watchdog: Paper Terrorism's Forgotten Victims: The Use of Bogus Liens against Private Individuals and Businesses.

Minneapolis Couple Cop Fraud Pleas In Harassment Scheme Carried Out By Filing $114 Billion In Retaliation Liens Against Public Officials, Others Having Any Connection With Loss Of Their Home In Foreclosure

In Ramsey County, Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports:

  • A Brooklyn Park couple pleaded guilty to 12 counts of fraud in connection with a $114 billion — yes, with a B — harassment scheme whose “financial and economic terrorism” victimized numerous public servants in response to their Minneapolis home’s foreclosure nearly three years ago.

    Thomas W. Eilertson, 45, and Lisa Joan-Connery Eilertson, 49, pleaded guilty in Ramsey County District Court and are scheduled to be sentenced June 7 for the plot that targeted prosecutors, a judge, Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek and various bureaucrats.

    The case began when the defendants’ Minneapolis home in the 4400 block of Cedar Avenue S. was foreclosed upon by their mortgage company in 2009, resulting in a Hennepin County sheriff’s sale that December. In response, the Eilertsons — on the advice of someone they met on the Internet — began filing Uniform Commercial Code liens against anyone associated with their economic misfortune.

    For example, the complaint pointed out, the Eilertsons filed one claim against attorney Steven Bruns for $5 million because of “a trespass.” Bruns represented the lender during the foreclosure.

    Each lien was filed at the Minnesota secretary of state’s office in St. Paul under the name “Blessings of Liberty,” leading the defendants to believe this would shield them from civil and criminal liability.

    While the defendants filed numerous and sometime duplicative liens against a host of individuals covering 2009 and 2010, the lion’s share of the $114 billion total came from a May 27, 2010, claim against seven public employees to the tune of $110.2 billion, according to court documents.(1)

    Those named in the 267-page claim included Stanek, County Attorney Mike Freeman and two of his assistants, and others in county government.

    In February 2010, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office referred the case to St. Paul police.
For the story, see Minnesota couple admit to $114B harassment scheme aimed at public officials (Their targets had connections to ’09 home foreclosure).

(1) The filing of retaliation liens (a long-time favored 'paper terrorism' tactic) against government officials by crackpots and others believing in this self-help remedy has led at least one state attorney general to issue a consumer alert addressing the problem. See Texas Attorney General: Wiping Out Fraudulent Liens.

It has reportedly also moved at least three state legislature to pass a statute specifically addressing the problem of retaliatory liens as used against public officials, but reportedly not as used against private citizens or businesses. See:
Federal law specifically addresses this problem in 18 U.S.C. 1521 - Retaliating against a Federal judge or Federal law enforcement officer by false claim or slander of title.

For a report on retaliatory liens, generally, see Anti-Defamation League's The Militia Watchdog: Paper Terrorism's Forgotten Victims: The Use of Bogus Liens against Private Individuals and Businesses.

Atlanta-Area 'Sovereigns' Continue Hijackings Of Vacant Bankster-Owned REOs

In Atlanta, Georgia, WGCL-TV Channel 46 reports:

  • People in one East Atlanta subdivision have a new neighbor who they said is not welcome.

    The new neighbor, Angelique Judice, considers herself a "Sovereign Citizen." She moved into a foreclosure on Silver Hills Terrace. Fannie Mae owns the house. It is listed for sale with Sanford Realty.

    The real estate agent, Bonnie Sanford, told CBS Atlanta News she did not sell or lease the home to Judice.

    Judice is a mother of two young toddlers.

Cobb County Crackpot Accused Of Hijacking Homes With Bogus Paperwork Faces New Charges For Alleged Intimidation Attempts On Judges Overseeing Her Cases, Others

In Cobb County, Georgia, WSB-TV Channel 2 reports:

  • A woman arrested after a series of Channel 2 investigations is now in even more trouble, accused of trying to intimidate the judges overseeing the cases against her.

    A Cobb County grand jury indicted Susan Weidman Thursday on a new charge of racketeering, and deputies arrested her as she tried to enter the courthouse. Weidman is now in jail with no bond.

    Weidman was already facing racketeering charges in Cobb and DeKalb counties for filing bogus documents and trying to take over foreclosed homes.

    She spent months in jail the last time she was arrested. Since she's been out on bond, prosecutors say she's filed dozens of new court documents including a lawsuit against two counties, two judges, and a demand for the state of Georgia to pay her $65 million.
  • "The reason this new indictment came up is because of the filings she had that were endeavoring to intimidate and impede the justice system," [Cobb County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney John] Melvin said.

    For example, a federal lawsuit Weidman filed in June against the state of Georgia, Cobb and DeKalb counties, and Judges Tangela Barrie and Dorothy Robinson demanding $300 million for false arrest and malicious prosecution.

    Weidman also sent a bogus claim to the state's risk management office, demanding $65 million in federal judgments that don't exist.
For the story, see Woman accused of stealing homes faces new charges of intimidating judges (Susan Weidman, the subject of a Channel 2 investigation, is also accused of trying to bilk state out of millions).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Closing Agent Gets 4 1/2 To 13 1/2 Years For Refinance Ripoffs; Pocketed Portions Of Loan Proceeds, Left Pre-Existing Liens Unpaid, Leaving Homeowner With Multiple Mortgages

From the Office of the Westchester County, New York District Attorney:

  • Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore announced that Loronda Murphy (DOB 07/13/64) of 4 Heather Lane, Greenwich, Connecticut, was sentenced [] to 4 ½ to 13 ½ years in prison on her September 2012 guilty plea to:

    a) one count of Residential Mortgage Fraud in the First Degree, a class "B" Felony,
    b) one count of Residential Mortgage Fraud in the Second Degree, a class "C" Felony,

    From April 2009 to June 2009, operating under the home mortgage closing company Settle One Corporation, with an office located at 428 Main Street in Armonk, New York, the defendant, Loronda Murphy along with real estate attorney Scott Forcino, engaged in what amounted to a home mortgage fraud "Ponzi" scheme.

    The targeted homeowner/victims each took out a new mortgage on their home through Settle One Corporation with the understanding that real estate attorney Scott Forcino would oversee their closing and that money from their new mortgage would pay off their pre-existing mortgage.

    However, Forcino instead allowed Murphy to fraudulently assume the role of attorney for each closing, and, much to the homeowner's surprise, rather than paying off their pre-existing mortgage, Murphy instead stole portions of their new loan money and left their pre-existing mortgage unpaid.

    Murphy's theft then left the homeowner with the unsustainable burden of having multiple mortgages on their family home at one time.

    Over this time period the pair defrauded five victims including Murphy's father.

Real Estate Attorney Cops Multiple Guilty Pleas In Connection With Ripoffs Totaling Approx. $2M In Closing Cash, Buyer Deposits From Real Estate Transactions

From the Office of the Westchester County, New York District Attorney:

  • Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore announced [] that Kevin Hymes (DOB 01/30/73) of 3 Evergreen Road, North Castle, New York, pled guilty to:

    * two counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, class “C” Felonies,
    * two counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, class “D” Felonies,
    * one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, a class “E” Felony,

    relating to the theft of approximately $2,000,000.

    Over a five and one half year period, between Jan. 1, 2007, and June 27, 2012, the defendant, who was a real estate attorney with an office in White Plains, defrauded several individuals and entities by making false representations in connection with real estate closings.

    In March 2010, the defendant while acting in his capacity as attorney for two clients in connection with the sale of real property, stole $318,453.33 by concealing the date and time of the real estate closing and by failing to forward the monies.

    Between May 20, 2010, and June 22, 2010, acting in his capacity as attorney for the seller of property, the defendant stole a $33,000 deposit from a prospective purchaser.

    Between Nov. 8, 2010, and Nov. 9, 2010, the defendant acting in his capacity as attorney for the seller of property, stole a $10,000 deposit from a prospective purchaser.

    Between March 21, 2011, and April 13, 2011, the defendant, acting in his capacity as an attorney for the seller of property, stole $123,500 by failing to forward the deposit and by personally using the money.

    Additionally, the defendant also stole approximately $1.4 million dollars in his capacity as a closing agent for several banks.

Playing Fast & Loose With Trust Account Cash Common Charge Running Through Recent Attorney Disciplinary Orders From Florida High Court

From a recent news release from The Florida Bar:

  • The Florida Bar, the state's guardian for the integrity of the legal profession, announces that the Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 22 attorneys; disbarring five, suspending 13 and publicly reprimanding four. Three attorneys received more than one form of discipline. Two were placed on probation and one was ordered to pay restitution.
The following Florida attorneys have been disciplined for playing fast & loose with their clients' money sitting in the lawyers' trust accounts, among other things:
  • G. Walter Araujo, 102 E. 49th St., Hialeah, suspended for 30 months, effective 30 days from a March 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1997) Araujo admitted to the Bar that for numerous years he’d accepted clients from and shared fees with a non-lawyer. Additionally, Araujo did not maintain proper trust account records. A review of his trust account records as of March 31, 2010, showed a shortage of approximately $8,497. He also improperly solicited a client who had sustained injuries in an automobile accident. Araujo sent a representative to the woman’s house offering legal services, even though she had not contacted anyone seeking such services. (Case No. SC11-1998)

    Jacqueline Jeannette Bird, 254 E. 6th Ave., Tallahassee, suspended for 18 months, effective retroactive to March 4, 2011, following a March 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1988) Bird was hired by a client to represent her in a personal injury matter. Bird failed to negotiate subrogation reductions for the client with her insurer, but falsely stated that she had done so. On a number of occasions, Bird refused to respond to the client’s attempts to receive her settlement funds until a complaint was filed with The Florida Bar. She also commingled personal and trust funds. (Case No. SC11-818)

    Jeffrey A. Blau, 213 E. Davis Blvd., Tampa, suspended until further order, following a Feb. 28 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1978) Blau was found in contempt for repeated failure to respond to a trust account subpoena and failure to show good cause for non-compliance. (Case No. 12-2518)

    Mark F. Dickson, 10940 N.W. 15th St., Pembroke Pines, disbarred effective immediately, following a March 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1975) Dickson was found guilty of engaging in multiple offenses of misconduct. In at least seven legal matters, Dickson was involved in misappropriation of more than $1.6 million in client funds for personal use, forgery and false notarization. He entered into numerous settlements without client authorization or knowledge, failed to keep proper trust accounting records, failed to communicate adequately with clients, and gave false testimony to The Florida Bar. (Case No. SC12-683)

    Chaz Robert Fisher, P.O. Box 93, Hudson, N.H., suspended for 90 days, effective 30 days from a March 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004) Fisher is also a member of the New York and Massachusetts state bar associations. When approached by a client’s father to represent his severely disabled child, Fisher accepted the job and became the successor corporate co-trustee of a trust for the child, while the father was designated as the individual trustee. In his handling of the trust matters, Fisher violated Rules Regulating The Florida Bar regarding competence and diligence, performed duties that were a conflict of interest and failed in safekeeping property by not segregating funds deposited and retained in a trust account. (Case No. SC12-1189)
  • Brian Eldon Gray, 1040 Bayview Drive, Suite 610, Fort Lauderdale, suspended until further order, following a Feb. 15 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1995) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Gray appeared to be causing great public harm by misappropriating client trust funds. In multiple instances, Gray did not apply funds entrusted to him for specific purposes but used them in a matter similar to a Ponzi scheme. (Case No. SC13-149)
  • Ronald James Kurpiers II, 707 N. Franklin St., Sixth Floor, Tampa, to be publicly reprimanded by the Board of Governors, following a March 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2002) Kurpiers failed to follow trust accounting rules in the handling of an estate and he falsely said he witnessed a document being signed regarding the estate when he had not. (Case No. SC12-1696)

    Albert Richard Meyer, 200 Knuth Road, Suite 101, Boynton Beach, suspended for 60 days, effective 30 days from a March 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1992) In the course of handling foreclosure defense and loan modification cases, Meyer became associated with two separate non-legal entities, who engaged in improper solicitation of clients. Meyer also shared legal fees with non-lawyers. (Case No. SC12-515)
  • Lafe Rainier Purcell, 1403 W. Colonial Drive #A, Orlando, suspended until further order, following a Feb. 20 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1997) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Purcell misappropriated client funds and abandoned his law practice. Numerous payments from Purcell’s trust account were made for his personal benefit or that of his law firm. He also commingled trust funds with his law firm operating funds. Purcell failed to respond to a request from the Bar to produce his trust account records. A Bar investigator learned that Purcell broke his lease and moved out of his law office without giving notice. (Case No. SC13-151)
  • Mark David Swanson, 1521 Alton Road., 684, Miami Beach, disbarred effective immediately, following a March 11 court order. Further, Swanson shall pay restitution of $10,000 to one client. (Admitted to practice: 1984) Pursuant to the terms of a retainer agreement, Swanson accepted $10,000 from a client in a pending criminal appeal, but failed to take any action on the client’s behalf. In another case, he never responded to a request to release guardianship funds for a minor who had become of age. (Case No. SC11-1478)
For The Florida Bar news release, see Summaries of orders issued between Feb. 15 – March 11, 2013.

Home Improvement Contractor Pinched In Ripoff For Pocketing $300K, Abandoning Project; Failure To Treat Cash As Trust Funds & Provide An Accounting Constitute Violations Of NYS Lien Law

From the Office of the Rockland County, New York District Attorney:

  • Rockland County District Attorney Thomas P. Zugibe [] announced that Peter Provenza (DOB 01/15/68) of 144 Strawtown Road, New City, New York has been charged with one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class “C” Felony.

    Provenza, a licensed home improvement contractor who conducts his business under the corporate name of Provenza Contracting, Inc., is alleged to have stolen over $100,000 from a Clarkstown homeowner with whom he had contracted to perform renovations, including major remodeling and a room addition. The defendant surrendered himself to the Clarkstown court.

    According to the charges, the victim contracted with Provenza in April, 2011 to remodel the residence at a total cost of $485,000. Over the next several months, the victim paid the defendant over $300,000.

    In December, 2011, Provenza allegedly walked away from the job. All attempts by the victim to have money refunded and to procure an accounting of what renovations were completed were allegedly ignored by the defendant.

    Provenza is accused of abandoning the project and failing to provide an accounting or return of the victim’s money.

    The arrest of the defendant resulted from an investigation conducted by the Rockland County Special Investigations Unit and the Rockland County Department of Consumer Protection.

    The defendant will be prosecuted for Grand Larceny through application of the New York State Lien Law, which mandates that, upon acceptance of funds in connection with a contract for improvement of real property or home improvement, those funds become a trust, which can be used only to pay for costs incurred in the performance of that homeowner’s project.

    The use of that money for any other purpose is a larceny under the Lien Law.

    Further, the contractor must maintain separate ledgers for each job for which he has contracted. By failing to provide an accounting of how the money had been used and by not returning the money upon the demand of the consumer, the contractor is accused of violating both the Penal Law and the Lien Law.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Report Documents 'Debtors' Prison' Practices Alive & Well In Seven Ohio Counties; ACLU Official: Jailers Spend More To Incarcerate People Than They Collect In Many Cases

The American Civil Liberties Union recently announced:

  • The U.S. Constitution and Ohio state law prohibit courts from jailing people for being too poor to pay their legal fines, but in several Ohio counties, local courts are doing it anyway. The ACLU of Ohio [] released The Outskirts of Hopea report that chronicles a nearly yearlong investigation into Ohio’s debtors’ prisons and tells the stories of six Ohioans whose lives have been damaged by debtors’ prison practices.

    “Being poor is not a crime in this country,” said Rachel Goodman, Staff Attorney at the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “Incarcerating people who cannot afford to pay fines is both unconstitutional and cruel—it takes a tremendous toll on precisely those families already struggling the most.”

    The law requires that courts hold hearings to determine defendants’ financial status before jailing them for failure to pay fines, and defendants must be provided with lawyers for these hearings. If a defendant cannot pay, the court must explore options other than jail.

    “Supreme Court precedent and Ohio law make clear that local courts and jails should not function as debtors’ prisons,” said Carl Takei, Staff Attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project. “Yet many mayors’ courts and some municipal courts jail people without making any attempt whatsoever to determine whether they can afford to pay their fines.”

    Beyond the questions of legality, debtors’ prison practices make no financial sense since courts routinely spend more to jail defendants than they would recover in fines.

    “Not only are these courts violating the law, they are actually losing money doing it,” said ACLU Director of Communications and Public Policy Mike Brickner. “In every case we profiled for The Outskirts of Hope, the county spent more money than it collected to incarcerate people for failure to pay fines. In many cases, it spent more than the defendant owed in the first place.”

    “These practices are legally prohibited, morally questionable, and financially unsound. Nevertheless, they appear to be alive and well in Ohio,” added Brickner. “It’s like something out of a Charles Dickens novel.”
For the ACLU press release, see ACLU Report Exposes Debtors’ Prison Practices in Ohio (Investigation into Eleven Ohio Counties finds that Seven are Illegally Jailing People for Inability to Pay Fines).

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

Report: Crappy $26B Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Even Crappier Than First Believed; Banksters Continue Trampling On Consumer Rights: Housing Counselors

From the California Reinvestment Coalition:

  • A new survey of housing counselors in California reveals that banks are violating several consumer protections that were mandated by the $26 billion National Mortgage Settlement (NMS) and the California Homeowners Bill of Rights.

    In addition, the survey reveals that bank practices continue to disproportionately affect disadvantaged and hard-hit communities including limited English proficient (LEP) borrowers, widows, and people with disabilities. The results of the survey were released today in a report, “Chasm Between Words and Deeds IX: Bank Violations Hurt Hardest Hit Communities

State AG To Confused, Cynical Oklahoma Homeowners Screwed Over In Foreclosure Fraud Scandal: 'Those Dopey 'Settlement' Postcards You Got In The Mail From 'Rust Consulting' Offering Foreclosure Compensation Really Are Legit!'

From the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General:

  • Attorney General Scott Pruitt Tuesday issued an alert for Oklahoma residents about a new federal mortgage settlement from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

    The Attorney General’s Office has received dozens of calls from residents confused about the settlement and the postcards they received from “Rust Consulting,” believing the cards were part of a scam.

    The settlement is a legitimate agreement between the Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and 14 mortgage servicers. It is not related to the federal mortgage settlement by the Justice Department or Oklahoma’s mortgage settlement announced last year.

    Oklahomans who receive the postcards should contact the toll-free number on the card to determine their eligibility for foreclosure compensation. Borrowers will not be required to execute a waiver of any legal claims they may have against their servicer as a condition for receiving payment. Beware of anyone who asks you to call a different telephone number than the one provided on the card or to pay a fee to receive a payment under the agreement.

    For more information, call 1-888-952-9105 or go online to

Monday, April 8, 2013

GAO To Hammer Federal Reserve, OCC In Upcoming Report For Mishandling Of Clean-Up Necessitated By Flawed Foreclosures

The New York Times reports:

  • Federal authorities plan to issue a stinging critique of how banking regulators responded to wide-ranging foreclosure abuses, blaming officials for a bureaucratic maze that delayed relief to homeowners.

    In a long-anticipated report, the Government Accountability Office will take aim at the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for their role in cleaning up flawed foreclosures at the nation’s biggest banks, according to a preliminary draft of the document provided to DealBook. The regulators, the report found, failed to properly coordinate a review of foreclosed loans and even potentially allowed some errors to go undetected.

    The regulators did not comment on the report. In a letter to the Government Accountability Office, however, the comptroller’s office said it “appreciates your understanding of the complexity” of the foreclosure review process and the “intent of your recommendations.” The agency added that it would incorporate suggestions from the the report into its future oversight of the banks.

    People briefed on the report cautioned that it was not yet final and could still be changed. The accountability office is expected to release the report in the coming days.

    The report stems from an investigation that began in 2011 at the behest of Congressional Democrats, including Representative Maxine Waters, who is now the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. Ms. Waters raised concerns about the use of private consultants to conduct a sweeping review of the foreclosures. The consultants, tasked with unearthing whether homeowners were wrongfully evicted, had close ties to both the regulators and the banks they were expected to examine.

    The report shows that lawmakers had reason to worry. The review was fraught from the start, according to the Government Accountability Office, as consultants racked up more than $2 billion in fees while reviewing only a fraction of the loans in question.

BofA Refuses To Admit Fault, But Agrees To Cough Up $165M Anyway To Settle Suit For Role In Peddling Crappy Home Mortgage-Backed Securities To Failed Credit Unions

The National Credit Union Administration recently announced:

  • The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) [] announced a settlement with Bank of America and certain of its subsidiaries ("Bank of America") for $165 million for losses related to purchases of residential mortgage-backed securities by failed corporate credit unions.

    “As a result of the Bank of America settlement, NCUA has now successfully recovered more than a third of a billion dollars on behalf of credit unions,” said NCUA Board Chairman Debbie Matz. “These settlements and our ongoing lawsuits further NCUA’s goal of minimizing the losses of the corporate crisis and cutting future costs to credit unions.”

    In all, NCUA has obtained more than $335 million in legal settlements. NCUA was the first federal regulatory agency for depository institutions to recover losses from investments in these securities on behalf of failed financial institutions. NCUA uses the net proceeds to reduce Temporary Corporate Credit Union Stabilization Fund (Stabilization Fund) assessments charged to federally insured credit unions to pay for the losses caused by the failure of five corporate credit unions.

    Today’s announced settlement with Bank of America follows three similar agreements with Citigroup, Deutsche Bank Securities and HSBC totaling $170.75 million. Bank of America did not admit fault as part of the settlement.

    “We have a statutory obligation to secure recoveries for credit unions and ensure that consumers remain protected,” added Chairman Matz. “We will continue to expend every possible effort to fulfill that important responsibility.”

    NCUA has filed ten lawsuits against several other firms, including Barclays Capital, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Securities, RBS Securities, UBS Securities, Wachovia, Washington Mutual and Bear, Stearns alleging violations of federal and state securities laws in the sale of mortgage-backed securities to the five corporate credit unions.
For the NCUA press release, see NCUA Recoveries for Corporate Credit Union Losses Top $335 Million (​$165 Million Settlement with Bank of America Will Further Reduce Assessments).

Federal Judge Upholds Bankruptcy Court's $3M+ Punitive Slam Against Bankster Over Willful, Egregious Misconduct, Exhibition Of Reckless Disregard For Automatic Stay

From the National Consumer Bankruptcy Rights Center blog:

  • Despite repeated bludgeoning by the courts for its conduct, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Inc., has tenaciously and relentlessly fought against accepting responsibility for misapplying mortgage payments and charging unapproved fees.

    Now the district court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, has upheld a punitive damages award of over $3 million against Wells Fargo.
For more, see $3 Million Punitive Damage Award Upheld against Wells Fargo.

For the ruling, see Jones v. Wells Fargo, No. 12-1362 (E.D. La. March 19, 2013).

Thanks to Deontos for the heads-up on the court ruling.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lawsuit Alleges Non-Citizen Nurse Married Elderly Patient To Score Green Card, Then Bumped Him Off To Snatch $1.5M In Real Estate

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

  • A Jamaican nurse married one of her patients to get a green card — then hastened his death to get his $1.5 million Brooklyn properties, the man’s family charges in a stunning lawsuit.

    Relatives of Garth Lewis, 67, claim that his marriage to caregiver Janet Lloyd was nothing but a sham — and that she “was directly responsible” for the diabetes-stricken man’s death because she didn’t care for him properly, according to court papers.

    Lloyd, a 47-year-old mother of five, denied the allegations, telling The Post, “I did not cause my husband’s death, and the doctors know that.”

    The family brought their concerns to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. A source said the case was referred to federal immigration authorities. Lewis, of Flatbush, died Feb. 26 of a heart attack. He and Lloyd had been married for a year.

    Lewis’ death, his family charges, “was premature and orchestrated by [Lloyd], whose sole purposes were to marry [Lewis] in order to obtain her green card and to deplete his assets,” according to the lawsuit. Lloyd “never acted as, nor was, a wife in reality to [Lewis],” the relatives claim.

    The marriage was real, Lloyd insisted — even showing a Post staffer a photo of her and Lewis engaged in a sex act to prove it. “They said our relationship wasn’t intimate. Does this look intimate to you?” she fumed.

    Her dead husband’s relatives accuse Lloyd of causing not just Garth Lewis’ death, but her first husband’s as well. Lloyd’s first husband “also died under similar, very questionable circumstances,” Lewis’ family claims in Brooklyn Supreme Court papers. Lloyd claims her first husband was a cop who was murdered in her native Jamaica while she was living in the United States.

    Lewis’ mother, Eileen, and cousin, Shirley Cleardawn-Lewis, are fighting Lloyd’s efforts to have Lewis cremated because the family “strongly believes that preventing cremation is critical to determine the cause of [Lewis’] death and to prevent other men from experiencing the same fate,” according to court documents.

    The nature of [Lloyd’s] profession — nursing — provides her access to knowledge of ending a life based upon the diseases being untreated and the proper medication not properly administered,” the relatives allege in the lawsuit.

    Lewis and Lloyd had met when she became his nurse, his family said.

    “He needed particular medical care; he needed to be fed properly and at certain definite times during the day. [Lloyd] did not properly administer the necessary treatment,” the lawsuit alleges.

    Neighbors allegedly exposed Lloyd’s poor treatment of Lewis and alerted his family, the relatives claim in court papers.

    Lloyd insisted the shocking allegations are nothing more than a money grab by her dead husband’s relatives, who want to take over the three residential Brooklyn buildings he owned.

    Public records show the buildings have a market value of about a half-million dollars each.

    “They are crazy,” Lloyd said, crying. “I didn’t take care of my husband?” Lloyd said her cousin had introduced her to Lewis. “When I met him, I was married, so we couldn’t have a relationship,” she said.

    She was about to return to Jamaica for good, Lloyd said, when Lewis begged her to stay. “He said, ‘Janet, stay,’ and I said, ‘How can I stay in America?’ He said, ‘Marry me,’ ” she recalled.

Rockland DA Amnesty Program Allows Homeowners Claiming Illegal Homestead Tax Exemptions To Voluntarily Step Up, Fork Over Fraudulently-Obtained Property Tax Discounts Or Face Criminal Prosecution

From the Office of the Rockland County, New York District Attorney:

  • Rockland County District Attorney Thomas P. Zugibe [] announced a unique amnesty program to allow STAR program violators to pay up and avoid criminal charges and possible arrest.

    The amnesty initiative comes during an ongoing effort to root out county residents who are double-dipping their STAR, or New York State School Tax Relief property tax break.

    During the past eleven months, detectives in the Special Investigations Unit have already uncovered more than $679,000 in improperly or fraudulently claimed STAR exemptions from 2012 representing a grand total from Rockland’s five towns.

    District Attorney Zugibe said, “STAR is only available on your primary residence, but our investigation has identified dozens of individuals who own two homes and get the exemption on both. Our figures represent the tip of the iceberg. Those who double-dip STAR exemptions are cheating the system, at a time when the state’s finite resources are of critical importance.”

    STAR is New York's version of a homestead exemption or a property tax discount for an owner-occupied primary residence.
  • As part of the amnesty, those who have wrongfully taken exemptions have until April 1st, 2013 to take corrective measures and make good on their financial obligations. Those violators who fail to take advantage of the amnesty face considerable consequences, including criminal charges of theft, potential arrest, sizable fees and court costs and a criminal record.

Elmira 'Crimebusters' Tag Non-Owner-Occupant Property Owners With Criminal Charges, Jail Time For Code Violations

In Elmira, New York, the Press & Sun-Bulletin reports:

  • The first Elmira property owner convicted of criminal code violations in 15 years was sentenced Friday to jail time by City Court Judge Steven Forrest and must continue to make repairs to one of the homes after she leaves jail.

    Elizabeth Holloway, formerly of Endicott, was sentenced to 60 days in the Chemung County Jail for violations at her 514 W. Water St. property and 60 days in jail for property at 262 Caldwell Ave. that was included in Chemung County’s annual tax foreclosure real estate auction Wednesday.
  • Forrest said he would levy no fines or surcharges. “The court feels that’s overkill,” he said. [...] “I have taken responsibility to do the best with both properties,” she said, starting to cry before being sentenced for the Caldwell Avenue property.

    Kelly said Holloway is retired, on a limited income and has invested $70,000 in repairs to the properties. “She has no more retirement,” he said, speaking against “putting this poor little old lady in jail.”
  • Holloway pleaded guilty Nov. 20 before Forrest to failing to maintain the exterior of 514 W. Water St. and failing to maintain windows at 262 Caldwell Ave. Her sentencing had been adjourned several times since January. She knew there was a possibility of jail time when she pleaded guilty, Forrest said Friday.
  • Forrest said he agreed that Holloway has put quite a few improvements in the West Water Street property, but the bottom line is she was convicted for failing to maintain the exterior. “It’s this court’s hope you’ve learned from this experience,” Forrest said.
  • Also Friday, Franklin and Harriet Lee of Westbury, Long Island, the former owners of 456 W. Water St., were each sentenced to $250 fines that are to be paid in $50 monthly increments starting April 15.

    They were originally criminally charged with failure to maintain porches in a structurally sound condition and good repair, and failure to maintain an extension overhang in good condition. However, that property also was part of the county’s tax foreclosure auction Wednesday.

    Campanella said the couple had no prior record of code violations. They pleaded guilty to a reduced code charge of violation of use.
For more, see Elmira property owner, who lived in Endicott, goes to jail for code violations (Elmira property owner, who lived in Endicott, goes to jail for code violations).