Saturday, July 13, 2013

After Feeling Forced To Move, Disabled Tenant Scores $16.5K In Suit Settlement Over Landlord's Alleged Failure To Respond & Engage In Interactive Process In Connection With Request To Make Building Wheelchair-Friendlier By Either Fixing Often-Broken Elevators Or Installing Ramp

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:

  • A Worcester housing complex and its property management company will pay $20,000 to resolve allegations of disability-based housing discrimination, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced [].

    The assurance of discontinuance (AOD), filed with the Suffolk Superior Court today, resolves allegations that Federal Square Condominium Trust, owner of a 76-unit condominium complex with four commercial units in Worcester, and its property management company Alpine Property Management, failed to respond to a tenant’s requests to make the building wheelchair accessible.

    Specifically, the tenant requested that the defendants fix the often-broken elevators or install a ramp. Because of the failure to respond and to make the requested modifications, the tenant and her disabled partner were forced to move out of the building.

    “Massachusetts law requires landlords to communicate with and provide reasonable accommodations for their tenants with disabilities,” AG Coakley said. “Landlords must meet their obligations under the law in a timely manner especially when it comes to tenants who have every right to safe access to their own home.”

    Under Massachusetts law, when a property owner or manager receives a request from a tenant with disabilities for an accommodation, the owner or manager has to take steps to communicate with the tenant to identify whether or not it is reasonable to provide such an accommodation. They may ultimately deny the tenant’s request, but they have to engage in an interactive process.

    Under the terms of the agreement, Federal Square and Alpine will pay a total of $20,000, including $16,500 to the tenant and $3,500 to the Commonwealth. In addition, Alpine will implement new policies to ensure that it properly responds to requests for reasonable accommodations in the future within 15 business days and to maintain a written log of all requests to ensure compliance.

Craigslist Ad Indicating Unwillingness To Rent To Families With Kids Under Age 6 To Dodge Duty To Delead Apartment To Cost Landlord $38K+ In Penalties, Legal Fees, Costs

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:

  • A Melrose landlord and property manager have been ordered to pay more than $38,000 in a housing discrimination case that resulted from posting a Craigslist advertisement indicating their unwillingness to rent to families with children because of the lead status of a rental unit, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced [].

    [A] civil judgment was entered in Suffolk Superior Court against landlord Nicholas Keramaris and MT. V.M. Realty Trust (MT. V.M.) – the owner of a 20-unit rental property in Melrose – who were found to have violated both the state anti-discrimination law and consumer protection law by posting an advertisement on the popular classified advertising website stating that an apartment “is not deleaded, therefore it cannot be rented to families with children under six years old.”

    “Massachusetts law is very clear – landlords cannot avoid their obligations under the state’s lead paint laws by refusing to rent to families with young children,” AG Coakley said. “This judgment demonstrates that there are serious consequences for violating anti-discrimination laws.”

    In 2010, the AG’s Office filed a complaint against Keramaris and MT. V.M., alleging that their advertisements were discriminatory against families with young children. Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to refuse to rent or steer families away from rental properties because they have young children whose presence triggers an owner’s duty to eliminate lead hazards that pose serious health risks.

    The Court has ordered Keramaris and MT. V.M. to pay a civil penalty of $10,000, and more than $28,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs. They have also been ordered to cease from posting any discriminatory advertisements, and delead the next two-bedroom apartment in the building that becomes available for rent that is not yet deleaded. Additionally, both Nicholas Keramaris and George Keramaris, the trustee, are required to attend fair housing training.
For the Massachusetts AG press release, see Melrose Landlord and Property Manager Ordered to Pay More Than $38,000 for Discriminatory Craigslist Ad (Court Judgment Requires Defendants to Delead Unit, Attend Fair Housing Training).

Massachusetts AG Indicts Landlord For Allegedly Using Forged Lead Inspection Compliance Letter In Attempt To Qualify For Receipt Of Section 8, State-Subsidized Rental Assistance Payments On Behalf Of Tenant With Three Kids Under Age 6

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:

  • A Chelsea area property owner and real estate broker has been indicted in connection with procurement fraud and falsifying a lead inspection report, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced [].

    Nidia Peguero, age 39, of Chelsea, was indicted [...] by a Suffolk County Grand Jury on the charges of Procurement Fraud (2 counts) and Uttering False or Forged Records.

    “Exposure to lead can be extremely dangerous, especially for young children,” AG Coakley said. “We allege that this defendant falsified a lead inspection report in order to be able to accept government-funded housing assistance payments from a tenant with three children under six years old.”

    The AG’s Office began an investigation to this matter after it was referred by the Department of Public Health. Authorities allege that in October 2011, Peguero, a licensed realtor, submitted a falsified lead inspection compliance letter for a Chelsea property her husband owned to the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership (MBHP) in order for him to be approved as a landlord eligible to receive government-funded rental assistance payments.

    MBHP serves as a regional administrator for the state Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and administers both the Section 8 and HomeBase housing assistance programs in the Boston metropolitan area. A landlord must submit appropriate documentation to MBHP to become eligible to receive rental assistance payments.

    Further, if there are to be children under the age of six living in the unit, a landlord must submit documentation showing that a passing lead paint inspection was conducted on the property.

    According to authorities, after a tenant of the Chelsea property, who at the time had three children under the age of six, applied to receive housing assistance, MBHP received a letter of lead inspection compliance from Peguero. The letter was purportedly signed by a licensed lead inspector.

    However, a review of the letter conducted by MBHP and inspectors from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Child Lead Poisoning Prevention Program determined the documentation to be fraudulent. Investigators allege that Peguero altered a prior proper lead inspection report prepared for her parents for a different property and submitted the falsified document to MBHP.

    Further investigation revealed that Peguero submitted the same forged lead letter in May 2010 to Children’s Services of Roxbury in order to receive payments under a different state housing subsidy program called Flex Fund, which is administered by DHCD.

Bay State Landlord Gets Jail Time In State Hate Crimes Prosecution For Use Of Racial Slurs To Harass, Intimidate Once-Pregnant, White Tenant Who Since Delivered, Brought Home Newborn Biracial Infant, Forcing Her To Move From Residence

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:

  • A Holyoke man has been found guilty in connection with the racial harassment of his tenant in violation of her civil rights and sentenced to jail, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced [].

    Following a two day trial, a Hampden Superior Court jury found Jesse Jedrzejczyk, 58, guilty on the charge of Civil Rights Violation. Following the verdict Judge Daniel Ford sentenced Jedrzejczyk to one year in the house of correction, six months to serve with the balance suspended for one year. Jedrzejczyk was further ordered to attend counseling per his probation, comply with the permanent injunction, engage in substance abuse evaluations, and stay away from and have no contact with the victims.

    “The defendant harassed and intimidated victims despite being subject to a court order due to similar behavior in the past,” AG Coakley said. "This verdict and sentence shows that bias and hate-motivated conduct is not tolerated in Massachusetts.”

    In 2009, the Attorney General’s Office filed a Superior Court civil action against Jedrzejczyk pursuant to the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act and obtained a permanent injunction against him based on allegations that he threatened, intimidated, and harassed a neighbor and her young daughters because of their perceived race.

    Despite being subject to the Superior Court order, Jedrzejczyk engaged in substantially similar behavior toward his tenant and her infant child because of their perceived race. Jedrzejczyk rented the first floor apartment in his building to his tenant. The tenant, a white female, was three months pregnant at the time she moved into the defendant’s building.

    After the tenant brought home her newborn biracial infant, Jedrzejczyk regularly harassed his tenant using racial slurs thereby intimidating his tenant, creating concern for her infant’s safety and, ultimately, forcing her to move from her home.

    A Hampden County grand jury returned indictments against Jedrzejczyk on October 23, 2012. Jedrzejczyk was arraigned in Hampden Superior Court on November 8, 2012 where he pleaded not guilty and was ordered held on $10,000 bail. Jedrzejczyk was found guilty on May 24 by a Hampden Superior Court jury following a two day trial and was sentenced to jail.

    AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division works to protect the civil rights of all residents and visitors to Massachusetts. The Attorney General’s Office may obtain an injunction if an individual is the victim of threats, intimidation, or coercion on the basis of a protected category or a protected activity pursuant to the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, commonly referred to as the “hate crimes” statute.
For the Massachusetts AG press release, see Holyoke Man Found Guilty, Sentenced to Jail in Connection with Violating Civil Rights (Defendant Engaged in Race-Based Harassment of Neighbors).

Friday, July 12, 2013

Disciplinary Actions By Florida Supreme Court

The Florida Bar recently published its periodic 'gossip sheet' announcing the discipline recently meted out by the Florida Supreme Court to some of the Bar's wayward members.

The following lawyers were disciplined for either playing fast & loose with client's trust funds, improperly ripping off clients out of unwarranted legal fees/gifts, or otherwise not dealing on the up & up with their clients:

  • Ronald George Baker, 2655 S. Le Jeune Road, Ph. II-B, Coral Gables, suspended for 91 days, effective July 14, following a May 15 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1976) Baker had a long-time business relationship with a client whom he assisted in an estate planning matter. A restatement of the trust provided that Baker, who prepared the documents at the instruction of the client, would receive $250,000 as a beneficiary of the reinstatement. Upon the death of the client, Baker disbursed the funds to himself and he additionally collected $110,000 for serving as trustee, personal representative and attorney. Baker violated Bar rules involving conflict of interestHis acceptance of a substantial gift from a client was inappropriate and also violated Bar rules. (Case No. SC12-2725)
  • Jennifer Aycock Bonifield, 1025 Professional Park Drive, Brandon, disbarred effective immediately, following a May 15 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2002) Bonifield abandoned her law practice and converted funds held in trust. She was found guilty of the following offenses: committing a criminal act, charging excessive fees, fraud and misrepresentation, and engaging in a pattern of neglect. In several instances, Bonifield failed to maintain adequate communication with clients, failed to work diligently on cases, and failed to respond to the Bar's inquiries. (Case No. SC12-1188)
  • Libio Calejo, 2500 N.W. 79th Ave., Suite 102, Doral, suspended for one year, effective 30 days from a May 15 court order. Further, Calejo was ordered to pay restitution of $9,700 to six separate clients. (Admitted to practice: 2004) Calejo represented approximately 20 debtors in federal bankruptcy court. Many of the petitions and schedules he filed contained inaccuracies, leading to amendments that also contained inaccuracies and resulted in unreasonable delays. Calejo’s failure to appear at a number of scheduled creditors’ meetings resulted in the dismissal of most of the bankruptcy cases. Calejo also failed to adequately communicate with clients, often leaving that responsibility to his non-lawyer personnel. (Case No. SC12-2729)
  • Stewart Lawrence Jacobson, P.O. Box 120007, Clermont, to be publicly reprimanded following a May 15 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1977) The Bar’s audit of Jacobson’s trust account revealed a shortage of approximately $30,000, but found no indication of intentional misappropriation. The shortage was due to negligent record keeping. (Case No. SC12-1941)

    Stephen Gilman Kolody, 3625 Hidden Tree Lane, Fort Myers, suspended for 91 days with reinstatement under Rule 3-7.10, effective 30 days from a May 15 court order. Further, Kolody shall pay restitution of more than $10,000 to two clients. (Admitted to practice: 1980) Kolody was found in contempt for noncompliance with a subpoena to produce trust accounting records. Kolody accepted fees in advance in two instances and subsequently failed to perform the services. (Case Nos. SC11-721 & SC12-1420)
  • Charles Edward Pellicer, 28 Cordova St.,Saint Augustine, to be publicly reprimanded and placed on probation for two years, following a May 15 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1976) Pellicer took out a $20,000 loan from an elderly blind woman who was a former client. He also handled several legal matters for her after obtaining the loan. He failed to advise her to obtain independent legal advice regarding the loan. Pellicer failed to make the required loan payments for six months but later paid off the loan. Pellicer also commingled his personal funds with trust funds and failed to maintain his trust account records in substantial compliance with the rules. (Case No. SC12-1190)
  • James Herbert Rainey, 1117 Clare Ave., West Palm Beach, suspended until further order, following a May 22 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1983) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Rainey appeared to be causing great public harm. A Bar investigation found that Rainey misappropriated client funds. He also misrepresented facts in a written response to a Florida Bar inquiry. (Case No. SC13-881)
  • Mark David Tucker, P.O. Box 557818, Miami, disbarred effective 30 days from an April 30 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1981) Tucker was found in contempt for failing to comply with the terms of a November 2010 suspension order that also placed him on probation for three years. Tucker failed to pay $72,950 to a former client within the three-year probationary period as required. (Case No. SC12-952)

78-Year Old Ex-Lawyer Gets Two Years House Arrest For Screwing Over Clients By Pocketing $400K+ Of Entrusted Funds Intended To Be Used To Pay Off Mortgages; Probe Triggered By Referral From State High Court's Attorney Ripoff Reimbursement Fund

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:

  • A former Tewksbury attorney has pleaded guilty and been sentenced in connection with stealing more than $400,000 from multiple clients, one of whom was disabled, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced []. The defendant stole money that had been entrusted to him by clients seeking help to pay off mortgages or as part of the probate of an estate.

    Raymond Paczkowski, Jr., age 78, of Tewksbury, pleaded guilty [...] in Middlesex Superior Court to Larceny over $250 from a Disabled Person and Larceny over $250 (7 counts). After the plea was entered, Superior Court Judge Edward P. Leibensperger sentenced Paczkowski to two years of home confinement, with the conditions that he be monitored by GPS and complete 400 hours of community service. Judge Leibensperger also ordered Paczkowski to serve three years of probation upon completion of his period of home confinement and to pay $479,000 in restitution.

    In 2010, the AG’s Office began an investigation after the matter was referred from the Tewksbury Police Department and the Massachusetts Clients’ Security Board, which manages a fund that is supported, in part, by annual fees paid by members of the bar.

    The Clients’ Security Board distributes fund money to members of the public who have sustained a financial loss caused by the dishonest conduct of a member of the bar acting as an attorney or a fiduciary.

    Paczkowski worked as an attorney specializing in conveyancing and probate work, and also did some work with insurance claims and litigation. In 2008, Paczkowski began stealing from several of his clients.

    According to investigators, Paczkowski received $75,000 in 2008 from a disabled client in order to pay off a mortgage on her home. Several months later, however, the client received a letter indicting that the loan was still outstanding. Investigation revealed that Paczkowski never gave the money to the lender and instead stole it for his personal use.

    Paczkowski also took money from several other clients who had sought help in paying off their mortgages. In one case, a client gave Paczkowski $175,000, with the intent that Paczkowski immediately use those funds to pay off the existing mortgage on his property. The client, however, continued to receive monthly mortgage statements and investigation revealed that Paczkowski stole the money instead of paying off the clients’ mortgage.

    In other instances, Paczkowski stole money from clients who had hired him to assist with the handling or disposing of estate property after experiencing a death in the family. In one case, a client who assumed the full title to his mother’s property after she passed sought Paczkowski’s assistance in paying off a mortgage in order to refinance. The client’s mother owed roughly $109,000 to the company that held a mortgage on the property and Paczkowski received $158,100 from a new lender. According to investigators, Paczkowski forwarded the proceeds to the client, but failed to pay off the original mortgage company. The client realized the theft when he received multiple late notices on his mother’s mortgage statement.
For the Massachusetts AG press release, see Former Tewksbury Attorney Pleads Guilty, Sentenced in Connection with Stealing More Than $400,000 from Clients (Defendant Stole Money Entrusted to Him by Clients for His Personal Use; Stole from Disabled Client).

Massachusetts AG Pinches Now-Disbarred Attorney For Various Client Ripoffs Totalling $900K+; Alleged To Have Failed To Pay Off Existing Loans When Retained To Handle Real Estate Transactions

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:

  • A now-disbarred Lawrence attorney has been indicted in connection with stealing more than $900,000 from multiple clients, one of them elderly, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced [].

    Phillip Thompson, age 35, of Lawrence, was indicted [] by Statewide Grand Jury on charges of Larceny over $250 from a Person over Sixty, Larceny over $250 (7 counts) and Unauthorized Practice of Law.

    “This defendant abused his stature as an attorney to take advantage of vulnerable clients,” AG Coakley said. “We allege that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars for his own personal use.”

    The AG’s Office began an investigation in 2011 after the matter was referred by the Essex County District Attorney’s Office. Thompson worked as an attorney out of his Lawrence law office, primarily specializing in real estate, and also ran a debt collection agency out of his office. Authorities allege that between July 2007 and June 2011, Thompson stole more than $900,000 from at least seven clients.

    The investigation revealed that Thompson represented clients in several real estate transactions, allegedly failing to pay off loans and failing to give funds to clients who were owed money.

    In one case, Thompson allegedly represented an elderly man and his wife who were seeking to obtain a settlement from their insurance company after their home burned down. When the insurance company issued more than $416,000 in checks jointly to the clients and Thompson, Thompson allegedly converted the funds for his own use and the clients never received any of the money.

    In another instance, a reverend gave Thompson $60,000 to hold in escrow pending a closing on land that his church intended to purchase. When the closing fell through, Thompson allegedly never returned the money and kept it for his personal use.

    According to investigators, Thompson continued to solicit legal business and represent himself as an attorney after he was suspended from practice in June 2010. Thompson was later disbarred in July 2012.
For the Massachusetts AG press release, see Former Lawrence Attorney Indicted for Stealing More Than $900,000 From Clients (Defendant Allegedly Stole Money for His Personal Use; Stole from Elderly Client).

Now-Disbarred Lawyer Gets Year In Jail, 18 Months House Arrest After Copping Plea To Ripping Off Elderly Clients Of Nearly $900K

From the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General:

  • A disbarred attorney has been sentenced to jail and ordered to pay restitution in connection with stealing a total of nearly $900,000 from an estate she represented, a beneficiary of that estate whose funds were in a trust she managed, and an elderly client, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office announced [].

    Maureen F. Pomeroy, age 46, of Bedford, pleaded guilty on [] in Middlesex Superior Court to charges of Larceny over $250 from a Person 60 or Older (2 counts), Larceny over $250, and Embezzlement by Fiduciary.

    [M]iddlesex Superior Court Judge Kimberly Budd sentenced Pomeroy to two-and-a-half years in the House of Correction, with one year to serve and the balance suspended with probation for two-and-a-half years. As a condition of probation, Pomeroy must remain on house arrest for one-and-a-half years and pay restitution in the amount of $277,292.

    “This defendant took advantage of clients who entrusted her with access to their funds and believed that she would assist them with their best interests in mind,” said AG Coakley. “It is particularly appalling that she stole more than $800,000 from an elderly client and from someone who was grieving the loss of a family member. This defendant is being held accountable for these injustices and is no longer able to practice law.”

    In May 2010, the AG’s Office began an investigation into Pomeroy’s activities after receiving a complaint from one of her former clients. During the time she practiced as an attorney, Pomeroy specialized in real estate and estate planning, and would routinely draft wills or other financial documents for her clients.

    According to authorities, an 85-year-old man retained her services to prepare a will and other estate planning documents for him, and to assist him in obtaining funds from several bank accounts. Authorities allege that from July 2008 through October 2008, Pomeroy stole more than $810,000 from this client. Pomeroy used these funds for her personal benefit and used some of the elderly client’s funds to repay two clients from whom she had earlier misappropriated money.

    According to authorities, in October 2007, Pomeroy handled a closing on the sale of a deceased man’s home under a power of attorney and concealed her receipt of more than $32,000 of sale proceeds. In addition, Pomeroy set up a trust for one of the deceased man’s adult sons. Pomeroy, who was trustee for the man, deposited amounts the man received into bank accounts she set up, but withdrew substantial sums, totaling more than her fees, from the account for her own benefit from January 2008 to June 2008. Pomeroy repaid the estate in September 2008, and also paid over $50,000 from her personal account on the deceased man’s son’s behalf in October 2008. In each instance she used funds belonging to the elderly client.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Foreclosure Forces License Revocation, Shutdown Of Longtime Assisted Living Facility, Leading To Short-Notice Boot For 28 Frail Residents

In Ridgefield, Washington, The Columbian reports:

  • The state Department of Social and Health Services shut down a longtime assisted living center in Ridgefield after the facility went into foreclosure and was sold at public auction.

    DSHS issued notice of its intent to revoke the operating license for Carolees at Ridgefield on March 21, after learning owner Carol Fox had fallen behind on her mortgage payments and was facing foreclosure, said Nancy Tyson, district administrator for DSHS residential care services. At the time, 28 residents lived there, Tyson said.

    The license revocation was effective April 18, after a 29-day appeal period expired without Fox challenging the state decision, Tyson said. All of the residents had relocated before the April 18 revocation, she said.

    The property sold for $3 million at a public auction March 29. Fox's lender, Matrix Advisors IV, took possession of the deed of trust.

    The property also included 12 cottages that were rented but were not licensed as part of the assisted living facility.

    Walt Bassett, 84, and his wife, Vera, rented one of the cottages for 11/2 years before learning in early April that they had to move out. "That's when everything hit the fan and everything went to pot," Walt Bassett said.

    The Bassetts were told the facility had sold and they had a week or two to find a new place to live. "It was a very short time, and it didn't seem reasonable," Walt Bassett said. "There was no forewarning," he added. "We didn't know anything was going on until it was too late."

    The Bassetts were renting a cottage month to month for $1,500, which included prepared meals. They paid for the month of April, and another $300 in advance for the month of May, but Walt said the couple never got any of their money back when they were forced to move out. The Bassetts moved into a new facility April 15.

    Fox could not be reached for comment.

    Carolees at Ridgefield, 888 S. Hillhurst Road, operated as a licensed assisted living facility for 24 years. The facility was licensed to house 36 residents.
Source: State puts end to Carolees assisted living center (Ridgefield facility had operated for 24 years until foreclosure, auction).

FTC Tags Alleged Loan Modification Racket In Civil Suit For Upfront Fee Homeowner Ripoffs Peddling Purported Forensic Audits, Bankruptcy Advice, Credit Counseling; Scores Court Order Shutting Down Outfit's Websites & Freezing Its Assets Pending Trial

From the Federal Trade Commission (Washington, D.C.):a

  • The Federal Trade Commission filed suit in federal court to halt a mortgage relief scheme that allegedly deceived and preyed on distressed homeowners by charging them $2,000 to $4,000 based on bogus foreclosure rescue claims.

    The defendants allegedly falsely claimed they would provide legal help to save consumers’ homes from foreclosure and lower their mortgage payments, then charged them up-front fees in violation of federal law, delivering little or no help, and driving them deeper into debt.

    The temporary restraining order signed by the court shuts down the defendants’ websites, freezes their assets, and provides for appointment of a receiver pending trial.

    The defendants marketed their scheme in a variety of ways, which included using an official looking mailer that implores consumers to act quickly before they “FORFEIT LEGAL RIGHTS,” or face a “statute of limitations and government program deadlines,” according to the FTC. Three individuals – Ratan Baid, Madhulika Baid, and William D. Goodrich – and seven companies falsely promised lower monthly payments and interest rates, and conversion of adjustable-rate mortgages to fixed ones, the FTC complaint alleged.

    Many consumers who called the toll-free numbers were falsely guaranteed a loan modification that supposedly would make their payments more affordable, that they would get results within 60 to 90 days, or that Goodrich, an attorney, would use his impressive legal experience on their behalf, according to the complaint.

    The defendants also marketed their scheme online, through telemarketing calls and with television and radio ads, according to the complaint. The defendants’ websites touted a range of financial services, including bankruptcy advice, credit counseling, and “forensic mortgage audits.”One of the sites described how these “audits” can help consumers hold onto their homes or lower their mortgage payments. It falsely claimed that the “audits” could uncover any “lending violations” committed by lenders, and that the information could be used “to gain leverage in a successful loan modification,” the complaint stated.

    In reality, however, the defendants generally did not provide the promised loan modification or help consumers avoid foreclosure, either directly or through the “forensic mortgage audits.”

    The complaint charges the defendants with violating the Federal Trade Commission Act and with violating the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, which bans mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification services from collecting fees until homeowners have a written offer from their lender or servicer that they deem acceptable.

    The complaint also names as defendants Apex Solutions, Inc.; William D. Goodrich, Attorney, Inc.; A to Z Marketing, Inc.; Apex Members, LLC; Backend Inc.; Expert Processing Center, Inc.; and Smart Funding Corp.
For the FTC press release, see FTC Halts Allegedly Phony Mortgage Relief Scheme (Victimizing Thousands of Consumers, Marketers Falsely Touted Legal Assistance and "Forensic Audits" for Homeowners Facing Foreclosure).

Go here for links to the lawsuit and the restraining order and asset freeze.

After 10-Day Trial, Jury Takes One Hour To Convict Scammer Who Peddled Phony Debt Elimination Scheme To Financially Struggling Homeowners

In Hartford, Connecticut, NBC Connecticut reports:

  • Deowraj Buddhu's federal trial lasted ten days, but it took a jury less than one hour to convict him of six counts of mail fraud and seven counts of issuing, selling and passing fictitious financial instruments. The Wethersfield business owner, 70, faces up to 30 years in prison.

    The jury agreed with what prosecutors said in their opening and closing arguments, that Buddhu is a "con man."

    Court documents reveal Buddhu's scheme targeted struggling homeowners. Many of them were non-English speakers. Buddhu charged his clients for access to a supposed secret stash of federal money. No such fund exists, according to the federal government.

    Prosecutors said because Buddhu had told customers to stop paying their bills and mortgages, many wound up in foreclosure.

    Buddhu represented himself during his trial. “I went into the business only to help individuals get out of debt,” Buddhu said during his closing argument. “My ignorance is what I’m guilty of.”

    Buddhu's daughter, Sunita, notarized many of her father's documents. She pleaded guilty to issuing, selling and passing fictitious financial instruments.

    Buddhu's standby attorney said the case was too complex for someone without access to a law library to defend himself. However, Buddhu plans to appeal. His sentencing is scheduled for September 17.
Source: Wethersfield Businessman Guilty of Fraud (A federal jury convicted Deowraj Buddhu on Tuesday).

For the U.S. Attorney press release, see Federal Jury Convicts Wethersfield Resident of Running Fraudulent Debt Elimination Scheme.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bond Set At $100K & $50K For Pair Pinched By Michigan AG For Allegedly Running Loan Modification Ripoff Racket That Screwed 200+ Homeowners Out Of $400K+

In Detroit, Michigan, M Live reports:

  • Two men are accused of offering services they never provided to vulnerable homeowners looking to refinance their mortgages.

    State Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a statement [] announcing charges against Jeffrey Baker, 45, of Detroit and Leroy Yeagin Jr., 44, of Southfield related to the 9-month scam that allegedly defrauded 272 victims of more than $400,000.

    The men are each charged with operating a criminal enterprise, punishable by up to 20 years in prison; conspiracy to conduct a criminal enterprise, punishable by up to 20 years in prison; and four counts of false pretense, punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

    The men are accused of forming the company Wayne County Loan Modification in February of 2010.

    The company offered loan modifications to customers to reduce their monthly mortgage payments and usually charged a fee of one month's mortgage up front for the service, an average of near $1,500.

    Yeargin and Baker, however, never provided the loan modification.
  • Bond for Baker was set at $100,000 and bond for Yeargin at $50,000. The men are scheduled to appear in court for their preliminary examination July 15.

Indiana AG Tags Two Out-Of-State Law Firms In Separate Civil Suits Alleging Illegal Loan Modification Ripoffs

From the Office of the Indiana Attorney General:

  • Two Florida-based foreclosure consultant companies face state lawsuits [] after taking more than $7,500 from local homeowners and not providing services or refunds.

    Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed lawsuits in Morgan County against CapLaw, P.A. and Jeffrey A. Smith Law Group, P.A. According to the complaints, the companies illegally solicited Indiana residents and entered into contracts with homeowners promising to obtain home loan modifications in exchange for upfront fees.
  • Defendant CapLaw, P.A., also known as the Law Office of James F. Caplan, P.A., and its owner James F. Caplan collected $1,200 to $3,300 in up-front fees from two consumers.

    Jeffrey A. Smith Law Group, P.A., also known as JAS Law Group and Jeffrey A. Smith Law Firm, and its owner Jeffrey A. Smith are accused of taking $3,034 from a Martinsville resident after promising to obtain a home loan modification.

    Both defendants are accused of taking the money and not rendering the promised services or providing refunds. The companies 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. They also did not obtain certificates of authority from the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office to conduct business in Indiana.

    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.

Loan Modification Racket Continues Unabated For Years, Jumping From State To State Ripping Off Homeowners While Flying Under Criminal Law Enforcement Radar

In Houston, Texas, KHOU-TV Channel 11 reports:

  • Customers say a Houston company that promised to help save their homes from foreclosure, really did little more than drain their bank accounts.

    The KHOU 11 News I-Team had barely started its investigation into Sunbelt Fidelity Corporation, when the president of the company, Janice McCarthy, sent a letter threatening a lawsuit.

    But a trail of complaints and court filings accuse McCarthy of having a record of involvement with companies accused of ripping off consumers.

    Customers like Richey Tanksley.

    “Every bit of pride that you have is gone,” explained Tanksley as he walked through the door of a friend’s San Antonio apartment. Without the generosity of that friend, Tanksley would be on the streets. “I pull my little pillows off the couch and I pull the bed out, I unfold it and that’s where I sleep,” demonstrated Tanksley.

    It’s a life he never dreamed of when he bought a home near Austin five years ago. Unfortunately, Tanksley eventually ran into some financial trouble. Fearing foreclosure, he hired the Sunbelt Fidelity Corporation.

    “Basically they were a company that just helped people with their foreclosures,” said Tanksley citing the company’s pitch. “They came in and made it possible to keep their homes.” He says he made an initial $1,200 payment to Sunbelt Fidelity. In exchange, he says the company told him they’d take care of the rest including handling his bank.

    “They told me not to communicate with Wells Fargo because that's what they were going to do,” Tanksley said. “So if I had any calls from Wells Fargo, don't answer them.”

    He says Sunbelt Fidelity also told him not to send his lender the monthly mortgage payment. Instead, Tanksley says he was instructed to send Sunbelt Fidelity nearly $500 a month. “I just thought that money that I sent them was going to make my life alright again,” Tanksley explained. But a few months later, his lender contacted him: He’d lost the house to foreclosure.

    “I was in absolute disbelief,” recalled Tanksley. “I was like, ‘well, wait a minute. What's going on here?” Tanksley called his lender. “They said they had never been contacted by Sunbelt Fidelity,” Tanksley said. “Wells Fargo had never had any contact. They had no communication with anybody.”

    But the complaints don’t stop with Tanksley.

    The 11 News I-Team found similar complaints from Sunbelt Fidelity Customers in at least five other states. In December, the North Carolina Department of Justice ordered Sunbelt Fidelity Corporation to cease and desist providing “illegal loan modifications” in the state.

    It turns out, those are familiar accusations for McCarthy, Sunbelt’s president.

    The I-Team discovered McCarthy’s former company, East Coast Fidelity, was shut down by the Rhode Island Attorney General in 2011. In court filings, investigators claimed they were unaware of even one homeowner who received payment help from McCarthy’s company.

     Florida records show McCarthy was also a former officer of Ameridebt Relief Corp.

    The New Hampshire Banking Department obtained a cease and desist order against Ameridebt Relief Corp. and fined the company $10,000 after investigators say the company collected $4,512 from a customer but failed to provide the mortgage modification promised. New Hampshire investigators say some of those payments were made to Ameridebt Relief Corp. during the same time McCarthy was the company’s director.

    “I think that what's alarming is that they've managed to continue this scam for years now and basically have jumped from state to state,” said Monica Russo with the Better Business Bureau.

Loan Modification Scammer Cops Plea To Grand Theft, Money Laundering For Ripping Off Homeowners Of $34K; Remains In Can In Lieu If $250K Bail Until August Sentencing

In Ventura County, California, the Ventura County Star reports:

  • A Rancho Cucamonga man pleaded guilty to several counts of grand theft and money laundering [], according to the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.

    Jose Miguel Aguilar, 50, admitted he ran an illegal foreclosure rescue business that victimized people in Ventura County and elsewhere in Southern California.

    He operated foreclosure rescue scams under business names including SB Management, 21st Century Management and USA Home Recovery Service, officials said.

    Aguilar and four co-defendants targeted Spanish-speaking residents who were struggling to pay their mortgages.

    The homeowners were promised home loan modifications and charged thousands of dollars in upfront fees. Losses exceeded $34,000, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

    Aguilar pleaded guilty to two counts of grand theft and one count of money laundering, all felonies.

    A warrant for Aguilar’s arrest was issued in September. He was taken into custody in Bakersfield on May 20, officials said.

    His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 1. He faces up to four years and four months in custody. He remained in Ventura County jail in lieu of $250,000 bail, officials said.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

9th Circuit: Dual-Tracking Of Homeowner Making Prompt Payments Under Loan Modification Agreement Constitutes "Adverse Action" That Triggers Bankster's Duty To Give Notice Within 30 Days Under Federal ECOA

In San Francisco, California, Bloomberg reports:

  • Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) must face borrowers’ claims that it violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by starting foreclosure proceedings while the customers were making payments under a loan-modification agreement.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco [] reinstated the claims of John and Carol Schlegel, who received default notices after the bank told them to proceed with payments under a loan-modification plan and failed to respond to their inquiry seeking an explanation.

    The bank’s action, the court found, constituted a revocation of credit without notice required under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which makes it illegal for creditors to discriminate against applicants and requires them to provide an explanation within 30 days when denying or revoking credit or changing credit terms.

    “While sending a mistaken default notice would not necessarily constitute an adverse action, the Schlegels’ complaint describes egregious conduct that goes far beyond clerical error,” the three-judge panel said.

    The bank sent five default notices before acknowledging the modification agreement was in effect and the notices were incorrect, according to the ruling. The panel sent the case back to federal court in San Francisco. The Schlegels had sued on behalf of themselves and other borrowers.

    Jennifer Temple, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, didn't immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the ruling.
Source: Wells Fargo Must Face Foreclosure Suit After Loan Accord.

For the ruling, see Schlegel v. Wells Fargo, No. 11-16816 (9th Cir. July 3, 2013).

HOA Lien For Unpaid Maintenance Survives Condo Association's Foreclosure Sale; 3rd Party Buyer At Subsequent Foreclosure By Existing 1st Mortgagee Finds Itself Stuck Inheriting Said HOA Lien, Despite Association's Interim Ownership

In Miami, Florida, the South Florida Business Journal reports:

  • A Miami circuit judge has upheld his original 2011 ruling that an Aventura condo association lien survives foreclosure and must be paid by the buyer even though the association itself owned the home briefly. In effect, this decision reinforces the idea that buyers are responsible for paying condo association fees attached to foreclosure purchases they make.

    The ruling was hailed by the association’s lawyer, Ben Solomon of the Association Law Group, as helpful for associations trying to shore up their finances in the wake of the recession. Many associations took hits to their budgets as units went vacant due to foreclosures.

    Miami Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnik had ruled in favor of the association at Spiaggia Ocean Condominium two years ago, in a lawsuit filed by a buyer called Aventura Management. According to Solomon, the buyer owes $101,000 to the association.

    But the Third District Court of Appeal sent the case back to Dresnick for more consideration of whether the association was also liable for association fees during the period it owned the condo.

    On May 28, Dresnick reaffirmed his own ruling, adding that the association is also liable for the fees accrued on the unit, but it can choose to pursue collection against the new buyer severally.

Homebuyer Who Paid $160K To Purchase Foreclosed REO Inherits Pre-Existing Squatter, Can't Move In

In Lake Worth, Florida, WPEC-TV Channel 12 reports:

  • An outrageous story about Lake Worth homeowner who purchased a house back in April, but he can't even get into the home because the people that have been living there are refusing to get out.

    It all started several years ago when the home at 5035 Woodstone Circle went into foreclosure. The bank took it over, but the people who were renting from the owner never moved out.

    Now the house has been sold, and believe it or not, the new owner can't move in.

    Marilyn Rodriguez, the president of the neighborhood association, is fed up with the people who refuse to get out. "This person is squatting and it seems like he has more rights than the new owner," said Rodriguez.

    Even though the new owner closed on the house in April and paid $160,000, he can't move in. Believe it or not, the squatters actually have rights according to foreclosure defense attorney Anisha Atchanah with Ice Legal.

    "As the owner of the property you've got to file a cause of action to the court and prove your case," said Atchanah. "It is very bold, very bold on part of squatter to think they have entitlement to property. It is a huge problem."

    Rodriguez and other neighbors agree. "This is ridiculous, it's absurd that in this day and age the new owners has to petition the court and go through all this rigamarole to occupy the house that he purchased."

St. Louis Feds: Needing Quick Loot To Fund Outfit's Operations, Closing Agency Manager Illegally Dipped Into Clients' Cash Held In Real Estate Escrow Account, Then Doctored Financial Records In Effort To Dupe Insurer; One Sour Deal Left Title Insurance Underwriter Holding The Bag For $200K+

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (St. Louis, Missouri):

  • Elizabeth Glosemeyer of St. Louis County, was indicted on two counts of wire fraud.

    According to the indictment, while the manager of Lenders Guarantee Title Company of St. Louis, Glosemeyer raided the company’s escrow account to fund operations.

    The escrow account consisted of clients’ money and was to be used only for clients’ real estate transactions.

    The indictment further alleges that Glosemeyer doctored financial records to cover up her raiding of the escrow account from Lenders’ underwriters. In the summer of 2012, an audit uncovered Glosemeyer’s scheme and Lenders went out of business soon thereafter.

    Due to the deficit in the escrow account Glosemeyer created, at least one transaction in excess of $200,000 had to be closed with the underwriters’ funds.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cleveland Feds: Closing Agency Pair Looted Real Estate Escrow Account Out Of $290K, Then Doctored Documents To Dupe Title Insurance Underwriter Into Believing Funds Were Properly Accounted For

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Cleveland, Ohio):

  • Two Lorain County men were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for defrauding companies and customers out of more than $290,000, said Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

    Charged in the criminal information are Gregory R. Klima, 52, of Avon Lake, and Timothy R. Grodzik, 52, of Columbia Station. The men owned Title Access, LLC, with Klima serving as president and Grodzik as vice president of sales, according to the information.

    Title Access was formed in 2000 and in the business of administering real estate transactions by providing services including title insurance and escrow account management. Title Access used Stewart Title as an underwriter for the issuing of title insurance, according to the information.

    Klima and Grodzik are accused of defrauding Stewart and parties to real estate transactions by diverting funds from Title Access’ escrow account for their personal benefit between December 2009 and February 2011, according to the information.

    Around February 2011, Grodzik, with Klima’s knowledge, falsified Access’ financial documents to conceal from a Stewart auditor the fact that they diverted funds from the Title Access escrow account, according to the information.

Homeowner Forced To Refinance To Save Home After Being Hit With Foreclosure Notice On Mortgage-Free Residence Over Unpaid, 2006 Property Tax Bill; Investor Purchased Tax Lien, Then Allegedly Sat On It For Six Years Until $500 Debt Grew To $13K Before Notifying Homeowner

In Hartford, Connecticut, NBC Connecticut reports:

  • For nearly 40 years, Butch Lewis has strolled the streets of northeast Hartford. “I’ve been living on Vine Street for 37 years,” said Lewis. “Same house. Identical. My kids were raised in that house.”

    Lewis didn’t leave when the drug dealers tried taking over. Instead of turning away, Lewis started a neighborhood watch and helped turn this community around. “We fought back, run drug people out, and it’s quality of life,” he said.

    But a few months ago, Lewis got the shock of his life when he was served with foreclosure papers on the Vine Street home he’d already paid off. “This guy walks in the driveway and says, ‘We have a lien against your house. We’re going to take it,’” recalled Lewis.

    Turns out he was caught in a business transaction between Hartford and tax lien purchaser American Tax Funding, or ATF.

    It’s a common practice across the country: municipalities sell property tax liens to private companies. The companies take over the lien and by law can charge up to 18 percent interest on the back taxes – and foreclose if they don't get paid. It's a tried and true way for towns and cities to collect on delinquent taxes. But critics like City Councilman Larry Deutsch (Working Families Party) believe it shouldn't be happening.

    “We have to stop this practice,” said Deutsch.

    He explained that once the lien is sold, it is taken off of the city’s books. Lewis said he never knew he owed the city of Hartford $500 back in 2006, and didn’t even realize the lien was sold off.

    “We thought we were up to date. If you check our records and it says your taxes have been paid, you do not owe the City of Hartford [anything],” said Lewis. Lewis insisted that ATF only came calling after a $500 debt had skyrocketed over half a dozen years with interest and fees.

    It ended up being $13,000," Lewis said. "Yeah, at 18 percent." “It’s in the interest of the company to be very quiet and then after two, three, four, five years of 18 percent accumulating, then they’ll let someone know,” argued Councilman Deutsch.
  • In the meantime, Lewis isn’t going anywhere. He worked out an agreement with ATF to pay $10,000 by refinancing his home. “We are fortunate that we can do that, but what about the other people in this city?” asked Lewis.

5th Circuit: Original Note Not Needed To Foreclose Under Texas Law; Photocopy Of Original With Accompanying Affidavit Swearing It Is A True & Correct Copy Is Sufficient

Housing Wire reports:

  • The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals gave servicers foreclosing in Texas the green light to proceed with a foreclosure even when the servicer lacks possession of the note.

    In a case called, Martins v. Bac Home Loan Servicing, the Fifth Circuit interpreted Texas law as granting servicers a right to foreclose without the note as long as they have a viable mortgage assignment.
  • The argument made is that a servicer must posses both the note and mortgage assignment to obtain foreclosure rights. The process of banks recording multiple mortgage assignments through the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems registry prompted many of these challenges.

    The Fifth Circuit quashed this specific claim, holding the split-the-note theory "is inapplicable under Texas law where the foreclosing party is a mortgage servicer and the mortgage has been properly assigned." The court added, "the party to foreclose need not possess the note itself."

    The decision also provided clarity on whether servicers are expected to produce the original note when trying to foreclose.

    The court held production of the "original note" is not required in Texas as long as the servicer files a photocopy of the promissory note along with a supporting affidavit.(1)
For the story, see Fifth Circuit gives servicers green light to foreclose without note.

For the ruling, see Martins v. Bac Home Loan Servicing, No. 12-20559 (5th Cir. June 26, 2013.

(1) On this point, the court said:
  • In Texas, existence of a note may be established by "[a] photocopy of the promissory note, attached to an affidavit in which the affiant swears that the photocopy is a true and correct copy of the original note." Blankenship v. Robins, 899 S.W.2d 236, 238 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1994, no writ). We find no contrary Texas authority requiring production of the "original" note. The original, signed note need not be produced in order to foreclose.
Editor's Note: At the risk of stating the obvious, keep in mind that Texas law also requires that the bankster's affidavit "is competent and sufficient to support the summary judgment." Blankenship v. Robins, supra. As many already know, the banksters have been notorious for littering the court systems and land document recording offices throughout the U.S.  with crappy, fraudulent paperwork.

In Martins v. Bac Home Loan Servicing, supra, the homeowner apparently did little to nothing to attack the competency or sufficiency of the affidavit, or otherwise challenge the bankster's standing to foreclose in this case. From the court's ruling:
  • Martins questions BAC's "standing" to foreclose. Martins presents an incoherent and rambling argument conflating ownership of a note with constitutional standing. Interpreting those arguments most charitably, we conclude that Martins contends that the note was not properly transferred to BAC and that the assignment was "robosigned" and therefore "forged." Because of that, Martins's logic goes, BAC was not the holder of the note, did not own the mortgage, and could not foreclose.

    This argument fails. There is no doubt that the mortgage was transferred by MERS to BAC, which presented a signed, notarized assignment document that had also been recorded by the county clerk. Martins's allegations of forgery rest on the fact (based on counsel's research) that MERS does not have a Texas office and that the assignment was "robosigned." That alone is hardly sufficient to maintain a claim for fraud, much less to avoid summary judgment.[1] BAC has offered sufficient evidence, through its recorded assignment, that it was the rightful holder of the mortgage, and Martins failed to present evidence creating a genuine issue of fact.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Warning To Brooklyn Residents, Property Owners Who Die Without A Will Or Next Of Kin: The Institutional Grave-Robbing Of Dead New Yorkers Continues, So Prepare To Be Fleeced!

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

  • They’ve done a ghastly job.

    Public administrators responsible for the estates of people who die in Brooklyn mishandled more than $2.2 million in assets — losing a fur coat and forgetting to collect $50,000 in cash, an audit has found.

    Among its missteps, the Kings County Public Administrator’s Office left $50,000 it knew about sitting in a safe-deposit box for five years and failed to credit an estate after selling a six-family home for $140,000, said a report by Comptroller John Liu. The $50,000 in cash was claimed only after auditors pointed it out.

    The administrator’s office, which deals with estates of those who die without wills or next of kin, also misplaced a $1,000 fur coat it had stored in a vault at the Macy’s in Kings Plaza back in 2004. When auditors asked what happened to the coat, administrator staffers frankly admitted, “We have no idea what happened regarding the fur coat.”

    This was the same office where a bookkeeper was indicted last year in the theft of $2.6 million from the deceased.

    “The missing valuables and cash uncovered by this audit read like a blooper reel,” said Liu, a mayoral candidate dogged by campaign irregularities. “It would be funny if the Brooklyn public administrator wasn’t responsible for protecting estates worth millions of dollars. They need to show they are capable of safeguarding the estates entrusted to their care.”

    His audit identified the mishandling of assets in more than half of the 50 estates that were examined.

    But the administrator’s office had been responsible for more than 3,300 estates, valued at nearly $75 million, as of June 2011.

    Public Administrator Bruce Stein wrote a six-page response to Liu’s audit with an item-by-item refutation of its findings. He blasted a chart detailing the minimum $2.2 million in mishandled assets as “riddled with errors” and full of “false information.” He also charged that Liu’s auditors had a “complete lack of understanding of the authority of the public administrator and our handling of estate matters.”

    Stein’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    But Liu’s audit found plenty of other concerns with Stein’s office, including its charging of excessive legal fees, poor record-keeping and slow pace at closing estate cases. More than 92 percent of estates hadn’t been fully distributed within two years.

    Liu also noted that the administrator failed to deactivate information-sensitive user accounts for seven former staffers — including the one charged with swindling $2.6 million by writing fraudulent checks.
Source: Administrators mishandled more than $2.2M for estates of people who died in Brooklyn, audit shows.

For earlier stories on the fleecing of dead New Yorkers, see:
    Those old-timers who have some familiarity with the sleaze that has been associated with the public administrators' offices in New York City know that recent media reports don't bring anything new to light - they are mere reminders of the ongoing ripoffs that have been going on for decades. See, for example, these two New York Times' stories that date back 25+ years:
    Institutional grave robbing is not limited to New York City. Go here for links to earlier stories of similar fleecings of the dead, both in New York City and elsewhere.

    Last Of Four Defendants In Sale Leaseback, Home Title Theft Racket Was About To Be Sentenced To 15+ Years When He Asks Judge To Withdraw Guilty Pleas; Says He Was Under Duress When Agreeing To Mid-Trial Deal Last Month

    In San Diego, California, KGTV Channel 10 reports:

    • A 60-year-old man who previously admitted guilt in a massive foreclosure fraud scam asked a judge [] to withdraw his guilty pleas.

      David Zepeda was about a week into trial last month when he pleaded guilty to numerous counts of conspiracy to commit grand theft, identity theft and recording false documents, Deputy District Attorney Valerie Tanney said.

      He is the last of four defendants to go through criminal proceedings in the case.

      Prosecutors said the defendants acquired the titles to properties by forging quitclaim deeds or convincing homeowners to transfer the property to them by promising the homeowner they would help avoid foreclosure.

      "I never thought they'd steal from me. I thought they were helping," said Escondido resident Benito Cristobal.

      Cristobal told Team 10 he went to a large foreclosure seminar and unknowingly signed over the title to his home that he later lost.

      Once they had acquired the title, David Zepeda and his brother John would rent out the property, according to prosecutors, who said more than 1,000 victims were discovered in San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino counties, as well as in Clark County Nevada.

      They attracted their victims by holding seminars for people hoping to save their homes from foreclosure. Money was diverted from lenders and owners into the defendants' accounts, where the cash was used to support lavish lifestyles, prosecutors said.

      Authorities seized $335,000 in uncashed checks, $33,000 in cash, more than $8,000 in silver coins, gold watches and rings, and a Bentley automobile when they searched David Zepeda's home.

      He was set to be sentenced Friday to 15 years and eight months in prison, but instead asked for a hearing to convince Superior Court Judge Amalia Meza that he should be allowed to withdraw his pleas.

      Defense attorney Tim Brackney said his client, who is being held in county jail in lieu of $5 million bail, felt like he was under "duress" when he pleaded guilty. The defendant suffered a stroke a few years ago and appeared in court on a gurney.

      The judge set an Aug. 2 hearing on Zepeda's motion.

      The other defendants pleaded guilty to various charges last year.

      John Zepeda pleaded guilty to rent skimming, forgery, identity theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft and was sentenced to 12 years in state prison. He agreed to pay $6 million restitution.

      The state said money has been collected to help pay back the victims, but Cristobal told Team 10 he just wants justice.

    Lawsuit: Real Estate Agent/Grandaughter Duped Granny Out Of Two Multi-Million $ Hell's Kitchen Properties, Leaving Her Broke & Facing The Boot

    In New York City, the New York Daily News reports:

    • Her grandmother is broke, and now her mother is heartbroken. The sobbing mom of a New York woman accused of duping her 73-year-old grandmom out of millions of dollars was devastated Saturday by the charges of cross-generational greed.

      “I gave her everything,” Iris Weinberg said of daughter Danielle Kaminsky. “I gave her my heart and soul. How could she do this to her family?”

      Kaminsky was named in a $16 million lawsuit filed last week by Sarah Weinberg, whose family fled Europe in 1939 to escape the Nazis.

      Sarah Weinberg claims her rapacious 23-year-old granddaughter cheated her out of a pair of multimillion-dollar Hell’s Kitchen properties after the grandmother was struck by a car in early 2012.

      The money-grabbing grandkid also is accused of trying to evict Sarah Weinberg from her Restaurant Row home, allegedly giving the grandma a one-word order: “Pack.”

      The lawsuit charges that Kaminsky and her father, real estate lawyer David Kaminsky, collaborated to scam the senior citizen. “I’d expect this from him, but not from her,” said Iris Weinberg, wiping away tears while speaking about her former husband and daughter. “My mother would do anything for her.”

      Sarah Weinberg is nearly broke after $6 million in borrowed cash has disappeared, her lawyer said. "It’s gone,” said attorney Kenneth Glassman. “Everyone spent Grandma’s money.”

      He also claimed that his septuagenarian client was mentally incapable of comprehending the deal that sold one building on W. 46th St. and transferred a second to Danielle Kaminsky.

      The three generations of women were sharing a W. 46th St. home when the plot was hatched, according to the lawsuit.

      The granddaughter and Sarah Weinberg’s former son-in-law preyed on her “fears and anxieties to confuse, isolate and terrorize” their victim, the suit said. Court documents say that the building at 371 W. 46th St. was sold to a pal of David Kaminsky for $3.5 million — well below its $5.3 million market value.

      David Kaminsky pocketed a $200,000 “consultancy fee” after the sale, the suit charges. Danielle Kaminsky then coerced her grandmother into transferring the deed on 402 W. 46th St. into a trust — controlled by the grandkid.

      A weepy Danielle Kaminsky insisted on her innocence outside a Manhattan courtroom before a Thursday hearing in the case. She and her boyfriend are currently living rent-free in a penthouse apartment once owned by her grandma.
    Source: Mom of NY woman who allegedly swindled grandma: ‘I gave her my heart and soul’ (‘I gave her everything,” Iris Weinberg said of her daughter Danielle, named in a $16 million lawsuit filed last week by Sarah Weinberg claiming her 23-year-old granddaughter cheated her out of multimillion-dollar NYC properties. ‘I gave her my heart and soul. How could she do this to her family?’).

    See also, New York Post: Holocaust-survivor granny sues granddaughter, claims she’s homeless after being tricked into selling her property.

    For the lawsuit, see Weinberg v. Sultan, et al.