BY: CARRIE BAY 08/19/2011
California’s attorney general and the state’s Department of Justice have taken down a fraud ring of legal firms and attorneys that officials say swindled thousands of homeowners out of millions of dollars by convincing them to take part in mass lawsuits against their lenders.
Attorney General Kamala Harris has sued Philip Kramer, the Law Offices of Kramer & Kaslow, two other law firms, three other lawyers, and 14 other defendants who are accused of working together to defraud homeowners across the country through the deceptive marketing of “mass joinder” lawsuits. Mass joinder lawsuits involve hundreds, or more, individually named plaintiffs.
Kramer’s firm and other defendants were placed into receivership on August 15. The legal actions were designed to shut down a scheme operated by attorneys and their marketing partners, in which defendants used false and misleading representations to induce thousands of homeowners into joining the mass joinder lawsuits against their mortgage lenders.
Defendants also had their assets seized and were enjoined from continuing their operations. Nineteen special agents from the California Department of Justice participated as the firms were taken over on August 17, along with 42 agents and other personnel from HUD’s Office of Inspector General, the California State Bar, and the Office of Receiver Thomas McNamara.
Fourteen office locations in Los Angeles and Orange counties and 16 bank accounts were seized in the massive sweep.
“The defendants in this case fraudulently promised to win prompt mortgage relief for millions of vulnerable homeowners across the country,” said Attorney General
Harris. “Innocent people, already battered by the housing crisis, were targeted for fraud in their moment of distress.”
It is believed that at least two million pieces of mail were sent out by the defendants to victims in at least 17 states. The defendants’ revenue from this scam is estimated to be in the millions of dollars.
“The number of lawyers who have tried to take advantage of distressed homeowners in these tough economic times is nothing short of shocking,” said William Hebert, president of the State Bar. “By taking over the practices of four attorneys accused of fraudulent marketing practices, the State Bar can put a stop to their deplorable conduct as part of our ongoing effort to protect the public.”
The California attorney general’s office says the defendants led homeowners to believe that by joining these lawsuits, they would stop pending foreclosures, reduce their loan balances or interest rates, obtain money damages, and even receive title to their homes free and clear of their existing mortgage. Defendants charged homeowners retainer fees of up to $10,000 to join as plaintiffs in a mass joinder lawsuit against their lender or loan servicer.
This mass joinder scam began with deceptive mass mailers, the attorney general’s lawsuit alleges. Some mailers, designed to appear as official settlement notices or government documents, informed homeowners that they were potential plaintiffs in a “national litigation settlement” against their lender.
No settlements existed and in many cases no lawsuit had even been filed, Harris says. Some consumers lost their homes shortly after paying the retainer fees demanded by defendants.
The Department of Justice has seized the practices of the following non-attorney defendants: Attorneys Processing Center, LLC; Data Management, LLC; Gary DiGirolamo; Bill Stephenson; Mitigation Professionals, LLC; Glen Reneau; Pate Marier & Associates, Inc.; James Pate; Ryan Marier; Home Retention Division; Michael Tapia; Lewis Marketing Corp.; Clarence Butt; and Thomas Phanco.
The State Bar has seized the practices and attorney accounts of the attorney defendants: the Law Offices of Kramer & Kaslow; Philip Kramer, Esq; Mitchell J. Stein & Associates; Mitchell Stein, Esq.; Christopher Van Son, Esq.; Mesa Law Group Corp.; and Paul Petersen, Esq.