California Homeowners Bill of Rights – New Law for 2013.

The new California Homeowner Bill of Rights becomes law today. If you’re not familiar with this measure, it was a bill carried on behalf of California Attorney General Kamala Harris last year that sought to codify some of the measures set forth in the national mortgage settlement deal struck in early 2012. 

Initially opposed by the California Association of Realtors as well as the California Bankers Association and the California Mortgage Bankers Association, the bill was pushed through the legislature by a closed joint committee  of both houses so when the bill eventually reached the floor, it was voted on immediately and passed to the Governor. Total time in committee, floor and signature was measured in hours rather than days, months or years, as is typical for most bills. 

Due to the secretive nature of the committee structure, there was little opportunity for interest groups to provide input and there was great concern that what emerged would be a very flawed effort reflecting an over reaction to purported lender wrongdoing. However, CAR did have an opportunity to work with the committee to effect some modifications to the final version that removed our opposition to the bill. CAR was not supportive of the bill in its final version but adopted a neutral position, although banking groups remained steadfast in their opposition due to to concerns about meritless litigation that the bill opens up for aggreaved homeowners. 

Here’s what the bill does:

  • Stops dual tracking. Once the process has started for either a loan modification or short sale by the lender, the foreclosure process must be stopped. This is in response to cases where the property proceeds along multiple courses at the same time only to have the foreclosure process conclude days ahead of a short sale approval by another arm of the bank. As pointed out, this frequently resulted in the bank taking the property back and ultimately receiving thousands less in the foreclosure sale than they would have in a short sale. Of course we know the banks are covered either way and really don’t care but ultimately this should result in more short sales and fewer foreclosures, which is better for the recovering market.
  • Under the dual tracking provisions, banks must give an applicant a response to their loan modification before they can start the foreclosure process. If a homeowner has not applied for a loan modification, the bank must inform them of their right to do so before starting the foreclosure process.
  • No more robo signing.
  • Banks must provide a single point of contact to borrowers trying for a loan modification or short sale. Homeowners and Realtors are often frustrated by multiple points of contact and the handoff fr5om one agent to  another within a bank frequently resulting in the loss of paperwork sending the process back to square one while the foreclosure process continues apace in another department.
  • Allows the borrower to sue loan servicers if the borrower thinks they have violated any foreclosure laws. This is one of the most worrisome components of the bill in that it may open the door to frivolous lawsuits resulting in increased costs and unnecessary delays in an already costly and time consuming process. 

With nearly 1 million foreclosures recorded in the state since 2007, California remains one of the hardest hit areas of the country. However, foreclosures are down in most areas by 30% or more in the past year and with prices starting to climb across the state, the hope is that fewer and fewer people will be pushed into foreclosure anyway. Some 30% of state homeowners remain underwater in their loans but the combination of improving employment statistics and home price increases has decreased that by more than 5% in the past year.

The Homeowners Bill of Rights may well provide some relief for harried homeowners and produce further delays to the process, but it will do little to change the underlying ability of a homeowner to ultimately afford their home and will, in most cases, only delay the inevitable. If Sacramento and DC don’t screw it up, an improving economy will do more to aid homeowners than the HBR will ever accomplish – and ultimately that’s the best news for everybody. 


CAR OPPOSES AG's Homeowner Bill of Rights.

California Homeowners Bill of Rights:

A Lesson in Political Expediency & Unintended Consequences.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced in a much heralded press release today that her ‘California Homeowners Bill of Rights’ has ‘taken a key step toward passage’. Here’s the key step – she bypassed every preliminary opportunity for the bill to be discussed, debated or voted on in either the Assembly or the Senate. What she did, or had her minions in the Legislature do for her, was have the bill introduced to a ‘two-house conference committee’ that voted this morning to pass the bill. That means tomorrow or, more probably Monday, the full Senate and Assembly will vote on the bills – SB 900 & AB 278 with no discussion.

You’ve heard me discuss the measures previously as the Nevada Suite of bills, so named for the deleterious results Nevada experienced after passing similar legislation last year. Did I mention the ‘special committee’ was made up of 4 Democrats and 2 Republicans? Now guess what the vote was? That’s called a ‘procedural matter’ in Sacramento. Roughly translated it means ‘bend over’.

Here’s C.A.R.’s take on the issue:

C.A.R. is OPPOSING conference report, AB 278, containing anti-foreclosure legislation sponsored by the state Attorney General. C.A.R. opposes provisions in this measure which will allow anyone to stop the foreclosure process by filing a lawsuit, merited or not, C.A.R. agrees that careful and balanced reforms to the foreclosure process are necessary. However, C.A.R. opposes this conference report because it will further delay the housing recovery by inviting bad-faith lawsuits and defaults, and making it difficult for even well qualified borrowers to obtain financing. Financing is already very difficult to get. This conference report will only make a difficult situation worse.

Initially the Attorney General had sponsored a package of bills; the so-called the “Homeowners Bill of Rights.” For procedural reasons, the majority of these bills have been under consideration by a Conference Committee made up of six legislators. REALTORS® had the opportunity to educate these legislators about C.A.R.’s concerns as part of Legislative Day and since then C.A.R. lobbyists have been working directly with the conferees and legislative staff to make them aware of the unintended consequences of some of these proposals. The Conference Committee has now issued its final report and it must be passed by both Houses of the legislature. These votes may occur as early as Monday, July 2nd.

Background

The Attorney General has sponsored a package of bills to place into California law an expanded version of the national settlement between major banks and state attorneys general. The contents of some of these bills have been under consideration by a Conference Committee comprised of six members who have just approved a conference report on a party-line vote. Some provisions will have the unintended effect of drying up mortgage loans for anyone but the most well-qualified borrowers, and increasing the costs of all mortgages.

One provision allows any borrower, no matter what the circumstances, to file a lawsuit. This will encourage opportunistic lawyers to pursue frivolous lawsuits, bringing unnecessary and unjustifiable delays to an already difficult and time consuming process. The language is so vaguely written that the borrower doesn’t even have to show that they have been harmed to file suit and be awarded damages.

One-sided  attorneys fees may still be awarded only to plaintiffs based on the very broad definition of a “prevailing party” in the report. And, of course, if lenders don’t have the remedy of foreclosure to ensure they can recover their security in appropriate situations, they will be less likely to lend, credit will be less available and the housing market recovery will limp along even more slowly.

C.A.R. is OPPOSED to the conference report because:

 

  • The housing market recovery is still fragile. About half of all sales are of distressed properties. By restricting a lender’s ability to foreclose and exposing them to unnecessary liability, this report will dry up inventory, and it will further discourage lending other than to the most highly qualified borrowers. Additionally, these bills will artificially slow down the foreclosure process, keeping properties off the market that are legitimately in foreclosure. Finally, by removing the threat of foreclosure, the bill erodes the incentive for short sales as well.
  • The bill invites bad-faith defaults and lawsuits. By broadly defining under what circumstances a lawsuit can be filed, even those legitimately in foreclosure can “game” the system. Additionally, the bill creates an incentive for plaintiffs’ attorneys to file frivolous lawsuits even if no harm has been done to the borrower. The courts are already overwhelmed. This bill, by inviting frivolous lawsuits puts an additional strain on the already underfunded courts
  • Lending is already tight. Even the most well-qualified borrowers are finding it difficult to obtain financing. By stopping legitimate foreclosures, banks will be forced to further tighten lending standards at the expense of homebuyers.

 

We’re not intimating that everything contained in the bills is bad and we have been supportive of some of the issues. We also have a competing dual-tracking bill in play that we feel is more balanced and less vague. But this is a take-it-or-leave-it kind of bill – you have to eat the whole enchilada and there are no amendments allowed at this point. All the bad will be with us as law along with the few good things it might accomplish. Sound familiar?

This is also what is referred to as a ‘gut & amend’ bill. For 1 1/2 years some bills have been floating around the Legislature knowing full well they weren’t going anywhere. They were being held for just such a vehicle as this to rise from the ashes and require a last minute vote – often with only minutes of notice.

So this bill will pass UNLESS you can convince your Democratic Legislator to vote against it. Otherwise it’s a simple exercise in vote counting (53 – 27) to ascertain that our housing market will take another hit – a victim of increased frivolous lawsuits, further restrictions on foreclosures and tightened lending standards.

So now you know the proverbial ‘other side of the story’ and it’s not pretty. I encourage you to read the bill at  AB 278 and then read the AG’s release below. While the release summarizes a much glossed over purview of the bills, the devil is in the details. So go to work on your Democratic Legislators and let them know how Realtors® feel, and every homeowner and landlord who doesn’t feel like paying the price this bill will cost.

 

 

NEWS RELEASE

June 27, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(415) 703-5837

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California Homeowner Bill of Rights Takes Key Step to Passage

SACRAMENTO — Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced the passage of two central elements of the California Homeowner Bill of Rights through a special two-house conference committee. The 4 to 1 vote sends the bills to an expected vote next week in both the Assembly and Senate.

The two bills approved by the conference committee are the Foreclosure Reduction Act, which restricts the process of “dual-tracked” foreclosures and the Due Process Rights Act, which guarantees a reliable contact for struggling homeowners to discuss their loan with and which for the first time imposes civil penalties on the practice of fraudulently signing foreclosure documents without verifying their accuracy, a practice commonly known as “robo-signing.” The proposed legislation also includes meaningful enforcement for borrowers whose rights are violated.

The full Homeowner Bill of Rights includes additional provisions to reduce blight, ensure appropriate law enforcement response to mortgage fraud and crime, and protect tenants.  The bills containing these protections are also advancing through the Legislature.

“I am gratified by this vote, which represents one more step toward our goal of achieving a Homeowner Bill of Rights for California,” said Attorney General Harris. “The mortgage and foreclosure crisis in our state demands urgent efforts to help Californians keep their homes. The legislature will now have the opportunity to cast a vote on behalf of California’s struggling homeowners.”

The California Homeowner Bill of Rights was introduced February 29, 2012 at a press conference featuring Assembly Speaker John A. Perez and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and bill authors from the Assembly and Senate. The goal of the Homeowner Bill of Rights is to take many of the mortgage reforms extracted from banks in a national mortgage settlement and write them into California law so they could apply to all mortgage-holders in the state.

“The mortgage and foreclosure abuse in California ends here,” said Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), co-chair of the Joint Conference Committee. “This committee has passed historic legislation that codifies the
protections eligible homeowners deserve, while helping to stabilize the foreclosure crisis that has thwarted California’s economic recovery. The Legislature has studied, listened and engaged Californians and
industry to find a solution that is fair and effective to mitigate this crisis. I look forward to the full support of the Legislature and Governor in implementing this package.”

“This bill is the result of a long and difficult process in which we received input from all interested parties; including homeowners and the banks and found that foreclosures benefit no one,” said Assemblymember Mike Eng (D-Alhambra). “We ended such dubious practices as having a bank foreclose while a homeowner is in the process of modifying a loan and cut through confusion by making sure that there is a ‘single point of contact’ with mortgage servicers.  With half a million California homes at risk of foreclosure, this action was urgently needed.”

The California Homeowner Bill of Rights extends Attorney General Harris’ response to the state’s foreclosure and mortgage crisis. Attorney General Harris created a Mortgage Fraud Strike Force in March, 2011 to investigate and prosecute misconduct related to mortgages and foreclosures. In February 2012 Attorney General Harris extracted a commitment from the nation’s five largest banks of an estimated $18 billion for California borrowers.

More details about the California Homeowner Bill of Rights are found on the attached fact sheet.  To learn more about how the bills impact California homeowners, review the slideshow at: www.oag.ca.gov.

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You may view the full account of this posting, including possible attachments, in the News & Alerts section of our website at: http://oag.ca.gov/news/press-releases/california-homeowner-bill-rights-takes-key-step-passage

 


CA Attorney General files suit in massive 17 state mortgage fraud scheme.

CA State Attorney General Kamala Harris 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. Prominent foreclosure attorneys Phillip Kramer and Mitchell Stein and at least 17 others have been accused of luring desperate homeowners into the scheme using deceptive advertising and telemarketing schemes aimed at millions of people in California and 16 other states.

The scheme claimed that courts have found that most mortgage lenders engaged in predatory lending practices or approved inappropriate loans (well, that part is certainly true), and that the homeowners bank was one of the guilty. As alleged in the lawsuit, defendants preyed on desperate homeowners facing foreclosure by selling them participation as plaintiffs in mass joinder lawsuits against mortgage lenders. Defendants deceptively 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 to a mass joinder lawsuit against their lender or loan servicer.

It probably comes as no surprise that theses same ‘prominent foreclosure attorneys’ had previously been ‘prominent loan modification specialists’ but it is alleged that Kramer sent an email to another fellow defendant last year stating “Only morons would prefer to ‘sell’ mods from this day forward”.
Homeowners who have paid to be added to one of the lawsuits should contact the State Bar if they feel they may be victims of this scam. They can also contact a HUD-certified housing counselor for general mortgage related assistance. If you have sent money to any of the following seized entities, you should contact the CA Attorney Generals Office at http://oag.ca.gov/.

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 as well as seizing the practices and accounts of 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.

Attorney General Harris is challenging the defendants’ alleged misconduct in marketing their mass joinder lawsuits; her office takes no position as to the legal merits of any claims asserted in the mass joinder lawsuits filed by defendants.

Victims in the following states are known to have received these mailers, or signed on to join the case. This is a preliminary list that may be updated:

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Washington.

For more information please go to: http://oag.ca.gov/news/press_release?id=2552


California Joins Multi-State Coalition to Protect Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced today that California has joined a coalition of 49 attorneys general and dozens of state banking regulators in a multi-state effort to demand that lenders find solutions to serious and potentially widespread problems in the foreclosure process across the country.

“While California continues its own vigorous efforts to ensure that homeowners facing foreclosure are treated fairly and lawfully,” Brown said, “we are now working together with other attorneys general and regulators to seek solutions that reach across state lines to protect all borrowers at risk of losing their homes in this foreclosure crisis.”

On Friday, Brown called on all lenders in California to halt foreclosing on California homes until they can demonstrate that they are complying with state law. Earlier, Brown sent letters to Ally Financial and J.P. Morgan Chase directing them either to prove they are in compliance with state law or else halt foreclosures. His office also has been in discussions with other lenders, including Wells Fargo, One West and Bank of America. Brown’s office will continue its independent efforts to protect homeowners facing foreclosure.

Bank of America announced on Friday that it was temporarily halting foreclosures nationwide.

The multi-state group will review how lenders verify foreclosure documents nationally. The group was formed after several lenders and loan services admitted that officials, dubbed “robo-signers,” had vouched for the accuracy and completeness of foreclosure documents without reviewing them. Such sham verifications may constitute a deceptive and unfair practice or otherwise violate state laws.

Regulators in the states involved, including California, have already started examining whether mortgage servicers have submitted improper affidavits or other foreclosure documents.

Although each state has its own foreclosure laws, all attorneys general and financial regulators have a common goal of making certain that every lender and servicer conduct a good faith review of foreclosure documents, only foreclose on homeowners after confirming all requirements have been met, and obey all state laws.

California law prohibits lenders from recording notices of default on mortgages made between Jan. 1, 2003, and Dec. 31, 2007, unless – with certain exceptions — the lender contacts or tries diligently to contact the borrower to determine eligibility for loan modification. A notice of default must include a declaration of compliance with California law.

California homeowners who experience problems with foreclosures, or other consumer issues, can file a complaint online with the Attorney General’s office at: www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/general.php.

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More housing delays from Brown – thanks Jerry

Pandering for a few more votes, Jerry Brown is calling for a halt to foreclosures in California. Super. Let’s let more people stay in their homes indefinitely without making payments and stall off the inevitable for a few more months. That’s what our market needs. Thanks Clueless. What a tool.

Brown Calls on Banks to Halt Foreclosures In California

SAN FRANCISCO – Following his office’s negotiations with the state’s top loan servicers and today’s announcement by Bank of America that it is temporarily halting foreclosures nationwide, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today called on the state’s other lenders to halt foreclosing on California homes until the banks can demonstrate that they are complying with state law.

“All lenders should halt foreclosures until they clear up this mess and ensure that the process is fair and complies with California law,” Brown said. “Bank of America has taken an important step, and the other major lenders should follow its lead.”

California law prohibits lenders from recording notices of default on mortgages made between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2007, unless, subject to limited exceptions, the lender contacts or tries diligently to contact the borrower to determine eligibility for a loan modification. A notice of default must include a declaration of compliance with California law.

In the past few weeks, Brown’s office has been in discussions with Bank of America, Ally Financial, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and OneWest to ascertain whether they are complying with California law. Brown’s office has called on those banks to show they are complying with state law before continuing with foreclosures.

JP Morgan Chase, the nation’s third largest loan servicer, Ally Financial and One West have admitted that employees approved and signed foreclosure documents without first fully reviewing the borrowers’ loan files. As a result, those borrowers lost their homes based on affidavits the bank never confirmed were accurate.

Ally Financial and JP Morgan have suspended foreclosures in 23 other states that, unlike California, require a court order for foreclosures.

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Attorney General Announces Charges Against Two Con Artists Who Took Money From Struggling East Bay Homeowners

FREMONT — Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced charges today against two “callous con artists” who took thousands of dollars from dozens of struggling Northern California homeowners for foreclosure services never delivered.

“The housing crisis has been devastating for many Californians, and their pain has been sharpened by callous con artists like these,” Brown said. “Their arraignment today serves as a warning to people trying to save their homes from foreclosure that there are fraudulent operators out there who will take their money but do nothing to help.”

Angeline Lisa Lizarrago, 68, of Fremont and Michael Douglas Young, 67, of Los Gatos were scheduled to be arraigned today in Department 502 of the Hayward Hall of Justice on a 23 count complaint for felony fraud and theft they committed at their business, Avemos Financial Group, of Fremont.

If convicted, Lizarrago could face more than 15 years in prison. Young, a licensed real estate broker, faces up to 12 years.

The case was investigated and prosecuted jointly by the Attorney General and the Alameda County District Attorney.

From June 2008 to October 2009, Lizarrago and Young targeted Spanish-speaking homeowners as well as Southeast Asian immigrants, all desperate to save their homes.

People stood in line for hours to get into Avemos’s waiting room, which was decorated with shrines to the Virgin Mary. Clients seeking help typically paid $1,500 initially. Lizarrago, the owner of Avenos, and Young, Avemos’s general manager, promised they would take steps to stop banks from immediately foreclosing on their homes and renegotiate clients’ loans to reflect their homes’ current market value. Lizarrago and Young guaranteed a refund if they were unsuccessful. Many lost their homes in foreclosure and did not receive a refund.

Lizarrago also took advantage of the foreclosure crisis in another way. She told an 89-year-old man and his wife, who wanted to move away from Stockton, that she owned 51 properties, many of which had been foreclosed upon, and she could find them a home in Fremont. She asked for an up-front fee, which she promised to return with interest once the purchase was made. In a series of payments, the couple gave Lizarrago $25,000. She never found them a home, nor returned their money.

The criminal charges against Lizarrago and Young are based on 11 cases of fraud and theft, and prosecutors believe there are 50 more victims who haven’t been identified yet. Anyone with information about the Avemos Financial Group or the defendants should call the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office at 1-877-288-2882.

Lizarrago was moved to Alameda County jail from Chowchilla State Prison, where she was serving a two-year sentence for a prior real estate scam. Young was arrested September 30.

The California Department of Real Estate and the Fremont Police Department assisted in the investigation.

The Attorney General has fought to stop scammers and con artists from taking advantage of people during the housing crisis. He has sought court orders to shut down more than 30 fraudulent foreclosure-relief companies and has brought criminal charges and obtained lengthy prison sentences for dozens of other deceptive loan-modification consultants. For more information on the Attorney General’s action against loan-modification fraud visit: http://ag.ca.gov/loanmod


Brown Files $60 Million Lawsuit Against Fraudulent Forensic Audit Loan Modification Scam

SACRAMENTO — Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today filed a $60 million lawsuit against a pair of Sacramento companies that lured desperate homeowners with a deceptive marketing scheme that promised to obtain mortgage modifications through the use of computer-generated “forensic loan audits.”

“These defendants dangled the term ‘forensic loan audit’ as a sure-fire remedy for the mortgage problems of homeowners in distress,” Brown said. “In fact, it was no remedy at all, and hundreds of desperate California homeowners took the bait and lost their money — and sometimes their homes.”

Brown filed the $60 million lawsuit against US Loan Auditors, My US Legal Services, and five individuals, including two attorneys, who operate a fraudulent mortgage audit scheme that preys on desperate homeowners anxious to save their homes. The suit demands civil penalties, restitution for victims, and permanent injunctions to keep the companies and other defendants from fraudulently marketing forensic loan audits and legal services of little value.

The companies, based in Rancho Cordova, work together to market and sell “forensic loan audits” to homeowners, who pay thousands of dollars in up-front fees for a dubious computer-generated review of their mortgages. The audits purport to show violations of law by lenders, which sales agents cite to convince homeowners they have a strong legal case. Sales agents use these findings to encourage homeowners to stop making their mortgage payments and instead pay additional fees to bring “predatory lending” lawsuits against their lenders.

Both companies deceive homeowners by assuring them that filing these lawsuits will give them “legal leverage” to obtain a loan modification and prevent lenders from foreclosing or collecting monthly mortgage payments. Homeowners who filed these lawsuits have lost thousands of dollars and placed themselves in greater danger of losing their homes.

My US Legal Services bilks clients for months, filing cookie-cutter complaints with little or no merit, billing unjustified monthly fees, and then dodging clients’ phone calls or stringing them along with false assurances that a settlement is in progress.

Hundreds of California homeowners, many of them facing possible loss of their homes, have been duped into paying thousands of dollars to the two companies — one homeowner paid more than $55,000 — but received little or no relief.

Meanwhile, the litigation mill run by My US Legal Services has littered courts with hundreds of lawsuits that have scant chance of success. Two federal judges have expressed concern about the legitimacy of these lawsuits and have several times sanctioned attorneys involved.

In addition to the companies, Brown is suing the three owners: attorney and real estate broker James Sandison, Jeffrey Pulvino, and Shane Barker, as well as two California attorneys, Sharon L. Lapin and Jonathan G. Stein.

The State Bar filed disciplinary charges yesterday against Sandison for alleged misappropriation of clients’ funds and aiding the unauthorized practice of law.

The Attorney General’s investigation, assisted by the State Bar and the Department of Real Estate, located victims throughout California cities hit hard by the foreclosure crisis: Corning, Fresno, Hayward, Irvine, Manteca, Richmond, Sacramento, Salinas, Sanger, Santa Ana, Stockton, Tracy, Vacaville and West Sacramento.

In February, Brown, along with the Bar and the Department of Real Estate, issued an alert ( http://ag.ca.gov/newsalerts/release.php?id=1862&) warning consumers to be wary of forensic loan audits that require homeowners to pay up-front fees. There is no evidence or statistical data to support claims that forensic loan audits of a lenders’ mortgage practices – even if performed by a licensed mortgage professional or a lawyer — help homeowners obtain loan modifications or any other foreclosure relief.

Brown has led the fight against fraudulent mortgage rescue and loan modification companies. He has obtained court orders to shut down several companies and has brought criminal charges against deceptive loan modification consultants. For more information on Brown’s actions against loan-modification fraud, see: http://ag.ca.gov/loanmod.

If you are a homeowner who has been scammed, you can file a complaint online with the Attorney General’s office at: www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/general.php. You can learn more about avoiding scams and obtain a complaint form by visiting the Department of Real Estate’s website at: www.dre.ca.gov.

If you have a complaint against Sandison, Lapin, Stein or any other lawyer involved in a loan modification or foreclosure relief service, contact the State Bar Complaint Hotline at 1-800-843-9053. Complaint forms and an explanation of the attorney discipline system are available online at: www.calbar.ca.gov.

Attached are a copy of the complaint and a sample of the fraudulent advertising mailers sent by the companies.

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More Unnecessary Delays in Foreclosure Market.

Brown Demands JP Morgan Chase Suspend Foreclosures Unless It Can Demonstrate Compliance with California Law

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has demanded that JP Morgan Chase prove immediately that it is complying with state law or, if it cannot, halt foreclosing on California homes.

“I’m taking this action to further protect California homeowners on the brink of foreclosure,” Brown said, “JP Morgan Chase, like GMAC/Ally Financial, has admitted that its review of key foreclosure documents was a ruse.”

“I’m directing Chase to prove it is following the law before it continues foreclosures in California,” Brown added.

California law prohibits lenders from recording notices of default on mortgages made between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2007, unless, subject to limited exceptions, the lender contacts or tries diligently to contact the borrower to determine eligibility for a loan modification. A notice of default must include a declaration of compliance with California law.

JP Morgan Chase, the nation’s third largest loan servicer, has admitted that employees signed affidavits in 56,000 foreclosure cases nationwide without first personally reviewing the contents of the borrowers’ loan files. As a result, those borrowers lost their homes based on affidavits the bank never confirmed were accurate.

This practice strongly suggests that any purported verification by JP Morgan Chase that it complied with California law before beginning foreclosures here is also questionable.

JP Morgan has suspended foreclosures in 23 other states that, unlike California, require a court order for foreclosures.

On Sept. 24, Brown sent a similar letter to Ally Financial, Inc., formerly known as GMAC, directing it to prove it is complying with California law or cease foreclosures in California until it can. The Attorney General’s office is in contact with Ally.

Brown’s letter to JP Morgan Chase is attached.

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Short Sale Fraud on the Rise

Brown Issues Warning about Rise of Short Sale Fraud

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today joined the California Department of Real Estate and the State Bar of California to warn homeowners about an alarming rise in short sale fraud across California in a field “rife with scam artists”.

A short sale is an arrangement in which a homeowner sells his or her home for less than the outstanding mortgage, with the consent of the lender.

“While short sales can provide homeowners with a last-ditch alternative to foreclosure, this market is rife with scam artists,” Brown said. “Homeowners and buyers, agents, and lenders should beware of short sale negotiators who operate without licenses, use straw buyers or charge illegal fees.”

With so many homeowners now considering short sales, an entire industry of so-called short sale negotiators has emerged. These individuals solicit homeowners by promising to expedite the process and help coax lenders into taking part in the transaction.

The Department of Real Estate is investigating more than 40 complaints of short sale fraud, up from “virtually zero” cases only three months ago, a spokesman said.

In April, the Obama administration launched a new initiative called the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives Program, which encourages homeowners in financial distress — especially those who have failed to complete a trial modification or qualify for a loan modification — to consider a short sale as an alternative to foreclosure.

Before working with — or paying — any short sale negotiator, homeowners should consider the following red flags:

No license
With limited exceptions, only licensed real estate agents or attorneys can engage in short sale negotiations with a homeowner’s lender.

Up-front fees
Licensed real estate agents wishing to collect up-front fees from homeowners for short sale transactions must first submit an advance fee contract to the Department of Real Estate and receive a no-objection letter.

Surcharges
With many distressed properties listed well below market value, negotiators and agents are charging potential buyers thousands of dollars in surcharges and hidden fees just to place an offer on a home. These illegal fees are frequently not disclosed and are paid outside escrow.

Straw buyers and house flipping
In this scheme, short sale negotiators misrepresent the market value of a property to a homeowner’s lender by only submitting offers on the property from an affiliated straw buyer. After the home is purchased below market value, the fraudsters immediately flip it and pocket the difference.

Short sale negotiators and agents use a number of titles including debt negotiator, debt resolution expert, loss mitigation practitioner, foreclosure rescue negotiator, short sale processor, short sale coordinator and short sale expeditor.

If you are a homeowner who has been scammed, contact Brown’s office at 1-800-952-5225 or file a complaint online at: www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/general.php.

Homeowners can also learn more about avoiding mortgage and real estate fraud by visiting the Department of Real Estate website at: http://www.dre.ca.gov/cons_alerts.html. A complaint form can be accessed online at: http://www.dre.ca.gov/frm_consumer.html.

“Short sale fraud appears to be the fraud of the moment, and it is proliferating statewide,” according to Real Estate Commissioner Jeff Davi. “Consumers, licensees and lenders must all arm themselves with the tools necessary to avoid such scams.”

Homeowners can file a complaint against a lawyer, a legal specialist or a company purporting to operate as a law firm with the State Bar by calling 1-800-843-9053 or visiting: www.calbar.ca.gov.

Homeowners can learn more about the federal government’s Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives Program by visiting: http://makinghomeaffordable.gov/hafa.html.

Non-profit housing counselors certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are also available to provide free help to homeowners. To find a counselor in your area, call 1-800-569-4287.


Loan Mod Scammers Bagged – Casino Boiler Room

State of  California - Office of the Attorney General, Edmund G. Brown Jr.

News Release

May 20, 2010
For Immediate Release
Contact: (510) 622-4500

Four Arrested, Five Wanted for Fleecing Hundreds of Homeowners Seeking Foreclosure Relief

**NOTE: Contact information for victims willing to speak with the press is available upon request**

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced that nine men engaged in a Southern California boiler room, tricked out in high-roller style with a roulette wheel and other casino equipment, have been charged with 97 criminal counts for stealing at least $2.3 million from more than 1,500 desperate homeowners who were promised loan modifications but received no relief.

Arrested Tuesday and Wednesday night were Gregg Scott Quinn, 37, of Camarillo and Juan Pierre Washington, 40, of Winnetka, who worked as company sales managers and supervisors. They are being held at Los Angeles County Jail.

Gary Arnold Eisenberg, 71, of Westwood, a top telemarketer with the company, and Ira Itskowitz, 58, a sales manager, each spent more than five years in federal prison for previous fraud convictions and are already in federal custody for violating parole in connection with their participation in the scheme.

The four principal owners of the business, Niv Iskin, 30, of Reseda, Reviv Karpman, 38, of Tarzana, Tomer Kogman, 29, of Receda and Avraham Yechizkia, 34, of Encino; and a sales manager, Barel Iskin, 23, of Woodland Hills, are still being pursued by law enforcement.

“This company was just a boiler room, long on promises and upfront fees but short on foreclosure relief,” Brown said. “Its operators cruelly defrauded citizens trying valiantly to hang on to their homes.”

Brown’s office initiated its investigation in March 2009 in response to numerous consumer complaints against the defendants’ Canoga Park-based loan modification business, which operated as Mason Capital Group, LLC and Gretchen Fox and Associates.

When agents executed a search warrant at the office, they found a Las Vegas casino-themed sales floor complete with craps, poker and black jack tables fashioned as workstations, and a roulette wheel that top-selling telemarketers spun for cash bonuses (see photos attached).

Between January 2008 and June 2009, the four owners took in at least $2.3 million in up-front fees, which ranged from $1,000 to $5,000, from more than 1,500 homeowners throughout the country. In almost every case, no loan modifications were completed, as promised. Financial records indicate that the four owners spent hundreds of thousands on private school tuition, travel, entertainment, shopping and other personal expenses while running Mason Capital Group, LLC and Gretchen Fox and Associates.

To corral sales, the four owners used a telemarketing operation that targeted homeowners facing mortgage payment increases or foreclosure. During an initial call, the telemarketers touted the company’s team of “attorneys, forensic accounting personnel, and loan negotiators” available to negotiate reductions in interest rates, monthly payments and principal balances; their supposed 90% to 100% loan modification success rate and refund guarantee. The telemarketers then collected financial information from homeowners to determine if they “qualified” for the company’s services.

Soon after the initial call, homeowners received a follow-up call to inform them that their case had been “reviewed” and “approved.” Telemarketers closed sales by insisting the approval would expire unless homeowners acted quickly, while reminding them about the refund guarantee if promised results were not achieved.

In fact, the company completed very few loan modifications, rarely contacted lenders, failed to honor the refund guarantee, employed unlicensed “loan processors” and had no legal staff negotiating with lenders.

While homeowners waited, they were told their loan modifications, or refunds, would be voided if they tried independently to contact their lender. Many lost their homes to foreclosure as a result.

To skirt the state’s foreclosure laws, avoid paying refunds and conceal profits, the owners changed company names, claimed bankruptcy and shifted loan modification files to another business they created called, American Financial Group, LLC.

Investigators located victims in dozens of California cities, including: American Canyon, Anaheim, Antioch, Artesia, Atwater, Bakersfield, Ceres, Chico, Cotati, Cloverdale, Crestline, Delano, Elk Grove, Encino, Fountain Valley, Fremont, Fresno, Guerneville, Hanford, Hayward, Hercules, Hood, Indio, La Jolla, Lancaster, Laguna Hills, Lodi, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Manteca, Modesto, Montclair, N. Hollywood, Newhall, Newman, North Highlands, Oakdale, Oakland, Ontario, Palmdale, Pittsburg, Pleasanton, Poplar, Porterville, Redding, Richmond, Riverbank, Rodeo, Sacramento, San Jose, San Pablo, Santa Clara, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Stanton, Stockton, Tracy, Tulare, Turlock, Union City, Upland, Valley Village, Van Nuys, Visalia, W. Sacramento and Yuba City.

Brown’s office will seek restitution for victims of this scam.

By law, all individuals and businesses offering mortgage foreclosure consulting or loan modification and foreclosure assistance services must register with Brown’s office and post a $100,000 bond. It is also illegal for loan modification consultants to charge up-front fees for their services.

Non-profit housing counselors certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provide free help to homeowners. To find a counselor in your area, call 1-800-569-4287.

If you are a homeowner who has been scammed, contact Brown’s office at 1-800-952-5225 or file a complaint online at: www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/general.php.

Brown has sought court orders to shut down more than 30 fraudulent foreclosure relief companies and has brought criminal charges and obtained lengthy prison sentences for dozens of other deceptive loan modification consultants. For more information on Brown’s action against loan modification fraud visit: http://ag.ca.gov/loanmod.

The 97 criminal counts filed against the nine defendants, include 63 counts of grand theft, 26 counts of unlawful foreclosure consulting, 7 counts of tax evasion and 1 count of conspiracy.

The United States Postal Inspection Service assisted in the investigation.

Copies of the complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, and the Arrest Warrant are attached.