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Brown Sues 21 Individuals and 14 Companies Who Ripped Off Homeowners Desperate for Mortgage Relief

Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Contact: (415) 703-5837

Los Angeles – As part of a massive federal-state crackdown on loan modification scams, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. at a press conference today announced the filing of legal action against 21 individuals and 14 companies who ripped off thousands of homeowners desperately seeking mortgage relief.

Brown is demanding millions in civil penalties, restitution for victims and permanent injunctions to keep the companies and defendants from offering mortgage-relief services.

“The loan modification industry is teeming with confidence men and charlatans, who rip off desperate homeowners facing foreclosure,” Brown said. “Despite firm promises and money-back guarantees, these scam artists pocketed thousands of dollars from each victim and didn’t provide an ounce of relief.”

Brown filed five lawsuits as part of “Operation Loan Lies,” a nationwide sweep of sham loan modification consultants, which he conducted with the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Attorney’s office and 22 other federal and state agencies. In total, 189 suits and orders to stop doing business were filed across the country.

Following the housing collapse, hundreds of loan modification and foreclosure-prevention companies have cropped up, charging thousands of dollars in upfront fees and claiming that they can reduce mortgage payments. Yet, loan modifications are rarely, if ever, obtained. Less than 1 percent of homeowners nationwide have received principal reductions of any kind.

Brown has been leading the fight against fraudulent loan modification companies. He has sought court orders to shut down several companies including First Gov and Foreclosure Freedom and has brought criminal charges and obtained lengthy prison sentences for deceptive loan modification consultants.

Brown’s office filed the following lawsuits in Orange County and U.S. District Court for the Central District (Los Angeles):

• U.S. Homeowners Assistance, based in Irvine;
• U.S. Foreclosure Relief Corp and its legal affiliate Adrian Pomery, based in the City of Orange;
• Home Relief Services, LLC, with offices in Irvine, Newport Beach and Anaheim, and its legal affiliate, the Diener Law Firm;
• RMR Group Loss Mitigation, LLC and its legal affiliates Shippey & Associates and Arthur Aldridge. RMR Group has offices in Newport Beach, City of Orange, Huntington Beach, Corona, and Fresno;
• and
• United First, Inc, and its lawyer affiliate Mitchell Roth, based in Los Angeles.

U.S. Homeowners Assistance
Brown on Monday sued U.S. Homeowners Assistance, and its executives -- Hakimullah “Sean” Sarpas and Zulmai Nazarzai -- for bilking dozens of homeowners out of thousands of dollars each.

U.S. Homeowners Assistance claimed to be a government agency with a 98 percent success rate in aiding homeowners. In reality, the company was not a government agency and was never certified as an approved housing counselor by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. None of U.S. Homeowners Assistance’s known victims received loan modifications despite paying upfront fees ranging from $1,200 to $3,500.

For example, in January 2008, one victim received a letter from her lender indicating that her monthly mortgage payment would increase from $2,300 to $3,500. Days later, she received an unsolicited phone call from U.S. Homeowners Assistance promising a 40 percent reduction in principal and a $2,000 reduction in her monthly payment. She paid $3500 upfront for U.S. Homeowners Assistance’s services.

At the end of April 2008, her lender informed her that her loan modification request had been denied and sent her the documents that U.S. Homeowners Assistance had filed on her behalf. After reviewing those documents, she discovered that U.S. Homeowners Assistance had forged her signature and falsified her financial information – including fabricating a lease agreement with a fictitious tenant.

When she confronted U.S. Homeowners Assistance, she was immediately disconnected and has not been able to reach the company.

Brown’s suit contends that U.S. Homeowners Assistance violated:
• California Business and Professions Code section 17500 by falsely stating they were a government agency and misleading homeowners by claiming a 98 percent success rate in obtaining loan modifications;

• California Business and Professions Code section 17200 by failing to perform services made in exchange for upfront fees;

• California Civil Code section 2945.4 for unlawfully collecting upfront fees for loan modification services;

• California Civil Code section 2945.45 for failing to register with the California Attorney General’s Office as foreclosure consultants; and

• California Penal Code section 487 for grand theft.

Brown is seeking $7.5 million in civil penalties, full restitution for victims, and a permanent injunction to keep the company and the defendants from offering foreclosure consultant services.

US Homeowners Assistance also did business as Statewide Financial Group, Inc., We Beat All Rates, and US Homeowners Preservation Center.

US Foreclosure Relief Corporation
Brown last week sued US Foreclosure Relief Corporation, H.E. Service Company, their executives -- George Escalante and Cesar Lopez -- as well as their legal affiliate Adrian Pomery for running a scam promising homeowners reductions in their principal and interest rates as low as 4 percent. Brown was joined in this suit by the Federal Trade Commission and the State of Missouri.

Using aggressive telemarketing tactics, the defendants solicited desperate homeowners and charged an upfront fee ranging from $1,800 to $2,800 for loan modification services. During one nine-month period alone, consumers paid defendants in excess of $4.4 million. Yet, in most instances, defendants failed to provide the mortgage-relief services. Once consumers paid the fee, the defendants avoided responding to consumers’ inquiries.

In response to a large number of consumer complaints, several government agencies directed the defendants to stop their illegal practices. Instead, they changed their business name and continued their operations – using six different business aliases in the past eight months alone.

Brown’s lawsuit alleges the companies and individuals violated:
• The National Do Not Call Registry, 16 C.F.R. section 310.4 and California Business and Professions Code section 17200 by telemarketing their services to persons on the registry;

• The National Do Not Call Registry, 16 C.F.R. section 310.8 and California Business and Professions Code section 17200 by telemarketing their services without paying the mandatory annual fee for access to telephone numbers within the area codes included in the registry;

• California Civil Code section 2945 et seq. and California Business and Professions Code section 17200 by demanding and collecting up-front fees prior to performing any services, failing to include statutory notices in their contracts, and failing to comply with other requirements imposed on mortgage foreclosure consultants;

• California Business and Professions Code sections 17200 and 17500 by representing that they would obtain home loan modifications for consumers but failing to do so in most instances; by representing that consumers must make further payments even though they had not performed any of the promised services; by representing that they have a high success rate and that they can obtain loan modification within no more than 60 days when in fact these representations were false; and by directing consumers to avoid contact with their lenders and to stop making loan payments causing some lenders to initiate foreclosure proceedings and causing damage to consumers’ credit records.

Victims of this scam include a father of four battling cancer, a small business owner, an elderly disabled couple, a sheriff whose income dropped due to city budget cuts and an Iraq-war veteran. None of these victims received the loan modification promised.

Brown is seeking unspecified civil penalties, full restitution for victims, and a permanent injunction to keep the company and the defendants from offering foreclosure consultant services.

The defendants also did business under other names including Lighthouse Services and California Foreclosure Specialists.

Home Relief Services, LLC
Brown Monday sued Home Relief Services, LLC., its executives Terence Green Sr. and Stefano Marrero, the Diener Law Firm and its principal attorney Christopher L. Diener for bilking thousands of homeowners out of thousands of dollars each.

Home Relief Services charged homeowners over $4,000 in upfront fees, promised to lower interest rates to 4 percent, convert adjustable-rate mortgages to low fixed-rate loans and reduce principal up to 50 percent within 30 to 60 days. None of the known victims received a modification with the assistance of the defendants.

In some cases, these companies also sought to be the lenders’ agent in the short-sale of their clients’ homes. In doing so, the defendants attempted to use their customers’ personal financial information for their own benefit.

Home Relief Services and the Diener Law Firm directed homeowners to stop contacting their lender because the defendants would act as their sole agent and negotiator.

Brown’s lawsuit contends that the defendants violated:
• California Business and Professions Code section 17500 by claiming a 95 percent success rate and promising consumers significant reductions in the principal balance of their mortgages;

• California Business and Professions Code section 17200 by failing to perform on promises made in exchange for upfront fees;

• California Civil Code section 2945.4 for unlawfully collecting upfront fees for loan modification services;

• California Business and Professions Code section 2945.3 by failing to include cancellation notices in their contracts;

• California Civil Code section 2945.45 by not registering with the Attorney General’s office as foreclosure consultants; and

• California Penal Code section 487 for grand theft.

Brown is seeking $10 million in civil penalties, full restitution for victims, and a permanent injunction to keep the company and the defendants from offering foreclosure consultant services.

Two other companies with the same management were also involved in the effort to deceive homeowners: Payment Relief Services, Inc. and Golden State Funding, Inc.

RMR Group Loss Mitigation Group
Brown Monday sued RMR Group Loss Mitigation and its executives Michael Scott Armendariz of Huntington Beach, Ruben Curiel of Lancaster, and Ricardo Haag of Corona; Living Water Lending, Inc.; and attorney Arthur Steven Aldridge of Westlake Village as well as the law firm of Shippey & Associates and its principal attorney Karla C. Shippey of Yorba Linda — for bilking over 500 victims out of nearly $1 million.

The company solicited homeowners through telephone calls and in-person home visits. Employees claimed a 98 percent success rate and a money-back guarantee. None of the known victims received any refunds or modifications with the assistance of defendants.

For example, in July 2008, a 71-year old victim learned his monthly mortgage payments would increase from $2,470 to $3,295. He paid $2,995, yet received no loan modification and no refund.

Additionally, RMR insisted that homeowners refrain from contacting their lenders because the defendants would act as their agents.

Brown’s suit contends that the defendants violated:

• California Business and Professions Code section 17500 by claiming a 98 percent success rate and promising consumers significant reductions in the principal balance of their mortgages;

• California Business and Professions Code section 17200 by failing to perform on promises made in exchange for upfront fees;

• California Civil Code section 2945.4 for unlawfully collecting upfront fees for loan modification services;

• California Business and Professions Code section 2945.3 by failing to include cancellation notices in their contracts;

• California Civil Code section 2945.45 by not registering with the Attorney General’s office as foreclosure consultants; and

• California Penal Code section 487 for grand theft.

Brown is seeking $7.5 million in civil penalties, full restitution for victims, and a permanent injunction to keep the company and the defendants from offering foreclosure consultant services.

United First, Inc.
On July 6, 2009, Brown sued a foreclosure consultant and an attorney -- Paul Noe Jr. and Mitchell Roth - who conned 2,000 desperate homeowners into paying exorbitant fees for 'phony lawsuits' to forestall foreclosure proceedings.

These lawsuits were filed and abandoned, even though homeowners were charged $1,800 in upfront fees, at least $1,200 per month and contingency fees of up to 80 percent of their home's value.

Noe convinced more than 2,000 homeowners to sign 'joint venture' agreements with his company, United First, and hire Roth to file suits claiming that the borrower's loan was invalid because the mortgages had been sold so many times on Wall Street that the lender could not demonstrate who owned it. Similar suits in other states have never resulted in the elimination of the borrower's mortgage debt.

After filing the lawsuits, Roth did virtually nothing to advance the cases. He often failed to make required court filings, respond to legal motions, comply with court deadlines, or appear at court hearings. Instead, Roth's firm simply tried to extend the lawsuits as long as possible in order to collect additional monthly fees.

United First charged homeowners approximately $1,800 in upfront fees, plus at least $1,200 per month. If the case was settled, homeowners were required to pay 50 percent of the cash value of the settlement. For example, if United First won a $100,000 reduction of the mortgage debt, the homeowner would have to pay United First a fee of $50,000. If United First completely eliminated the homeowner's debt, the homeowner would be required to pay the company 80 percent of the value of the home.

Brown's lawsuit contends that Noe, Roth and United First:

• Violated California's credit counseling and foreclosure consultant laws, Civil Code sections 1789 and 2945

• Inserted unconscionable terms in contracts;

• Engaged in improper running and capping, meaning that Roth improperly partnered with United First, Inc. and Noe, who were not lawyers, to generate business for his law firm violating California Business and Professions Code 6150; and

• Violated 17500 of the California Business and Professions Code.

Brown's office is seeking $2 million in civil penalties, full restitution for victims, and a permanent injunction to keep the company and the defendants from offering foreclosure consultant services.

Tips for Homeowners
Brown’s office issued these tips for homeowners to avoid becoming a victim:

DON'T pay money to people who promise to work with your lender to modify your loan. It is unlawful for foreclosure consultants to collect money before (1) they give you a written contract describing the services they promise to provide and (2) they actually perform all the services described in the contract, such as negotiating new monthly payments or a new mortgage loan. However, an advance fee may be charged by an attorney, or by a real estate broker who has submitted the advance fee agreement to the Department of Real Estate, for review.

DO call your lender yourself. Your lender wants to hear from you, and will likely be much more willing to work directly with you than with a foreclosure consultant.

DON'T ignore letters from your lender. Consider contacting your lender yourself, many lenders are willing to work with homeowners who are behind on their payments.

DON'T transfer title or sell your house to a 'foreclosure rescuer.' Fraudulent foreclosure consultants often promise that if homeowners transfer title, they may stay in the home as renters and buy their home back later. The foreclosure consultants claim that transfer is necessary so that someone with a better credit rating can obtain a new loan to prevent foreclosure. BEWARE! This is a common scheme so-called 'rescuers' use to evict homeowners and steal all or most of the home's equity.

DON'T pay your mortgage payments to someone other than your lender or loan servicer, even if he or she promises to pass the payment on. Fraudulent foreclosure consultants often keep the money for themselves.

DON'T sign any documents without reading them first. Many homeowners think that they are signing documents for a new loan to pay off the mortgage they are behind on. Later, they discover that they actually transferred ownership to the 'rescuer.'

DO contact housing counselors approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who may be able to help you for free. For a referral to a housing counselor near you, contact HUD at 1-800-569-4287 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or www.hud.gov.

If you believe you have been the victim of a mortgage-relief scam in California, please contact the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit at http://ag.ca.gov/consumers/general.php.

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