Thursday, August 13, 2009
State Bar Moves Against Three Lawyers Over Loan Modifications
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The State Bar said yesterday that it has obtained the resignations of two Southern California attorneys and filed charges against a third for their loan modification activities.
Characterizing the actions as a continuation of its “aggressive pursuit of lawyers who commit professional misconduct by taking advantage of vulnerable homeowners,” the State Bar said Christian Dillon of Dana Point and Nabile Anz of Irvine resigned last week and that Christopher Diener of Irvine was facing charges.
The actions were the result of the State Bar’s special team on loan modification complaints, which is investigating more than 400 active complaints from consumers about lawyers’ roles in loan modification scams.
The team—comprised of six investigators and four attorneys in the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel, led by Supervising Trial Counsel Suzan J. Anderson—is working with local prosecutors, the California Attorney General’s Office and the California Department of Real Estate.
Dillon resigned Aug. 3 with charges pending while under investigation for consumer complaints regarding his affiliation with USMAC Law Group in Aliso Viejo. He has been enrolled as an inactive member of the State Bar and is ineligible to practice pending a Supreme Court order accepting his resignation.
According to the State Bar’s website, Dillon, who was admitted in 1979, was placed on probation in 1987 for failure to provide child support and publicly reproved in 2005 after pleading guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol while on probation for a similar conviction.
Anz, who ran the Federal Loan Modification Law Center in Irvine and was admitted to the State Bar in 1996, resigned Aug. 4 with charges pending.
The State Bar said it filed an application in the State Bar Court last month to have Anz enrolled involuntarily inactive, alleging that he abandoned clients who retained the center by failing to perform on their behalf, closing the center without any notice to clients and failing to return unearned fees.
Along with the resignation, the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel filed a stipulation in the State Bar Court whereby Anz admitted the misconduct alleged in the application. He has been enrolled as an inactive member and is ineligible to practice pending a Supreme Court order accepting his resignation.
On Aug. 5, State Bar prosecutors also filed an application against Diener seeking to have him enrolled involuntarily inactive.
Diener—who was admitted to the State Bar in 1997 and affiliated with Home Relief Services in Orange County—allegedly misrepresented the scope of his services to clients, collected advanced fees under false pretenses and failed to perform any services to obtain a loan modification on behalf of his clients.
A hearing on the application is scheduled for Aug. 28 in State Bar Court.
According to the State Bar’s website, Diener—who was admitted in 1997—was placed on administrative inactive status in 2001 for MCLE noncompliance and briefly suspended in 2005 for failing to pay membership fees.
State Bar Court Interim Chief Trial Counsel Russell Weiner said that the State Bar “is firmly committed to its mission of protecting the public,” adding that “[a]s long as the need exists, this office will continue to devote substantial resources to the investigation and prosecution of attorneys who lose sight of their ethical responsibilities and take undue advantage of desperate homeowners under the pretense of helping them with mortgage loan modifications.”
Dillon, Anz and Diener could not be reached for comment.
In related news, Attorney General Jerry Brown yesterday ordered 386 mortgage foreclosure consultants—including 85 in Los Angeles County—to post $100,000 bonds and register with his office under threat of possible criminal and civil prosecution.
He also ordered more than two dozen companies to justify “suspicious” loan modification claims made online and through the mail.
“Hoping to lower their mortgage payments, thousands of homeowners were instead duped by slick advertising and money-back guarantees,” Brown said. “The time for accountability is at hand, and this rogue industry must clean itself up or face legal action.”
He further unveiled a new website—ag.ca.gov/loanmod—to provide homeowners tips to avoid loan modification fraud, allow them to determine if a company is registered with his office and make it easier to file complaints.
Brown’s letters to consultants directed them to register within 10 days and post the bond, or demonstrate why they are not required to do so. Consultants who fail to register as required are subject to criminal penalties of up to one year in jail and fines ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 per violation.
Other consultants who received the letters include 133 in Orange County, 47 in the Inland Empire, 68 in San Diego County and seven in the Bay Area.
Brown yesterday also sent letters to 27 loan consultants demanding that they substantiate suspect claims made on the Internet and in direct mail advertising.
The Attorney General’s Office said that combating loan modification fraud was a “top priority,” and last month as part of a nationwide sweep filed suits against 21 individuals and 14 companies who allegedly ripped off thousands of homeowners seeking mortgage relief.
In total, Brown has sought court orders to shut down 32 companies.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company