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.

DRE, AG Warn Homeowners About Loan Mod Fraud

Time and again people don’t listen to that little inner voice that tells us – if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. We know that has always been the case and continues to be the case but sometimes… sometimes we think – well, reality may have suspended itself just this one time, just on this occasion, just for me.

NOT!

We continue to warn people about loan mod fraud – yet people continue to be victimized. I know people are desperate but sometimes you also have to be just a little bit naive and/or stupid to buy into some of these scams.

But the coalition formed by our Attorney Generals office, the Department of Real Estate and the State Bar of California keep trying to protect us from these scamsters and ourselves. I posted here some months back when they initially formed the coalition and were effective in passing legislation that required loan mod specialists to register with the Attorney Generals office and post a $100,000 bond (SB 94 Calderon). The same bill made it illegal for anybody to charge an up-front fee to modify, or attempt to modify, a loan. Yet in spite of shutting down hundreds of these scam artists and acting on 1,000’s of complaints, the problem continues.

So once again, AG Brown, the DRE and the State Bar have today submitted the following press release:

Brown Warns Homeowners to Avoid Forensic Loan Audits

Los Angeles-Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today joined the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) and the State Bar of California in warning Californians to avoid forensic loan audits, the loan-modification industry’s latest “phony foreclosure-relief service,” in which homeowners pay up-front fees for a forensic review of their lender’s practices, but are provided no actual foreclosure relief.

“Forensic loan audits are yet another phony foreclosure-relief service hawked by loan-modification consultants trying to cash in on the desperation of homeowners facing foreclosure,” Brown said. “The foreclosure-relief industry continues to be long on promises, but short on results.”

Individuals and businesses who offer forensic loan audits use inflated and misleading claims to convince homeowners to pay up-front fees for services that produce no actual foreclosure relief. Homeowners are encouraged to pay for an audit of their mortgage loan file to determine their lender’s compliance with state and federal mortgage-lending laws. This audit is pitched to homeowners as a tool they can use to gain leverage and speed up the loan-modification process.

In truth, there is no evidence or statistical data to support claims that forensic loan audits-even if performed by a licensed, legitimate and trained auditor, mortgage professional or lawyer-will help homeowners obtain loan modifications or provide any other foreclosure relief.

“The State Bar is committed to dealing with all aspects of loan foreclosure fraud involving attorneys,” said State Bar President Howard Miller. “We will continue to work with all the other government agencies to prevent fraud and to move for disciplinary sanctions against attorneys who violate their obligations to their clients.”

By law, all individuals and businesses offering mortgage-foreclosure consulting, 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 and businesses to charge up-front fees for their services.

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 deceptive loan-modification consultants.

In 2009, the DRE investigated more than 2,000 complaints involving loan-modification scams. Nearly 350 individuals and companies received a Desist and Refrain Order to stop illegal activity.

“The DRE has aggressively pursued loan-modification scammers who prey on vulnerable and financially stressed homeowners, and those peddling false hope by promising mortgage relief with a forensic audit will be scrutinized,” stated Real Estate Commissioner Jeff Davi. “With consumer education efforts and warnings, we hope to keep consumers from falling victim in the first place.”

As part of today’s consumer alert, Brown offered the following tips to homeowners:

– Don’t pay up-front fees. Foreclosure consultants are prohibited by law from collecting money before services are performed.
– Don’t ignore letters from your lender or loan servicer. Responding to those letters is your best bet for saving your house.
– Don’t transfer title or sell your house to a “foreclosure rescuer.” Beware! This is a scam to convince homeowners they can stay in the home as renters and buy their home back later. It could also be part of a fraudulent bankruptcy filing. Either way, a scammer can then evict you and take your home.
– Don’t pay your mortgage payments to anyone other than your lender or loan servicer. Mortgage consultants often keep the money for themselves.
– Never sign any documents without reading them first. Many homeowners think that they are signing documents for a loan modification or for a new loan to pay off their delinquent mortgage. Later, they discover that they actually transferred ownership of their home to someone who is now trying to evict them.

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, you can contact Brown’s office at 1-800-952-5225 or file a complaint online at: www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/general.php. You can also learn more about avoiding scams and obtain a complaint form by visiting the DRE’s web site at: www.dre.ca.gov.

If you have a complaint against a lawyer, 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.

In 2009, California accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s foreclosure activity, with 632,573 homes in foreclosure statewide. This is an annual increase of more than 20 percent in foreclosure activity from 2008 and a 150 percent increase from 2007.

For more information on Brown’s action against loan-modification fraud visit: http://ag.ca.gov/loanmod.