The defendants behind a mortgage relief scam agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they deceived consumers into believing they could hold onto their homes and reduce mortgage payments by suing their mortgage lenders in so-called "mass joinder" lawsuits or buying "forensic loan audits."
All of the defendants, including two individuals and seven companies, will surrender assets and be prohibited from making deceptive claims about any product or service, and all but one are banned from marketing mortgage- and debt-relief services.
The FTC filed a complaint in March 2012 against Santa Ana, Calif.-based Sameer Lakhany and five companies he controlled. The agency later added three more defendants. The defendants allegedly victimized more than a thousand consumers with two related scams.
In the first alleged scam, Lakhany and defendants Brian Pacios, Precision Law Center Inc., Precision Law Center LLC, National Legal Network Inc. and Assurity Law Group Inc., allegedly held themselves out as a specialty law firm called Precision Law Center, making the false promise to consumers that if they sued their lenders along with other homeowners in so-called “mass joinder” lawsuits, they could obtain favorable mortgage concessions from their lenders or stop the foreclosure process.
According to the complaint, they charged $6,000 to $10,000 in advance, but failed to follow through with the suits, all of which were dismissed shortly after filing.
The second alleged scam, involving Lakhany and defendants The Credit Shop LLC, Fidelity Legal Services LLC and Titanium Realty Inc., typically charged consumers between $795 and $1,595 for a so-called “forensic loan audit.”
The complaint alleged that these defendants falsely portrayed themselves as nonprofit organizations using the domain names “HouseholdRelief.org,” “MyHomeSupport.org,” and “FreeFedLoanMod.org.”
They told consumers the loan audits would find lender violations 90% of the time or more, and that this would force lenders to give them better mortgage terms. In fact, the complaint alleged that consumers rarely if ever obtained better mortgage terms as a result of these “forensic loan audits.”
The proposed settlements impose judgments reflecting the total consumer injury attributable to the defendants:
- The order against Lakhany and the companies he controlled – The Credit Shop, LLC, Fidelity Legal Services LLC, Titanium Realty, Inc., Precision Law Center, Inc., and Precision Law Center LLC – imposes a $3 million redress judgment. The judgment is partially suspended as to Lakhany based on his inability to pay.
- The order against Pacios and his company, National Legal Network, Inc., imposes a $1.75 million redress judgment and requires Pacios and the company to turn over virtually all of their known assets, including a Ferrari and two rental properties in Las Vegas owned by Pacios.
- The order against Assurity Law Group Inc. requires it to turn over to the FTC all funds it received in connection with the “mass joinder” scam, which amount to $100,000.
The FTC’s ability to provide redress, and the amount provided, will depend on the amount actually collected from the defendants.