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AG Says Bogus Lawyers Bilked Homeowners

(CN) - Florida's attorney general sued a network of alleged scam artists it she says have been posing as lawyers to deceive desperate homeowners into paying them for bogus foreclosure and loan modification services.

In a complaint filed in Palm Beach County, Attorney General Pam Bondi said the four men and two women non-lawyers all convinced homeowners to pay them fees and monthly retainers to help stave off foreclosure, but instead, put them further into debt.

In some cases, the residents lost their homes, the complaint says.

"Florida homeowners facing the stress of foreclosure should not have to worry about scammers posing as lawyers and making false promises of relief to get what little money the homeowners may have," Bondi said in a statement.

According to the complaint, Adam Forman, Joseph Hilton aka Joseph Starr, Victor Spagnuolo, Wayne Lucas, Wendy Anne Hart and Barbara Rudolph used Craigslist to contact real lawyers and use their bar numbers to file court documents delaying foreclosure — ostensibly to draw out more monthly retainer fees from the homeowners.

"The non-lawyers have also jeopardized the future careers of several licensed attorneys who were unknowingly and unwittingly utilized as the 'front men' for the fake law firms," the complaint states. "The homeowner clients believed these licensed attorneys were representing them when, in fact, the attorneys had absolutely no idea the clients even existed."

The non-lawyers told homeowners to stop paying their mortgage and ignore all bank notices. Every month, the complaint claims, the homeowners would receive a letter detailing progress with bank negotiations — and a bill.

The bogus law firms named in the complaint are the Asset Protection Law Firm, Heritage Law Group, Liberty Law Group, Consumer Legal Resources, Consumer Legal Advocates, Legal Referral Services, Galler Lehman Law. Business Administration Growth, Selective Housing Solutions and Selective Mortgage Corporation.

The companies operated out of Boca Raton and Coral Springs and employed several other people as receptionists and telemarketers.

The Attorney General's Office received 37 complaints about the phony law firms, leading to an investigation aided by two police departments and the United States Secret Service.

Two of the men accused — Forman and Hilton have already been arrested for practicing law without a license.

The Attorney General's Office is also asking for restitution for the victims.

Representatives of the defendants could not immediately be reached for comment. Attempts to reach them by phone were not successful and they did not respond to an email sent to one of their businesses.

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