A Florida law firm, the firm’s main attorney, and his wife stand accused of running a predatory foreclosure rescue scam that preyed on Hispanic homeowners who were struggling with their mortgages.
The Department of Justice this week filed a lawsuit against Advocate Law Groups of Florida, Jon Lindeman, and Ephigenia Lindeman, accusing the firm and the Lindeman’s of violating the Fair Housing Act by “intentionally discriminating against Hispanic homeowners by targeting them with a predatory mortgage loan modification and foreclosure rescue services scheme.”
According to the lawsuit, from 2009 through at least 2015, Advocate Law Groups of Florida “deliberately targeted” Hispanic homeowners with a “predatory” loan scheme because of their national origin.
During that time, the law firm allegedly targeted Hispanic borrowers with Spanish-language ads that claimed the firm could cut their mortgage payments in half.
Then, in client meetings, the firm allegedly promised to quickly lower borrowers’ mortgage payments in exchange for thousands of dollars of upfront fees and continuing monthly fees.
The firm also supposedly told clients to stop making the monthly mortgage payments and stop communicating with their lenders.
Additionally, the firm allegedly sent a package of documents to borrowers, but the documents were written in English and no translation was provided.
The documents, which were supposedly sent to the bank the borrowers’ behalf, contained “untrue” statements, including “an offer to the bank to return the (borrowers’) homes in exchange for a rescission of the mortgage without the (borrowers’) consent to do so.”
Despite supposedly performing all these actions on behalf of their borrowers and charging high fees for those actions, the firm “did little or nothing actually to obtain loan modifications,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The lawsuit arose after three of the firm’s former clients filed complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. After HUD investigated, it referred the case to the DOJ, which then filed charges.
“Enforcement of civil rights in the housing arena is a point of focus for our Civil Division,” United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez said in a statement. “The predatory conduct described in this Complaint cannot go unaddressed, and we will take whatever steps are necessary to protect our district’s residents from this kind of discriminatory practice.”
The firm and the Lindeman’s say that the charges have no merit and are ready and willing to fight them in court.
“The Department of Justice filed an action against the Advocate Law Groups of Florida alleging discrimination against Hispanics. Other than stating that certain radio advertisements were in Spanish they do not make, nor can they prove, any allegation that the Company or its principals illegally targeted Hispanics,” the firm’s legal representation said in a statement provided to HousingWire.
“The Advocate Law Groups of Florida was a traditional law firm with a multitude of practice areas, including foreclosure defense. In this regard, the firm was dedicated to assisting citizens of all backgrounds having financial hardships fight off foreclosures and aiding their quests for modifications of loans they could no longer afford to pay,” the statement continues.
“Like any law firm they had many successes and some that were not successful, so it is unfortunate that a small, unrepresentative group of their client base are seeking to enrich themselves by asserting discrimination which never occurred,” the statement concludes. “We look forward to litigating this case in Federal Court and having the work and mission of our clients vindicated.”
[Update: This article is updated with a statement from the firm and the Lindeman's legal representation.]