It’s been just over a week since the world of housing finance first learned of the events that led to Fidelity National Financial (FNF) bailing out LandCastle Title.
When HousingWire first broke the news of Fidelity “stepping in” as a 70% owner of LandCastle, little did we know what was to come in the following days.
In the initial letter posted to the website shared by LandCastle and its parent company, the law firm of Morris Hardwick Schneider, the companies said that Fidelity stepped in as owner after “substantial escrow account misappropriations” were discovered within the accounts of MHS and LandCastle.
The letter stated that Nathan (Nat) Hardwick, the managing partner of MHS and chairman of the board and CEO of LandCastle, had resigned his positions with both companies.
The next day, HousingWire reported that MHS and LandCastle are suing Hardwick in Fulton County Superior Court, alleging that he embezzled at least $30 million from the companies’ own accounts and the companies’ trust accounts, allegedly using the money to pay for private jets, cover real estate investment losses, cover millions in gambling debts and other investments.
The lawsuit alleges that Hardwick (pictured below) used that access to “systematically deplete” the firm’s and title company’s accounts for “his personal benefit.”
According to the court records, Hardwick allegedly misappropriated at least $30 million from the companies’ accounts to himself through various measures.
Despite MHS and LandCastle’s claims that Hardwick embezzled more than $30 million from the companies, the Atlanta Police Department told HousingWire that it is not currently investigating Hardwick, saying, “Our agency is not involved in that case.”
The APD also told HousingWire that it is not aware of any pending investigations of Hardwick by other law enforcement agencies.
After HousingWire posted the details of the lawsuit against Hardwick, Hardwick’s attorney, Ed Garland, issued a statement on Hardwick’s behalf, claiming that Hardwick is not guilty of “any improper, illegal or unethical conduct.”
Garland said in the statement that the claims in the civil suit are false and that Hardwick “looks forward to clearing his name.”
Hardwick, as it turns out, was more than just the managing partner at MHS and the CEO of LandCastle Title.
A subsequent HousingWire investigation revealed just how he spent his time and his money outside of work.
He was an avid golfer and a fixture on the PGA Tour pro-am circuit, playing in the prestigious Pebble Beach Pro-Am with PGA pros John Daly in 2013, Kyle Thompson in 2012, Jamie Lovemark in 2011 and Tom Pernice, Jr. in 2010.
As of August 28, a video on the PGA Tour’s website showed Hardwick birdieing the 13th hole during the 2013 Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournament. The video has now been removed from the PGA’s website.
Hardwick was also listed as a member of PGA golfer Dustin Johnson’s “team” on Johnson’s personal website, dustinjohnson.com. Hardwick was referred to as Johnson’s attorney and counselor until news of Hardwick’s legal entanglements broke. The image below is a screencap of Johnson's website as of 1:38 p.m. Central on August 27 showing Hardwick's name still listed.
Since then, Hardwick’s name has been removed from the site. Hardwick was also listed as a board member of Johnson’s foundation. His name and bio have been removed from that web page as well.
E-mails to Johnson’s agent and other members of his foundation’s board seeking comment on their or Johnson’s relationship with Hardwick have received no response thus far.
Hardwick was also a big NASCAR fan, going so far as to have LandCastle sponsor a NASCAR team. In pictures on Jayski.com, LandCastle Title’s name and logo is seen emblazoned on a stock car driven by veteran NASCAR driver Joe Nemchek.
Several of the pictures credit Hardwick’s now-deleted Twitter feed, including a picture from March 23 with Nemechek at the wheel of the #66 Toyota. The pictures, courtesy of Jayski.com, can be seen below. Click the image for a larger view.
Hardwick was apparently at least a part owner of Nemechek’s racing team as part of Identity Ventures Racing, which was started in January by Jay Robinson, Nemechek, Hardwick and “other business leaders.”
LandCastle is no longer a sponsor of Nemechek’s team. Richmond, Virginia-based Friedman Law Firm will serve as the main sponsor of the #66 Toyota Camry when it runs in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway this weekend.
"I am very happy to have Rick Friedman and The Friedman Law Firm partner with us for the Richmond Race,” Robinson said. “It is very important that the #66 Team continues to show progress over the last 11 races of the season and Mr. Friedman's support could not come at a better time.”
For the law firm of Morris Hardwick Schneider, Hardwick’s resignation led to the naming of Mark Wittstadt as the new managing partner of the firm.
The firm of Morris Hardwick Schneider is now known as Morris Schneider Wittstadt, according to its website.
All mentions of Hardwick have been removed from the site, except for in the firm’s logo and banner at the top of each page within the site, as seen in the image below. Click the image for a larger view.
According to court documents, the firm and LandCastle also changed the attorney representing them in the suit against Hardwick. Initially, Jeffery Schneider, of the Atlanta firm Weissman Nowack Curry & Wilco, was representing MHS and LandCastle in the suit.
On August 28, the companies filed for a substitution of counsel in the suit and are now being represented by Edward Burch, with the law firm of Smith, Gambrell & Russell.
When reached for comment on the case, Burch told HousingWire that he was unable to comment on pending litigation.
As for Fidelity, its stake in LandCastle is something it takes very seriously.
"To allow LandCastle to fail would have been a calamity for the company’s employees, consumers, and the real estate industry, in general,” Fidelity said in a statement to HousingWire last week. “As a result, we felt it was in the best interest of all parties to put the financial resources of Fidelity behind LandCastle Title.”
Those sentiments were echoed in a new letter posted to LandCastle’s website late last week.
In the letter, Erika Meinhardt, president of national agency operations for Fidelity, addresses concerns that the events surrounding Hardwick’s departure may have had a negative impact on LandCastle or Fidelity.
“Because Fidelity made the decision to put its financial resources behind LandCastle Title, no closings, escrow accounts or other real estate-related transactions have been or will be negatively impacted in any way,” Meinhardt writes. “In fact, they continue to fund closings in a business as usual manner.”
Meinhardt also states that the law firm of MHS (now MSW) is an approved attorney and “is in good standing in the real estate industry.”
Meinhardt also states that LandCastle is an active agent in “good standing,” and is authorized to continue in its title policy and endorsement practices where permitted by law.
“Had Fidelity not made the decision to invest in LandCastle Title, many consumers could have faced significant losses and the real estate industry would have lost the confidence of the public it serves,” Meinhardt writes. “Because of Fidelity’s investment, no borrower has incurred a loss. Fidelity made this investment for exactly this reason – to help sustain an industry it is committed to serving.”
The full letter can be read here.
And as for Hardwick, attempts to elicit a response from his attorney on the pending litigation have also been unsuccessful.