Steve Burns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
3:15 p.m Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017
The FBI arrested 60 people in Georgia in a recent child sex trafficking crackdown.
Nationally, 120 people were arrested in Operation Cross Country, the FBI said.
Four children were recovered in Georgia and 84 in the U.S.
Sixty people were arrested and four children were recovered in Georgia during an FBI-led operation that focused on child sex trafficking, the agency announced Wednesday morning.
Nationally, 120 suspected traffickers were arrested and 84 minors were recovered in the 11th run of Operation Cross Country from Thursday through Sunday, the FBI said in a news release.
“We at the FBI have no greater mission than to protect our nation’s children from harm. Unfortunately, the number of traffickers arrested — and the number of children recovered — reinforces why we need to continue to do this important work,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the release.
Finding 4 needles in a haystack: our work on carbon capture technology.
“This operation isn’t just about taking traffickers off the street. It’s about making sure we offer help and a way out to these young victims who find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of abuse.”
The youngest victim recovered during this year’s operation was 3 months old, and the average age of victims recovered was 15, according to the FBI.
Minors recovered during the operations are offered assistance from state protective services and the FBI.
RELATED: More than 1,000 arrested in sex trafficking sting
RELATED: Facebook posts about child sex trafficking can do more harm than good, experts say
FBI agents and task force officers staged operations on websites and street corners as well as in truck stops, hotels and casinos, according to the release.
“The many men and women of law enforcement working on this operation are keenly aware of the importance of recovering these vulnerable young victims,” said David J. LeValley, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Atlanta office. “I commend every one of them for their hard work and dedication in the recovery and the apprehension of those responsible for their exploitation.”
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children worked with the FBI on the initiative, as did many metro Atlanta police departments.
Anti-gun witch Mary Margaret Oliver knew you wouldn’t be paying attention during the Thanksgiving holiday.
That’s why she pre-filed her so-called “Assault Weapons Ban” bill (H.B. 10) the day before Thanksgiving!
Hoping she could do so without a ruckus, she forgot that Georgia Gun Owners publicly exposed her and her anti-gun cronies at the Capitol within minutes of the bill’s introduction this past January.
That’s why I’m at the Capitol — right now — to let you know what’s happening with H.B. 10, that would ban dozens of firearms in Georgia, as well as .50 caliber ammunition.
Please click here to join me for a LIVE broadcast on our Facebook page (you have to be signed into Facebook; scroll to the LIVE video when you get on our page) from just outside Oliver’s meeting of anti-gunners today at the Capitol.
Georgia Gun Owners
Posted in 2nd Amendment in the News, Latest News
Tagged “assault weapons” ban, Constitutional Carry, Gun control, H.B. 10, Mary Margaret Oliver, Oliver Gun Ban, shared-news
That is just the tip of the iceberg for this woman.
Many people don’t know about the tragedies within the Probate Courts of this country, and guardianships. Mary Margaret Oliver is one of the DeKalb County, Georgia Probate Court appointed guardians for children and elderly. These “guardians” rob the elderly. I don’t know if she has been involved with robbing from children’s accounts, but I do know she has been appointed by Probate Court numerous times, and have talked with the people who have had to try to stop this woman (if you will) from stealing all of the accounts blind, and that was when she was appointed by the court as an administrator over a Will that named an executor of the estate. Since there was money within the estate, the Probate court decided that the county needed to appoint the administrator.
People yall be careful out there, and keep your families away from Probate Courts if you can. Also keep guardianships away from your elderly beloved family members. Our aunt was taken from all family, hidden from family and died a horrible death while being brainwashed to think family had not looked for her. The guardian of property took our names off of our accounts, delinked all of our Wachovia brokerage/savings/checking accounts, and began spending our money. In the end, there was nothing left out of the $600,000 taken from us.
Since the DeKalb County Georgia Probate Judge (Debra Rosh, clerk at the time) was involved, as was a DeKalb County Superior Court Judge (Hunter) and Wachovia of course, no one would sue them, not one single attorney would go up against these crooks.
That was when we were forced to learn about pro se litigation. Another long story.
Two Georgia attorneys—both under suspension by the State Bar of Georgia—have defaulted on a 2013 suit filed by a Douglas County couple who say they paid the lawyers thousands of dollars to forestall foreclosure proceedings only to lose their home when neither lawyer performed any services.
One of the defendants is attorney Robert Thompson Jr., who was suspended earlier this year after failing to respond to an ongoing investigation by the bar’s disciplinary committee. Thompson also was arrested in February and charged with misappropriating $37,440 of a client’s funds; his then-attorney told the Daily Report he had paid back more than $30,000 of the money.
A criminal charge of theft by conversion is pending against Thompson in Fulton County Superior Court. The phone number for his firm, the Thompson Law Group, has been disconnected.
The other attorney, Rodd Walton, has no disciplinary record with the bar but is under suspension for nonpayment of dues. Walton was arrested in 2009 when he attempted to enter the Cobb County Courthouse with a loaded handgun on the day he was to attend a hearing concerning a motion for reconsideration after being ordered to pay a former client $43,000 in restitution and attorney fees.
When his 2009 arrest was reported in this newspaper, a website for Walton’s Legacy Law Group said he was a former deputy counsel for Glock Inc., the maker of the gun he was carrying when he was arrested. On Thursday there was no immediate response to a message left on Legacy’s phone system, and no email is listed for Walton with the bar.
In the Fulton County suit, Michael and Cindy Bentley’s pro se complaint said they fell behind on their mortgage and in October 2011 paid Walton $3,000 to fight foreclosure proceedings. Walton “did absolutely nothing” on their behalf, it said, and when they requested information on their case he demanded another $3,500.
The Bentleys refused and demanded their $3,000 back. Walton first agreed, then told them he would refund nothing, it said.
In March 2012, they retained Thompson for $5,750. He “did nothing for a full year,” then demanded $500 to file a complaint. Thompson filed the complaint but failed to respond to the mortgage bank’s motion to dismiss or to inform the Bentleys that it had been filed, according to their complaint.
The bank’s motion went unanswered, and the court granted it by default. The Bentleys’ house was foreclosed.
Neither lawyer responded to the Bentleys’ suit, and they too moved for a default judgment. According to an order entered Thursday by State Court Judge Patsy Porter, Thompson appeared at an Oct. 15 hearing on the default motion and said that he had filed an answer with the clerk but that it had not been uploaded to the court’s e-filing system.
Porter instructed Thompson to upload a copy of his answer, but he failed to do so, she wrote.
Former Gwinnett County Lawyer Indicted for Stealing Client Funds
U.S. Attorney’s OfficeSeptember 12, 2014
Northern District of Georgia(404) 581-6000
ATLANTA—Former attorney Michael Rene Berlon has been arraigned on federal charges of mail and wire fraud.
“This defendant is charged with defrauding his own clients out of over $1.8 million,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “They came to him for legal help, and instead he drained their bank accounts.”
J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: “Individuals relying on the professionalism and trust of individuals like Mr. Berlon should be able to turn to someone when that trust is violated. The FBI, in being well positioned to investigate such allegations involving the diversion of funds through mail and wire fraud, is that someone.”
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges, and other information presented in court: Berlon, who practiced in Grayson, Ga., through his law firm, the Law Office of Michael R. Berlon, is charged with obtaining funds from clients of his law firm and other individuals through false pretenses. The indictment alleges that some clients provided money to him believing that he would create a trust for them, and would hold the funds in trust. Instead, Berlon used the funds for personal expenses, including to pay his American Express bill and to repay other clients.
The indictment also alleges that in one instance, Berlon obtained money from two individuals who were looking for his assistance with starting a new business. He told the victims that he would help them get a loan, but they were required to provide a percentage of the requested loan amount as a down payment. Instead of assisting them with obtaining a loan, Berlon used the funds for his personal expenses and debts. In total, it is alleged that Berlon received at least $1.8 million in client funds from 2008-2013.
Berlon, 55, of Grayson, Ga., was arraigned before Linda T. Walker, United States Magistrate Judge. He was indicted by a federal grand jury on September 9, 2014.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges. The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant United States Attorney Jamie L. Mickelson is prosecuting the case.
Today’s announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,700 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.
Residential real estate firm Morris Hardwick Schneider alleges that founder Nathan Hardwick IV embezzled more than $30 million from the firm and its affiliated title company, LandCastle Title.
In a suit filed Monday in Fulton County Superior Court, the firm claims Hardwick used the money to pay for casino expenses, private jet rides, a luxury Buckhead condo and real estate investments.
The two firms allege in the complaint that Hardwick raided the trust and escrow accounts that the firms maintain for residential mortgage closings and then created false bank statements and altered accounting records to hide the deficits.
Hardwick was listed as MHS’s managing partner and as the board chairman and CEO for LandCastle Title in a biography that has been deleted from MHS’s website.
A nanny who answered the phone at Hardwick’s residence at the St. Regis in Buckhead said he was not at home.
LandCastle’s lawyer, W. Reese Willis III of Fidelity National Law Group, declined to comment on active litigation. “The complaint speaks for itself,” he said.
Art Morris, another founding partner of MHS, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did MHS’s lawyer, Jeffrey Schneider of Weissman, Nowack, Curry & Wilco.
Fidelity National Title Group bought a 70 percent interest in LandCastle Title, one of its agents, after the escrow account losses were discovered, according to a letter Fidelity National posted Monday to MHS and LandCastles’ joint website.
A “significant shortage” in the accounts of MHS and LandCastle prompted the acquisition and Fidelity National is funding the shortages in return for the ownership interest in LandCastle, according to the letter. Fidelity National Title Group is owned by Fidelity National Financial.
Hardwick has resigned from MHS and Mark Wittstadt is now the managing partner, according to the letter, which was signed by Wittstadt and David Baum, the Southeast regional manager for Fidelity National Title Group who is now the president of LandCastle Title.
According to the suit, Hardwick spent $4 million from MHS’s trust accounts in wire transfers to casinos, $1 million to pay private jet companies, and $645,000 to cover losses from failed property investments.
He diverted $6.3 million from MHS’s trust accounts to a personal holding company called Divot, according to the suit, which names Divot as a co-defendant. According to Hardwick’s firm bio, he is an “avid golfer.”
Hardwick partially financed the February 2013 purchase of a $3 million unit at the St. Regis in Buckhead with funds from MHS and LandCastle, according to the suit, and siphoned off another $390,000 in regular payments to himself from MHS’s trust accounts, after draining the operating accounts.
The suit alleges that Hardwick has been embezzling money for at least 18 months, saying the $390,000 in personal payouts from the MHS trust accounts occurred between January 2012 and July 2014.
‘The far-reaching impact on lenders, realtors, law firms and consumers would have been a catastrophe had our parent company, Fidelity National Financial Inc. not stepped in with the capital and resources available to us and a plan to allow them to move forward,” said Fidelity National Title’s state manager Jim Petropoulos in an email to members of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Georgia.
MHS and LandCastle Title are headquartered in Atlanta. They have more than 50 offices in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and Ohio.
Nathan Hardwick IV denied Wednesday that he embezzled $30 million from his residential real estate law firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider, and its affiliated title company, Landcastle Title.
In a suit filed Monday in Fulton County Superior Court, MHS and Landcastle Title claim Hardwick used the money to pay for casino expenses, private jet rides, a luxury Buckhead condo and failed real estate investments.
The firms allege in the complaint that Hardwick raided the trust and escrow accounts that they maintain for residential mortgage closings and then created false bank statements and altered accounting records to hide the deficits.
Hardwick was MHS’s managing partner and the board chairman and CEO for Landcastle Title, according to a biography that has been deleted from MHS’s website.
Hardwick denied the fraud allegations in a statement supplied by his lawyer, Ed Garland.
“Nat is not guilty of any improper, illegal or unethical conduct,” the statement said. “Nat became aware of a problem with the accounting earlier this summer and immediately alerted his partners and initiated a review by outside auditors.”
“The law firm was profitable and Nat believed that all of the money he received was properly distributed to him as his share of the profits of the firm,” the statement said.
Hardwick has resigned from the firm, according to a letter from Fidelity National Title Group that was posted Monday to MHS and Landcastle’s joint website.
Fidelity National Title Group bought a 70 percent interest in Landcastle Title, one of its agents, after the escrow account losses were discovered, the letter said. A “significant shortage” in the accounts of MHS and Landcastle prompted the acquisition and Fidelity National is funding the shortages in return for the ownership interest in Landcastle, it said. Fidelity National Title Group is owned by Fidelity National Financial.
Mark Wittstadt is now MHS’s managing partner, according to the letter, which was signed by Wittstadt and David Baum, the Southeast regional manager for Fidelity National Title Group, who is now the president of Landcastle Title.
“To allow Landcastle to fail would have been a calamity for the company’s employees, consumers, and the real estate industry, as a whole. We are grateful that FNTG made the decision to put the financial resources of the company behind Landcastle Title. Together, we are working to restore confidence in our industry,” said Wittstadt in a statement.
According to the suit, Hardwick spent $4 million from MHS’s trust accounts in wire transfers to casinos, $1 million to pay private jet companies and $645,000 to cover losses from failed property investments.
He diverted $6.3 million from MHS’s trust accounts to a personal holding company called Divot, according to the suit, which names Divot as a codefendant. According to Hardwick’s firm bio, he is an “avid golfer.”
Hardwick partially financed the February 2013 purchase of a $3 million condo at the St. Regis Residences in Buckhead with funds from MHS and Landcastle, according to the suit, and siphoned off another $390,000 in regular payments to himself from MHS’s trust accounts, after draining the operating accounts.
Landcastle’s lawyer is W. Reese Willis III of Fidelity National Law Group. MHS’s lawyer is Jeffrey Schneider of Weissman, Nowack, Curry & Wilco.
The suit alleges that Hardwick has been embezzling money for at least 18 months, saying the $390,000 in personal payouts from the MHS trust accounts occurred between January 2012 and July 2014.
“The far-reaching impact on lenders, realtors, law firms and consumers would have been a catastrophe had our parent company, Fidelity National Financial Inc. not stepped in with the capital and resources available to us and a plan to allow them to move forward,” said Jim Petropoulos, Fidelity National Title’s state manager, in an email to members of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Georgia.
MHS and Landcastle Title are headquartered in Atlanta. In Georgia, 57 lawyers work for MHS, according to the State Bar of Georgia’s directory.
It has 52 offices in 13 states, including Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and Ohio.
Hardwick, 48, started his own real estate closing firm, Jackson & Hardwick, in 1994. With visions of expanding into a regional or even national firm, he merged his firm in 2005 with the older and more established Atlanta closing firm Morris & Schneider.
Hardwick told the Daily Report at the time that he wanted MHS to be the nation’s biggest real estate firm within a decade. As comanaging partner with Randolph Schneider, he was responsible for marketing and business development.
MHS added foreclosure services in 2008 through a merger with Baltimore-based Wittstadt & Wittstadt. That firm was founded by Mark Wittstadt, now MHS’s managing partner, and his father, Gerard Wittstadt Sr.
Hardwick told the Daily Report in 2008 that MHS’s goal was to become a national one-stop shop for residential real estate. “We can take [property] from closing to refinancing to foreclosure to REO and back to retail again,” he said.
Mary Anne Walser, a real estate agent for Keller Williams Realty, expressed shock at the fraud allegations against Hardwick. “It’s the talk of every real estate and mortgage office in town,” Walser said. “No one had any inkling that there would ever be a problem.”
She said MHS is one of the major closing firms in the city, with a reputation as a “competent firm that does a good job.”
“All of us had at least one if not multiple closings there,” she said.
Walser spoke highly of Hardwick. “He is a smart guy and he built a great, wonderful firm. I hope there is some other side to the story,” she said.
Even though Fidelity National Title stepped in and covered the shortfall to the escrow accounts, real estate agents and mortgage lenders don’t know whether it is safe to use the firm, Walser said, adding that some mortgage companies have announced they’ve stopped using MHS for closings.
One mortgage lender, Ari Berman, said his company, Silverton Mortgage Specialists, has pulled all its real estate closings from MHS.
“The last thing we want to do is get involved in any kind of fraud or anything that smacks of fraud,” said Berman, who manages Silverton’s Dunwoody office. Silverton has nine Georgia offices and one in South Carolina.
Silverton can’t take the risk of entrusting mortgage money to MHS to hold in escrow during a real estate closing for fear that it could disappear, Berman said. “What if we end up losing those funds?”
“Even though it’s just an allegation, we can’t be associated with it,” he said. “That is a sacrosanct account. It’s other people’s money.”
Even though Hardwick has resigned from MHS and Fidelity National Title has covered the escrow shortfalls, Berman said there is no guarantee that he was the sole actor. “There is too much that is unknown. I’m not willing to take that risk,” he said.
“Fraud is a real hot-button issue in this industry. People lose their life savings because of it,” he said.
The state’s high court has suspended the law license of Buckhead attorney Robert T. Thompson Jr..
The Supreme Court suspended Thompson’s license on Tuesday after he failed to adequately respond to an ongoing investigation by the State Bar of Georgia that could lead to Thompson’s disbarment, according to court records.
It is the second time the bar has sought to suspend Thompson—who for years chaired the bar’s lawyers’ assistance committee—for failure to respond to a complaint. In June, the bar’s investigative panel asked the Supreme Court to suspend Thompson but rescinded its motion when Thompson filed a formal response before the high court could act.
On Wednesday, the bar’s general counsel, Paula Frederick, said she could not discuss details of the two underlying complaints against Thompson, because the bar did not seek Thompson’s suspension based on the merits of those allegations but rather on the lawyer’s failure to respond.
Thompson’s office telephone has been disconnected, and the Daily Report has been unable to reach him by email. Atlanta attorney Ann Shafer, who has been defending Thompson against a theft charge filed by a former client, could not be reached immediately on Wednesday.
In February, a Fulton County magistrate issued a criminal warrant charging Thompson with theft by conversion after Michael Samadi, a former client, accused Thompson of misappropriating $37,400 of Samadi’s funds. At the time, Shafer told the Daily Report that Thompson had repaid Samadi all but $6,400 of the funds, which Thompson claimed he had invested for Samadi at that client’s request, and intended to pay Samadi the remainder with interest once the invested funds could be retrieved without paying a penalty.
This year, Thompson has also twice been sanctioned by federal judges in Atlanta. In May, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gerrilyn Brill ordered Thompson to pay $13,565 to opposing counsel in a two-year-old foreclosure case because of “untimely and unreasonable requests” that Thompson made to depose the defendants’ witnesses and because he demonstrated “no real effort to work with defense counsel.”
In January, U.S. Senior District Judge Charles Pannell Jr. ordered Thompson to pay nearly $28,000 to opposing counsel in a Fulton County case to reimburse her costs of defending herself in federal court against what the judge said in his order were baseless allegations by Thompson. Pannell described Thompson’s conduct as “reprehensible” in his sanctions order, saying that the Buckhead lawyer had made “serious claims … without a proper basis” against Atlanta attorney Kimberly Childs.