One of my people was represented by this guy, and he stole $45,000.00 of her settlement. She and some other victims testified in Court a couple weeks ago. He was sentenced to 30 years, with 15 to serve. He was supposed to turn himself in 02/01/2019. He did not show up.
An attorney who handled one of my people, disbarred, he stole $50,000.00 from one of my people. Bad Lawyer, Bad Lawyer!!
IN THE MATTER OF RICHARD V. MERRITT
Date: January 29, 2018
Docket Number: S18Y0387
Used to work in the Georgia Attorney General’s Office as a prosecutor. Now he is the criminal. He voluntarily surrendered his license to the Bar, violation of Rule 1.15(I) is disbarment for first offense.
IN THE MATTER OF SAM LOUIS LEVINE
Date: March 5, 2018
Docket Number: S18Y0348
IN THE MATTER OF CHRISTOPHER AARON CORLEY
Date: March 5, 2018
Docket Number: S18Y0350
Suspended two years or longer depending upon how long his probation for wife beating lasts.
IN THE MATTER OF ANDRE KEITH SANDERS
Date: March 5, 2018
Docket Number: S18Y0383
Five year suspension, with conditions that Florida Bar must reinstate before GA will reinstate.
IN THE MATTER OF WALTER LINTON MOORE
Date: March 5, 2018
Docket Number: S18Y0559
Disbarred for viiolations of Bar Rules: 1.2, 1.3, 1.4,1.5, 1.16, 3.2 and 9.3,
with multiple violations of 1.3, 1.4, 1.16, and 9.3.
IN THE MATTER OF NATALIE DAWN MAYS
Date: February 19, 2018
Docket Number: S18Y0315
Disbarred. Violations of Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.16, and 3.2
IN THE MATTER OF DONALD EDWARD SMART
Date: February 19, 2018
Docket Number: S18Y0511
Review panel reprimand for violations
of Rules 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4.
IN THE MATTER OF ADAM LORENZO SMITH
Date: February 5, 2018
Docket Number: S18Y0484
Pled guilty in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, to the offense of conspiracy to commit bribery. Thereby, violated Rule 8.4 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct.
IN THE MATTER OF RICKY W. MORRIS, JR.
Date: January 29, 2018
Docket Number: S17Y1329
Disbarred. After court hearing, the Assistant District Attorney, heard Morris, Jr. in the bathroom talking on the phone, attempting to buy drugs. When appeared at court following morning, seemed to be under the influence of controlled substance. Court requested a drug test which was declined, threatened the ADA with bodily harm. He was charged with Felony Intimidation of a Court Officer and Felony Terroristic Threats for threatening the ADA. Ended up pleading guilty to disorderly conduct and simple assault. Violations of Rules 1.2,(a), 1.3, 1.4, 1.16(d), 3.5(d), 4.1(a), 7.3(d), and 84(a)(4) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct.
IN THE MATTER OF CLARENCE R. JOHNSON, JR.
Date: January 29, 2018
Docket Number: S17Y1918
Six months suspension
IN THE MATTER OF CAMERON SHAHAB
Date: January 29, 2018
Docket Number: S17Y2016
Disbarred for violations of 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.16, 3.2, 8.4(a)(4).
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Pedro P. Echarte Jr. sanctioned Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s former bank, California-based OneWest Bank, and its law firm for filing a frivolous foreclosure against a widow.
The judge granted sanctions against the bank and its attorneys at Tampa-based Albertelli Law, which serves the financial services and mortgage banking industries from offices in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He found the law firm and its client bank prosecuted a frivolous foreclosure and will set a subsequent hearing to determine the penalty.
“I believe the court should impose sanctions sufficient to deter a company like OneWest Bank with $65 billion in assets and vindicate the integrity of the judiciary,” said homeowner attorney Bruce Jacobs of Jacobs Keeley in Miami. “They came after my client a month after her husband died and relentlessly pursued this foreclosure.”
Echarte’s ruling is the latest blow for the bank, which the California state attorney general’s consumer law section has accused of rampant foreclosure violations.
OneWest Bank is a division of CIT Bank N.A. Its co-founder is Mnuchin, who served as CEO from 2009 to 2015 when it was sold to CIT Group Inc. as the first bank merger for more $50 billion following the financial crisis. Before the merger, the bank allegedly engaged in “widespread misconduct,” violating notice and waiting period statutes, illegally backdating document, and rushing to foreclose on delinquent homeowners, according to reports by the investigative news site The Intercept.
In 2011, the Treasury Department, which Mnuchin now leads, entered a consent order against his bank for “unsafe or unsound” mortgage lending and foreclosure practices.
Echarte found the bank wrongly sought to foreclose on a reverse mortgage to Miami homeowner Gloria Leek-Tannenbaum.
Reverse mortgages are federally insured loans that allow qualified homeowners 62 and older to borrow against the equity in their property. Instead of making payments to lenders, homeowners receive loan proceeds. The loans deplete the equity and accumulate interest but don’t become due until borrowers move out, die, sell the property, or fail to pay property taxes and insurance.
OneWest Bank filed suit against Leek-Tannenbaum in March 2014, alleging she owed the full debt of nearly $490,000. Leek-Tannenbaum’s husband, Eugene Tannenbaum, died about six months earlier, and the bank argued the loan met the criteria for full repayment.
Arguing for the plaintiff at a bench trial in November, Albertelli Law attorney Margarita Trapaga said Leek-Tannenbaum signed the mortgage but not the note, and the sole borrower was dead. She claimed the widow also executed a nonborrower spouse ownership certification, acknowledging the bank had a right to foreclose if Tannenbaum died.
In contrast, Leek-Tannenbaum’s attorney painted a picture of a lender that once promised to halt the foreclosure but later reneged on that commitment.
“They beat a motion for summary judgment by telling the prior judge they would dismiss the case in 2016, asking only for proof she (Leek-Tannenbaum) lived in the property,” Jacobs wrote in a statement. “When they pressed forward anyway, I filed the §57.105 motion for sanctions.”
Florida law allows sanctions for attorneys who raise unsupported claims or defenses. Court documents show Jacobs wrote former Albertelli attorney Robert Bowen, informing him of the motion for sanctions and a 21-day statutory window to withdraw “unsupported” claims.
Bowen, Trapaga, Albertelli Law principals and OneWest Bank officials did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
Court records point to hard-fought litigation with 152 docket entries, a bench trial and more than a dozen hearings and five-minute motion calendar sessions.
And Jacobs said the case is not yet over.
“Last we were told, they intended to pursue an appeal,” he said.
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.
OCCUPY.COM EXPOSES GEORGIA’S COURTS DENYING THE PUBLIC ACCESS TO COURT PROCEEDINGS!
I am quite pleased that someone took notice. The Judges in Georgia are akin to little despots. No doubt, a Judge is God in their Courtroom, but they don’t have the right to Deny the public access, so that they can violate one’s Civil and Constitutional Rights while they sneakily do it.
EXPOSED: GEORGIA’S COURTS ARE BREAKING THE LAW BY DENYING PUBLIC ACCESS
TUE, 9/24/2013 – BY TANYA GLOVER
Courtrooms aren’t just a place where justice is served and legal decisions are made. They are also a place for the public to go and see how the justice system works: people enjoy viewing trials and hearings, even if they have no personal stake in them. Viewing public trials is the public’s legal right.
However, revelations by a judicial oversight commission in Georgia show that numerous judges in the state, including some in Atlanta, are violating the law by denying public access to courtrooms in cases ranging from bail hearings to standard trials.
There are some cases in which closing courtrooms to the public is legal, and the circumstances for this are carefully outlined in official Georgia State documents that make the points for legality clear. But according to a recent report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, investigations by the state’s judicial oversight commission found the practice of sealing off courtroom access widespread across Georgia — and in most cases, illegally.
Instead of typical open courts, there are now signs posted on courtroom doors stating access is denied to either the general public or specific groups of people, including kids. Bailiffs sometimes stand in place of the signs, blocking entry to the court despite people’s legal right to go in, said Robert Ingram, an attorney from Marietta, Ga., and chairman of the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission.
“We’ve had our own investigators and commissioners go out and visit a courtroom and they have been greeted by a bailiff or a deputy sheriff and been told to state their business or otherwise they don’t need to be there,” Ingram said.
But why the closed rooms and bans on view judicial proceedings in the first place? Under Georgia’s law, closing off or banning someone from the courtroom can be done at a judge’s discretion. For instance, an unruly or disruptive person, whether child or adult, can be removed. Or there may be a case not considered proper for people under the age of 18 to attend.
More often, however, judges these days claim they are keeping out the public because of lack of space in the courtroom. One instance that put this closed court behavior in the spotlight was the jury selection for Andrea Sneiderman, in which DeKalb Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams lifted the public ban stating that people who wished to be present for the selection had the right to do so.
Seemingly arbitrary court closures by judges in the Peach State are nothing new. Back in 2011, Barbra Mobley, a DeKalb County State Court Judge, resigned after investigations were launched by the Judicial Qualifications Commission alleging that her court featured bailiffs questioning people illegally about why they wanted to observe the cases on the docket.
The phenomenon is occurring statewide. In both Crisp and Ben Hill counties, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) filed suit against the practice of closing courts to the public. In those counties, it’s been common that courts remain closed off even to the family members of both victims and the accused, other than their attendance at guilt pleas during the trials’ conclusions.
Further investigations have showed that closed courts are more common than first thought. According Gerry Weber of SCHR, this is causing a major problem with transparency. “A closed courtroom is one that is less accountable to the public. What is done behind closed doors can be different to what is done in the cold light of day,” he said.
Many judges are following the closed court lead, including Judge T. Jackson Bedford of the Fulton County Superior Court, Judge Clarence Seeliger of the DeKalb County Superior Court, and Judge Patsy Porter of Fulton State Court. Attempts by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to contact these servants of the people were unsuccessful, as were the attempts made by Occupy.com.
There are some positive signs as well, however. Judge Christopher Brasher of Fulton Superior Court says he was unaware that the practice of closing courts was occurring in his courtroom, and quickly put a stop to it. Brasher attributed the action to “overzealous deputies, who provide security and order.” He has since ordered that no one be keep out of the court, and that no signs excluding any specific group be put up without his written consent.
Judges Todd Markle and Robert McBurney, both of Fulton Superior Court, say they were not aware the public was being deterred with signs from entering their courts, and that this step was taken without their permission. However, there is debate about the judges’ knowledge of the situation. Each county sheriff’s department is responsible for court security, and Fulton County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Tracy Flanagan says they do not make or affix signs nor are signs permitted without the consent of the presiding judge.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission issued an opinion on the matter, from the commission’s director Jeff Davis who said massive amounts of complaints have come from the public about access to courtrooms. “Our efforts to educate judges about these issues have resulted in the type of response we would have anticipated,” said Davis.
“Judges are complying with the opinion and modifying practices accordingly. Since the issuance of our Opinion, we have been encouraged by the response of judges and the willingness to bring their courts into full compliance with the law.”
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.
Corroborating what I have been saying for years on this blog, the Supreme Court of the state of California is reasserting its position that if entity ABC wants to collect on a debt in California, then that particular entity must own the debt. This is basic common sense and simply follows article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code. If a court were to adopt the position of the banks, then a new industry would be born, to wit: spying on people to determine whether or not they are behind on any payment to anyone and then beating the real creditor to court, filing a complaint and getting a judgment without the real creditor even knowing about it. The Supreme Court of the state of California obviously understands this.
This is not really complicated although the words used are complicated. If you find out that your neighbor is behind in payments on their credit cards, it is obvious that you can serve your neighbor and collect. You don’t own the debt because you never loaned any money and because you never purchased the debt. If you are allowed to sue and collect on the credit card debt, you and the court would be committing a fraud on the actual creditor. This is why it is absurd for lawyers or judges to say “what difference does it make who they are the debt to? They stopped making payments and they are clearly in default.” Any lawyer or judge makes that statement is wrong. It lacks the foundation of the factual determinations required to establish the existence of the debt, the current balance of the debt after deductions for all payments received from all parties on this account, and the ownership of the debt.
In the first year of law school, we learned that the note is not the debt. The note is evidence of the debt and the terms of repayment but it is not a substitute for the actual transaction documents. Those transaction documents would have to include proof of transfer of consideration, which in this case would mean wire transfer receipts and wire transfer instructions. The banks don’t want to show the court this because it will show that the originator in most cases never made any loan at all and was merely serving as a sham nominee for an undisclosed lender. The banks are attempting to use this confusion to make themselves real parties in interest when in fact they were never more than intermediaries. And as intermediaries that misused their positions of trust to misrepresent and create fraudulent “mortgage bond” transactions with investors that led to fraudulent loans being made to borrowers.
The banks diverted or stole money from investors on several different levels through multiple channels of conduit sham entities that they called “bankruptcy remote vehicles.” The argument of “too big to fail” is now being rejected by the courts. That is a policy argument for the legislative branch of government. While the bank succeeded in scaring the executive and legislative branches into believing the risk of “too big to fail” most of the people in the legislative and executive branches of government on the federal and state level no longer subscribe to this myth.
There are dozens of other courts on the trial and appellate level across the country that are also grasping this issue. The position of the banks, which is been rejected by Congress and the state legislatures for good reason, would mean the end of negotiable paper. The banks are desperate because they know they are not the owner of the debt, they are not the creditor, they have no authority to represent the creditor, and their actions are contrary to the interests of the creditor. They are pushing millions of homeowners into foreclosure, or luring them into an apparent default and foreclosure with false promises of modification and settlement.
The reason is simple. Without a foreclosure sale at auction, the banks are exposed to an enormous liability for all the money they collected on the alleged defaulted loans. The amount of the liability is vastly in excess of the entire principal of the loans, which is why I say that the major banks are publishing financial statements that are based on fictitious assets and fictitious income. Nobody can ignore the fact that the broker-dealers (investment banks) are getting sued by investors, insurers, counterparties on credit default swaps, government agencies who have already paid for alleged “losses”, and government agencies that have paid on guarantees for mortgages that did not conform to the required industry-standard underwriting practice.
This latest decision in which the Glaski court, at the request of the banks, revisited its prior decision and then reaffirmed it as a law of the land in the state of California, is evidence that the banks are turning the corner in favor of the real creditors and the real debtors. The recusal by two judges on the California Supreme Court is interesting but at this point there are no conclusions that can be drawn from that.
This opens the door in the state of California for people to regain title to their property or damages for the loss of title. It also serves to open the door to discovery of the actual money trail in order to trace real transactions as opposed to fictitious ones based upon fabricated documentation which often contain forgery, backdating, and are signed by people without authority or people claiming authority through a fictitious power of attorney.
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.