Federal agents on Tuesday arrested two Orange County men for operating businesses that allegedly offered bogus loan modification assistance to struggling homeowners, and an attorney tied to their companies surrendered to authorities on Wednesday, the feds announced.
Bryan D'Antonio, 47, of Brea, Charles Wayne Farris, 53, of Aliso Viejo, and the attorney, Ronald Rodis, 49, of Irvine, were all named in a federal indictment unsealed after an FBI and IRS investigation that found 1,800 homeowners were soaked for $12 million in fees and many lost their homes.
Rodis Law Group of Orange and the company that followed it, America's Law Group, were operated by Farris and D'Antonio, who had previously been convicted of mail and wire fraud for his role in a telemarketing scheme, while Rodis obviously lent his name to the first firm.
Both companies advertised on radio stations nationwide, with the voice of Rodis being heard telling homeowners that a "team of experienced attorneys" who were "highly skilled in negotiating lower interest rates and even lowering your principal balance" would negotiate with mortgage lenders, according to the indictment.
Farris and D'Antonio allegedly had their sales staff tell clients that the companies were "100 percent successful," "routinely lowered monthly payments," and obtained reduced principal balances, states the indictment, which adds after homeowners paid fees of several thousand dollars, little to no effort was made to obtain loan modifications. And when these people tried to find out what was going on with their cases, they were often unable to contact anyone at either company, the feds allege.
During a nine-month period that began in October 2008, the companies reaped more than $12 million in fees from more than 1,800 financially distressed homeowners, many of whom ultimately lost their homes, according to the investigation.
"Posing as successful lawyers, these defendants offered struggling homeowners false hopes and bogus promises of quality legal representation," said André Birotte, Jr., chief of the U.S. Attorney office in Los Angeles, in a statement.
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Birotte called the market offering loan modifications "rife with fraud, which is why we have redoubled our efforts to investigate and prosecute those who engage in financial crimes that target distressed homeowners."
Besides a conviction, D'Antonio's previous telemarketing scheme resulted in a 2001 court order that permanently banned him from participating in future telemarketing operations. The indictment alleges he committed criminal contempt of court by directing the telemarketing activities of Rodis Law Group and America's Law Group and by misrepresenting the services they provided.
D'Antonio's 13 counts of criminal contempt for allegedly violating the 2001 court order are tacked onto the other charges he shares with Farris and Rodis: nine felony counts each of wire fraud and one count each of conspiracy. The fraud and conspiracy counts carry a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years' imprisonment, but there is no statutory maximum penalty for contempt.