A Seal Beach man alleged to have preyed on distressed homeowners has agreed to pay a $5 million penalty to resolve a lawsuit the U.S. Attorney filed against him.
Terrill “Terry” Meisinger is accused of orchestrating what the feds called a “massive” scam against homeowners, renters and lenders while also causing “significant losses” to federally insured institutions and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips in Riverside signed an order preventing Meisinger from participating in the home finance or real estate industries for 10 years, but in agreeing to the penalty and fines he did not admit guilt.
The government's case: Meisinger contacted homeowners facing imminent foreclosure with promises of helping them avoid foreclosure and save their credit. How? By deeding the properties to him and moving out in exchange for small cash payments of $500 to $1,000. Meisinger then promised to bring their mortgage payments current and pay them an additional
$5,000 to $10,000 when he eventually sold their properties.
But what Meisinger did instead, according to the government's suit, was transfer ownership of the properties to a third party whose identities he had stolen before filing fraudulent bankruptcy declarations on their behalf. This triggered automatic stays that prevented lenders from foreclosing on the properties, which Meisinger then rented out.
The government believes that between 2000 and 2004, Meisinger collected more than $1.5 million in illicit rents from more than 100 properties, most in the Inland Empire, without ever making a mortgage payment. He was accused of clogging up bankruptcy courts with more than 300 bogus petitions over five years.
Renters who did not know they were part of a scam lost deposits, rent payments and, in some cases, places to live when lenders were finally able to get fraudulent bankruptcy petitions dismissed and complete foreclosures.
An investigation by the HUD Office of the Inspector General resulted in Meisinger's undoing, with the resulting complaint uncovering a scheme that involved mail fraud, bank fraud and false statements on financial documents in violation of the federal Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act. Judge Phillips ruled that Meisinger must get court approval before filing any more bankruptcy paperwork.
“This is one of the largest civil mortgage fraud cases ever brought against an individual,” U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. of the Los Angeles office says in a statement.