Mortgage foreclosure relief available for distressed homeowners


foreclosure

I recently reported on important relief available to homeowners facing foreclosure, paying more than their house is worth or those who have been foreclosed upon and lost their home.

As crucial deadlines are fast approaching, I am providing an updated summary of assistance available for struggling homeowners and other victims of unfair lending practices — and what you need to do to access it.

Remember, these programs matter but unless you take advantage of them, help is not available. A proactive approach is required.

Thousands of Floridians qualify for help. Below is a list of settlements and reviews that were created to help struggling borrowers. In some cases, application deadlines are coming up. If you miss the deadline, you will not qualify for relief.

Independent Foreclosure Review vs. National Mortgage Settlement:

If you believe your home mortgage foreclosure was conducted unfairly or mistakes were made, relief is available in several forms:

Independent Foreclosure Review

In April 2011, the Federal Reserve Board and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency took action against over 20 large mortgage servicers. If your primary home was involved in a foreclosure between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010, you may qualify for a free independent foreclosure review.

Independent fact-checkers will determine whether you were harmed by mortgage foreclosure errors or other problems and should be paid to make up for that harm. Borrowers seeking a review must apply by December 31, 2012.

Help with the form and answers to questions about the process are available on the Independent Foreclosure Review website or by calling 888-952-9105.

The following mortgage servicers are participating in the Independent Foreclosure Review process:

“Homeowners who believe they were wrongfully injured by a foreclosure error in 2009 and 2010, should request a review,” stated Bryan Hubbard, an Office of the Comptroller of the Currency spokesman. “They give up no rights by requesting a review.”

In effort to assist with the application process, the Federal Reserve has put together a short “Independent Foreclosure Review PSA” video. The video provides program details in English and in Spanish.

For in-depth information on how to spread the word to your local area, please visit the community partner toolkit.

National Mortgage Settlement

Last February, the U.S. Department of Justice and 49 state attorneys general announced a $25 billion settlement with five major banks over so-called “robo-signing,” in which foreclosure documents were signed without properly verifying their accuracy.

While not a perfect deal, the settlement offers meaningful relief for some homeowners in the form of principal or interest reductions, in addition to other relief.

The National Mortgage Settlement administrator recently mailed Notice Letters and Claim Forms to those borrowers who lost their home due to foreclosure between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011 whose loans were serviced by one of the five servicers: Ally/GMACBank of AmericaCitiJPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo.

Impacted homeowners can now submit their claim form online. The deadline to file is January 18, 2013.

If you think you may be eligible, you can contact your bank directly for additional information:

Ally/GMAC: 800-766-4622

Bank of America: 877-488-7814 (Available M-F 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Central Time.)

Citi: 866-272-4749

JPMorgan Chase: 866-372-6901

Wells Fargo: 800-288-3212 (Available M-F 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Central Time)

For more information, please visit the National Mortgage Settlement website or call them at 888-995-HOPE (4673).

To learn whether your loan is owned by either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, visit their website and complete the convenient online form for an instant determination.

“Whether it be through the Independent Foreclosure Review or the National Foreclosure Settlement, homeowners faced with a foreclosure should take advantage of this review,” stated Fort Lauderdale foreclosure defense attorney Carlos Reyes. “The process is free and totally without fee. Don’t let someone charge you for completing an application that you can complete yourself online in less than 30 minutes.”


Interesting guests and timely topics will be on AM 1470 WWNN the week of September 26th and The Credit Report with Bill Lewis.

Chairman Richard Denapoli of the Broward Republican Party will appear and discuss the successful Presidency 5 convention in Orlando and the continuing commitment of the Broward Republican Executive Committee to ensure success in the 2012 presidential election.

Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorney David Singer will appear and discuss his successful Jail & Bail fundraiser on behalf of Broward unit of the American Cancer Society and next week’s appreciation celebration at Chima on Las Olas Boulevard.

Foreclosure defense attorney Carlos Reyes will appear and discuss the latest developments in the “robo-signing” controversy and investigations started by the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

Florida’s 34th Senator and current U.S. Senate candidate George LeMieux will discuss his candidacy in the Republican race to replace Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.

Tom Lauder of RedBroward will appear and discuss his political blog where “Making Broward See Red” is not such a hard job.

Davie Mayoral candidate Mike Crowley will appear and discuss his candidacy for mayor and his plan to create jobs by attracting high-technology business to Davie.

Talk show host and attorney Lisa Macci will appear and discuss her recent move to AM 1470 WWNN and “The Justice Hour with Lisa Macci.”

Criminal defense attorney John Contini will appear and discuss the importance of criminal history records sealing when seeking employment in tough economic times.

Republican Party of Broward County Executive Director Rico Petrocelli will appear and discuss initiatives to grow the local party and upcoming events.

The Credit Report with Bill Lewis is a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.  Bill can be heard weekday’s at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN in south Florida or by streaming audio at www.wwnnradio.com.  Phone lines are open at (888) 565-1470. 

This Week on The Credit Report with Bill Lewis


Interesting guests and timely topics will be on AM 1470 WWNN the week of September 19th and The Credit Report with Bill Lewis.

Orlando will be crawling with presidential candidates and other state, local, and federal politicians this week as the state Republican Party on Thursday kicks off its three-day Presidency 5 conference at the Orange County Convention Center. 

On Friday, CPAC – the Conservative Political Action Committee – will host their conference at the Orange County Convention Center as well.  Organized by the American Conservative Union, a virtual “Who’s Who” of candidates are scheduled to make appearances.

Bill Lewis will be broadcasting his show from Orlando on Friday where a number of Florida’s political elite will make appearances on The Credit Report with Bill Lewis.

Among other scheduled guests this week:

Chairman Richard Denapoli of the Broward Republican Party will appear and discuss Presidency 5 and the continuing commitment of the Broward Republican Executive Committee to ensure success in the 2012 presidential election.

Florida’s 34th Senator and current U.S. Senate candidate George LeMieux will discuss his candidacy in the Republican race to replace Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.

Tom Lauder of RedBroward will appear and discuss his political blog where “Making Broward See Red” is not such a hard job.

Foreclosure defense attorney Carlos Reyes will appear and discuss the latest developments in the “robo-signing” controversy and investigations started by the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

Talk show host and attorney Lisa Macci will appear and discuss her recent move to AM 1470 WWNN and “The Justice Hour with Lisa Macci.”

Fort Lauderdale attorney Christine C. Gill will appear and discuss “September is National Coupon Month” and initiatives at maximizing your dollar when shopping for groceries and other household goods in tough economic times.

Criminal defense attorney John Contini will appear and discuss the importance of criminal history records sealing when seeking employment in tough economic times.

Republican Party of Broward County Executive Director Rico Petrocelli will appear and discuss initiatives to grow the local party and upcoming events.

The Credit Report with Bill Lewis is a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.  Bill can be heard weekday’s at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN in south Florida or by streaming audio at www.wwnnradio.com.  Phone lines are open at (888) 565-1470. 

This Week on The Credit Report with Bill Lewis


Interesting guests and timely topics will be on the air this week on AM 1470 WWNN and The Credit Report with Bill Lewis.

Broward Republican Party Treasurer Mark McCarthy will discuss Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell and her Thursday book signing on behalf of the party at the Coral Ridge Yacht Club in Fort Lauderdale.  O’Donnell may also appear to discuss her new book, “Troublemaker: Let’s Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again.”

Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca will appear and discuss how difficult it can be as the only Republican on a nine member commission.

Foreclosure defense attorney Carlos Reyes will discuss the latest developments in the “robo-signing” controversy and investigations started by the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti will appear and discuss Back to School Safety and other initiatives of the largest fully accredited law enforcement agency in America.

Director Chuck Lanza of the Broward County Emergency Management Division will discuss hurricane safety and preparation in light of the Florida forecast cone for Hurricane Irene.

Republican Party of Broward County Executive Director Rico Petrocelli will appear and discuss Presidency 5 and initiatives to grow the local party.

Florida’s 34th Senator and current U.S. Senate candidate George LeMieux will discuss his candidacy in the Republican race to replace Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.

The Credit Report with Bill Lewis is a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.  Bill can be heard weekday’s at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN in south Florida or by streaming audio at www.wwnnradio.com.  Phone lines are open at (888) 565-1470. 

Foreclosure Fraud Case Settled at the Florida Supreme Court


In a matter of “great public importance” that has gone largely ignored this week, the high-profile foreclosure fraud case of Roman Pino versus The Bank of New York has been settled.  According to the Florida Supreme Court, the matter was dismissed upon Pino’s “Notice –Dismiss (Voluntary Stipulation)” on July 25th.

The opportunity for a precedent setting opinion for attorney Thomas Ice, of Ice Legal, whose boutique litigation firm specializes in uncovering forged and fraudulent foreclosure documents, must mean outright success for Pino. 

Although details of the settlement were not provided in the brief stipulation before the high court, one can only speculate whether Pino received a mortgage modification, principal reduction, right to short-sale, waiver of deficiency balance, or his home free and clear. 

One thing is clear, though.  Any settlement agreement between the parties would contain a confidentiality agreement.

Neither Ice, nor Enrique Nieves – Pino’s attorney of record – were available for comment despite several messages left at Ice Legal and on their cell phone voicemail.

An appeals court in February requested that the Florida Supreme Court consider the case of Greenacres homeowner Roman Pino as a matter of “great public importance.” The decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach was unusual as neither the bank nor the homeowner had requested such a review.

“We conclude that this is a question of great public importance, as many, many mortgage foreclosures appear tainted with suspect documents,” the appeals court wrote in certification to the Supreme Court.

Had the matter been adjudicated on its merits and a decision rendered in favor of Pino, thousands of foreclosure cases could have been impacted as allegations of document fraud and robo-signing run rampant throughout the nation.

According to land records, Pino purchased his Greenacres home in July, 2006 for $203,000 by securing a $162,400 mortgage with Silver State Financial Systems. After falling behind on the mortgage, the Bank of New York moved to foreclose in October, 2008.

In their foreclosure complaint, the Bank of New York alleged that it was the owner of Pino’s mortgage note through an assignment from another lender, but did not include said assignment as part of its original complaint.

Pino retained Ice, who in moving to dismiss the complaint, argued that the bank needed an assignment in order to have standing to foreclose.

Attorneys from the Law Offices of David J. Stern in Plantation filed an amended complaint and attached an unrecorded mortgage assignment “which happened to be dated just before the original pleading was filed,” the appeals court wrote.

Stern’s now defunct law firm is one of several foreclosure mills throughout Florida that are under investigation by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Just as Pino’s attorneys were set to take depositions of Stern employees to determine how the assignment was created, the Bank of New York dismissed its foreclosure action.  Ice had wanted an opportunity to prove that Pino was the victim of fraud but was unable to do so because of the voluntary dismissal. The bank refiled the foreclosure in August 2009, and that case is pending.

In its written opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s ruling about the dismissal but because of its importance on similar foreclosure matters, sent the case to the state’s highest court in Tallahassee. One appellate judge, Gary Farmer, dissented saying he thought the trial judge could have kept the case open to litigate Pino’s claim of fraud.

“I’m not surprised at a settlement of this matter considering the allegations of forged or fraudulent documents and the risk of substantial loss to the bank,” said Carlos J. Reyes, of the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale.  “As a foreclosure defense attorney, my preference would have been for a written opinion from the Florida Supreme Court, but the client is the ultimate decision maker in any settlement discussions.”

Foreclosure Defense: Dead Man Served with Foreclosure Papers


 

Foreclosure defense attorneys have long alleged that process servers occasionally file false affidavits in support of personal service in foreclosure matters.  Some homeowners are defending themselves stating that mortgage lenders did not serve them properly.

Contrary to the sworn affidavit of process server Robin Lucas-Peters on one local foreclosure case, the homeowner was not served at all.  Having died on August 4, 2010 “personal service” upon him on April 21, 2011 was simply not possible. 

“It’s equivalent to perjury,” said Andrew Dinnerstein, the Sunrise attorney representing the family of the deceased.  “The system is being abused to such an extent that people aren’t even being served properly.”

The homeowner has not been identified to protect the family’s privacy.

Foreclosure defense attorneys have documented a number of cases where process servers allegedly filed false affidavits.  While investigating the law firms that employed “robo-signers,” state investigators are closely examining the service of process in a number of cases.

The process server in this case said she attempted to serve the homeowner on five separate occasions.   On the fifth attempt, the person answering the door said he was the homeowner being sought and accepted the foreclosure papers.

Several recent foreclosure cases allege homeowners never received foreclosure papers even though they still occupied their home.  Others allege that process servers did not take the required steps to locate them or filed false affidavits about whom or when they delivered papers.   

This is the first reported case of a deceased homeowner being served with foreclosure papers.

Lucas-Peters filed a falsified document, swearing foreclosure papers were properly served when they were not, Dinnerstein said.

When a homeowner is deceased, the mortgage lender must request that the court assign an administrator and then serve foreclosure papers upon them.

Dinnerstein indicates that he will seek sanctions against the lender and ProVest, which is under investigation by the Florida Attorney General for allegations of false returns of service under oath and forged signatures of process servers.

In a number of unrelated foreclosure defense matters, some process servers allegedly violated rules related to the personal delivery of legal papers.  Like robo-signing foreclosure documents without reviewing them for accuracy, a number of homeowners are now alleging they were never served with foreclosure papers.

Once rare, “bad service” of process has become more common as lenders and their attorneys speed thousands of foreclosure cases through “rocket dockets” that are designed to clear an ever growing backlog.

“With the foreclosure debacle, it’s become more complicated,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “For the sake of expediency, process servers are being rushed. As they are paid by the piece, they have an interest in earning a higher income.”

Homeowners involved in foreclosures are required to receive a summons and complaint personally delivered by a process server. Repeated attempts at personal service are required before court permission can be obtained to publish a legal notice in the alternative.

In the case of a deceased homeowner, foreclosure papers are served upon an administrator. 

Some process servers have allegedly cut corners.  One recently claimed she could not find a homeowner facing foreclosure on a second home, despite conducting extensive record checks. This held true even though the foreclosure complaint clearly provided a primary home address in Connecticut.

Lenders and attorneys typically contract their summons delivery work to large process serving firms, who sub-contract to private independent servers. In her deposition to state investigators, former Stern paralegal Tammie Lou Kapusta, testified that summons serving procedures were a “complete mess,” with homeowners routinely complaining they never received papers.

She and another former employee, Kelly Scott, said their managers told them move forward with the foreclosures anyway.

Investigators also questioned staff at Stern’s firm regarding billing practices that involved serving multiple parties at an address and billing for each one.

“Good service of process is crucial”, Reyes said. He has heard of homeowners losing their home because they never received a summons and missed filing dates or court hearings.

While a court summons must be accepted by an adult, state law does not require it to be served upon the property owner. No one has to sign, verifying receipt, “which makes it easier to say the person was served, when they weren’t,” Reyes said.

Laws governing the service of process vary from state to state. In Florida, there is no statewide licensing or regulating body for process servers, and rules vary greatly among the 20 judicial circuits.

While ProVest declined to comment on specific cases, company president James Ward stated they “utilize properly licensed or authorized independent contractors” and require them to “fully comply with state and local guidelines.”

“ProVest is confident the vast majority of notifications are being conducted appropriately and where there are anomalies of inadequate service we strive to learn from those situations,” Ward said.

To learn more about the foreclosure crisis or to file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General, visit their website at http://www.myfloridalegal.com or call (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226).

Broward Chief Judge Vic Tobin Quits – Joins Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson


In a move that is sure to stun the legal community, Broward County Circuit Court Judge Victor Tobin  has notified Governor Rick Scott of his intent to resign as a Judge of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit effective June 30, 2011.

In an after-hours e-mail sent to all judges, judicial assistants, and the court administrator, Judge Tobin stated:

Late this afternoon, I notified Governor Scott that I would be resigning as a Circuit Court Judge effective June 30, 2011. Effective July 1,2011, I will return to private practice with the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson. I wish to express my sincere thanks to each judge for permitting me the honor of being your Chief Judge during the last four years. I appreciate the confidence you placed in me.

Vic Tobin

On March 25th, Attorney General Pam Bondi announced a settlement against attorney Marshall C. Watson and his law firm for alleged improprieties in the prosecution of foreclosure cases throughout Florida. The Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson is one of the largest foreclosure firms in Florida.

The settlement is a first of its kind and stems from an investigation into the alleged deceptive practices of Florida foreclosure mills. It calls for a $2 million payment and imposition of certain requirements to conduct business. $1 million of that payment will be contributed to the Florida Bar Foundation to continue the Florida Attorney General Mortgage Foreclosure Grant Program.

The Foreclosure Grant Program provides for the funding of Legal Aid attorney positions throughout the state that are specifically devoted to the representation of low-income Floridians facing foreclosure.

“We are aggressively investigating these law firms in order to protect the interests of everyone involved in foreclosure proceedings. Homeowners, lending institutions and the courts deserve to know that the law is being followed and all documentation is true and accurate,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “Anything short of total assurance of complete accuracy during such serious situations is unacceptable.”

Florida has led the nation with an investigation into law firms allegedly engaged in the improper production and filing of foreclosure documents. The Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson fully cooperated with the investigation with the Florida Attorney General.

Although a settlement is being negotiated with other alleged foreclosure mills, the investigation into the practices of several other Florida law firms is continuing.

Hiring Judge Vic Tobin seems to be another move in the right direction.

A Slap on the Wrist for Mortgage Servicers


While negotiations continue between mortgage servicers and the Multistate Mortgage Foreclosure Group, enforcement action has been taken by the Office of the Comptroller (OCC), the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), and the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) against 14 U.S. bank and two third-party mortgage servicers.

Amid allegations of unsafe and unsound practices in the processing of foreclosures, enforcement action has been taken against bank servicers: Ally Financial, Aurora Bank, Bank of America, Citibank, Citigroup, EverBank, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, MetLife Bank, OneWest Bank, PNC, Sovereign Bank, SunTrust Bank, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo and third-party servicers: Lender Processing Services Inc. (LPS), and MERSCORP also known as Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. (MERS).

“These comprehensive enforcement actions, coordinated among the federal banking regulators, require major reforms in mortgage servicing operations,” said acting Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh. “These reforms will not only fix the problems we found in foreclosure processing, but will also correct failures in governance and the loan modification process and address financial harm to borrowers. Our enforcement actions are intended to fix what is broken, identify and compensate borrowers who suffered financial harm, and ensure a fair and orderly mortgage servicing process going forward.”

As part of the enforcement action by the OCC, OTS and FRB, servicers must significantly improve residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing.  This includes borrower communication and “dual-tracking,” which will prohibit foreclosure during the loan modification process. 

Mortgage servicers are also required to promptly correct deficiencies in residential mortgage loan servicing that were identified by examiners in reviews conducted during the fourth quarter of 2010. 

Each mortgage servicer must, among other things, submit plans acceptable to the FRB that:

►Strengthen coordination of communications with borrowers by providing them with the name of the person who is their primary point of contact at the servicer;

►Ensure that foreclosures are not pursued once a mortgage modification has been approved, unless repayments under the modified loan are not made;

►Establish robust controls and oversight over the activities of third-party vendors that provide residential mortgage loan servicing, loss mitigation, or foreclosure-related support, including local counsel in foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings;

►Provide remediation to borrowers who have suffered financial injury as a result of wrongful foreclosures or other deficiencies identified in their review of the foreclosure process; and

►Strengthen their programs to ensure compliance with state and federal laws regarding mortgage servicing and the processing of foreclosures.

“This settlement provides that if you’re negotiating or in the midst of a trial modification, a lender is prohibited from seizing the property,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale.  “Defense attorneys now have a basis to go forward to try and save a property in litigation with the additional argument that failing to modify or settle is a breach of the lender settlement with federal regulators.”

The enforcement action is based upon an OCC, OTS and FRB review of foreclosure practices that found mortgage servicers “failed to conform to state legal requirements.”  The review stopped short at robo-signing and other forms of document fraud.  It did not investigate the illegal imposition of fees, the failure to comply with loan modification requirements or other alleged servicer abuses.  In fact, federal regulators only reviewed a small sample of loan files containing key information on foreclosure practices.

Many believe that the settlement by federal regulators will undermine the investigation of foreclosure fraud by the Multistate Mortgage Foreclosure Group.  Initially, there were hopes of a “global settlement” covering state and federal regulators, but the agencies, led by the OCC, broke off and delivered their own enforcement action.  

While federal regulators and the various state attorneys general maintain this enforcement action will not affect the AG probe or ongoing negotiations, mortgage servicers can now report they have been punished for alleged violations of law.  Although an independent review is determining damages, they may reject any additional settlement since they have already been punished by their regulators.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, please visit http://www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.  To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

Fund to help hardest-hit Floridians


Are you unemployed or underemployed and unable to pay your mortgage on time? The Florida Housing Finance Corporation announced last week that Floridians having difficulties making their mortgage can apply for financial assistance from the Hardest-Hit Fund (HHF) beginning next Monday. On April 18 at 9 a.m., the program will become available to troubled homeowners in all 67 Florida counties.

“We’re now in the position to offer this financial assistance statewide to the people out there who are desperately struggling to stay in their homes,” said Steve Auger, executive director of Florida Housing. “For the homeowners who qualify, this temporary relief from their mortgage payments will provide some ‘breathing room’ so they can focus on becoming re-employed at a level that will allow them to resume making payments on their own.”

Following a pilot project in Lee County, and in consultation with Gov. Rick Scott’s office, some changes were made to the HHF program. For instance:

•The Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program, or UMAP, will provide up to $12,000 to pay monthly mortgage and escrowed mortgage-related expenses for up to six months, or until the homeowner can resume making mortgage payments, whichever comes first. Homeowners in the UMAP will be required to pay 25 percent of their monthly income toward their mortgage payment, with a minimum payment of $70 per month.

•The Mortgage Loan Reinstatement Payment Program, or MLRP, will provide up to $6,000 to bring a homeowner’s past-due first mortgage current if they can demonstrate an ability to resume making payments on their own. For a homeowner who received funding under the UMAP program, any remaining funds can be used in addition to MLRP funds to bring a first mortgage current.

Minimum qualifications a homeowner must meet to be considered under either HHF program are unchanged. UMAP and MLRP program funds will be in the form of a 0 percent, deferred-payment loan; a loan that can be forgiven over a five-year period, at a rate of 20 percent each year.

“There are several reasons for these changes to the program,” said David Westcott, director of Homeownership Programs at Florida Housing. “Most importantly, the need for this program continues to grow and we want to assist as many homeowners as possible. These changes could allow Florida Housing to provide financial assistance to nearly 40,000 homeowners statewide-twice as many as we previously estimated could be helped,” he said.

First announced in February 2010, the “Housing Finance Agency Innovation Fund for the Hardest-Hit Housing Markets” provides federal funding to those states hardest hit by the real estate market collapse.

To date, $7.6 billion has been infused into the HFA Hardest-Hit Fund for 18 states and the District of Columbia. Florida’s total allocation currently stands at more than $1 billion.

Homeowners throughout Florida may apply for financial assistance from the fund by using the official HHF website: http://www.FLHardestHitHelp.org. The site contains information on the application process, including a program fact sheet, answers to frequently asked questions and links to resources that may be helpful to those experiencing challenges in tough economic times.

Floridians should be aware that several “imposter” or “copycat” websites posing as Hardest-Hit Fund sites have been identified.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to verify that the website they are using is, in fact, the official Florida HHF website before providing personal information. The Florida HHF application process is free-of-charge and applicants under the program are not asked to pay for an eligibility determination service in conjunction with applying for relief.

If applicants are suspicious about a website, they can submit an anonymous report on the official HHF website by clicking the “Report Fraud” link on the homepage. They can also call the Florida HHF Information Line at 1-877-863-5244 to ensure they are using the correct website address.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, visit http://www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

Orininal source – The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, as printed in The Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune.  http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2011/apr/10/fund-to-help-hardest-hit-floridians/news-newbusiness/

Foreclosure Mill Settles With Florida Attorney General


Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced today a first-of-its-kind settlement against attorney Marshall C. Watson and his law firm – the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson – for alleged improprieties in the prosecution of foreclosure cases throughout Florida.  

This settlement calls for a $2 million payment and imposition of certain requirements to conduct business and is the first stemming from numerous investigations into Florida foreclosure law firms.

“We are aggressively investigating these law firms in order to protect the interests of everyone involved in foreclosure proceedings. Homeowners, lending institutions and the courts deserve to know that the law is being followed and all documentation is true and accurate,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “Anything short of total assurance of complete accuracy during such serious situations is unacceptable.”

Florida led the nation in the investigation of law firms and foreclosure mills engaged in the improper production and filing of foreclosure documents. The Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson fully cooperated with the investigation since its inception.

Half of the $2 million payment from Marshall Watson’s law firm to the Attorney General’s Office will be contributed to the Florida Bar Foundation to continue the Florida Attorney General Mortgage Foreclosure Grant Program. This grant program provides for the funding of Legal Aid attorney positions throughout Florida specifically devoted to the representation of low-income individuals facing foreclosure actions.

The investigation of the Florida Attorney General into the practices of several other Florida law firms is continuing.

To access the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, please click here: http://myfloridalegal.com/webfiles.nsf/WF/SKNS-8FAHED/$file/WatsonAVC.pdf