U.S. Senior District Judge James I. Cohn sentenced two men charged with running fake foreclosure defense firms to 63 months in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The Fort Lauderdale judge handed down the sentences against Lake Worth resident Joseph Hilton, also known as Joseph Yurkin and Joseph Starr, 57, and Adam Forman, 48, of Coconut Creek. Cohn also ordered Hilton to pay $1.4 million in restitution and forfeit $1.4 million, and set a $600,000 forfeiture for Forman.
Prosecutors from the office of Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg built a case alleging the men ran companies “purporting to be law firms, legal referral firms, or providers of support services to law firms,” offering foreclosure defense representation in the wake of the housing market collapse.
From about September 2013 to August 2016, Hilton and Forman were accused of contacting homeowners and offering legal assistance, mortgage modifications and counsel to help stave off foreclosure.
The two men operated Liberty Law Group P.A. and Business Administration Growth LLC in Boca Raton, Legal Referral Services of Florida II LLC in West Palm Beach, and seven Coral Springs firms: Galler Lehman Law, Consumer Legal Advocates lnc., Consumer Legal Advocates II LLC, Asset Protection Law Firm, Asset Protection Law Group, Oracle Marketing Co. and Consumer Legal Resources of Florida LLC.
Prosecutors charged they told clients that the businesses were law firms with licensed and skilled defense attorneys, who could negotiate on behalf of homeowner to reduce principal, cut monthly payments, stop foreclosure proceedings and help mortgagees hold onto their real estate.
They claimed to be a network of 100 attorneys, used the word “law” in their company names, described themselves as consumer advocates and promised vigorous representation for homeowners on the brink of foreclosure.
The federal prison sentence in just the latest blow for Hilton and Forman.
In August, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed suit in Palm Beach Circuit Court, alleging the men, their companies and other principals posed as lawyers to prey on vulnerable clients and dupe young attorneys into serving as front men for fraudulent operations.
Bondi’s suit named 20 defendants, including Victor Spagnuolo, Wendy Anne Hart, Barbara Rudolph, Wayne Lucas and their companies.
None of the defendants are licensed to practice law in Florida, but prosecutors say they used the names of legitimate attorneys on corporate documents and court filings. None responded to Bondi’s suit by deadline, prompting Palm Beach Circuit Judge David E. French to enter default judgments against the corporate and individual defendants from September 2016 to January 2017.