A Manhattan lawyer has been disbarred after an appeals court found he cheated distressed homeowners out of tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and monthly charges tied to a mass joinder litigation that was supposed to result in mortgage relief for the homeowners and claims against their lenders.
It did no such thing, and, in fact, disbarred lawyer Mitchel Tarter’s mass lawsuit amounted to a yearslong scheme that involved him also paying kickbacks to nonattorney mortgage brokers he located through a college acquaintance previously banned from working in Washington state’s and Maryland’s mortgage industries, according to an Appellate Division, First Department, panel.
On Tuesday, the unanimous panel stripped Tarter, admitted in 2004, of his New York state law license while simultaneously confirming a referee and hearing panel’s findings of liability against him on charges connected to the scheme.
Tarter “performed no meaningful work for those fees, which he failed to refund and improperly shared with nonattorney mortgage brokers who referred clients to him,” the panel wrote, addressing at least part of the wrongdoing, which appears to have spanned from at least 2012 to 2014.
The lawyer’s “misconduct was affirmative, ongoing, egregious, and detrimental to all 50 of his clients,” the panel wrote.
Tarter induced financially vulnerable homeowners to pay him advance legal fees, and subsequently monthly charges, on the premise that he would launch a mass joinder litigation aimed at modifying their mortgage obligations and asserting claims against their lenders, according to the panel’s decision in Matter of Tarter, M-2568.
Then once he began hauling in fees, he bypassed depositing the money into a trust account, as required by federal law and regulations. Instead, he dropped the fees into his own operating account, and then disbursed the money to two sham entities which, in turn, paid the nonattorney brokers who referred the clients to him, the panel said.
For one group of clients, though, Tarter did file a lawsuit. But in a hearing on previous sanctions against Tarter, he admitted that he knew the mass joinder litigation, filed in December 2012 on behalf of 21 plaintiffs, was unlikely to succeed and was not viable, the panel said. And the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York quickly dismissed the action, captioned Kalie v. Bank of America, 12-Civ-PAE-9192, in August 2013, based on improper joinder of parties and inadequate pleadings. Tarter subsequently failed to refund to his clients some $50,000 in advance fees, half of which he’d already funneled back to the nonattorney brokers who referred clients to him.
Then between July 2012 and November 2013, Tarter was retained by another 29 distressed homeowners who paid him $140,817.16, according to the panel. He again split that money with nonattorney brokers, while repeatedly failing to respond to the clients’ requests for refunds and information about their matters, the panel wrote.
Ultimately, the Grievance Committee charged Tarter, who, according to online websites and profiles, has had offices in various New Jersey towns and on Wall Street, with 11 violations of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct.
During a sanctions hearing in 2016, Tarter “freely admitted” to a range of misconduct, including that he lacked the experience to represent his clients adequately, wrote the panel, consisting of Justices Peter Tom, John Sweeny Jr., Judith Gische, Marcy Kahn and Ellen Gesmer.
But he also testified that his misconduct was fueled by his long-term struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, the panel wrote, and that he had been involved with Alcoholics Anonymous and had gone through various assistance programs. In addition, he has expressed remorse for his actions, according to the court.
But in its opinion disbarring Tarter, the panel wrote that while he “has made significant efforts at mitigation in this case, they are outweighed by the aggravating circumstances presented.”
Tarter “continued to engage in his fraudulent scheme undeterred by his awareness, upon dismissal of the Kalie action, that commencement of any further actions would be unavailing to his clients,” the panel noted while listing various wrongdoings by Tarter.
Tarter, who represented himself, could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the Grievance Committtee did not return a call seeking comment.
The Grievance Committee had asked the appeals court to impose whatever sanctions were appropriate, and that apparently led to the disbarment. Tarter also had his New Jersey law license suspended previously. It remained suspended as of Thursday, according to the New Jersey judiciary’s online attorney registry.
On a lawyer review page on Avvo, several posters declared warnings about Tarter, writing of how they’d been cheated and bilked, under headings such as “STAY AWAY!!!.” One anonymous poster wrote under the heading “Beware”: “This lawyer took my money, told me all the great ways he was going to get the bank to give me a (much needed) loan modification. In the 12 months this took place I only had 25% success when trying to get ahold of him. … He filed a bogus mass tort lawsuit that had no chance of winning.”