Supreme Court Allows RICO Tax Lien Lawsuit
Legal Topics | 2008/06/10 15:45
A pair of Chicago-area companies have the right to sue their competitors under federal racketeering law for allegedly gaining more than their fair share of tax liens, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

BCS Services Inc. and Phoenix Bond & Indemnity Co. sued their competitors under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, claiming they committed mail fraud when they sent notices to delinquent taxpayers.

At issue were the competitors' statements that they were independent organizations bidding for the tax liens, when there were instances of relatives bidding for the same properties, the plaintiffs claimed.

The district court had ruled that BCS and Phoenix did not have standing because the taxpayers did not receive the notices in the mail. Justice Thomas, writing for the unanimous court, upheld the 7th Circuit's reversal of that decision, which ruled that BCS and Phoenix had standing because they were injured by the defendants' actions.

The competitors had argued that BCS and Phoenix did not rely on the competitors' statements of independence because they were made to the county, not to BCS and Phoenix.


Two Foreclosure Crooks Plead Guilty
Legal Topics | 2008/06/05 16:13
Two men pleaded guilty Tuesday to defrauding homeowners in a "foreclosure rescue" scam that netted the criminals titles to more than 80 houses, more than $20 million in fraudulently acquired home equity loans and $1.4 million in fees, federal prosecutors.

Maurice McDowall, 49, faces up to 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, plus a fine of twice his ill-gotten gains. McDowall directed the illegal operation, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Aleksander Lipkin, 29, faces the same sentence on the same charge. He was a mortgage broker who coordinated the submission of fraudulent information to lenders. Lipkin also pleaded guilty to another charge of defrauding subprime mortgage lenders.

One other defendant has pleaded guilty in U.S. v. McDowall and three more await trial. Four have pleaded guilty in U.S. v. Lipkin, and 22 await trial.

As is often the case in mortgage rescue scams, the men offered to "help" distressed homeowners by refinancing, selling the homes to straw buyers who would apply for a new mortgage, which they would use to pay off the old debt, and then resell the house to the victims.

But McDowall and Lipkin sometimes failed to make even a single payment on the loans; in nearly all the others they eventually stopped making payments and defaulted, cashing out the property. In some cases, they just stole the houses by forging homeowners' signatures transferring the property, prosecutors said.

"As a result, the distresses homeowners lost the titles to their homes and faced eviction, the straw buyers owed the lenders hundreds of thousands of dollars that they were unable to repay, and the lenders suffered losses from the defaulted loans," the U.S. Attorney's Office said.


FTC Shuts Down Pretexters
Legal Topics | 2008/05/29 17:35

The Federal Trade Commission has obtained court orders shutting down a ring that used "pretexting" to get people's confidential telephone records and sell them to third parties. The FTC also fined the defendants $600,000, their profits from the operation that got the information on false pretenses.

Pretexting made national news when Hewlett-Packard Chairwoman Patricia Dunn allegedly used it against reporters and her own board members to track down the source of leaks from board meetings.

A bill in the California Legislature to make the practice illegal under state law was heading for passage in 2006 when the Motion Picture Association of America killed it, telling lawmakers its investigators needed to pose as someone other than who they are to bust up illegal downloading rings. The MPAA got the bill killed just days before Hewlett-Packard's use of pretexting made headlines.



Chicago Isn't Liable For Club Tragedy, Court Says
Legal Topics | 2008/05/27 22:13
The city of Chicago is not liable for the deaths and injuries of E2 Nightclub patrons trampled in a stairwell trying to flee the club after security guards used pepper spray to quell a disturbance, an Illinois appellate court ruled.

The estates of 20 decedents and more than 30 injured patrons filed suit against the club owners and the city, claiming Chicago failed to enforce court orders barring the use of the club's second floor. They also alleged that police failed to protect or help victims at the scene, and that one officer even closed and locked an exit door, contributing to the fatal pileup on Feb. 17, 2003.

Chicago moved to dismiss the complaint, citing unqualified immunity under the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act, which shields public entities from liability for injuries "caused by adopting or failing to adopt an enactment or by failing to enforce any law."

Plaintiffs countered that the city's actions fell under an exception to the immunity law for "willful and wanton conduct."

However, the appellate court ruled that the exemption does not apply, because the city was not in control of the situation. It added that the plain language of the exception refers to public employees, not public entities.


Woman Profited From Disabled Children
Legal Topics | 2008/05/21 17:23
A Florida woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to bilking New York state and city of $1.7 million intended to support 11 adopted, disabled children. But Judith Leekin kept many of them restrained in her basement, did not let them go to school, and spent the money on herself.

Leekin, 63, of Port St. Lucie, used four aliases to adopt the children from 1988 to 1996, lied about how many kids were living with her and lied about their disabilities, according to the criminal information to which she pleaded. She got $1.68 million in adoption subsidies from 1988 through July 2007, "and used the money to support a lavish lifestyle for herself," the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

She also had custody of a 12th disabled child. In 1997, when she lived in Queens, N.Y., 11 of the kids lived in the basement of her home "and did not go to school or outside," prosecutors said. "In addition, several of the adopted children 1-11 were restrained in order to prevent them from getting out of their beds."

In 1998, she moved to Florida, where she treated the children in the same way.

"Between 2004 and July 2007, in Florida, adopted children 1-1o slept on the floor of a storage room abutting the garage and typically only entered the house to use the bathroom or the kitchen," prosecutors said. "In addition, adopted children 1-10 did not attend school, and several of the adopted children were restrained using plastic ties."

She kept collecting money for child 11 after booting it from her home.Leekin pleaded guilty to wire fraud and mail fraud. She faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of twice the gross gains from her offenses. She will be sentenced on July 23.


Court Sides With MySpace In Suit Over Sex Assault
Legal Topics | 2008/05/19 17:20
MySpace is immune from a lawsuit accusing it of failing to protect a teen girl from the alleged sexual assault of a 19-year-old man she met on the popular social-networking site, the 5th Circuit ruled.

A three-judge panel upheld a Texas judge's dismissal of a lawsuit accusing MySpace.com and parent company News Corp. of failing to protect minor users from sexual predators.

The plaintiff, identified as Julie Doe, created a MySpace profile when she was only 13, but said she was 18 to circumvent the site's minimum age requirement of 14. After she turned 14, she met Pete Solis, a 19-year-old fellow MySpace user who allegedly sexually assaulted her in a parking lot in 2006.

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by the teen and her mother, ruling that their claims are barred by Texas common law and the Communications Decency Act, which shields Internet service providers from getting sued for publishing material posted by third parties.

Doe and her mother appealed dismissal of their negligence claim, arguing that MySpace is not a "publisher" under their claims, and that MySpace is not entitled to immunity for its failure to take reasonable steps to protect minors.

Judge Clement, writing for the appellate panel, remained unconvinced.

"Their allegations are merely another way of claiming that MySpace was liable for publishing the communications and they speak to MySpace's role as a publisher of online third-party-generated content."

Solis was indicted on a sexual assault charge and faces up to 20 years in prison.


Vallejo, CA Declares Itself Bankrupt
Legal Topics | 2008/05/08 15:52

The Vallejo City Council has voted unanimously to declare the city bankrupt. The council cited falling property values and tax receipts and a $16 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July. Residents of Vallejo, a town of 120,000 in Santa Clara County, have a median income of $56,505.

    Vallejo, 25 miles northeast of San Francisco, is the largest city in California to declare itself bankrupt, and the first major metropolitan area to do so since Orange County filed for bankruptcy in 1994 after a series of bungled investments.

    "With Orange County there were identifiable bad guys," John Quigley, an economics profession at UC-Berkeley, told The New York Times. "This is different. Near as one can tell, this is more of a low-level infection everywhere."

    Proposition 13 caps property taxes in California, and the Vallejo City Council was unable to wring salary concessions from its public employees, whose salaries account for 80 percent of the city budget.



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