‘Occupy’ Group Organizes Victims of Alleged Loan Modification Scam
Spanish-speakers targeted with infomercials; attorney is facing possible disbarment.
By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer
Last year, buckling under the weight of a $3,000 monthly mortgage, East Los Angeles resident Catalina Gaitan needed help getting a loan modification. A commercial on a Spanish-language radio station lead her to the Siringoringo Law Firm, but nearly $6,000 later, Gaitan found herself in a much worse predicament.
She is now one of several people allegedly harmed by the law firm who is getting help from Occupy Fights Foreclosures (OFF), an organization aligned with Occupy LA.
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Gaitan says she paid Siringoringo a $1,500 up front fee and that the firm also required that she pay a $495 monthly retainer fee — in the form of a monthly automatic withdrawal from her bank account — for the work she was told would take just three months to complete. She says she was also advised by a Siringoringo representative to stop making mortgage payments.
But the loan modification never came through and according to Gaitan, eight months of automatic withdrawals by the Siringoringo law firm left her with just $4 in her bank account.
Gaitan, who only speaks Spanish, says her efforts to cancel the firm’s services were met with resistance from the firm’s billing specialist. She claims that at one point a company representative showed up at her home and tried to intimidate her into continuing the service; going so far as to allege that her home was about to be sold. That was a lie, she said, but the stress caused her diabetic husband’s health to decline, she says.
But, unlike many other distressed homeowners in her situation, Gaitan was lucky. She did not lose the three-bedroom home she’d already spent 10 years paying for and where she raised her three children.
Gaitan’s case is just one of several cases that have prompted authorities to take legal action against thirty-one-year-old Stephen Lyster Siringoringo —of Siringoringo Law Firm, a.k.a. the Law Offices of Stephen L. Siringoringo.
In other cases, Siringoringo allegedly never filed clients’ paperwork, documents were lost and representatives never returned clients’ phone calls. One client paid the firm almost $5,000 but was forced to file for bankruptcy because the loan modification paperwork was not submitted in a timely manner. Another Spanish-speaking client was advised to stop making mortgage payments in order to be approved for a loan modification, which resulted in the initiation of foreclosure proceedings.
All the cases appear to have one thing in common: the clients never met or spoke with Siringoringo himself.
Last year, the State Bar of California, the authority that gives attorneys the right to practice law in the state, charged Siringoringo with 25 counts of misconduct for allegedly taking advanced fees, which is prohibited under SB 94, and for working in partnership with non-lawyers in a loan modification scheme.
Many of Siringoringo’s clients are Latinos who responded to advertisements and infomercials run on Spanish-language television and radio outlets. The firm has several locations in Southern California.
Siringoringo is now facing the possibility of disbarment.
His license to practice law was suspended last month because his conduct posed a “substantial threat of harm to the interests of the attorney’s clients or to the public,” according to court documents (July 26th Decision and Order of Inactive Enrollment).
On Aug. 16, the State Bar Court wrapped up its trial against Siringoringo and State Bar Court Judge Richard Honn is expected to issue a decision on possible disciplinary action by Nov. 22, according to Public Information Officer Amy Yarbrough.
In addition to allegedly illegally collecting up front fees, Siringoringo is accused of failing to give refunds for unearned fees and for allowing his supposed non-lawyer partners, Clausen & Cobb Management, Inc. (CCMI) — whose employees allegedly operated independently — to offer legal services under his name in exchange for a share of the legal fees it brought in.
Clients of Siringoringo met with CCMI employees without Siringoringo’s supervision and clients were led to believe that Siringoringo was their lawyer, according to State Bar documents.
Siringoringo, however, denies “each and every allegation” as well as charges that he violated any Rule of Professional Conduct.
In a statement emailed from Siringoringo’s firm to EGP Wednesday, Siringoringo expressed disappointment in the State Bar’s decision to transfer him into Involuntary Inactive status. The firm claims it’s an issue of managerial structure, rather than quality of work performed.
“We take great pride in the work we have been able to provide to our clients. We have successfully obtained loan modifications for over 4, 600 clients and we hope to continue with this success in the near future,” the email states. “… The decision of the California State Bar was based purely on the current business model of the firm and not on the quality of work performed by the firm or the adequacy of service provided to our clients.” It goes on to state that they “hope to reevaluate this model and petition the court for the re-enrollment of Mr. Siringoringo as an active member of the State Bar of California.”
According to Yarbrough, the State Bar has plans to file a second case against Siringoringo.
“I can’t give you a total number of complaints that have been filed but there are 34 clients named between the cases,” Yarbrough told EGP.
The California Supreme Court, which oversees the State Bar, will have to approve the bar’s disciplinary recommendations for them to take effect, Yarbrough said.
Occupy Fights for Foreclosures estimates that at least 70 complaints have been filed with the State Bar. The Occupy group has been helping former Siringoringo clients by connecting them to free legal help and assistance in seeking compensation from the State Bar through the Client Security Fund program.
Carlos Marroquin, of Occupy Fights for Foreclosures, says the group has held three highly attended, standing room only, meetings so far.
“People gave everything in order to save their homes—these were people who live paycheck to paycheck,” Marroquin said about the former Siringoringo clients who have been attending their meetings.
Occupy Fights for Foreclosures is calling on Attorney General Kamala Harris to conduct a criminal investigation and to prosecute the Siringoringo Law Firm. They also want the attorney general to declare an immediate moratorium on all foreclosures of families defrauded by Siringoringo, Marroquin told EGP on Monday.
The group and its supporters also plan to protest at the State Bar to demand that Siringoringo not get back his law license. He neglected his moral responsibilities as a lawyer when he aided the unauthorized practice of law in his name, Marroquin said.
For information on the Occupy Fights Foreclosures meetings, call (323) 696-0596.
The California State Bar Attorney Complaint Hotline is (800) 843-9053. Information from The State Bar of California client security fund can be obtained at www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/LawyerRegulation/.
August 22, 2013 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.