New Jersey Attorney General, Division of Consumer Affairs, and Department of Banking and Insurance File Action Against Three North Jersey Individuals and Their Companies for Allegedly Defrauding Financially Distressed Consumers Who Paid for Mortgage Foreclosure Rescue Services
NEWARK – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino, the Division of Consumer Affairs, and the Department of Banking and Insurance have filed an action against three North Jersey individuals and the companies they operated, for allegedly defrauding financially strapped consumers who paid for mortgage foreclosure rescue services to save their homes from foreclosure.
Marcus A. Mullings, Jr. and Talia Stephen-Mullings, both of Fort Lee, and Jessie Sanders, of West Orange, through their company MVP Home Solutions LLC and its associated entities, charged substantial monthly fees for debt adjustment, foreclosure consulting and/or other services but failed to perform the promised services, according to a Complaint filed in Superior Court, Bergen County.
“We alleged these defendants shamelessly exploited homeowners who were drowning in mortgage debt and desperate to hang onto their homes; charging them up to $1,625 a month in exchange for foreclosure rescue services that were never provided,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Instead of helping homeowners out of their financial crises, the defendants allegedly made it worse by causing people to fall further behind on their mortgages as they paid for undelivered services with money that could have been applied to their mortgages.”
“For most homeowners, the threat of foreclosure and the prospect of losing what is likely their most valuable financial asset, is a time of stress and fear,” said Steve Lee, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “By filing this action, we are reinforcing New Jersey’s commitment to protecting homeowners from being preyed upon by scammers and con artists looking to take advantage of them.”
“As regulators we take the consumer protection part of our mission very seriously and will not tolerate unlicensed activity that financially damages hard working New Jerseyans who turned to these individuals seeking help,” said Richard J. Badolato, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance.
Mullings, Stephen-Mullings and Sanders, and their companies - MVP Solutions LLC, Stay In or Walk Away LLC, SIHOWA LLC, and Sanders & Associates, LLC, - are named as defendants in a nine-count Complaint alleging numerous violations of the state’s Consumer Fraud Act, Advertising Regulations, Debt Adjuster Act, Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Prevention Act, Foreclosure Consultant Regulations, Financial Institutions’ Advertising Act, and Financial Institutions’ Advertising Regulations.
According to the Complaint, the defendants were not licensed by the Department of Banking and Insurance (“DOBI”), as required by law, to act as Debt Adjusters or Foreclosure Consultants in their advertisement and operation of mortgage relief services to homeowners facing the imminent prospect of foreclosure. In doing business as MVP Home Solutions and other companies, the defendants charged consumers substantial monthly fees for debt adjustment and foreclosure relief services, but failed to take any meaningful action on consumers’ behalf, the Complaint states. Under New Jersey law, only not-for-profit companies can be licensed to perform debt adjustment services such as negotiating with a bank concerning a homeowner’s mortgage, and only certain licensed professionals are permitted to provide foreclosure consultant services.
The Complaint alleges the defendants misled and deceived consumers through the advertisement and sale of purported services offered through three programs:
- The “Stay in Your Home” program which charged consumers monthly payments of $995 to $1,625 in exchange for promised services that included asserting legal defenses and forensic tactics, negotiating the purchase of their mortgage notes at a discount, and providing them with a new, lower-cost mortgage. Under the program, 60 percent of the monthly payments was to have been credited to the new mortgage payment, upon issuance of the new loan.
- The “Walk Away Free & Clear” program that charged consumers monthly payments of $995 to $1,625 in exchange for promised services that included asserting legal defenses and negotiating the sale of their homes and release of their mortgage loans (i.e. short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure sale).
- The “Stop the Sale Date” program that charged consumers $1,095 upon signing, and $995 a month thereafter for a period of up to two years, in exchange for the promised service of stopping an imminent foreclosure sale.
The defendants misrepresented the services they would perform and falsely claimed that they would assert legal defenses, employ forensic accounting tools and/or utilize their expertise to pressure lenders to delay foreclosure proceedings or reduce the amount of the mortgage debt, according to the Complaint. In reality, the defendants’ only contact with consumers’ lenders was in sending a “cease and desist” letter, according to the Complaint.
The Complaint additionally alleges the defendants engaged in unconscionable commercial practices and other violations of state laws and regulations by:
- Failing to fully inform consumers about the programs in which they were being enrolled.
- Representing, directly or indirectly, that they were acting as an advisor or a consultant, or otherwise representing they were acting on behalf of consumers to provide debt adjustment, foreclosure consulting and/or other foreclosure rescue-related services, when such is not the case.
- Obtaining Credit Report Authorization and Privacy Disclosure Forms from consumers, then failing to obtain credit reports and evaluate consumers’ financial obligations.
- Obtaining the ownership of consumers’ homes for far less than the homes’ market values (e.g. $10) through the execution of “Quit Claim Deeds” and under the guise that such was necessary to negotiate the sale of consumers’ mortgage notes with their lenders, or to complete a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure.
- Representing on their website that when they collect monthly payments from consumers, they “do not realize a profit until we are successful,” when such is not the case.
- Representing in communications from sales affiliates to consumers that “by utilizing our systems you will save tens of thousands of dollars that would have gone to the monthly rent payments, rent deposit, and moving costs,” when such is not the case.
- As part of the “Stop the Sale Date” program, signing consumers’ names and providing false addresses in pro se bankruptcy petitions filed in Bankruptcy Court.
- Filing a bankruptcy proceeding on a consumer’s behalf without the consumer’s knowledge or consent.
The Complaint seeks consumer restitution; the appointment of a receiver, at the defendants’ expense, to assume control over their assets, render a full accounting and sell and/or convey such assets to restore money or property to affected consumers; reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and costs; and civil penalties. The state also seeks to cancel the Certificate of Formation in the State of MVP Home Solutions, SIHOWA, Sanders & Associates, and Stay in Or Walk Away; permanently enjoin Mullings, Stephen-Mullings, and Sanders from managing or owning any business organization in the State; and to permanently enjoin the defendants from advertising, selling, and/or performing debt adjustment, foreclosure counseling, and/or other foreclosure-related services, including but not limited to “Stay in Your Home” program, the “Walk Away Free & Clear” program, and/or the “Stop the Sale Date” program.
Investigators Michelle Davis and Jared O’Cone of the Division’s Office of Consumer Protection conducted the investigation.
Deputy Attorney Russell M. Smith, Jr., of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law, is representing the State in this action.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
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