BULLETIN: FLORIDA — AGAIN: Destroying Hope Through Wordplay: 4 Men Arrested In Alleged Loan-Modification Scam That Used ‘HOPE’ As Acronym; Fraudsters Sucked More Than $3 Million From Distressed Homeowners In Part By Claiming To Be Nonprofit, Feds Say

HOPE is a scam operating as a purported nonprofit, federal prosecutors said.

BULLETIN: Federal agents from the Special Inspector General’s Office for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) have arrested four Florida men on charges they collected millions of dollars from financially distressed homeowners in a loan-modification scam that claimed to be a legitimate nonprofit business.

Arrested this morning in Florida on federal criminal charges filed in Boston were Christopher S. Godfrey, 42, of Delray Beach; Dennis Fischer, 40, of Highland Beach; Vernell Burris Jr., 51, of Boynton Beach; and Brian M. Kelly, 34, of Boca Raton.

South Florida has been plagued by various fraud schemes. Federal prosecutors in Washington said the Florida men were charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and misuse of a government seal in the operation of an entity known as Home Owners Protection Economics Inc., which used the acronym of HOPE.

In reality, prosecutors said, HOPE was a scam linked to a telemarketing operation designed to pick the pockets of the very customers HOPE claimed it was helping.

Separately, the Better Business Bureau lists 177 complaints against HOPE and a previous action filed against the firm, Godfrey and Fischer by the office of the Florida attorney general.

Godfrey was the president of HOPE, and Fischer was vice president and treasurer.  Burris trained and managed HOPE telemarketers,  and Kelly was a key phone pitchman who also trained telemarketers, federal prosecutors said.

Among the allegations is that HOPE collected at least $3 million in illegal up-front payments from distressed homeowners by arranging for telemarketers to lie to prospects.

A website apparently linked to HOPE appears to have used hyphens to spell out its name in this fashion: H-OP-E.com, according to research by the PP Blog. The domain registration is hidden behind a proxy, but a “Contact” page on the site lists a building address in Delray Beach associated with at least two of the defendants arrested today.

HOPE appears to have formed its website name with hyphens and letters from the word "hope" while claiming nonprofit status. Federal prosecutors said today that HOPE was a scam linked to a telemarketing operation.

Home Owners Protection Economics Inc. appears to operate in Florida as a purported nonprofit under a nonplural variation of its name — i.e., Home Owner Protection Economics Inc. in which no “s” is used in the word “Owner.” Godfrey and Fischer are listed in Florida records as “directors” of the firm at 1801 S. Federal Highway, Suite 247, Delray Beach.

The same address appears on the H-OP-E website registered behind a proxy. The firm also appears to have used the word “HOPE” as part of a phone number.

“The indictment alleges that from January 2009 through May 2011, the defendants made, and instructed their employees to make, a series of misrepresentations to induce financially distressed homeowners looking for a federally-funded home loan modification to pay HOPE a $400-$900 up-front fee in exchange for HOPE’s home loan modifications, modification services and ‘software licenses,'” prosecutors said today.

“According to the indictment, these misrepresentations included claims that homeowners were virtually guaranteed, with HOPE’s assistance, to receive a loan modification under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which is part of TARP and is a federally-funded mortgage assistance program.  Additional misrepresentations to homeowners included that HOPE was affiliated with the homeowner’s mortgage lender, that the homeowner had been approved for a home loan modification, that homeowners could stop making mortgage payments while they waited for HOPE to arrange their loan modification and that HOPE would refund the customer’s fee if the modification was not successful.  HOPE also claimed that it operated as a non-profit organization.”

In reality, prosecutors said, “HOPE instructed customers to fill out the application and submit it to their mortgage lender.  According to the indictment, the HOPE customers who did use the provided forms to apply on their own for loan modifications had no advantage in the application process, and, in fact, most of their applications were denied.  Through these misrepresentations, HOPE was able to persuade thousands of homeowners collectively to pay more than $3 million in fees to HOPE. ”

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2 Responses to “BULLETIN: FLORIDA — AGAIN: Destroying Hope Through Wordplay: 4 Men Arrested In Alleged Loan-Modification Scam That Used ‘HOPE’ As Acronym; Fraudsters Sucked More Than $3 Million From Distressed Homeowners In Part By Claiming To Be Nonprofit, Feds Say”

  1. I thought “Christopher S. Godfrey” sounded familiar, perhaps I read this back in May:
    Attorney General Bondi Files Lawsuit Against Three South Florida Companies for Foreclosure Rescue Fraud
    http://www.myfloridalegal.com/newsrel.nsf/newsreleases/DDE23D802B4DE964852578840051DAEE

    TALLAHASSEE, Fla.–Attorney General Pam Bondi announced that her office filed a lawsuit on Friday against three South Florida companies that allegedly were charging upfront fees for loan modification services to homeowners facing foreclosure. Charging upfront fees for these services is illegal, per F.S. 501.1377. Home Owner Protection Economics, Inc., DC Financial Group, Deleverage America, Inc. and owners Dennis Fischer, and Christopher S. Godfrey purportedly collected thousands of dollars monthly in upfront fees for loan modification services that were never provided. As a result of the lawsuit filed by the Attorney General’s Office, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court ordered the defendants’ assets be frozen and that they be forbidden from operating until further order of the court.

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  2. Thanks for that, Tony.

    Patrick

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