Law firm accepts $4.6 million fine for targeting Hispanics

An eight-year-old Fair Housing Act case that accused a Florida law firm of targeting Hispanic homeowners in a predatory mortgage modification and foreclosure scheme has finally ended in a settlement of $4.6 million — but the three Orlando-area families at the heart of it are going to see only a small fraction of the money.

“It was a long, long battle, and our clients didn’t get as much money as they deserved,” said attorney Jeffrey Hussey of Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, who waived his own costs in the case. “But at least we’re shutting down these clowns so they don’t hurt people anymore.”

The defendants – Miami-based Advocate Law Groups of Florida and Summit Development Solutions USA – have filed sworn financial statements saying they cannot pay $4.5 million of the settlement, signed last month, but they are forced to pay $95,000 to be split among the three families and another $5,000 civil fine to the federal government.

The defendants also agreed to undergo fair housing training, never to engage in the business of mortgage loan modification again, and to disclose their activities and finances twice a year for the next five years. Still, Hussey said, thousands of other Hispanic homeowners who could have won compensation through a fully funded settlement will likely never get their money back. And two of the three plaintiffs eventually lost their homes to foreclosure.

The case began in 2014 when Community Legal Services filed fair housing complaints on behalf of Lucia Hurtado, Noemi Roman, Argentina Roque and their families with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging that residents were targeted because of their ethnicity.

Advocate Law Groups of Florida, according to the complaint, advertised in Spanish-language media that it could help struggling landlords – allegedly making false promises and asking landlords to sign documents in English.

“When these families first came to us for help, I was so compelled by their stories that I had to find a way to seek justice from them,” said Alicia Magazu, a lawyer with Community Legal Services. “…It was clear that they had been targeted because of their national origin.”

recent news

As it happens

Be the first to know with email alerts on the latest important news from the Orlando Sentinel Newsroom.

Following a HUD investigation that upheld the complaint, the federal government filed a lawsuit in 2018. The case was scheduled to go to trial in December.

Roque, born in the Dominican Republic, said Wednesday she nearly lost her home in Orlando after turning to Advocate Law Groups for help. She paid the business $395 a month for five years, she said, because lawyers promised her she could stop paying her mortgage and ignore warnings from the bank that issued her mortgage and a series of foreclosure notices.

“The court sent me papers saying that someone had to be [at a foreclosure hearing] and no one showed up,” the 78-year-old said. “I called [Advocate Law Groups] and they said, ‘Oh, no, you don’t have to go to court. We solve the problem from here. But they never did anything. They just rob people.

In the settlement, Advocate Law Groups and attorney Jon Lindeman Jr., the company’s president and general partner, and Ephigenia Lindeman, its chief financial officer, admitted no wrongdoing. Neither does Summit Development Solutions USA and its director, Haralampos Kourouklis. Development of the closed vertex in 2013, and the Advocate Law Groups phone number was disconnected.

Jon Lindeman Jr. had his Florida law license revoked in 2020, although he can reapply after five years.

“The most important thing to take away from this is that the lawyers who do this kind of [foreclosure] labor can now be held liable under the Fair Housing Act,” Hussey said. “That was one of the reasons we were pushing so hard. We wanted that extra tool in our arsenal, especially now, because we can read the tea leaves in the housing market.

[email protected]