Easton Man Indicted in Connection with Stealing More Than $100,000 in “Rent to Own” Scheme
BOSTON – An Easton man has been indicted in connection with stealing more than $100,000 from customers in a “Rent to Own” advance-fee scheme, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office announced today.
Joshua Leventhal, age 42, was indicted Thursday afternoon by a Statewide Grand Jury on the charges of Larceny over $250 (4 counts) and Larceny by a Single Scheme.
“We allege this defendant deceived consumers into believing his program would result in easy homeownership,” said AG Coakley. “This defendant allegedly preyed on the vulnerable and then stole their money for his own benefit, leaving some consumers essentially homeless.”
The AG’s Office began an investigation in the fall of 2012 after the matter was referred by the Bristol District Attorney’s Office and the Easton Police Department. The investigation revealed that Leventhal operated a “Rent to Own” scheme out of his Easton home, ultimately stealing over $100,000 from customers between 2010 and 2011.
Leventhal allegedly described his “Rent to Own” program as a way for first-time home buyers or people with poor credit to rent a property through a complicated agreement with the homeowner, which allowed the buyer to later purchase the property for a set price and for a portion of each monthly check to be set aside for the renter to use as a deposit for that purchase. Investigation revealed that not one of Leventhal’s customers ever purchased a property under his program.
Authorities allege that Leventhal targeted first-time homebuyers and consumers with poor credit through online advertisements. Leventhal allegedly posted thousands of online advertisements including deceptive claims, such as: “Our rent2own program WILL turn you into a homeowner ASAP,” and “Rent 2 Own WILL Turn You Into A Homeowner Even If You Have Bad Credit and/or No Down Payment.”
Leventhal, on a now-shuttered website, also allegedly fabricated customer testimonials, including one in which a customer purportedly wrote, “I saved $44,000 on my Rent 2 Own Purchase. All I can say is WOW.”
In reality, investigators learned that out of Leventhal’s nearly one hundred customers, only three customers ended up occupying a property through his program, and not one of his customers ever purchased a property through his program.
According to investigators, after he convinced potential customers that his program was a functional and successful path to homeownership, Leventhal charged them an enrollment fee, typically ranging from $150 to $2,000. In some cases, Leventhal also allegedly received additional deposit money from his customers, ranging from $4,350 to $7,000. However, authorities allege that Leventhal did not use these funds to pursue homeownership for his customers, but rather kept the money for his own personal use.
A Statewide Grand Jury returned indictments against Leventhal yesterday. He is scheduled to be arraigned at a later date in Bristol Superior Court.
These charges are allegations and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Doherty of AG Coakley’s Fraud and Financial Crimes Division, with assistance from Investigator Marco DePalma from the AG’s Financial Investigations Division, and Sergeant Jack Lynn of the Easton Police Department.