AG Obtains $1.9 Million Judgment Against Lawrence Company Over Predatory Foreclosure Rescue and Legal Services
Pinnacle Financial Consulting, LLC and Owner Robert Burton Prohibited From Doing Business in Massachusetts; Commonwealth Previously Obtained Judgment Finding Defendants in Contempt for Violating Court Orders
BOSTON – A Lawrence financial and legal services company and its owner have been ordered by a judge to pay more than $1.9 million for preying upon vulnerable consumers during the foreclosure crisis and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.
Pinnacle Financial Consulting, LLC and its owner, Robert Burton, have also been permanently prohibited from marketing, soliciting, or receiving fees in relation to providing loan modification, bankruptcy petition preparation, legal document preparation, and financial advising services.
“Our office will stand firmly against those who seek to exploit struggling homeowners for their personal gain,” AG Healey said. “This judgment should send a strong message that predatory foreclosure and loan modification scams will not be tolerated.”
According to the lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court in March 2013, the defendants misrepresented to consumers the services they could provide, exaggerated the benefits of their services, charged unlawful advance fees, practiced law without a license, often failed to take any action to provide the promised services after receiving payment, and refused to provide promised refunds upon request. The defendants targeted financially desperate consumers, particularly minority and non-native English speakers, and marketed themselves as low-cost alternatives to attorneys and traditional law firms.
According to the judgment, entered on March 17, the defendants obtained at least $1.2 million from more than 600 Massachusetts consumers who fell victim to the defendants' predatory scheme. In addition to defrauding their victims of desperately needed funds, the defendants caused victims to fall further behind in their mortgages, lose their homes to foreclosure, commence ill-advised bankruptcy proceedings and lose their retirement savings to fraudulent investment opportunities.
In November 2013, a judge ordered the defendants to pay more than $240,000 after persistently and willfully violating the terms of preliminary injunction orders obtained by the AG’s Office, including by continuing to solicit consumers and receive payments for loan modification, bankruptcy petition preparation, legal document preparation and investment services.
Under the terms of final judgment, Pinnacle and Burton are ordered to pay the Commonwealth $1.9 million, including $1.2 million in restitution for affected consumers and $665,000 in civil penalties. The defendants are also ordered to pay the Commonwealth more than $55,000 in attorneys' fees and costs.
Under Massachusetts law, consumers should not be charged advance fees for foreclosure-related services. In 2007, the AG’s Office issued regulations that prohibit soliciting or accepting an advance fee in connection with foreclosure-related services, or advertising services without disclosing exactly what is offered to avoid foreclosure, among other unfair practices.
If you are facing foreclosure, or the foreclosure has already occurred, the AG’s HomeCorps program may be able to help by offering access to a variety of foreclosure prevention or recovery services. Contact the HomeCorps Hotline at 617-573-5333 or visit http://www.mass.gov/ago/homecorps.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Justin J. Lowe and Division Chief Stephanie Kahn of AG Healey’s Consumer Protection Division, with assistance from Paralegals Sarah Petrie and Krista Roche, and Chief Kevin McCarthy from the Civil Investigations Division.