The Federal Trade Commission claims two Southern California law firms bilked people for $15 million in a single year in a mortgage scam.
The Brookstone Law and Advantis Law firms allegedly lured customers with promises of $75,000 payouts, before taking thousands of dollars in upfront fees while providing little or nothing in return, according to the FTC.
The FTC alleges that the defendants preyed on distressed homeowners, finding people who are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure and sending them letters claiming they can get the debt dismissed, that they already are suing the lender and that they can "give you your home free and clear."
Brookstone and Advantis market themselves as expert litigators in mortgage issues since 2011, the FTC states in a federal lawsuit. They allegedly often demanded $895, or more, to do a legal analysis. The defendants told homeowners that they were likely, or even certain, to prevail if they retained the defendants for a mass joinder suit against their lender. On many occasions, the defendants allegedly told homeowners that they would recover "at least $75,000."Lead defendant Damian Kutzner is a founder and chief operating officer of Brookstone and a principal with Advantis. He and co-defendant Vito Torchia Jr. "founded Brookstone after their prior business, United Law Group, a mortgage assistance ‘law firm,’ was dissolved following an investigation and raid by multiple federal and local agencies," according to the FTC’s complaint.
Torchia, who was licensed to practice law in California, co-founded Brookstone and Advantis and was counsel of record for all of Brookstone’s mass joinder cases, the FTC states.
"In August 2014, the California Bar found Torchia violated his ethical duties to his clients with respect to the provision of mortgage-related services and declared him indefinitely ineligible to practice law in California," according to the FTC.
Defendant Jonathan Tarkowski, admitted to the California bar in June 2014, "is or was an attorney with Advantis" and was Brookstone's sole attorney when Brookstone hired him in July 2015, according to the complaint.
The defendants allegedly followed initial action with demands for thousands of dollars more in upfront fees and continuing payments. The defendants allegedly pulled in at least $15 million in such fees in 2014, which they used for expenses instead of depositing into client trust accounts as required by law, the FTC states.
Most of their mass joinder suits have been dismissed, and none have prevailed on the claims, the FTC alleges.
Neither law firm has responded to requests for comment.