A Queens-based law firm and an affiliated foreclosure “rescue” firm have cheated Long Island homeowners out of thousands of dollars and put them at greater risk of losing their homes, the homeowners have charged in four separate lawsuits.
The Donado Law Firm and the American Hope Group persuaded the homeowners to pay for mortgage modification services but provided no help, the homeowners stated in court papers. The affiliated companies share office space in the Elmhurst section of Queens, and the American Hope Group also has locations in Hempstead and Amityville, according to the lawsuits.
Valmiro Donado, who is named in court papers as owner of the two companies, did not return calls and an email seeking comment. In two of the four lawsuits, Donado has asked for more time to respond to the allegations, according to the Manhattan-based nonprofit New York Legal Assistance Group, which is representing the homeowners.
“As people are in foreclosure longer and longer, they are becoming more susceptible to these scammers who make promises they can’t fulfill,” said Rose Marie Cantanno, a supervising attorney with the nonprofit legal group. “A lot of our clients say, ‘We thought they were from heaven.’”
The two companies promised to lower homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments, collected as much as $17,000 in fees from each client from 2012 through 2014, and told the homeowners to stop making mortgage payments, the homeowners charged in court papers filed in state Supreme Court in Nassau and Suffolk counties late last year.
Among the plaintiffs is Jose Ventura, a 58-year-old immigrant from El Salvador who lives with his wife and their three children in a sparsely furnished Bay Shore home. Promising to lower Ventura’s mortgage balance, the companies charged him $15,360, most of it deducted electronically from his bank account, according to his lawsuit.
A former factory worker, Ventura is now seeking a job in construction. “I had to work a whole lot to get that much money,” Ventura said in Spanish, with his attorney, Julie Howe, translating. “I took all of my money out of my bank account, and all they did was harm people, and they’re still just harming people.”
Ventura is now current on his mortgage, after receiving a $40,000 loan through the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program, which lends money to homeowners at risk of foreclosure, Howe said.
The other plaintiffs declined to comment, their attorneys said. Three of the four plaintiffs — including Ventura — were current on their mortgage payments when they signed on with the “rescue” firm, but after they took American Hope’s advice to stop making mortgage payments, their lenders sued to foreclose, the homeowners said in their lawsuits. A fourth homeowner was already in foreclosure.
New York homeowners have filed nearly 1,000 complaints about alleged foreclosure rescue scams since 2012, including more than 200 last year, according to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is tracking the complaints.
Nationwide, homeowners have reported losing $104 million to foreclosure scams, the Washington, D.C.-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law reported last month. Minority homeowners were hit disproportionately hard, with average losses of $4,235 for Latino homeowners and $3,254 for black homeowners, compared with $3,008 for white homeowners, the nonprofit group reported.
Homeowners can go to agscamhelp.com or call 855-HOME-456 to file complaints or find federally approved housing counselors and legal help.