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Friday, February 13, 2009

Justice Closing in On Notorious 'Foreclosure Assistance' Firm

Posted By on Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 6:30 AM

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Thanks in part to a recent SF Weekly column detailing the latest exploits of longtime con man Paul Noe II, a federal judge recently announced he would advise federal, state, and municipal prosecutors to investigate a suspicious statewide "foreclosure assistance" operation that targeted defaulted homeowners in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"I am referring these matters to the State Bar of the State of California, to the State Bar of the State of Nevada, to the United States Attorney in the Central District of California, and to the district attorney of Los Angeles and San Bernadino and Orange Counties, so that they can make an investigation of this matter, and do what is required under the law of the State of California," U.S. District Judge Manuel Real said during a Jan. 13 hearing.

Real had just heard allegations that Mitchell Roth, a longtime attorney of Noe's, had filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of clients, then failed to show up in court to prosecute the cases. The filings were submitted on behalf of customers of a Noe front company called United First, Inc. whose business model involved convincing desperate homeowners that they might have grounds for a so-called "missing title" lawsuit. These suits would supposedly be based on the legal theory that banks had lost track of buildings' titles when mortgages were bundled into securities, and thus had no right to foreclose. Whatever the merits of the theory -- and there's no evidence that either Roth or Noe had established whether their clients had any legal standing before collecting their fees -- attorneys have charged that Mitchell has been simply filing lawsuits en masse, abandoning them, and allowing judges to throw cases out of court.

Attorneys for banks had been confused by Roth's mass filings, and apparent mass abandonments, until they Googled Roth's name. They found the SF Weekly story detailing United First's unusual business strategy, and the lawsuits made a perverse sort of sense: Roth and Noe were apparently capitalizing on the homeowners' hopes that they might somehow keep their homes, and then abandoning them in court.

Mitchell, for his part, has claimed that each of the apparent dozens of abandoned cases was the result of mix-ups and extenuating circumstances. Judge Real, however, was not convinced. After the judge announced he was asking law enforcement to investigate, Roth obtained an attorney to represent him, and during subsequent court proceedings refused to answer questions based on the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution's protection against self-incrimination.

Behind Roth's increasingly precarious situation is his longtime client, Noe, who in 2003 was the subject of an SF Weekly feature titled Son of Super Swindler. That story described how Noe, who has been convicted of felony fraud, had also been admonished by the California Department of Insurance for his involvement in a so-called "trust mill" annuity sales operation. Fronted by a series of ephemeral shell companies, Noe's associates had tricked senior citizens into putting their savings into ill-advised, high-fee annuity investments.

Last September, an SF Weekly  column detailed Noe's latest gambit, which involved convincing people with homes in foreclosure to make thousands of dollars in monthly payments to United First, which in turn was supposed to pay Roth to file a lawsuit on the homeowners' behalf.

Rick Jurgens, an advocate with the National Consumer Law Center in Washington, D.C., reviewed a copy of a Roth/Noe contract SF Weekly sent him, and noted: "Bogus doesn't begin do define it ... To have these for-profit enterprises come in and throw a deal that's just there to squeeze the last penny out of a victim's pocket is really horrifying to see."

So far, Noe appears to remain unscathed by his latest effort to squeeze money from unsophisticated consumers.

If prosecutors take Judge Real up on his call for an investigation into Noe's latest scheme, could United First be his Waterloo?



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Matt Smith


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