Justice Department Obtains Relief in Lawsuit Alleging Discriminatory Targeting of Hispanic Homeowners
The Department of Justice today announced that the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has entered a consent order resolving the department’s Fair Housing Act claims against Advocate Law Groups of Florida P.A. (ALGF); Jon B. Lindeman Jr.; Ephigenia K. Lindeman; Summit Development Solutions USA LLC (SDS) and Haralampos “Bob” Kourouklis. The department’s lawsuit alleged that defendants discriminated on the basis of national origin when they targeted Hispanic homeowners for predatory mortgage loan modification services and interfered with those individuals’ ability to keep their homes.
The department alleged in its complaint that defendants targeted Hispanic homeowners with Spanish-language advertising that falsely promised to cut their mortgage payments in half. Defendants made the same representations to hundreds of Hispanic homeowners in person, promising lower payments in exchange for thousands of dollars of upfront fees and continuing monthly fees of as much as $550, which defendants claimed were “non-refundable.” Many of the targeted homeowners had limited English proficiency. The department’s complaint further alleged that defendants directed these homeowners not to communicate with their lenders and to stop making their monthly mortgage payments. According to the complaint, defendants did little or nothing to obtain the promised loan modifications for the homeowners, many of whom defaulted on their mortgage payments and ultimately lost their homes.
“Targeting homeowners with deceptive advertisements and predatory schemes because of their national origin and limited English proficiency is reprehensible and illegal,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Civil Rights Division. “Homeowners of color and other protected groups must be safeguarded from discriminatory targeting that can lead to grave financial loss, including loss of one’s home. We will continue to use our federal civil rights laws to protect the rights of homeowners.”
“This settlement, reached in partnership with the Civil Rights Division’s Housing Section, is a major achievement for our Civil Division and its Civil Rights Unit,” said U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg for the Middle District of Florida. “We are committed to using every legal tool available, including the Fair Housing Act, to ensure that our residents enjoy their right to housing without discriminatory practices of this kind.”
The Justice Department brought this suit after Lucía Hurtado, Noemí Román, Argentina Roque and members of their families filed complaints of discrimination with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). After HUD investigated the complaints, it issued charges of discrimination and referred the matter to the Justice Department for litigation. Hurtado, Román and Roque later intervened as plaintiffs in the department’s lawsuit.
“It is outrageous that these defendants engaged in business practices that were not only illegal and discriminatory, but also resulted in hard-working homeowners defaulting on their mortgages and losing their homes due to foreclosure,” said Demetria McCain, HUD’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD commends the Justice Department for its commitment to enforcing the Fair Housing Act and for protecting the fair housing rights of all who call America home.”
The consent order enters a judgment against defendants for $4,595,000 to compensate people who were harmed by defendants’ conduct. Of that amount, defendants must pay a total of $95,000 to the three intervenors, plus a civil penalty to the United States. Most of the monetary judgment is suspended based on evidence of defendants’ limited net worth, including financial statements signed by defendants under penalty of perjury. The consent order requires defendants to submit updated financial statements each year during the five-year term of the settlement. If the court determines that defendants made any material misrepresentations or omissions in their original financial statements or in the annual updates, the entire judgment will be reinstated, and defendants will be immediately liable for the full amount.
In addition to monetary relief, the consent order permanently enjoins defendants from providing any mortgage relief assistance services, such as loan modifications or foreclosure defense services, and imposes reporting and recordkeeping requirements for defendants’ other real-estate activities.
This case was litigated by attorneys in the department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.
The Civil Rights Division enforces the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at http://www.justice.gov/crt. Individuals may report sexual harassment or other forms of housing discrimination by calling the Justice Department’s Housing Discrimination tip line at 1-833-591-0291, or submitting a report online. Individuals may also report such discrimination by contacting HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or by filing a complaint online.