Two Lawyers and Two Others Charged in Conspiracy that Defrauded Distressed Homeowners Looking for Help
Fraud Scheme Involved Multiple Law Firms
WASHINGTON – An indictment was unsealed today charging four people, including two lawyers, with conspiring to defraud thousands of distressed homeowners who thought they were hiring a legal firm to help them avoid foreclosure. The defendants, some of whom were licensed to practice law in Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and Florida, allegedly reaped millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains.
The indictment charges: David Maresca, 48, of Manassas, Virginia, Scott Marinelli, 51, of Mountainside, New Jersey, Sam Babbs, III, 41, of Orlando, Florida, and Terrylle Blackstone, 35, of Woodbridge, Virginia, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud for charging clients on the false and fraudulent promise to help them avoid foreclosure but never providing any of those legal services. The indictment further charges Maresca, Marinelli, and Blackstone with five counts of mail fraud; Maresca, Babbs, and Blackstone with three counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud; and Maresca with five counts of monetary transactions in criminally-derived property, and two counts of falsification of bankruptcy records. Maresca was arrested today and made an initial appearance in Washington, D.C.; Marinelli was arrested today and made an initial appearance in New Jersey.
The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves, Special Agent in Charge Wayne A. Jacobs, of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal and Cyber Division, and Acting Special Agent in Charge Kareem A. Carter of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (“IRS-CI”) Washington, D.C. Field Office.
Maresca formed Synergy Law LLC (“Synergy”), in Washington DC, in 2016, and Themis Law PLLC (“Themis”) in 2019. Marinelli, who was licensed in New Jersey, owned 10 percent of Synergy; Babbs, who was licensed in Florida and D.C., owned his own firm – Babbs Law Firm P.L. (“Babbs”) - and 10 percent of Themis. Blackstone worked for all three firms.
According to the indictment, the scheme involved marketing Synergy Law and Themis Law through telephone, television, and Internet advertising which told homeowners that attorneys could help them avoid foreclosure. The defendants, through the law firms, operated call centers, where workers used scripts during calls with homeowners falsely promising that an attorney would review the homeowner's case file; that this attorney knew their lender's “internal guidelines,” for a “mortgage resolution”; and that an assigned “legal team” would contact the homeowner’s lender to negotiate a resolution.
The conspirators knew these representations were false and fraudulent. Synergy Law and Themis Law never operated a “national law firm,” and never provided legal services to homeowners. Neither Synergy Law nor Themis Law had attorneys review homeowner files, and neither Synergy Law nor Themis Law had attorneys contact a client’s lender to discuss a mortgage resolution. The homeowners signed agreements in which the law firms promised to provide “legal representation,” “attorney services” and “legal services” to the homeowner-client. Synergy Law required homeowner-clients to pay an initial retainer amount (often between $995 and $1,750), followed by a monthly recurring amount (often between $595 and $1,200), for as long as Synergy Law represented the homeowner. Once victim funds were in that account, Maresca, Marinelli, and Blackstone used the funds for their personal benefit, and continued to collect monthly payments from the clients. When the clients faced imminent foreclosure, Synergy Law provided non-legal bankruptcy petition preparation services and directed clients to file pro se bankruptcy petitions to stop foreclosure. Synergy Law directed clients not to disclose that the clients had worked with Synergy Law to prepare their bankruptcy petition. Themis Law clients, who were considering filing for bankruptcy to save their homes, were referred to Babbs Law where they signed a new retainer agreement and paid additional fees.
When bankruptcy judges, Synergy Law clients, and the U.S. Trustee's Program raised concerns about Synergy Law's practices in bankruptcy matters, Blackstone attended court hearings on behalf of Synergy Law and made false statements to the court about Synergy Law's operations. When Marinelli's law license was suspended in New Jersey in 2017, and the District of Columbia in 2018, Maresca, Marinelli, and Blackstone continued to operate Synergy Law and collect monthly payments purportedly for legal services.
Maresca is also charged with falsely filing for bankruptcy on behalf of Synergy Law. According to the indictment, in answering a question on the bankruptcy forms about financial affairs, which required Synergy Law LLC to list transfers of money or other property that was not in the ordinary course of business, Maresca falsely stated “None,” when he knew he had withdrawn S315,083.42 from Synergy Law accounts to purchase his personal residence.
The indictment includes a notice of forfeiture for all illegally derived proceeds from the fraud scheme.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI urge anyone who did business with these law firms, and who think they were defrauded, to visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/mortgage-fraud and/or contact the Mega Victim Case Assistance Program (MCAP) at 1-844-527-5299. You can also send an email to USAEO.MCAP@usdoj.gov.
This case was investigated by the FBI Washington Field Office and the Washington, D.C. Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations.
It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney John Borchert.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.