|Attorneys in two states have been accused of taking advantage of deceased people -- including the father of one of the lawyers. Meanwhile, another attorney was busted for running a mortgage fraud scheme using private information he obtained while working for the government.
Oklahoma lawyer Stephen Smith, 60, and two business associates -- Clayton Smart, 67, and Mark Singer, 41 -- have been charged with stealing more than $20 million from the trust funds of three Memphis funeral homes.
In addition to theft charges, the trio also faces charges of money laundering, according to a statement from Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons in Memphis.
Gibbons said Smith and Smart owned Forest Hill Cemeteries and Funeral Homes; Singer is a stock broker. They alleged stole "millions of dollars from trust funds that were set up for the beneficiaries of pre-paid funeral contracts and for the care and maintenance of cemetery properties."
"The indictment claims the transfers were under the guise of investing the funds for the benefit of the funeral homes trusts and the beneficiaries of the pre-paid funeral contracts," according to Gibbons' statement. "In reality, the transfers were for the defendants' benefit, as well as other individuals or relatives."
The three conspired to take over control of the trust funds, which actually belonged to the state of Tennessee, Gibbons said.
Smart has also been charged in Michigan, where he is accused of embezzling up to $70 million in cemetery trust funds for cemeteries he owns there, Gibbons said.
All three were arrested and taken into custody.
He then bought a $1.8 million home using his dead father's identity to secure the mortgage from PHH Mortgage, she said. He also took out a second mortgage of $600,000 on the property. "The defendant has since defaulted on both loans," DiFiore said.
In White Plains, New York, disbarred lawyer Rafael Pantoja, 47, has been arrested and charged with using his dead father's Social Security number to obtain a fraudulent mortgage. All told, Pantoja faces 14 charges that include theft, larceny and identity theft, Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore said in a statement.
DiFiore said Pantoja, who was jailed on a $500,000 bond, has a history of mortgage fraud. He was disbarred in 1996 yet represented himself as a lawyer when running his latest scam, she said.
According to DiFiore Pantoja, while negotiating the sale of his New York house for $799,000 he lied and told the buyer that the house was lien-free and paid off when in fact he still owed $250,000 on an outstanding lien.
He also served as his own lawyer on the transaction, despite not being allowed to legally practice law in New York. The transaction resulted in a charge of theft of $250,000 from the buyers, DiFiore said.
And in Detroit lawyer John Dingle, 44, who worked for the city's law department, has been indicted by a federal grand jury for using his position to run a mortgage fraud scheme.
Stephen J. Murphy, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said Dingle used his position to obtain information about houses owned by MCA Financial Corp, which had declared bankruptcy in a spectacular collapse during 1999.
"Dingle then prepared and sold fraudulent quitclaim deeds to some of the properties to witting and unwitting purchasers," Murphy said in a statement. "The fraudulent quitclaim deeds were then recorded" with the county.
Dingle used false signatures and notary public affirmations on the deeds, according to the indictment.
"An attorney who represents a municipal government must not use his position to take advantage of real estate transactions," Murphy said.
Dingle faces 15 charges of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.