Published on March 9th, 2013 | by Daniel R. Perlman0
For Plymouth identity theft victims, $850,000 payout ‘a moral victory’
John Foster and Melony Micheals say it’s doubtful they’ll ever be paid, but an $850,000 judgment in their favor for identity theft could help others.
The couple’s attorney, Shari Lowden, said it could be the first instance of case law on civil actions regarding identity theft in the mortgage fraud realm, and could prove a valuable resource in future lawsuits on behalf of victims like Foster and Micheals.
Foster, a UPS delivery driver, and Micheals, a business broker, made a comfortable living and were preparing to refinance their home in 2006 to pay for home renovations when Maxwell, who ran Realty Executive Advantage Plus Group from his home, conspired with Jerome KingRussell to steal Foster’s identity. KingRussell impersonated Foster, while Maxwell acted as a Realtor for both sides of real estate transactions in Foster’s name totaling more than $500,000 on two overappraised homes in north Minneapolis and Bloomington. Maxwell let the homes slip into foreclosure while he made real estate commissions from his deals and profited from fees and kickbacks arising from his role as a mortgage loan officer, also disbursing funds to others who were in on the scheme.
Micheals and Foster had no idea what was happening. First came a notice that a mortgage payment was overdue on a home they knew nothing about. As they scrambled to get to the bottom of what was happening, their interest rates and monthly payments shot up while their credit limits plummeted. When creditors wouldn’t accept their explanation for what happened, they stopped answering their phone, so creditors called their neighbors instead. Foster had to cash in his stock and retirement funds just to keep the utilities on – and more than once they were still turned off. Meanwhile, with help from a Realtor friend, Micheals used records to piece together details of the two houses purchased with Foster’s identity. When they discovered the players behind the scheme, they pressured authorities to prosecute.
In 2009, a Hennepin County jury convicted Maxwell of 18 counts of mortgage fraud involving Foster and Micheals and other cases, while KingRussell pleaded guilty to related charges. Maxwell was sentenced to 16 years in prison for racketeering while KingRussell is serving a six-year prison sentence for identity theft.
On March 1, Judge Mel Dickstein ordered that Maxwell, KingRussell, Maxwell’s wife Vicki Cox-Maxwell, First USA Title, and notary Janie Coates be held responsible for $849,131, including thousands in tax liability for cashing retirement funds early, more than $80,000 in increased interest and penalties levied by their credit card companies, nearly $200,000 in increased mortgage interest and $125 a day for pain and suffering.
In a statement Wednesday, First USA Title’s attorney said the company respectfully disagreed with the court’s findings, but “shares the Plaintiffs’ condemnation of the crimes committed by Larry Maxwell and his cronies.”
Lowden said it’s hard to say whether her clients will receive any sort of payout. Besides being incarcerated, Maxwell is already ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution and fines related to his criminal case. The remaining defendants, who could not be reached for comment, are believed to have few assets, Micheals said. There’s the possibility of a payout through an insurance policy from First USA Title, although the company dissolved in 2009. However, Lowden said, “It does not make them less liable.”
Source: Star Tribune “For Plymouth identity theft victims, $850,000 payout ‘a moral victory’,” March 7, 2013.