Let’s find this guy and strike a blow for all the honest brokers, agents and real estate professionals in California.

By Marilyn Kalfus
Orange County Register

Law enforcement officials are looking for the owner of a Costa Mesa-based mortgage refinance company and escrow business who is charged in a loan modification scheme that preyed on victims in California and other states.

Prosecutors say they’ve also found victims in Maryland, Minnesota, Florida, and Washington.

James Toufic Assali, 36, of Irvine, is charged with 18 felony counts of grand theft, three felony counts of grand theft of an adult over 65, four felony counts of money laundering, and two felony counts of filing a false tax return.

There are sentencing enhancements for money laundering exceeding $50,000. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 23 years in state prison.

An arrest warrant was issued May 26, 2011, for Assali, who is believed to be either in California or Vermont, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s office.

Prosecutors say that Asssali owns Meredian Financial Corporation (Meredian) and an escrow business, Fortis Title Solutions, both operating out of Costa Mesa.

He’s accused of soliciting Meredian’s home loan ratelock and modification services for a fee ranging from $750 up to $10,000.

According to the press release, Assali is accused of:

* Collecting a fee from victims to lock in a lower interest rate to refinance their home or modify their home loan, and promising to refund the fee at the close of escrow.
* Failing to complete a majority of home loan modifications or refinancing services and refusing to issue the promised refunds.
* Electronically transferring funds from his business bank account to his personal account totaling more than $100,000 annually in both 2008 and 2009, filing false tax returns in 2008 and 2009, and underreporting his compensation by more than $200,000. As a result, he’s accused of owing more than $18,000 in unpaid taxes for filing false returns in 2008 and 2009.

The District Attorney’s office began investigating the case after getting complaints. The California Franchise Tax Board assisted in the investigation into the filing of false tax returns.

Anyone who has seen him or knows his whereabouts or believes they have been a victim should contact Supervising District Attorney Investigator Eric Ackerlind at (714) 347-8691.

In March alone over 60 real estate agents and brokers lost their license to practice real estate in California. But what was the cause of this? It’s important for all agents and brokers to know why so that you don’t make the same mistakes and suffer the same consequences. The California Department of Real Estate (DRE) publishes a detailed list of who and why. You can find the complete list of disciplinary actions here.

Disciplinary actions taken against real estate brokers and agents by the DRE have spiked 60% over the last three years, revealing an unsettling trend as we emerge from the depths of the real estate market crash. As the California real estate market stalled and opportunities for thousands of newly-minted (read: inexperienced) real estate professionals halted, cases of abuse began to soar.

To truly understand the significance of this list, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the buyer or seller. In most cases, it is a complaint from buyers and sellers that ultimately causes the loss of license for the professional. The most common violations are of Sections 10176 and 10177 of the Real Estate code.

Violations of section 10176 include misrepresentation, false promise, continued misrepresentation, dual agency, commingling, definite termination date, secret profit, listing-option, dishonest dealing and signatures of prospective purchasers.

Violations of section 10177 include obtaining a license by fraud, convictions, false advertising, misuse of trade name, conduct warranting denial, negligence or incompetence, supervision of salespeople, other dishonest conduct, restricted license violation, inducement of panic selling and failure to disclose ownership interest. Read a much more detailed description of both sections here.

All told, the department reviews upwards of 5,000 complaints a year, and about 20 percent of those result in the department pursuing enforcement actions.

Our government is showing a callus lack of regard for the well being of workers and consumers in California. Just how, you might ask?

A great example is in 2008 the U.S. government stepped in and bailed out Freddie Mac as part of the effort to save the mortgage industry – jobs and all. What did Freddie Mac do after it received our hard earned tax dollars? It turned nearly all of its settlement services needs over to one company – First American.

And what did First American do? Replaced jobs in California and sent them to India.

First American makes a significant percentage of its business from California Real Estate professionals, home buyers and sellers and tax payers. But it continues to send jobs out of state, and out of the country. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

Chances are, if you bought a home recently in California, something used in your transaction that was previously “Made in the USA,” now isn’t.

Like you, I am extremely worried about the dwindling number jobs in the California real estate industry. Especially when a major player like, First American, is dramatically off-shoring American jobs to their subsidiary company First Indian Corporation.

What First American jobs are being performed in India? Read their press release which states, “The First Indian Corporation’s primary areas of focus include title insurance, property tax, flood certification, default management services, and credit and property information.”

To give you an idea of the scale of how many jobs they are shipping to India’s Bangalore & Hyderabad, check out this link: http://jobsearch.monsterindia.com/searchresult.html?co=xfirstacinx&cat=22

At this difficult time we should consider focusing our tax dollars and support for creating and holding on to American jobs. Let’s keep Californians and all Americans working. What’s so bad about that?

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