The United States District Court for the District of Nevada has sided with the Federal Trade Commission in a case against a set of “mortgage relief assistance” companies. The Court issued a sweeping permanent injunction that prohibits the scammers from marketing or providing any debt relief services whatsoever.
The suit stemmed from the actions of defendants Jonathan Hanley, Sandra Hanley, and the various corporations that the pair oversaw and controlled. Granting summary judgment in favor of the FTC, the Court churned out a laundry list of violations of the FTC Act and related regulations perpetrated by the Hanleys – 13 in total.
The Court described the scheme as follows: Since 2011, the Hanleys marketed mortgage assistance relief services through the internet and over the phone. In the words of the Court, they “preyed on financially distressed homeowners by luring them into signing contracts for mortgage assistance relief services,” promising to modify consumers’ mortgage loans to make their payments more affordable. The Hanleys falsely claimed to have “special relationships” with various government and lending agencies, and bragged of a nearly perfect track record in lowering interest rates.
Besides false advertising, the Hanleys and their various enterprises also charged steep, illegal advance fees. Typically, the Hanleys demanded $3,900 in monthly installments of $650, and explicitly told consumers that they would not begin working to refinance mortgage loans until they received payment. The court took the Hanleys to task for failing to deliver on their lofty promises, and, in some instances, neglecting to even contact the lenders at all. The Hanleys’ practices resulted in substantial interest charges, penalties, and even foreclosure for some consumers.
Citing Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, the Court noted it was “empower[ed] to grant injunctive and such other relief as the court may deem appropriate to halt and redress violations of any law enforced by the FTC.” That other relief can include rescission or reformation of contracts, restitution, refunds for the consumers, and disgorgement of the defendants’ profits.
Damages against the Hanleys were colossal. In addition to the permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from marketing and selling financial lending services, the court also imposed an $18.5M judgment, and required the Hanleys to turn over the contents of numerous bank accounts. Perhaps most bruising was the mandated liquidation of the Hanleys’ extravagant assets – a Park City ski chalet, an office building, a Mercedes Benz S550, and a Porsche Carrera.