File for bankrupcty when you have enough assets to pay your debts, then hide some assets . . . what could go wrong?

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Law book (pd)I don't usually post about bankruptcy or criminal law issues, but the facts from a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which involved both bankruptcy and criminal law issues, were too intriguing to ignore. 

In United States v. Free, defendant "made the bizarre decision to file for bankruptcy even though he had more than sufficient assets to pay his debts." Then, "having filed for bankruptcy unnecessarily, [he] hid assets worth hundred of thousands of dollars from the Bankruptcy Court." Not surprisingly, this led to criminal charges being brought against defendant and convictions for multiple counts of bankruptcy fraud. To make things even more odd, despite all of his "prevarications," defendant's creditors were paid in full from the bankruptcy estate. So, to summarize, defendant did not need to file bankruptcy but chose to do so, only to then defraud the Bankruptcy Court by hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of assets, but eventually paid "100 cents on the dollar" to his creditors.

The legal issue in the case was how to properly calculate "loss" under the Sentencing Guidelines, which increase a "fraudster's" recommended sentence based on the loss he causes, or intends to cause, his or her victims. The curious part about Free was that the victims, defendant's creditors, were paid in full, therefore they had not suffered any loss in the usual sense of the word.

In Free, plaintiff filed for bankruptcy in his capacity as as the sole proprietor of an electric company he owned. He also owned a company that specialized in the sale of vintage firearms, which would become a central part of his bankruptcy case. Free claimed that he filed for bankruptcy to stay the sheriff's sale of property he was on the verge of losing through foreclosure. When he filed, he identified more than $1 million in assets — property and personal property, including firearms — and almost $700,000 in liabilities.  He originally filed under Chapter 13, but the court converted it to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which would liquidate his assets and distribute the proceeds to his creditors.

Continue reading “File for bankrupcty when you have enough assets to pay your debts, then hide some assets . . . what could go wrong?”

When, If Ever, Is A Residential Mortgage Not “Residential” For The Purpose of Foreclosure?

     by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

Believe it or not, this question comes up from time to time in my practice (exciting life, I know). In recent years I have prosecuted many foreclosure actions, but only commercial foreclosures. So the first question I usually ask a colleague who comes to me with a foreclosure  question is: "Is it a commercial or residential property?" When the answer starts with something like, "Well, that is actually an interesting question . . . " then I can almost guess what is coming next. Usually it is some variation of: "It is a home, but they mortgaged it to get money to start a commercial enterprise, so I want to argue that its commercial property." Unfortunately, you usually can't make that argument (at least not successfully), and the Appellate Division's recent decision in City National Bank of New Jersey v. Hodge reminded us all of that fact again.

To begin with, the differences between commercial and residential foreclosures in New Jersey are significant. Most importantly, commercial foreclosures are not subject to the Fair Foreclosure Act, including the various notice requirements that are required for residential foreclosures under the Act. Simply put, New Jersey law provides greater protections for residential owners who are about to lose their homes than they do for commercial owners who are about to lose their place of business. This means that the burdens on lenders seeking to foreclose on a residential mortgage are more demanding, if not entirely onerous.

 

Continue reading “When, If Ever, Is A Residential Mortgage Not “Residential” For The Purpose of Foreclosure?”

Fair Foreclosure Act Does Not Apply When Borrowers No Longer Reside at Secured Premises At the Time of Default

by:  Matthew J. Schiller

New Jersey’s legislature enacted the Fair Foreclosure Act in order to afford homeowners “every opportunity to pay their home mortgages, and thus keep their homes.”  Amongst its safeguards, the Fair Foreclosure Act gives residential mortgagors statutory rights to cure defaults and requires mortgagees to notify mortgagors of their rights before filing a foreclosure action and another detailed notice before seeking entry of judgment. 

In Aurora Loan Services, LLC v. Einhorn, the Appellate Division concluded that the protections and requirements of the Fair Foreclosure Act do not apply if the mortgagors do not reside at the mortgaged property at the time of default – even if they did at the time of origination of the loan.    The Appellate Division interpreted the statutory definition of “residential mortgage” to have two requirements in order for the Fair Foreclosure Act to apply: (1) the mortgage must secure residential property that is occupied, or is to be occupied, at the time the Fair Foreclosure Act is to be applied; and (2) when the mortgage loan originated, the secured property must have consisted of four or fewer units, and one of those units must have been, or planned to have been, occupied by the debtor or a member of his or her immediate family. 

Accordingly, the Appellate Division concluded that if the debtor or its family do not occupy, or plan to occupy, the property when the loan originated, the Fair Foreclosure Act does not apply – even if the debtor resides at the property at the time of default.  Likewise, even if the debtor and/or its family occupied or planned to occupy the property when the loan originated, the Act will cease to apply if the debtor and its family vacate the property and convert it into a rental or investment property.    Therefore, if a debtor resides in another location at the time of default and provides no evidence of its intent to return to the mortgaged premises, the Fair Foreclosure Act, and the obligations imposed thereby on a mortgagee do not apply.