Lawsuit Goes After a Gaggle of Entities in the Settlement Industry And Lays Open Law Firms Involved

Ice Legal out of Lake Worth Florida has found a target in firms that were engaged in debt settlement.

I’ve just discovered a complaint filed in Florida in March 2020 that targets Strategic Financial Solutions, F.Solutions, Strategic Client Support, Summit Client Services, Ryan Sasson, Kimberly Celic, Lauren Montanile, Wyolaw, Jason Blust, Guillermo Geisse, Timothy Burnette, Brant Hodyno, Sarah Flores, Sunshine Signing Connection, James Gleason, and Inez Williams.

The Ice Legal firm seems to have taken on a bit of the Scott Law approach and has a vast number of other law firms on the radar that was part of the Strategic Financial Solutions issue. Visit this page on their site.

The complaint below seems to target Ryan Sasson as the primary leader of the enterprise. It is almost unbelievable that the suit drags back in Legal Helpers but it appears to have played a historical role in the allegations of the scheme.

From the Actual Law Suit Filed

2. This case involves a debt settlement scheme involving numerous entities that conspire to defraud Florida consumers.

3. The enterprise further defrauds consumers by posing as lawyers and law firms and by enlisting real lawyers and law firms to provide their names for the scheme even though they do not—and generally, cannot—perform legal services themselves in Florida where the consumers reside.

4. The Defendants adopted a business structure that fraudulently mimics the “attorney model” of debt settlement—a controversial structure in its own right—in order to evade the licensing and fee-limitation requirements for non-attorney settlement companies in various states and to project an aura of trustworthiness to lure unsuspecting consumers.

D. Introduction – laying the trap

15. The SFS Defendants have built a business model designed to make it appear that it is merely a vendor performing debt negotiation services for various “law firms”—the Facade Firm Defendants.

16. In reality, however, it is the SFS Defendants that lure consumers by arranging referrals from marketing companies whose aggressively disseminated bait-and-switch advertising falsely promises guaranteed loans.

17. Using high-pressure, rehearsed sales tactics over the phone, salesmen employed by the SFS Defendants in New York, who are not attorneys, convince consumers to sign up for its illusory services, often by giving legal advice about other options such as bankruptcy.

18. Once a consumer is ensnared, the SFS Defendants arrange for them to execute a contract through one of its portfolio of shell law firms (the “Facade Firms” or “shell firms”) set up by a shadowy group of Chicago lawyers associated with a prior similar operation—Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, LLC (“Legal Helpers”)—that was discredited and shut down by government authorities.

19. The salesperson employed by the SFS Defendants chooses a firm based on the state where the consumer lives.

20. The salesperson arranges for a meeting with a mobile notary posing as a paralegal, or even a lawyer, of the shell firm for the “face-to-face meeting” required by the exception to the federal regulations which the SFS Enterprise seeks to exploit.

21. The SFS Defendants draft the purported legal services contract inserting the name of the chosen Facade Firm into the contract:

22. The SFS Defendants insert the name of the salesman as the “Law Firm Contact.”

23. The phone number for the Facade Firm on the contract and on the Facade Firm website actually rings in the New York offices of the SFS Defendants and is answered by the SFS Defendants’ non-lawyer staff who identify themselves in a way that leads consumers to believe they are talking to a Facade Firm employee.

24. Mail sent to the shell law firm address on the legal services contract or website goes to a maildrop at a virtual space, usually maintained by Regus, PLC. The mail is overnighted to Excela Technologies in New York, scanned, and uploaded into the SFS Defendants’ computer system.

25. The SFS Defendants’ program consists of telling the consumer to stop paying her creditors (to give “the law firm more leverage when negotiating”), and instead, pay them exorbitant up-front fees.

26. If one of these creditors brings suit against an “SFS client,” the SFS Defendants will decide when and if an “in-state” attorney is assigned to defend the case.

27. Whether or not an “in-state” attorney is assigned, the SFS Defendants’ staff will sometimes attempt to negotiate a consent judgment with the creditor’s counsel and even instruct “clients” what to do and say in court.

28. The SFS Defendant’s purpose in masquerading as a law firm is to evade various federal and state laws intended to curb deceptive and abusive practices of debt settlement companies, including the Telemarking Sales Rule “TSR” and to project the aura of trustworthiness with a profession that is supervised by the courts and bar organizations

1. Whack-a-mole

29. The now infamous Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, LLC (“Legal Helpers”) was founded by attorneys at the Chicago firm of Macey, Aleman, Hyslip and Searns. It declared bankruptcy after being sued by the Attorneys General of Illinois, Wisconsin, and North Carolina—and after attorneys Macey and Aleman were suspended from the practice of law.

30. In those suits and bar grievances (as well as at least one class action), the attorneys were accused of a fraudulent objective similar to that alleged here—that they “established Legal Helpers for the purpose of partnering with non-lawyer companies in the consumer debt settlement industry in order to take advantage of certain exemptions that new regulations governing the debt settlement industry allowed for attorneys.”

31. Despite this regulatory action to end Legal Helpers’ practices, the same players involved in the original scheme have re-created a nearly identical scheme that is the subject of this lawsuit.

See also  Scammed From Frontier Consumer Law Group

32. For example, SFS Chief Executive Officer, Ryan Sasson, was the Supervisor and Manager of Legal Helpers in 2012 and president LHDR Help, LLC in 2012.

33. Facade Firm Defendants Blust and Geisse—as well as others connected to the Facade Firms—were partners or attorneys of Legal Helpers.

34. The specific elements of Legal Helpers’ business structure, the methods, and even the nomenclature (such as “Welcome Packet” and “Class B” partner) to accomplish what at least one court found to be fraudulent misrepresentation and a violation of 11 U.S.C. § 526 is nearly identical to that alleged here as still being used by the Defendants today.

2. The Facade Firms

35. The SFS Defendants, together with the Facade Firm Defendants, create and maintain a collection of entities being held out as law firms, which SFS Defendants calls their brand “portfolio” or “programs.”

36. The key difference between the current SFS Enterprise scheme and the Legal Helpers scheme is that the attorney network here is composed of a confusing and overlapping array of Facade Firms created for one or more of the following purposes: 1) obfuscating the identities of persons formerly involved in the Legal Helpers scheme and the conspiracy between them; 2) falsely creating additional “shelf space” for its internet advertising through the fiction of different law firm brands for a single enterprise; 3) creating the illusion of choice for consumers; and 4) “churning” the entities such that those with poor ratings and high customer complaints can be discarded for another entity that has not yet amassed negative reviews.

37. Aside from Wyolaw, the Facade Firms created by the Facade Firm Defendants include, but may not be limited to: Anchor Law Firm, PLLC (“Anchor”); Bedrock Legal (“Bedrock”); Boulder Legal Group, LLC (“Boulder”), Canyon Legal Group, LLC (“Canyon); Carolina Legal Services (“Carolina”); Chinn Legal Group, LLC (“Chinn”); Colonial Law Group, LLC (“Colonial”); The Commonwealth Law Group, PLLC (“Commonwealth”); Cornerstone Legal Group, LLC (“Cornerstone”); Credit Advocates Law Firm, LLC (“Credit”); Dubin Legal Group, LLC (“Dubin”); Frontier Consumer Law Group, LLC (“Frontier”); Gardner Legal, LLC (“Gardner”); Glacier Bay Law (“Glacier”); Great Lakes Law Firm, LLC (“Great Lakes”); Harbor Legal Group, LLC (“Harbor”); Heartland Legal Group, LLC (“Heartland”); Henry Legal Group, LLP (“Henry); Hinds Law, LLC (“Hinds”); Monarch Legal Group (“Monarch”); Phoenix Legal Group, LLC (“Phoenix”); Pioneer Law Firm, P.C. (“Pioneer”); Rockwell Legal Group (“Rockwell”); Royal Legal Group, LLC (“Royal”); Stonepoint Legal Group (“Stonepoint”); The Sands Law Group, LLC (“Sands”); and Whitestone Legal Group (“Whitestone”).

38. Facade Firm Defendant, Jason Blust, operating out of a co-working space at 211 W. Wacker Dr., Ste. 300 Chicago, IL 60606, is the President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Director of Pioneer, a 98 percent owner of Cornerstone, a managing member of Credit, a member of Boulder, and the Law Offices of Jason Blust, LLC was or is the employer of Michelle Hinds, the manager of Hinds (operating out of the same address). He was involved in the creation of Royal which violated a permanent injunction prohibiting him and Pioneer from providing debt-resolution services in Kansas.

39. Facade Firm Defendant Guillermo Geisse is the majority and controlling member of Wyolaw.

40. Facade Firm Defendant, Timothy Burnette, operating out the same Chicago address as Blust, is the principal of Burnette Legal Group, LLC, d/b/a Monarch Legal Group, where phone calls from mail drop facilities for Wyolaw are directed. He is also a “partner” of a Facade Firm and an agent, contact person or authorized signer listed in the foreign registrations for most of these Facade Firms.

41. Some of the websites for the Facade Firms provide redacted settlement letters as proof of their success. The settlement letters bear a striking resemblance:

42. At least two settlement letters touted as Wyolaw successes on Wyolaw’s website are also listed on Canyon’s website as Canyon successes.

43. Buried in the fine print of its terms and conditions, Wyolaw actually admits that: “Within this Site, Wyo Law Firm [sic] may include descriptions of successful outcomes of litigation or lawsuits handled by Wyo Law Firm, or other attorneys not affiliated with Wyo Law Firm or the Site.”

44. Similarly, many letters claimed by other Facade Firms as evidence of their individual success are actually letters sent to different Facade Firms.

45. Nearly all have phone numbers on their websites that connect directly to the same SFS call center where employees answer by identifying themselves as being employees of the law firm being dialed.

46. In its marketing and public relations statements, SFS refers to Facade Firm clients, as their own and touts the number of clients and the dollar value of debt settled its own achievements rather than that of the Facade Firms.

47. Similarly, the individual Facade Firms also take credit for the same number of clients and dollar value of debt settled as SFS.

48. Similarly, Timberline Financial, LLC—of which SFS Defendant, Ryan Sasson, is the CEO, has settlement letters that are virtually identical to those of the Facade Firms:

49. Timberline letters are included as the achievements on Facade Firm websites.

3. The attorney network scheme posing as multiple firms.

50. Despite the use of approximately thirty different Facade Firm names, the SFS Enterprise uses a single network of the same attorneys. The network is managed by the Chicago attorneys which the SFS Enterprise falsely portrays as approximately thirty different firms.

51. Typically, each Facade Firm consists of a Majority Member (who was formerly associated with Legal Helpers), a Minority Member (who registers the entity in his or her state), a group of “In-State attorneys,” (one or more in each state which the Facade Firm network actively enroll consumers), and “SFS attorneys” (who work at the New York offices of the SFS Defendants).

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52. The Chicago attorneys recruit the Minority Members and the In-State attorneys, through advertisements (such as posting on Craigslist) and the SFS attorneys directly from the group of attorneys already employed by the SFS Defendants. The In-State attorneys and SFS attorneys are referred to as “Class B” members.”

53. Here, the Majority Member is Guillermo Geisse, the Minority Member was formerly Tracy Mears (a now disbarred attorney), the In-State in attorneys in Florida are Sarah Flores and Brant Hodyno (and possibly others), and the SFS attorney is Lauren Montanile.

54. Although the In-State attorneys serve as the Facade Firms’ purported licensed attorney in that state, they do not oversee or manage any pre-litigation negotiations or other legal work for any clients in their state.

55. The “In-State attorneys” do not know the identity of the Facade Firm clients unless and until they are called on to appear in court or to perform tasks to further the false appearance of legitimacy and are not permitted to assist clients of the Facade Firm unless the case is assigned or referred to them by the SFS Defendants.

56. The SFS Defendants recruit and employ Facade Firm staff in the guise of the Facade Firms.

57. For example, SFS Defendant Kimberly Celic, currently Senior Vice President of SFS, was the Director of Human Resources (of related company, Strategic CS, LLC) in 2014:

58. During that time, Ms. Celic hired an employee for Pioneer, using Pioneer letterhead:

E. Springing the trap

The sham face-to-face meeting

59. On or around January 17, 2019, a Financial Consultant employed by the SFS Defendants induced the Plaintiff to enroll in a debt settlement program and recommended its “partner,” Wyolaw, as the law firm through which the program would run.

60. The Financial Consultant was James (“Jimmy”) Gleason:

61. Gleason passed the telephone call to another SFS Defendants employee who recorded a compliance call in which the employee, using a script, held themselves out as being “with Wyolaw” and told the Plaintiff that the call was in preparation for an attorney meeting and that someone would be coming to their home for a “consultation.”

62. The SFS Defendants set up the face-to-face meeting through Sunshine and prepared the Wyolaw legal services contract inserting “Wyolaw” in the fields for the Facade Firm and Jimmy Gleason’s name as the “Law Firm Contact”:

63. On January 17, 2019, a mobile notary, Inez Williams, (as directed by Sunshine) came to Plaintiff’s home with the contract and made a presentation which included a “Face to Face Script” and a “Face to Face Power Point Presentation” (or “In-Person Presentation”).

64. The Script and Presentation purposefully omit the provisions regarding arbitration and the class action waiver.

65. The mobile notary, Inez Willams, also signed an unsworn “Affidavit of Compliance” in which she stated that she was a representative of Wyolaw, and that she conducted a face-to-face meeting and presented all relevant information regarding Summit’s representation of the Plaintiff:

66. Williams represented that she verified “compliance with any and all applicable local. state or federal laws or regulations (collectively the ‘Applicable Laws’). including. but not limited. to the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act.”

67. Williams represented that “The Client has been advised that the attorney or paralegal who conducted the initial meeting with Client limits their scope of representation or presentation to that initial meeting and review or the Client’s file.”

68. Plaintiff signed the purported contract believing that the mobile notary was a paralegal or attorney of the law firm.

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69. As is typical for Facade Firms, no one sent the Plaintiff a copy of the contract executed by anyone at Wyolaw (Summit):

70. Because the Plaintiff never received a copy executed by Wyolaw, a condition precedent to the formation of the contract was never triggered:

71. Plaintiff agreed to the contract with the Facade Firm specifically because she thought she was hiring a bona fide law firm.

72. The notary has no direct relationship with the Facade Firm and Inez Williams disclaims that she is or was a representative of Anchor.

Read the Rest of the Lawsuit Below

The lawsuit makes a number of additional allegations. You are welcome to read the suit below.

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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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