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Frankly I’m just ashamed and disgusted by revelations in recent court documents filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in the case against Morgan Drexen which then sucked in attorneys continuing the illegal advance fee debt settlement enterprise. One of those participants actually threatened to sue me when I first wrote about the activity. See this article. More on Vincent Howard.
In December of 2015 a reader sent me a tip and alleged attorney Aissac Aiono had just setup a firm named Seila Law. The allegation was this firm was operating as an extension of Howard Law who was under attack from the CFPB.
You’ll see why the conclusion I’ve come to is that Mr. Aiono is either a liar or an idiot because in response to the tip he specifically told me, “I am not affiliated with Howard Law in any form.” Court documents and information paints an entirely different picture and moves the timeline ahead of Aiono’s denial to me.
Court documents filed by the CFPB paint an entirely different story than Aiono gave me. In fact Mr. Aiono and Seila Law is now facing being held in contempt and facing substantial “monetary sanctions” for participation.
I’ll Let the Documents Tell the Story
What follows are direct excerpts from CFPB filed court documents. The original files will be linked below.
The Bureau also seeks an Order holding attorney Aissac Seila Aiono and his law firm, Seila Law, LLC (“Seila Law”), in contempt for violating the Court’s Orders. The clear and convincing evidence demonstrates that the Attorneys have— for over six months—continued to engage in conduct expressly forbidden by Orders of this Court, of which the Attorneys had actual notice, and that Mr. Aiono and Seila Law, founded just weeks after the Court confirmed that the Attorneys can no longer charge up-front fees for debt relief services, have acted in active concert and participation with Howard and his firms.
In particular, the Bureau has learned that the Attorneys: (a) continued to charge fees to Affected Consumers after the Court’s October 9, 2015 Order holding Vincent Howard, Lawrence Williamson, Howard Law, PC, the Williamson Law Firm, LLC, and Williamson & Howard, LLP In Contempt (“Contempt Order”); and (b) are violating Section IV of the Court’s June 18, 2015 Permanent Injunction Order (“Injunction Order”) by sharing information related to Affected Consumers with Aiono and Seila Law in an effort evade the Court’s Orders. As explained below, these facts demonstrate that the Attorneys, joined by Aiono and Seila Law, have violated the Court’s Injunction Order and Contempt Order.
III. THE CONDUCT OF THE ATTORNEYS, AIONO, AND SEILA LAW
As discussed in greater detail below, after the Court’s Contempt Order, the Attorneys continued to charge fees to Affected Consumers, and, with the assistance of an attorney from Williamson Law named Aissac Seila Aiono, reconstituted their debt relief operations under the name Seila Law.
A. The Attorneys Continue To Charge Fees To Affected Consumers
The Bureau has learned from Hugh Williams, a former “engagement counsel” who provided debt relief services to Affected Consumers, and Frederick Weber, a paralegal for Williams who worked directly with Howard Law and Morgan Drexen in that capacity, that the Attorneys continued to charge fees to Affected Consumers after the Court issued the Contempt Order.
According to Williams, in October or November 2015, Vincent Howard convened a conference call with his network of engagement counsel to inform them of the Court’s decisions in this case and its implications for Howard. During that call, Howard explained that, as a result of the Court’s decision, he and his firm could no longer honor existing contracts with engagement counsel or collect fees from consumers. Howard recommended that the engagement counsel use a newly formed law firm called Seila Law to step in for Howard (who himself had stepped in for Morgan Drexen) in order to continue providing and charging for debt relief services.
After the conference call, Williams received an e-mail from Daniel Rucker, who identified himself as a “Client Management Agent” for Seila Law. Williams recognized Rucker’s name because he had previously interacted with him—either when he was an employee of Morgan Drexen, Howard, Williamson, or one of their law firms. In the e-mail, Rucker requested that Williams execute and return the attached Seila Law Of Counsel Agreement, and told Williams that he could contact Aiono with any concerns.
Williams had no interest in working with Seila Law, and instead requested that Howard grant him full access to the records for the consumers for whom he was engagement counsel and had previously been serviced by Morgan Drexen (i.e., Affected Consumers). Morgan Drexen had provided Williams’s firm with access to the records for these consumers through an online portal until mid-2015, and then subsequently Howard provided the access to the online portal. For a time, Howard refused to grant Williams full access to the consumer records. In January 2016, the parties resolved the dispute and Howard granted Williams access to the records through the online portal.
On January 11, 2016 Laura Leach, an attorney employed by Howard Law, sent an email to Williams in which she listed a number of items that they had discussed that morning. Among other things, Leach stated that Howard Law had “not processed ACH’s nor settlement checks since Thursday, January 7th.” Williams understood this to mean that Howard Law stopped debiting money from the accounts of consumers for whom Williams had been engagement counsel on January 7, 2016.41 Put another way, by Howard Law’s own admission, Howard and his firm continued to charge fees after the Court’s Contempt Order.
B. The Attorneys Have Joined With Aiono to Operate Their Debt Relief Operations Under The Name Seila Law
Following the Court’s October 9, 2015 Contempt Order, the Attorneys partnered with a Williamson Law attorney named Aissac Seila Aiono to shift their debt relief business to a newly formed law firm called Seila Law.
According to filings with the Missouri Secretary of State, Seila Law was formed on October 28, 2015—just weeks after the Court’s Contempt Order. Aissac Seila Aiono, of Kansas City, Missouri, is listed as the firm’s registered agent. Aiono has been a licensed attorney in Missouri for less than two years. In June 2015, when the Court issued its Injunction Order, Aiono was working as an attorney for Williamson Law. In that role, Aiono was directly involved in the Attorneys’ interactions with the Morgan Drexen bankruptcy trustee.
Aside from Aiono, several other employees of Morgan Drexen and/or the Attorneys now work for Seila Law. For example:
- Daniel Rucker, who identified himself as an employee of Seila Law in an email to engagement counsel Hugh Williams, is listed as a “Client Management Agent at Howard Law, PC” since January 2011 on LinkedIn; he is also listed in the log entries from the online portal, with an entry as recently as February 8, 2016;
- McKenzi Wicketts is a former employee of Howard Law who now works as a “Client Intake Specialist” for Seila Law in Orange County, California. Wickets worked at Howard Law from October 2015 to December 2015, and describes her work there as “Customer Service, phone sales, switching clients to a new company.”
Other evidence shows that Aiono has joined with the Attorneys to allow them to operate their business under the name Seila Law. The Seila Law website contains pages (including one entitled “Debt Resolution”) that contain promotional wording that is identical to wording on the Williamson & Howard LLP website. According to Weber, Seila Law is now listed as the engagement counsel for at least one Affected Consumer in the Morgan Drexen/Howard online portal. Moreover, advertisements for employment at Seila Law that are currently displayed online automatically direct prospective employees to a Howard Law website when they click on a link to learn more about the job posting.
A December 10, 2015 facsimile correspondence to Zwicker & Associates, P.C., counsel for a creditor that had sued a consumer, also demonstrates that Seila Law is nothing more than a name change for the Attorneys:
- The facsimile cover form indicates the correspondence is from “Howard Law PC”;
- The letter concerns a consumer whom Zwicker & Associates sued on behalf of a creditor; the consumer was previously represented by Williamson & Howard, LLP;
- The actual letter is on Seila Law, LLC letterhead and is signed by Seila Law, LLC;
- Aside from changing the name at the top of the letterhead to Seila Law, the form, font, and design are identical to the letterhead that Howard Law previously used in correspondence with this same creditor;
- The Regional Counsel information on the Seila Law letterhead is identical to the Regional Counsel information on the Howard Law letterhead;
- The Seila Law letterhead and the Howard Law letterhead both list the same (877) 336-3629 contact number;
- The (877) 336-3629 contact number is the same telephone number listed on the online portal screenshots for Consumers A and B; and
- Even though Seila Law is registered in Missouri and Aiono is licensed to practice in Missouri, the physical address and the mailing address for Seila Law are in Orange County, California, where the Attorneys are located.
Amazingly, Morgan Drexen even makes a return appearance. The letter from Howard Law/Seila Law states that the consumer has retained Seila Law and local counsel Thomas W. Stephens “with respect to the attempted negotiation and settlement of their unsecured debts.” The letter then explains that Seila Law utilizes “Morgan Drexen Integrated Systems, Inc.” to more “efficiently” provide those debt relief services:
Morgan Drexen Integrated Systems, Inc. provides my firm, to include my local counsel with -inter alia- legal assistants, software, data entry, and support services. Its legal assistants and staff are agents of my law firm and are agents of my local counsel. Moreover, they are acting at an attorney’s request, and under attorney supervision . . . .
We ask that you please cooperate with our office in resolving this matter and direct all communications with regard to our client’s debt or your attempted collection of the debt to this office via our legal assistant/paralegal who is an employee of Morgan Drexen Integrated Systems, Inc., who is an agent of our law firm and who acts at an attorney’s direction and under attorney supervision.
The facts set forth above establish that Aiono and Seila Law are in active concert and participation with the Attorneys to violate the Court’s Orders. Howard specifically recommended that engagement counsel enter into contracts with Seila Law because he could no longer collect fees from Affected Consumers. Howard then withheld consumer information from an engagement counsel who refused to partner with Seila Law. Howard Law employees were specifically responsible for “switching clients to a new company.” Several other former Howard Law employees now work for Seila Law. The facsimile letter and the records in the Morgan Drexen/Howard Law online portal show that Seila Law is acting as engagement counsel for consumers and has the same contact information as Howard Law. Seila Law’s website contains the same promotional language found on the Williamson & Howard website. Moreover, though Seila Law is purportedly hiring new employees at the moment, the online advertisements for those jobs redirect prospective employees to the website of Howard Law for further information about the jobs.
In sum, the Court has sufficient evidence to hold Aiono and Seila Law in contempt—and should do so. At a minimum, Aiono and Seila law have aided and abetted the Attorneys’ violations of the Court’s Orders. By agreeing to act as a front for the Attorneys, Aiono and Seila Law have also become “legally identified” with the Attorneys. Under either legal characterization, it is clear that Aiono and Seila have acted in active concert and participation with Howard as he has continued to fleece vulnerable consumers in violation of this Court’s Orders. Rather than distance himself from his boss, Lawrence Williamson, following the Court’s issuance of contempt sanctions, Aiono escalated his involvement and agreed to become the new face and name of Morgan Drexen/the Attorneys. Aiono decided he wanted in on a share of the spoils of the Attorneys’ continued unlawful collection of fees from Affected Consumers. He should now share in the consequences of those spoils as well.
If the excerpts and information above from the CFPB investigation is true then when Mr. Aiono sent me the email denying any affiliation with Howard Law he was either lying or completely unaware of what was happening to his former good name.
If you would like to read the full court document the excerpts above were taken from, click here.
My last couple of emails to Aiono have gone unanswered but if he would like to post a rebuttal, feels any information here is inaccurate, or he would like to please change my current opinion of him as either a liar or an idiot, I welcome him to click here and submit a statement to publish so his side of this story can be heard.
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