Thursday, October 28, 2010

AG’s office reprimands its attorney for “foreclosure mill” work

The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA – The Florida Attorney General’s Office has reprimanded one its attorneys for notarizing documents for one of the “foreclosure mills” the office is investigating. Erin Cullaro, an assistant attorney general for the office’s Economic Crimes Division in Tampa, is a former employee of Tampa-based Florida Default Law Group.

The Attorney General is investigating the firm, along with three other Florida firms, for what “appears to be fabricating and/or presenting false and misleading documents in foreclosure cases.”

Cullaro was given permission from the Attorney General’s Office in April 2008 for dual employment, allowing her to notarize law firm documents for 15 minutes three days a week.

But, according to the written reprimand, Cullaro failed to renew the application into the new fiscal year, “which would have altered the {Attorney General’s Office } to your continued outside employment and accurately reflected the time commitment involved.”

In addition, the reprimand says, “your continued dual employment created an appearance of impropriety” because the attorney general’s office was inquiring into the practices of foreclosure law firms. The reprimand states that Cullaro’s says she quit her notary role before the formal investigation begun. Even so, she could ultimately lose her job, according to the reprimand. Tom Ice of Ice Legal in West Palm Beach represents homeowners in foreclosure and wants to question Cullaro about documents she signed in some of his cases. Her signature varies drastically and court documents assert she signed off on documents while out of town on business with the attorney general’s office.

Court documents reviewed by the Tribune show Erin Cullaro’s signature varied from a full, cursive signature to a squiggly “E.” When she signed the reprimand letter, she used the “E.”

Ice said Cullaro worked as a lawyer with Florida Default Group before she worked for the attorney general's office. When she left the firm, she continued to serve as an expert witness for the firm, signing affidavits to establish that the firm's fees were reasonable. Her sister-in-law, Lisa Cullaro, notarized the affidavits, according to court documents.

When Erin started work for the attorney general's office, the Cullaros changed roles and Erin Cullaro notarized the documents.

Ice said both of the Cullaro's signatures varied in appearance,In light of recent reports about foreclosure law firms allowing employees to forge signatures, Ice said he questions whether the Cullaros permitted this, too.

Matt Weidner, a St. Petersburg foreclosure defense attorney, said he also wants to question the Cullaros about inconsistent signatures, but that their attorneys have fought his motions.

"It's simple, really," Weidner said. "If it's their signatures and for some reason they signed them differently, why not just say that?"

John Cullaro, Erin Cullaro's husband, represents her in the case. He could not be reached for comment.

Both Lisa and Erin Cullaro no longer serve as witnesses or notaries for the firm, but the job has stayed in the family. John Cullaro, according to court documents, is one of Florida Default's new expert witnesses.

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