[r65] Rep. Koch helps find financial assistance for victims of American Escrow's fraud (4/16/2010)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Start Date: 4/16/2010 All Day
End Date: 4/16/2010
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Thousands of homeowners across the Midwest trusted American Escrow to make their tax and insurance payments on time, but through no fault of their own, discovered their escrow accounts were drained and taxes and insurance bills left unpaid. For the past year, those homeowners have struggled to make up those payments.

A new law, House Enrolled Act 1332, passed by the Indiana General Assembly this year, provides victims of American Escrow's fraud an opportunity to receive restitution. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller today thanked Representative Peggy Welch (D-Bloomington), Representative Eric Koch (R-Bedford), and Representative Mark Messmer (R-Jasper), for supporting the new law.

"This piece of legislation is significant in that it not only makes restitution available for fraud victims, it goes a step further by creating new regulations that will prevent this from happening again in Indiana," Zoeller said. "I want to thank the legislators for their dedication to protecting Hoosiers and for finding a creative solution to this tough problem."

Homeowners affected by American Escrow's fraud need to file a complaint with the Attorney General's office no later than Monday, April 26 to qualify for restitution. Complaint forms can be found online at http://www.indianaconsumer.com/ or call 1-800-382-5516 to request a form by mail. The Attorney General's office has received nearly 100 complaints, mostly from Central Indiana residents, however it is believed many others could possibly have eligible claims.

To curb other practices that could lead to abuses, House Enrolled Act 1332 states that only a financial institution or title insurance company can maintain a borrower's escrow account and prohibits other entities from doing so.

 "The General Assembly has worked diligently the last three sessions to craft new laws to deter the types of fraudulent mortgage practices that contributed to the foreclosure problem in our state. I was pleased to support House Enrolled Act 1332 because it provides us with new tools to crack down on illegal practices. It also helps the consumers defrauded by a particular company to navigate their way out of their current difficulty," Representative Koch said.

American Escrow served customers in several states including Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The Indiana Attorney General's office filed a lawsuit against American Escrow in June 2009 and received a judgment in January 2010 totaling almost $600,000. American Escrow declared bankruptcy and attempts to collect that judgment for restitution have been unsuccessful.

Funding for the restitution comes from a loan broker account held by the securities division of Secretary of State Todd Rokita's office. The account is made up of fines and penalties collected from brokers found to be in violation of Indiana law

Zoeller also thanked legislators who were instrumental in passing House Enrolled Act 1332, including State Senator Richard Bray (R-Martinsville), State Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis), and State Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson).

Zoeller also discussed other new consumer protection laws passed by the General Assembly during the 2010 session. These laws take effect July 1, 2010.

Abandoned Medical Records and Medical and Professional Licensing (Senate Enrolled Act 356):  The Attorney General's ID Theft Unit helped prevent a data breach of patients' personal health information in November 2009, when the Attorney General's Office seized 21 boxes of medical records that were discovered abandoned in a South Bend office building that once housed a physicians' practice.

Attorney General Zoeller supported this law that establishes procedures for the Office to obtain and secure abandoned health records or other records with personal identifying information and destroy them or return them to their owners.

In Indiana, health professionals - such as doctors and nurses - are licensed and regulated by health licensing boards. Many non-health professionals - such as plumbers, accountants, engineers and funeral directors - also are regulated by state professional licensing boards. Occasionally, individuals practice a profession illegally without holding a license - putting patients and consumers at risk. SEA 356 provides licensing boards the legal authority to issue cease-and-desist orders prohibiting unlicensed persons from practicing.

Sponsored in the House by Representative Welch and authored by State Senator Mike Delph (R-Carmel), Senate Enrolled Act 356 also includes other important provisions to restrict the flow of narcotics and controlled substances to unauthorized persons. The new law creates more safeguards and checks in the pharmacy-dispensing system. Among other things, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians must not dispense controlled substances to patients not known to them unless the patients provide identification first.

Zoeller thanked several legislators who were instrumental in passing Senate Enrolled Act 356, including Senator Delph, Representatives Welch and Messmer, Representative David Frizzell (R-Indianapolis), and Representative Scott Reske (D-Pendleton).

Unclaimed Property (House Enrolled Act 1083): Indiana is the only state in the nation where the state Attorney General's Office administers the Unclaimed Property program annually. Indiana returns millions of dollars worth of dormant bank accounts, uncashed checks lost securities and forgotten store credits to their owners or heirs. Attorney General Zoeller supported this legislation to reduce the time period by which certain property is considered abandoned by a holder such as a financial institution and can be reclaimed through the Unclaimed Property Program from the current five years to three years.

Defending State Statutes (Senate Enrolled Act 394): The Indiana Attorney General is the lawyer for state government agencies. If the constitutionality of a state law is challenged by a plaintiff, then the Attorney General defends that statute in court. Attorney General Zoeller supported legislation to update state law so that local courts in the 92 counties are required to notify the attorney general's office whenever a plaintiff files a lawsuit seeking to declare a law unconstitutional. It allows him to intervene in such a lawsuit and present arguments to the court about the constitutionality of the statute.

SEA 394 allows the Attorney General to file a "friend-of-the-court" brief, also called an amicus brief, in any lawsuit in Indiana without seeking the court's permission first. Often seen in U.S. Supreme Court cases, amicus briefs are filed by interested parties who are not participants in the lawsuit at hand but who want to make legal arguments to the court.

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Click to view: House Enrolled Act 1332 , Senate Enrolled Act 356 , House Enrolled Act 1083 , Senate Enrolled Act 394

Related Documents: 
Complaint filed against American Escrow in June 2009
Default Judgment awarded in January 2010