Camden County Businessman Ordered to Repay $329,000 to Consumers Whose Homes Were Foreclosed Upon
and Sold, Under Settlement with the New Jersey
Division of Consumer Affairs
NEWARK – A Superior Court Judge has determined that a Camden County businessman committed multiple violations of the state's Consumer Fraud Act ("CFA") when he misled homeowners in foreclosure into believing that they needed his help in obtaining surplus funds to which they were legally entitled.
Surplus funds are the monies remaining after the foreclosure sale takes place and mortgage, tax, and other legal obligations have been paid. In August 2007, when the State Division of Consumer Affairs filed its lawsuit, homeowners in foreclosure could claim surplus funds by filing a simple form available from the Superior Court Trust Fund Unit and after paying nominal fees totaling less than $100. The process for obtaining surplus funds has since changed and the current process provides for a motion for release of surplus funds to be filed by the party named in the judgment of foreclosure with the Office of Foreclosure.
Filed in Gloucester County, the State's two-count civil complaint alleged that Samuel E. Goodwin, III, 75, of Gloucester City, charged homeowners up to 65% of the total surplus funds remaining once the foreclosure process was completed. In June 2010, the State filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which the court granted in part, finding that Goodwin violated the CFA by misrepresenting to consumers that surplus funds could be lost to the State. In March 2011, the State renewed its Motion for Summary Judgment.
In its Final Judgment and Order, the court granted the State's renewed Motion for Summary Judgment:
Finding that Goodwin engaged in unconscionable commercial practices in violation of the CFA by imposing fees ranging from approximately $5,300 to $56,540 for applying for surplus funds on behalf of consumers;
- Permanently enjoining Goodwin from advertising and otherwise soliciting consumers to submit surplus fund applications;
- Permanently enjoining Goodwin from retaining an attorney to file surplus fund applications on behalf of consumers; and
- Permanently enjoining Goodwin from receiving any monetary payment derived from any application for release of surplus funds.
"Goodwin took advantage of homeowners going through foreclosure, and attempted to enrich himself, by misleading consumers in order to charge outrageous fees," Attorney General Paula T. Dow said. "We remain vigilant, and are ready to take action, against anyone who attempts to take advantage of homeowners facing foreclosure."
In addition to paying $329,198.08 in restitution to 24 consumers, the court also ordered Goodwin to pay $225,000 in civil penalties to the State, plus $122,998 in reimbursement for the State's attorneys' fees and investigative costs.
The Final Judgment and Order has been entered as a statewide lien. The Division of Consumer Affairs will continue its efforts to identify any assets that Goodwin may have now, and in the future, to be applied to satisfy the Final Judgment and Order.
"This defendant stole from the desperate and vulnerable – people suffering from the anguish of losing their homes," said Thomas R. Calcagni, Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. "Our Financial Fraud Unit continues its fight to protect distressed homeowners from financial predation, and we intend to pursue Goodwin and his assets, so restitution is paid to those who were deceived."
To learn more about spotting mortgage-related scams, and how to find bona fide assistance, review the information posted on the Division of Consumer Affairs' website, at http://www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/mortgage .
Deputy Attorney General Lorraine K. Rak, Chief of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section, handled this action for the State. Supervising Investigator Jennifer Micco and Investigator Jared O'Cone of the Financial Fraud Unit within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted the investigation.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website, www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov, or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.