Lawyer Mark Stopa Allegedly Scammed $5 Million Off Foreclosure Clients With Equity Skimming Scam
Lawyer Mark Stopa helped many people hold on to their homes. He also acquired millions of dollars worth of property from other clients through an alleged years-long pattern of fraud and deception. The alleged scheme to defraud clients and mortgage lenders has had a ripple effect throughout Florida. The alleged scam has left thousands of foreclosure cases in limbo and Stopa’s firm about to file for bankruptcy.
Tampa attorney Richard Mockler has tried unsuccessfully to salvage Stopa’s law practice. He told the Tampa Bay Times:
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement raided Stopa’s offices in downtown St. Petersburg last month.
The search warrant states that Stopa obtained title to distressed homes throughout Florida using shell corporations registered in New Mexico. He rented the properties out. Meanwhile, Stopa continued to fight the foreclosure cases under the guise of representing the original owners,
Agents also subpoenaed Stopa’s PayPal account. They discovered deposits from individuals at approximately 20 properties controlled by his companies.
The FDLE claims that Stopa received a total of more than $4.8 million between Jan. 1, 2011 and April 1, 2018.
The FDLE agent wrote:
Equity skimming is a felony. It is also punishable by up to five years in prison.
FDLE Names Some Of The Properties Lawyer Mark Stopa Used For His Alleged Equity Skimming Scam
FDLE listed a laundry list of properties that Lawyer Mark Stopa used in his alleged scam. Some of these allegations were brought up at his re-opened disciplinary hearing with the Florida Bar in July:
- Stopa represented Paul Walton and his wife in the foreclosure proceedings on their Land O’ Lakes home. Paul Walton told state authorities that Stopa called him in 2016 and said he had an investor who would buy the house for about $8,000. Walton deeded the house to Stopa’s Quest Systems LLC. Walton was under the impression that he was no longer liable for the mortgage payments. Stopa’s LLC has leased the house for $2,000 a month.
- Lawyer Mark Stopa represented Beverly Mellow of Tarpon Springs. Stopa told her he could get an investor to buy her home for $2,500. She deeded the property to Quest Systems, LLC in 2014. Stopa owns Quest Systems. A tenant has been paying $1,600 a month with checks sent to Quest Systems.
- Leanna Cappucci told investigators that a realtor came to her Valrico home in 2014. They told her an investor wanted to buy it. The realtor also said she had an attorney who would delay the foreclosure. Cappucci deeded the house to Stopa’s Jacaranda LLC for $2,000. A tenant has been paying $1,750 a month for the past four years.
The search warrant also details similar transactions all along the west coast of Florida. In all, Stopa’s companies acquired at least 90 residential properties statewide between mid-2011 and December 2017.
The Florida Supreme Court indefinitely suspended Stopa from practicing law. However, it should be noted that lawyer Mark Stopa has not yet been charged with any crimes involving the equity skimming.
Lawyer Mark Stopa Cashes In On The Foreclosure Crisis
The foreclosure crisis presented lucrative opportunities for investors as people stopped paying their mortgages and HOA dues. Investors could get title to homes at HOA foreclosure auctions. The properties could then be rented out until the bank foreclosed.
This is also where Lawyer Mark Stopa cashed in. Stopa created a Florida company called Abpaymar, LLC that in 2012 acquired a Pasco County house for $6,900 at an HOA auction. This transaction put Stopa on the radar of the Florida Bar.
The Florida Bar alleged Abpaymar agreed to deed the house back to owner Justin Shuck. However, Shuck had to pay Stopa $12,500 over eight months.
Shuck made his final payment in 2012. However, Abpaymar refused to deliver the deed claiming he owed $1,456 in HOA dues. Shuck wired the money even though the written agreement with Stopa’s company said nothing about the dues. Abpaymar got a writ of possession and a sheriff’s deputy posted a 24-hour eviction notice.
Shuck and his lawyer filed an emergency motion to keep his house. Schuck was able to keep the house. The judge ruled that Abpaymar had misrepresented its right to seek possession.
Soon afterward, Stopa’s name disappeared from Abpaymar’s annual corporate filings by his wife, Adrienne Federico. The company continued to acquire properties as Stopa set up seven new companies in New Mexico.
Why Lawyer Mark Stopa Liked New Mexico LLCs
New Mexico companies are not required to include the names of members. Nor are they required to file annual reports showing changes in address and membership.
However, investigators were able to work around it. They obtained bank records showing that Stopa was the “owner/key individual” for three of the New Mexico companies. On deeds and other documents, all seven New Mexico companies used Stopa’s St. Petersburg office address on the deeds and other documents.
Who’s Jayne Carusso?
Tenants in some of the houses told authorities that they communicated with a property manager. FDLE agents performed searches on social media and real estates like Zillow Agents were able to determine that the woman was also an employee at Stopa’s law firm.
Agents subpoenaed the bank records of Stopa, his wife and four of his companies. Records showed transfers among the companies as well as transfers to Stopa.
Agents seized computers and cell phones. They also seized bank records, tax records, rental contracts and purchase agreements In addition, they also took files on 16 individuals including a woman named Jayne Carusso.
One of Stopa’s New Mexico companies, Inland Assets obtained title to Carusso’s home for $17,100 at an HOA auction May of 2013. Stopa and his family moved into the 5,000-square-foot house overlooking a golf course in the gated Bayou Club community in mid-Pinellas.
Stopa in June 2013 filed a notice of appearance on Carusso’s behalf in 2013. However, Carusso was then living in Pennsylvania and had not fought the Bank of America’s foreclosure case. Inland Assets then sued Carusso and the bank to establish Inland’s title to the house. The bank failed to respond. As a result, the judge declared Inland the “rightful and lawful” owner of the property.
Last year, Inland Assets and BofA reached a confidential settlement that ended the foreclosure case. In January, Inland Assets deeded the property to Stopa’s wife. The Stopa family continues to live in the $900,000 house.
Who Ratted Out Lawyer Mark Stopa?
Judge Keith Carsten was presiding over a 2016 foreclosure case where Stopa represented the homeowners. Although they no longer lived in the house and no longer had title to the house. In the email, the sender included a dossier on Stopa titled:
The dossier described in detail 16 cases in five counties in which Stopa allegedly engaged in “egregiously unethical and fraudulent behavior“ with his own clients.
The email also states:
Any attempt to question him or threaten to complain is met with vulgar threats of endless litigation for defamation. Mark Stopa uses his law license as a bully club to unjustly enrich himself and threaten to destroy all those who challenge him or get in his way.
No matter how this turns out, it’s not looking good for Lawyer Mark Stopa.