Homeowners Claim $22 Million Swindle

Homeowners Claim $22 Million Swindle

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Home buyers and sellers in Utah and Arizona have filed a lawsuit alleging they were swindled out of more than $22 million by agents of a title company.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court Wednesday against Attorneys Title Guaranty Fund Inc., related companies and associated individuals aims to recover the losses of about 80 victims, many of whom say they were defrauded of their life savings.

The individuals named -- Calvin Paul Stewart, ReNae Bolson, Clay Harrison, L. Dale McAllister, Alvin Anderson and Gerald Steven Wallace -- also are being prosecuted by the Utah attorney general on fraud charges.

There is little hope of recovering the victims' money from the individuals, Assistant Utah Attorney General Charlene Barlow said.

"These guys lived in really nice houses and had really nice cars," Barlow said. "But in the end, when it all crashed, the money was pretty much gone."

"My big act of stupidity was to trust these people," said Kaye Horrocks, a retired schoolteacher who lost $130,000 in savings. '

Horrocks sold her house to buy a condominium. She later learned the title to the condo never was transferred to her name even though she paid the full purchase price in cash. After receiving a foreclosure notice, Horrocks was forced to scramble to secure a loan to buy the condominium for the second time.

Most of the alleged victims were selling homes. They were told if they agreed to deposit one-third to two-thirds of the proceeds from the sales in an Attorneys Title escrow account, they would collect monthly interest payments on the deposits for two or more years and then get back the entire amount they deposited.

Paul Drecksel, lawyer for Attorneys Title of Utah, said the company insures property title, not investments. The company's former agents and associates went beyond that when they lured sellers into their alleged investment schemes.

Attorneys Title "is not in the business of insuring investments. If you lost something in an investment transaction, it's not something we cover. We are not responsible for those losses."

The victims entered into investment agreements beyond the scope of Attorneys Title's responsibility, Drecksel said.

"It is not reasonable to believe an insurance company would be involved in these investment schemes," he said. "If you looked closely at the economics of these transactions, they simply didn't make sense."

The complaint filed Wednesday is the latest in a number of civil suits and criminal charges in federal and state court alleging people working on behalf of Attorneys Title stole anywhere from $20 million to more than $40 million from victims in Utah and other states.

In addition, the Utah Department of Insurance has investigated and revoked the title agent licenses of Harrison and McAllister, said Gerri Jones of the Utah Department of Insurance. She said the Utah Division of Real Estate is investigating the involvement of real estate agents and appraisers.

"This has been a multijurisdictional nightmare," she said.

Harrison, who has pleaded guilty to securities fraud, misappropriation of funds from trust accounts and breach of fiduciary duty, is scheduled to be sentenced this month.

McAllister, who is jailed in Beaver County on an unrelated felony drunken driving charge, has a hearing scheduled this week.

Anderson and Wallace are scheduled for court appearances next month.

The Utah Attorney General's Office has charged Stewart and Bolson with securities fraud and racketeering.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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