CORAL SPRINGS – Joseph Anton Hilton, 56, and Adam Forman, 46, have been arrested on charges that they had been working as unlicensed attorneys.
The two men worked as The Asset Protection Law Firm, which worked with clients under the promise of securing residential loan modifications and assisting with debt consolidation.
While Hilton and Forman worked out of Coral Springs, they also had offices in Boca Raton and West Palm Beach.
Hilton, also known as Joseph Starr, and Forman would find homeowners who were facing foreclosure or behind in their mortgage. They allegedly created plans for loan modifications and debt consolidation with these homeowners that included not paying their mortgages. The two also allegedly assured clients that they would be handling the homeowners' bank dealings. The two then allegedly set large fees for legal services.
While Hilton and Forman are not licensed to practice law, they allegedly did hire often inexperienced lawyers from Craigslist to help them with the cases.
Not only were Hilton and Forman purportedly not performing the duties their clients were expecting, but when the clients attempted to move away from the agreement, they were allegedly met with intimidation and threats.
Thirty-seven Floridians filed complaints with the office of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. These complaints sparked the initial investigation and subsequent charges. It’s a case that has naturally sparked the interest of legal Florida lawyers.
“The paramount concern of The Florida Bar’s UPL (Unlicensed Practice of Law) Department is the protection of the public," William A. Spillias, the unlicensed practice of law counsel at The Florida Bar, told the Florida Record. "Complaints submitted to The Florida Bar alleging acts of UPL will be investigated by the UPL Department, and these investigations and corresponding actions filed by The Bar are civil in nature. The UPL Department, during its investigations, often works closely with outside agencies, such as local State Attorney offices, local law enforcement agencies, the Florida Attorney General’s Office and even federal authorities.”
People posing as lawyers is not an issue relegated to Florida. How widespread the crime is though is, at present, hard to gauge. Betsy Adeboyejo, senior writer and journalist in the Communications and Media Relations Division at the American Bar Association, told the Florida Record that it’s hard to gauge how prevalent this type of case is nationwide.
“Actually, any claims as to scams or frauds are generally consumer protection issues and are handled by the FTC. …and as to any types of disciplinary actions and complaints those are processed through the jurisdiction of the states, which license lawyers to practice,” Adeboyejo said.
While this case is still ongoing, the Florida Bar will be monitoring it closely.
“If individuals committing the unlicensed practice of law are arrested by a law enforcement agency, local, state or federal, and harm to the public is thus averted, then The Bar will use its discretion in determining whether to continue to pursue the civil remedies afforded to it under Florida law and the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar," Spillias said. "In the subject cases, The Bar hopes that the individuals are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law; however, the decision regarding the penalty sought rests within the discretion of the prosecuting authorities.”