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This Florida Bar Complaint Confirms The Required Complaint Threshold for Reporting Abusive Lawyer Misconduct

Florida Attorney Houson LaFrance was heard saying in court he was tired of “all the f** racists in this town.” which earns him a Fl. Bar complaint.

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JUN 8, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUN 19, 2021

COMPLAINT

The Florida Bar, complainant, files this Complaint against Houson R. Lafrance, respondent, pursuant to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and alleges:

1. Respondent is and was at all times mentioned herein a member of The Florida Bar admitted on September 30, 2014 and is subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Florida.

2. Respondent resided and practiced law in Broward County, Florida, at all times material.

3. The Florida Bar Board of Governors, at a duly constituted meeting in January 2021, found probable cause to file this complaint pursuant to Rule 3-7.5(c)(7) of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.

4. Respondent represented Mark Metellus in the case styled State v. Metellus, Case No. 17-CF-259, in the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, in and for Martin County, Florida.

5. During the pendency of the trial, respondent stepped out into the hallway of the courthouse.

6. He was heard by the court deputy making a derogatory statement about the witnesses in the case.

7. After the jury had returned a guilty verdict against Mr. Metellus, as respondent was leaving the courtroom, but prior to exiting, respondent stated that

he was tired of “all the f** racists in this town.”

8. By the conduct set forth above, respondent violated R. Regulating Fla. Bar 3-4.3

[The commission by a lawyer of any act that is unlawful or contrary to honesty and justice may constitute a cause for discipline whether the act is committed in the course of the lawyer’s relations as a lawyer or otherwise, whether committed within Florida or outside the state of Florida, and whether the act is a felony or a misdemeanor.];

and

4-8.4(d) [A lawyer shall not engage in conduct in connection with the practice of law that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, including to knowingly, or through callous indifference, disparage, humiliate, or discriminate against litigants, jurors, witnesses, court personnel, or other lawyers on any basis, including, but not limited to, on account of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, employment, or physical characteristic.]

WHEREFORE, The Florida Bar prays respondent will be appropriately disciplined in accordance with the provisions of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar as amended.

Navin A. Ramnath,
Bar Counsel
The Florida Bar
Ft. Lauderdale Branch Office
Lake Shore Plaza II
1300 Concord Terrace, Suite 130
Sunrise, Florida 33323
(954) 835-0233
Florida Bar No. 41979
nramnath@floridabar.org
akline@floridabar.org

Patricia Ann Toro Savitz,
Staff Counsel
The Florida Bar
651 E. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee,
Florida 32399-2300
(850) 561-5839
Florida Bar No. 559547 psavitz@floridabar.org

CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE

I certify that this document has been efiled with The Honorable John Tomasino, Clerk of the Supreme Court of Florida, with a copy provided via email to David Bill Rothman, at dbr@rothmanlawyers.com; and that a copy has been furnished by United States Mail via certified mail No. 7017 1450 0000 7821 0940, return receipt requested to David Bill Rothman, whose record bar address is 200 S. Biscayne Blvd., Ste. 2770, Miami, FL 33131-5300 and via email to Navin A. Ramnath, Bar Counsel, nramnath@floridabar.org, akline@floridabar.org on this 8th day of June, 2021.

 

Patricia Ann Toro Savitz Staff Counsel

 

NOTICE OF TRIAL COUNSEL AND DESIGNATION OF PRIMARY EMAIL ADDRESS

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the trial counsel in this matter is Navin A Ramnath, Bar Counsel, whose address, telephone number and primary email address are The Florida Bar, Ft. Lauderdale Branch Office, Lake Shore Plaza II1300 Concord Terrace, Suite 130Sunrise, Florida 33323, (954) 835-0233 and nramnath@floridabar.org; and akline@floridabar.org.

Respondent need not address pleadings, correspondence, etc. in this matter to anyone other than trial counsel and to Staff Counsel, The Florida Bar, 651 E Jefferson Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2300, psavitz@floridabar.org.

MANDATORY ANSWER NOTICE

RULE 3-7.6(h)(2), RULES REGULATING THE FLORIDA BAR, PROVIDES THAT A RESPONDENT SHALL ANSWER A COMPLAINT.

We Are a Law Firm That Gets Results

Houson Lafrance is a smart, zealous and passionate attorney. Houson’s results in the courtroom has garnered him numerous awards that only a very small percentage of attorney’s ever receive including:

2020 Super Lawyers Rising Stars – Top 2.5% of Attorneys in Florida

A dynamic and persuasive trial lawyer, Houson captivates clients and jurors alike. After performing his closing argument, he has drawn praise from opponents, judges and jurors about his abilities. He represents people who are accused of violating the law and individuals injured by the negligence of others.

Houson graduated in 2014 with honors from St. Thomas University School of Law. While in law school he was a member of all three honors organizations: St. Thomas Law Review, St. Thomas University School of Law Moot Court and St. Thomas University School of Law Trial Team.

After graduation from law school and passing the bar in 2014, Houson began his career at the Broward Public Defender’s Office as an Assistant Public Defender. He handled 1000s of criminal cases ranging from misdemeanors, DUI and Felonies. He had an impressive trial record and was able to garner numerous Not Guilty verdicts on impossible cases showing early his natural abilities as a trial lawyer.

In 2016, Houson was offered and accepted a position as partner in a South Florida firm that represented gaming, petroleum and religious corporations. As a partner, Houson handled all criminal and litigation matters within the firm and provided strategic planning for all litigation cases.

In July 2019, Houson decided to open Houson R. Lafrance P.A. a criminal defense and family law firm, dedicated to representing people against the government and insurance companies.

Houson’s hobbies include mentorship, reading, college football and writing books. His favorite quote is “Excellence Demands Consistency.”

SMART, ZEALOUS & PASSIONATE CRIMINAL DEFENSE & PERSONAL INJURY

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Florida

Florida Supreme Court Shirk Florida Bar

The Florida Bar filed a formal complaint against Matt Shirk at request of the Florida Supreme Court, which rejected a conditional guilty plea.

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Referee appointed to review Florida Bar complaint against Matt Shirk

Case stems from alleged ethics violations from Shirk’s tenure as Public Defender for the Fourth Circuit

JUL 1, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUL 22, 2021

A court-appointed referee is reviewing the Florida Bar’s complaint against former Fourth Circuit Public Defender Matt Shirk and could recommend potential sanctions for him, according to court records.

The Florida Bar filed a formal complaint against Shirk at the request of the Florida Supreme Court, which rejected a conditional guilty plea the former public defender entered earlier this year to resolve alleged ethics violations that occurred while he held public office.

Chief Judge Raul Zambrano of the Seventh Judicial Circuit was appointed to serve as referee and investigate the contents of the Bar’s complaint by hearing witnesses and reviewing evidence. If the referee recommends guilt, he will also recommend appropriate sanctions. Barring an extension, Zambrano has until Oct. 11 to submit his findings.

The court proceedings stem from Shirk’s time in office as public defender from 2009 to 2017.

Among other things, Shirk was accused of hiring three young women outside of normal hiring practices and later firing them to save his marriage. He was also accused of serving or consuming alcohol in a city building, and of revealing privileged client information to a film crew.

Those accusations led to a grand jury investigation whose findings were sent to the Florida Commission on Ethics, which resulted in public censure, reprimand and a $6,000 fine. The ethics commission found Shirk’s conduct violated ethics rules relating to professional behavior.

In February, Shirk agreed to enter a conditional guilty plea in which he admitted violating several rules of the Florida Bar, including the Rules of Professional Conduct, in exchange for a six-month suspension from practicing law. The state Supreme Court rejected the conditional plea and ordered the Bar to file a formal complaint against Shirk.

Court records show a case management conference is set for July 9.

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Eleventh Circuit

Southern Florida Judge Orders Retrial for Fraud by Prosecutors. It Wasn’t Lyin’ Judge Marra

Judge Darrin P. Gayles claims during a court hearing the original prosecutors “deliberately misled this court.” He orders a new AUSA team.

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July 16, 2021: S.D. Fl. Judge Orders New Trial After AUSAs ‘Deliberately Misled’ Him

A Florida federal judge said Friday he would be ordering a new trial — with a new prosecution team — for a trio of men found guilty of swiping millions of dollars from elderly people in a sweepstakes scheme, saying during a hearing that the original prosecutors “deliberately misled this court.”

A federal judge in Miami has ordered a new trial for three men found guilty in a fraudulent sweepstakes scheme after concluding that federal prosecutors had “knowingly invaded the defense camp” while lying to the court about it.

U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles of the Southern District of Florida said two initial prosecutors in the case “deliberately misled this court.”

Law360 and the Miami Herald have coverage of Gayles’ remarks, made during a hearing Friday.

Gayles said he had allowed the three Florida men to be tried without knowing the extent of prosecutors’ alleged wrongdoing, according to the coverage.

Prosecutors had received handwritten notes from a fourth defendant who attended defense meetings without disclosing that he had obtained a plea deal with prosecutors, Gayles said during the hearing. The other defendants were working together under a joint defense agreement.

The fourth defendant, 53-year-old John Leon of Wilton Manors, Florida, had received government authorization to attend strategy meetings. Yet prosecutors lied about whether Leon had attended more than one meeting and whether they approved his participation, Gayles said.

One of the federal prosecutors had countered in a court filing that Leon’s cooperation was “kept covert” because he was cooperating with the government against a noncharged defendant, according to the Miami Herald. The prosecutor also said Leon had been instructed not to share privileged information.

The Florida defendants—46-year-old Matthew Pisoni of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; 42-year-old Marcus Pradel of Boca Raton, Florida; and 39-year-old Victor Ramirez of Aventura, Florida—had been convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud in 2017. They were accused of telling their scam victims that they had won a sweepstakes prize, and they had to pay $20 to $50 to redeem it.

The defendants sought a new trial after receiving new evidence obtained during an investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office and the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

The government countered that much of the “newly discovered” evidence cited by the defendants wasn’t material and had no exculpatory value.

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Four South Florida Residents Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Commit Sweepstakes Mail Fraud

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUL 19, 2021

Four Florida residents were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 42 months imprisonment to 84 months imprisonment for participating in a sweepstakes mail fraud scheme.

Benjamin G. Greenberg, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), and Antonio J. Gomez, Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Miami Division, made the announcement.

Matthew Pisoni, 44, of Fort Lauderdale, Marcus Pradel, 41, of Boca Raton, and Victor Ramirez, 38, of Aventura, were found guilty of conspiring to commit mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349, after a five-week trial that ended on July 26, 2017. John Leon, 50, of Fort Lauderdale, previously pled guilty to conspiring to commit mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

Today, United States District Court Judge Gayles sentenced Pisoni and Ramirez to 84 months imprisonment; Pradel to 78 months imprisonment; and Leon to 42 months imprisonment.

The trial evidence established that the four defendants, Pisoni, Pradel, Ramirez and Leon, falsely notified individuals by mail that they had won a substantial prize. The letters the defendants sent fraudulently represented that the recipients needed to pay a fee ranging from $20 to $50 to the defendants in order to redeem their purported winnings. During the course of the mail fraud conspiracy, more than 100,000 victims in the United States and abroad were fraudulently induced to pay the fees by the defendants’ misleading claims that they had won a prize. The fraudulent letters directed victims to pay the fees in cash or by check or money order payable to fictitious companies. The defendants then either processed the victims’ payments through independent payment processors or deposited them into shell bank accounts controlled directly and indirectly by the defendants and their co-conspirators. In total, over $25 million in victim payments went into the defendants’ and co-conspirators’ bank accounts.

Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the IRS-CI, USPIS, Federal Trade Commission, Aventura Police Department, and other local and international law enforcement agencies. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elijah Levitt, and H. Ron Davidson.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

‘Breathtaking’ revelation delays start of prison term for men in $25M sweepstakes fraud

JAN 12, 2018 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUL 19, 2021

Three South Florida men convicted of operating a $25 million sweepstakes fraud were supposed to turn themselves in to start serving their punishments on Friday afternoon.

But a judge has agreed to delay their prison surrenders after what the defense calls outrageous last-minute revelations from federal prosecutors.

It’s the latest twist in a controversial case in which victims, mostly seniors, were tricked into sending money to claim a fictitious cash prize.

“The government has disclosed breathtaking new evidence … demonstrating that its witnesses testified falsely … and that the prosecutors made misleading arguments to the court,”

appeals attorney David Oscar Markus wrote in a court filing.

Matthew Pisoni, 45, of Fort Lauderdale, Marcus Pradel, 41, of Boca Raton, and Victor Ramirez, 38, of Aventura, were found guilty of mail fraud conspiracy after a jury trial last year. John Leon, 50, of Wilton Manors, pleaded guilty to the same charge in 2016 and cooperated with investigators.

Leon was going to testify against the other three men but U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles barred him from doing so in late 2016.

At the time, the judge also blasted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for allowing Leon to spy on his co-defendants — and their attorneys — after Leon had secretly made a plea deal with the prosecution.

The judge called the prosecution’s handling of the case “extraordinary.”

Judge blasts federal prosecutors over secret deal that led to spying on defense

“I don’t know what’s happening at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. This is the latest of a series of incidents that is affecting the credibility of this office,”

the judge said during the 2016 hearing.

“Someone has got to look at this thing … There’s a problem here that needs to be rectified in some way.”

Defense attorneys for the three men said they were blindsided by prosecutors and Leon’s defense attorney, Omar Johansson.

The problem was different from regular snitching by informants, they said, because all four men had pleaded not guilty in 2015 and, at the time, they and their attorneys had a formal agreement to work together and come up with defense strategies.

Anyone who wanted out was supposed to give 48 hours’ notice to the others.

The judge rejected their request to throw out the charges before trial because of what the defense called an illegal “invasion of the defense camp” by the prosecution.

During the 2016 hearing, prosecutors H. Ron Davidson and Elijah Levitt told the judge they had thought it was essential to keep Leon’s cooperation secret because he was working undercover for them on another related investigation.

They said they later regretted not running their decision up the chain of command at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.

The judge said that, at a minimum, they should have told their bosses and asked for the judge’s explicit approval.

The prosecutors also told the judge at the hearing they had never received any documents from Leon.

The three men went to trial and were convicted, without Leon’s testimony.

Pisoni and Ramirez were sentenced to seven years in federal prison, Pradel to 6 ½ years and Leon to 3 ½ years. Leon is still expected to begin serving his sentence on Tuesday.

Judge Gayles agreed Thursday to let the other three men remain free until at least March 16. Their attorneys have requested a court hearing to find out more about the newly released information.

They may seek a new trial or use it on appeal.

Earlier this week — three days before the men were due to go to prison — prosecutors filed a court document saying they wanted to “correct” the record. They revealed that Leon gave prosecutor Levitt a document that they now believe may have been a chart or timeline — compiled for the defense by Pradel — which they had claimed they never received.

They now can’t find the document, they wrote.

“The government believes that this document may have been the timeline discussed during the hearings, but the government cannot be certain because the document was placed in a sealed file folder without being examined and no federal agent or Assistant United States Attorney has ever opened the sealed file folder and read the document contained therein,”

they wrote.

“Moreover, Assistant United States Attorney Levitt has exhaustively searched his office’s records but has been unable to locate the sealed file folder with the document.”

Prosecutors, who previously said in court they had rejected Leon’s offer of the chart, also revealed that Leon gave handwritten notes to an IRS agent.

Pisoni, the son-in-law of the late self-help guru Wayne Dyer, was the ringleader of the fraud, according to prosecutors.

Markus, the attorney handling Pisoni’s appeal, declined to comment on the legal aspects of the case.

Pisoni returned home when he learned of the two-month reprieve on Thursday after he had already taken a flight to New Orleans on his way to surrender at his designated prison, Markus said.

The new filing raises more questions than it answers and calls “into question the credibility of the government’s presentation, witnesses, and evidence,” Markus wrote.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the pending case, citing Department of Justice policy.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has had similar issues in the past, Judge Gayles noted in the 2016 hearing.

He mentioned a reprimand issued in 2009 by a judge who ordered prosecutors to pay a defendant more than $600,000.

That judge ruled prosecutors and a Drug Enforcement Administration agent acted “vexatiously and in bad faith” when they secretly recorded a Miami defense lawyer, Markus, and his investigator in a questionable witness-tampering investigation.

An appeals court later ruled Dr. Ali Shaygan, who was found not guilty of prescription drug charges, was not entitled to the money because of how Judge Alan Gold handled the reprimands of the prosecutors.

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Acceleration

Who is Presiding Judge Andrea Gundersen, Mortgage Foreclosure Division, Seventeenth Judicial Circuit?

Judge Gundersen presides over all foreclosures in Broward County. She has been referred to JQC, asking that she be removed from the bench.

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FL Honest Lending Report

REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUL 5, 2021

After orchestrating one of the largest consumer frauds in American history, the banking industry continues the unethical and illegal servicing and foreclosure practices that were uncovered during the “robo-signing” scandal which eventually led to the $25b settlement with 49 State Attorneys General in 2012.

While some of the unethical practices regarding origination were curbed after the settlement, unethical servicing and fraudulent foreclosures continue to plague homeowners.

Floridians for Honest Lending (FHL) reviewed several hundred foreclosure complaints filed in 2019 by Bank of America, the Bank of New York Mellon, and JP Morgan Chase in the Eleventh and Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Courts that comprise Miami-Dade and Broward counties respectively. Upon that review, FHL found 369 foreclosure complaints were filed with rubber-stamped blank endorsements with signatures of David SpectorLaurie MederMichele Sjolander, and Cynthia Riley, whose names became synonymous with the robo-signing scandal. Of those, 325 were loans originated by Countrywide, the disgraced mortgage company that was bought by Bank of America in 2008.

In addition, FHL found that in Miami-Dade alone, 310 homes had been sold at auction since January 2019 that included these same rubber-stamped blank endorsements from these same rubber-stamped blank endorsements, 21 of which were sold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fraudulent rubber-stamped blank endorsements are used to establish standing and the banks’ right to foreclose on homeowners, the same homeowners that were sold predatory loans and pushed into foreclosure with unethical servicing practices.

This practice of filing false documents was documented by 60 Minutes in 2011 and was part of the complaint filed by the 49 State Attorneys General.

It was discovered after the $25b National Mortgage Settlement that Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase continued to submit forged documents, now relying on forgery and perjury, in foreclosures across the nation.

Unfortunately, the banks’ reckless greed left millions of properties with mortgages and promissory notes corrupted and the chain of title on those properties broken, putting trial court judges in an uncomfortable position of either taking the banking industry to task for these forged documents or kicking a family out of their home.

Unfortunately, with little scrutiny from the media, legislators, or regulators, our court system has heavily favored the latter.

In fact, FHL’s review found that in Broward county, 217 of the 219 foreclosure complaints filed in 2019 that included fraudulent rubber stamps were assigned to Judge Andrea Gundersen.

Of these cases assigned to Judge Gundersen, 126 of them have been closed, none of which were ruled in favor of the defendant.

Currently, Judge Gundersen presides over all foreclosures in Broward County.

She was reassigned from Family Court and does not have prior experience in foreclosure litigation.

Since her reassignment, defense attorneys have filed motions for judicial disqualification against Judge Gundersen for allowing attorneys for Bank of America to misrepresent the law and argue that “fraud on the court” is allowed in foreclosure because of a “litigation privilege” and ordering the defendant to pay the Bank’s attorney’s fees for challenging the fraud.

In April 2021, Judge Gundersen granted nineteen motions for disqualification in cases she presided over.

The clients have referred Judge Gundersen to the Judicial Qualifications Commission asking that she be removed from the bench.

These fraudulent foreclosures impact real people like Ana Rodriguez, an 82-year-old homeowner who was a former Cuban political prisoner, who now faces eviction because she was sold a predatory loan by Countrywide.

It impacts people like Mrs. Marie Williams-James who never missed a mortgage payment but Bank of America foreclosed on her anyway and Mr. and Mrs. Simpson who were working on a mortgage modification when the Judge refused the bank’s motion for continuance and forced the Simpsons into a fraudulent foreclosure judgment.

There is a new foreclosure crisis looming due to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we get the pandemic under control, the federal government will be under increased pressure from the banking industry to lift the FHFA moratorium for federally-backed mortgages from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

That moratorium only protects borrowers who had strong enough credit scores to qualify for government-backed mortgages. The elderly, communities of color, and first-time homebuyers who took subprime mortgages are not protected by any moratorium and are still being evicted during the pandemic.

The issue of fraudulent foreclosures must be resolved before this new crisis begins. This is an issue that demands action at the local, state, and federal levels from legislators, regulators, and our judicial system.

We cannot continue to allow fraud in our justice system for the convenience of the banking industry and at the expense of homeowners’ American Dream.

Floridian for Honest Lending is a project of Opportunity For All Floridians, a 501c4 non-profit organization. We believe that our system will only work with transparency, honesty, and accountability. Our research can be found here.

Each complaint filed by the banks’ attorneys is linked in the second column. The forged rubber stamps can usually be found on the promissory notes that are included in the exhibits.

Below you can also find a sample of the varied David Spector signatures.

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