Morrison Foerster Brings Suit against Phony Legal Aid Operation by arh18908

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									Contact: Frances Cosico 415 268-7986 fcosico@mofo.com

Morrison & Foerster Brings Suit against Phony “Legal
Aid” Operation Preying on California Seniors and the
Disabled in Distress
Action targets bogus “Legal Center” for scamming California’s most
vulnerable residents with deceptive advertising and sham services; case
brought on behalf of legitimate legal aid groups as well as victims of fake
clinic; attorneys believe con could be widespread in California due to lack of
enforcement



SAN FRANCISCO (October 19, 2007) – Attacking an alleged confidence scheme that
has thus far escaped the attention of prosecutors and state law enforcement, law firm
Morrison & Foerster LLP has brought suit in California Superior Court against an
entity purporting to offer low-cost legal services but which, in fact, appears to be preying
on poor and often elderly Californians facing legal crises.

The complaint, filed in Contra Costa County, seeks to shut down an operation known as
“Legal Center for Legal Aid,” operated by Richard Gugg, who is believed to live in the
Los Angeles area. The suit seeks to unmask other “John Doe” defendants, based on the
fact that plaintiffs who called “Legal Center for Legal Aid” spoke with different people,
some of whom are thought to have used aliases.

In addition to four individuals, who accuse Mr. Gugg and unnamed accomplices of
defrauding them, plaintiffs include two established San Francisco-area legal clinics, Bay
Area Legal Aid and Legal Services of Northern California.

“Legal Center for Legal Aid,” which advertises in a number of California Yellow Pages
directories and provides a toll-free number, is accused of unlawful practice of law
without a license and accepting payment for legal services that it never delivered.
Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Gugg violated a number of state statutes in operating a phony
legal business that targeted the elderly and infirm. The “Center for Legal Aid” is believed
to have been in operation for a number of months, throughout California.

All of the individual plaintiffs were facing eviction or other landlord-tenant problems,
and sought free or low-cost legal assistance, explained Morrison & Foerster litigation
partner Angela L. Padilla, one of several attorneys at the firm handling the case on a pro
bono basis. Ms. Padilla noted that the Yellow Pages entry for “Legal Center for Legal
Aid” was placed alongside and sometimes directly above and below those of legitimate
legal aid services, enhancing its apparent credibility and deceiving those who were
hurried or confused in their need for legal help.

The four named plaintiffs are all in varying degrees of physical and financial hardship;
none could afford the fee that “Legal Center for Legal Aid” extracted from them. Albert
Leonard of Contra Costa County, 72 and totally blind, paid $425 for help in fighting an
eviction notice. Stuart Blankinship, a seriously ill double-amputee who lives in
Corning, Calif., and who was also facing eviction, was instructed to send a $300 check
payable to “Richard Gugg.” Neither Messrs. Leonard nor Blankinship, nor any other
plaintiff, received any useful legal advice or assistance in return.

“I was being evicted and didn't have much time to respond,” Mr. Leonard recalled. “I
called information and asked them for the number for legal aid. I was so desperate
because I knew I only had a couple days. I followed the instructions I got to deposit
money into a Bank of America account. I was faxed some papers. I am completely blind,
and relied on them to send me the proper papers. The clerk at the court told me the forms
weren't filled out right. I realized I'd been had and found the real Legal Aid, which was
able to help me. I never got my money back.”

“This ‘Legal Center’ outfit, which held itself out as a bona fide provider of legal services,
is nothing more than a scam to fleece vulnerable people of limited means with legal
problems,” Ms. Padilla said. “The victims handed over what for them represented
significant sums of money to a fraudster who absconded with it. Unfortunately, it is our
belief that similar confidence schemes are operating elsewhere in California. Our goal is
to bring this flim-flam to the attention of law enforcement and help eliminate it.”

The complaint lists 11 causes of action against “Legal Center for Legal Aid,” including
false advertising; breach of fiduciary duty; fraud; acts against senior citizens or disabled
persons; and financial abuse of elder or dependent adults. One of the plaintiffs has been
evicted from his home since seeking help from “Legal Center for Legal Aid” and is now
living with another family member.

“While there have been notices in small-town Northern California papers about the
‘Legal Center for Legal Aid’ scam, and warnings posted in senior centers, the swindlers
have thus far managed to fly this fraud largely under the radar,” Ms. Padilla added.

In addition to Ms. Padilla, Morrison & Foerster associates Geoffrey Graber and Evi
Schueller are also working on the case.
About Morrison & Foerster
With more than one thousand lawyers in eighteen offices around the world, Morrison &
Foerster offers clients comprehensive, global legal services in business and litigation.
The firm is distinguished by its unsurpassed expertise in finance, life sciences, and
technology, its legendary litigation skills, and an unrivaled reach across the Pacific Rim,
particularly in Japan and China. For more, visit www.mofo.com.

								
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