The Federal Trade Commission and the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) are taking action against various companies doing business as Home Matters USA, Academy Home Services, Atlantic Pacific Service Group, and Golden Home Services America, and the owners of the companies, Dominic Ahiga, and Roger Scott Dyer, for operating a sham mortgage relief operation that misled consumers and cost them millions. In the first case brought jointly by the two agencies, the FTC and DFPI allege that the companies charged consumers thousands of dollars with false promises they would negotiate with consumers’ mortgage lenders to alter their loans, at times even representing they were affiliated with government COVID-19 relief programs. A federal court has temporarily shut down the operation and frozen the defendants’ assets in the case.
“At a time when millions of Americans were dealing with a pandemic and struggling to pay their mortgages, defendants preyed on consumers with false promises of mortgage assistance relief,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We are excited to build on our relationship with California’s DFPI in this case and will continue to work with our state partners to shut down schemes that take advantage of consumers experiencing financial hardship.”
“Illegal mortgage relief assistance schemes prey on the most vulnerable homeowners and are a significant threat to the generational wealth that home ownership provides for consumers,” said DFPI Commissioner Clothilde Hewlett. “The DFPI has taken strong, decisive action against the companies behind this scheme using the California Consumer Financial Protection Law to put a stop to their illegal activities and protect not only California consumers, but also consumers nationwide.”
The defendants have pitched their services under several names, including Academy Home Services, Atlantic Pacific Service Group, Golden Home Services America, and Home Matters USA. The FTC and DFPI complaint alleges that they have deceived consumers since at least June of 2018 with false promises that they can negotiate lower interest rates or payments.
The investigation, in this case, found that the defendants target distressed homeowners with their deceptive claims in telemarketing calls, text messages, and online ads, often promising that they can get consumers’ mortgages modified in just three months. In many cases, the complaint alleges, they claimed to be affiliated with government agencies or that their services were part of government COVID-19 assistance programs. When consumers pay for the defendants’ services, they rarely, if ever, get the promised modifications and instead are harmed by the scheme in numerous ways:
- Deceiving consumers about their services: The defendants, as part of the sales process, regularly misled consumers, saying they had a track record of success and were able to “beat the system.” Consumers would receive documents with bogus claims about specific changes to their mortgage, including lowered interest rates or payments. Still, the complaint alleges that the defendants regularly failed to deliver meaningful consumer benefits.
- Costing consumers money and harming their credit: While the defendants charged consumers, many of whom were already struggling with mortgage payments, hundreds or even thousands of dollars, the harms extended beyond that loss. In many cases, the defendants told consumers not to pay their mortgage while using their “services,” leading to many consumers facing late fees and significantly lower credit scores.
- Costing consumers their homes: According to the complaint, the defendants require consumers to sign “cease and desist” letters that are sent to their mortgage lender, requiring the lenders to communicate only with the defendants. Some consumers have found themselves in foreclosure by not receiving notices of missing payments or default even as they continue to pay defendants.
The complaint alleges that the defendants’ practices violate numerous laws and regulations, including the FTC Act, the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, and the California Consumer Financial Protection Law.
The individual defendants, in this case, are Dominic Ahiga and Roger Scott Dyer. The corporate defendants, in this case, are Apex Consulting & Associates, Inc., Green Equitable Solutions, Infocom Entertainment Ltd, Inc., and South West Consulting Enterprises, Inc.
Bad People – Repeat Offenders
According to court document, the Defendant’s have done this to people before. The document says, “Defendants’ mortgage loan modification schemes have been the subject of prior law enforcement actions by the States of Ohio, Washington, Oregon, Connecticut, North Carolina, and California. Each of these actions has resulted in a judgment or administrative order being entered against one or more of the Defendants, and the Defendants have been ordered to pay restitution to injured consumers and pay civil penalties and costs to state regulators. Defendants have ignored each of these adverse rulings and continued their deceptive and illegal mortgage assistance relief services schemes. Plaintiffs describe each of these prior law enforcement proceedings below.
Prior to the formation of the Corporate Defendants, Ahiga operated a similar mortgage loan modification scheme through two companies, Equitable Century Group, LLC and 1st Financial Associates, LLC. In November 2017, the State of Ohio filed a civil complaint against Ahiga and these two companies, alleging that they engaged in an unlawful mortgage loan modification scheme. State of Ohio v. Equitable Century Group, LLC, et al., Franklin Cnty. Case No. 17- CV-009813 (filed Nov. 2, 2017).2 After the defendants failed to respond, the court granted the State of Ohio’s motion for default judgment and entered final judgment against them in April 2018. To date, neither Ahiga nor his companies have paid the restitution, civil penalties, and costs required by the court’s final judgment. Ahiga also continues to engage in the mortgage loan modification services industry in violation of the court’s final judgment.
On April 3, 2020, the State of Washington, Department of Financial Institutions, Division of Consumer Services issued a statement of charges alleging that Defendants Infocom Entertainment, Ahiga, and Dyer, and “Amstar Services a/k/a Financial Investment Services Corporation d/b/a Home Relief Services” engaged in an unlawful mortgage loan modification scheme. In the Matter of Determining Whether There Has Been a Violation of the Mortgage Broker Practices Act of Washington by Amstar Services, et al., Wash. Dept. of Fin. Instits., Div. of Consumer Servs. Case No. C-19-2716-20 (issued Apr. 3, 2020). On June 3, 2020, the Department issued its final order against the respondents. To date, the respondents have not paid the restitution, fines, and fees required by the order. Respondents also continue to advertise and operate their purported mortgage loan modification services in violation of the order.
On May 11, 2020, the State of Oregon, Department of Consumer and Business Services, Division of Financial Regulation issued an administrative order to cease and desist and a proposed order assessing civil penalties against Defendant Ahiga, “Amstar Service aka Amstar Services,” and Amstar Service employee Alex Newman alleging that respondents engaged in an unlawful mortgage loan modification scheme. In the Matter of Amstar Service aka Amstar Services, Michael Grinnell, Alex Newman, Ore. Dept. of Consumer and Business Aff., Div. of Fin. Regul. Case No. DM-19-0126 (issued May 11, 2020). On June 25, 2020, the Department issued its final order to cease and desist and to pay civil penalties against the respondents.5 To date, the respondents have not paid the restitution and civil penalties required by the order. Respondents also continue to advertise and operate their purported mortgage loan modification services in violation of the order.
On May 25, 2021, the State of Connecticut’s Banking Commissioner issued an administrative order against Defendants Infocom Entertainment and Dyer. The order alleged that respondents engaged in an unlawful mortgage loan modification scheme. The order required respondents to pay restitution and gave notice to respondents of the Banking Commissioner’s intent to issue a cease and desist order and impose civil penalties, and of respondents’ right to a hearing. In the Matter of Infocom Entertainment Ltd, Inc. d/b/a Atlantic Pacific Service, et al, Conn. Banking Comm’r (issued May 25, 2021).6 Respondents did not timely request a hearing and, as such, respondents were required to cease and desist, and pay restitution and civil penalties. To date, the respondents have not paid the restitution and civil penalties required by the order. Respondents also continue to advertise and operate their purported mortgage loan modification services in violation of the order.
On June 25, 2021, the State of North Carolina filed a complaint, motion for temporary restraining order, and motion for preliminary injunction against Defendant Ahiga, “Amstar Services,” and “Home Relief Services,” alleging that they engaged in an unlawful mortgage loan modification and foreclosure assistance scheme. State of North Carolina v. Grinnell, et al., Wake Cnty. Case No. 21-CV-000775 (filed Jun. 25, 2021). On May 17, 2022, North Carolina obtained a default judgment directing defendants to pay restitution and civil penalties and enjoining defendants from offering mortgage relief services in the state. To date, the defendants have not paid the restitution and costs ordered by the court. Defendants also continue to advertise and operate their purported mortgage loan modification services in violation of the order.
On November 5, 2021, following an investigation into the unauthorized practice of law, the State Bar of California issued a cease and desist letter to Defendant South West Consulting’s fictitious business name, “Home Matters USA.” The cease and desist letter provided Home Matters USA with notice that its actions may violate California state statutes and constitute the unauthorized practice of law. Home Matters USA has continued the advertising and operations described in the cease and desist letter.
Despite these prior enforcement actions, Defendants continue to unlawfully advertise, market, provide, offer to provide, or arrange for others to provide mortgage assistance relief services, as defined in 12 C.F.R. § 1015.2.”