A Mount Vernon woman claims she and her husband were fooled into paying $331,500 to a disbarred attorney to ostensibly pay off their home mortgage.
Tricia P. Williams sued the ex-lawyer, Rafael M. Pantoja on April 16 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in White Plains to get back the payments.
The adversary bankruptcy proceeding also names Rachel Thull, Levanta Global Inc., BTW Trust Inc. and others as players in the alleged scheme.
Williams and her husband, Barrington, had fallen behind on their home loan payments in 2013, according to the complaint, and Wells Fargo Bank foreclosed on the property.
Tricia Williams filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition last year, declaring $513,365 in assets and more than $1 million in liabilities. The house on Tenth Avenue South, Mount Vernon, was valued at $420,000, but the couple owed the bank $1,030,329.
In 2018, according to the adversary proceeding, a real estate broker arranged for Barrington Williams to meet Pantoja at the Levanta office in the Seagram Building in Manhattan. The broker allegedly depicted Pantoja as a high-powered lawyer who could negotiate a short payoff on the mortgage.
Pantoja, of the Bronx, was disbarred in 1996 and again in 2008, according to the complaint, and served two stints in prison totaling more than 14 years on grand larceny charges.
In the second case, a 2008 ABA Journal article states, Pantoja assumed his deceased father’s identity, misrepresented himself as a lawyer and obtained nearly $1.8 million in real estate financing through fraudulent mortgage transactions.
Barrington Williams met with Pantoja and Thull in June 2018, and was allegedly told that he and his wife qualified for Levanta’s toxic mortgage release services and loss mitigation services.
The couple had to deed their house to BTW Trust Inc., in care of Levanta, and pay $85,000 in fees and $254,000 to pay off Wells Fargo. The unpaid balance on the loan was then $900,000.
Levanta was supposed to negotiate a short payoff with Wells Fargo.
“We are experts in mastering this process in the face of the most challenging foreclosure circumstances,” the service agreement states. But “there is no guarantee of success in satisfying a loan for less than the amount due.”
From June 2018 to October 2019, the Williamses transferred $331,500 to Levanta, the complaint states, but Levanta did not negotiate a payoff with Wells Fargo.
Pantoja, Thull and Levanta were “part of a fraudulent scheme” to obtain the couple’s money, according to the complaint, and to get the deed to their property “by virtue of fraud.”
Tricia Williams is asking the court to deem the house as property of her Chapter 13 bankruptcy estate and to nullify the $331,500 in payments.
Pantoja and Thull did not immediately respond to a telephone message asking for their side of the story.
Tricia Williams is represented by White Plains attorneys Todd S. Cushner and James J. Rufo.