“We are tracking down every possible lead we can, and we’re working hard to get to the bottom of this,” said Ramon V. Korionoff, chief of staff to the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney.
Angela Alsobrooks is the new State’s Attorney, or chief prosecutor, in Prince George’s County, Maryland. A spokesperson for her office recently indicated that it was investigating a foreclosure law firm, Shapiro & Burson, after a whistleblower, Jose Portillo, came forward to say that while working at Shapiro & Burson he was told to sign thousands of affidavits without seeing any evidence that the statements in the affidavits were true. Portillo, a paralegal who had been laid off from the law firm, filed a complaint in March alleging that deeds and foreclosure paperwork contained fraudulent signatures.
The spokesperson said the prosecutor’s office is working with state and federal law enforcement officials on the effort.
Why is that, I wonder?
Prosecution of crimes under the Annotated Code of Maryland which are committed in Prince George’s County is the responsibility of the State’s Attorney, Angela Alsobrooks, and no one else. And prosecuting those crimes is just not that hard to do. A talented third-year law student could get convictions on these facts. For an experienced prosecutor, it’s a piece of cake. Here’s how it works.
Submission of false or forged affidavits, if proven to have been knowingly filed in the local courts in foreclosure actions, constitutes fraud and perjury, both of which are misdemeanors. Unless otherwise noted, references are to the Criminal Law Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland.
§ 8-606. Making false entries in public records and related crimes.
(b) Prohibited.- A person may not or may not attempt to:
(1) willfully make a false entry in a public record;
(c) Penalty.- A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $1,000 or both.
§ 9-101. Perjury.
(a) Prohibited.- A person may not willfully and falsely make an oath or affirmation as to a material fact:
(2) in an affidavit required by any state, federal, or local law;
(3) in an affidavit made to induce a court or officer to pass an account or claim;
(4) in an affidavit required by any state, federal, or local government or governmental official with legal authority to require the issuance of an affidavit; or
(5) in an affidavit or affirmation made under the Maryland Rules.
(b) Penalty.- A person who violates this section is guilty of the misdemeanor of perjury and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 10 years.
Subornation of perjury, i.e. encouraging others to submit documents which are known to be forged or otherwise fraudulent, is prohibited under § 9-102 and a conviction subjects the violator to the same maximum sentence of ten years imprisonment as under § 9-101. Prosecution for fraud under § 8-606 has a one year statute of limitations. But, pursuant to § 5-106(b) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, the State may institute a prosecution under § 9-101 or § 9-102, for perjury or subornation of perjury, at any time, so those offenses are not subject to a limitations period.
Ms Alsobrooks does not need to empanel a grand jury. She already has a witness in Jose Portillo. He has given her the names of the alleged perpetrators and other witnesses. Her offices in the county courthouse are just upstairs from the clerks office and the land records. All she has to do is send one of her paralegals down to pull all the foreclosure cases filed by Shapiro & Burson during, say, the months of June, July and August of last year, make photocopies of the documents Portillo or other witnesses identify as fraudulent or forged, and have one of the many Assistant State’s Attorneys (ASA) who work for her fill out a simple form called a Statement of Charges. The ASA can then walk back downstairs to the office of the Clerk of the District Court and file the form. She doesn’t even need to attach the photocopies to the Statement of Charges, just list each fraudulent document as a separate criminal count.
That’s pretty much it. Since these are misdemeanor charges the defendant does not have a right to a preliminary hearing. The clerk will set a court date and a summons will be issued and served on the defendant by the sheriff. The ASA then has the court issue subpoenas to Portillo and the other witnesses that have been identified, and also to a few of the people whose houses were foreclosed on using perjured affidavits (not hard to find, a class action suit has been filed against Shapiro & Burson). The defendant hires a lawyer who typically will avail herself of the State’s usual offer of informal discovery, which basically allows her to look at the prosecutor’s file. The defendant’s lawyer then has to decide whether to take her chances in District Court, or, by asking for a jury trial, remove the case to the Circuit Court. It’s a tough call. Juries are not generally sympathetic to lawyer defendants.
Whether the case is to be heard before a judge in District Court, or before a judge or a jury in Circuit Court, all the ASA has to do, really, is show up with her documents and witnesses. Any attempt to defend on the basis the defendant didn’t know of the fraud and perjury is defeated by eyewitness testimony and proof of a pattern and practice in submitting such fraudulent and forged documents. I really see no way out for the defendant. The documents were fraudulent or forged, and as public records are admissible in evidence. The defendant knew the documents were fraudulent or forged. The defendant submitted the fraudulent or forged documents to the court. All of the foregoing can easily be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether the case is heard by a judge or a jury isn’t going to matter. It’s ‘game over’ for the defendant.
So how hard is that?
I have not looked at the Maryland sentencing guidelines, but I assume that on conviction of a sufficient number of counts of perjury the defendant would be eligible for a moderate sentence of imprisonment. If defendant’s lawyer is offered any deal that keeps her client out of the PGC Detention Center, and, worse, the state prison system, she would, in my estimation, be wise to recommend that her client plead guilty. What happens in Maryland’s correctional system to new inmates who can’t fight is not talked about in polite society.
I may have misstated the law or the procedures, or my assumption as to the guideline sentence may be mistaken, and if so I welcome comments from those who are more knowledgeable.
But it looks to me like State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks has no reasonable excuse for not taking immediate action. I look forward to seeing at least one of the foreclosure fraudsters, who allegedly committed hundreds, possibly thousands, of crimes under the criminal laws of Maryland, at least charged with a criminal offense.
Is there, in PG County, Maryland, an honest prosecutor who takes seriously her oath of office?
Ms Alsobrooks, a justice-starved public anxiously awaits your next move.