After the attorney general’s office filed suit against his home loan modification company, one Northbrook businessman says he’s the target of a witch hunt.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court two weeks ago against Anatoly Nirshberg and his business, Acceptance Financial, charging them with fraud and deceptive practices. According to the attorney general’s office, Nirshberg and his company took payments from homeowners seeking loan modifications, then never followed through on their promise to help.
But Nirshberg feels like he’s been targeted unfairly. His business was among 50 the attorney general’s office filed suit against as part of a crackdown on home mortgage “rescue” scams. And he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.
“They’re on a witch hunt. I became a witch for the time being,” says Nirshberg.
The Glenview resident and former mortgage broker founded his business in 2009, when the real estate market hit rock bottom. His clients were calling for help, he said, and he believed he modifying home loans might be more profitable than brokering mortgages.
So Nirshberg hired a staff of six, set up offices at 3400 Dundee Road and went about advertising for clients. In total, he had approximately 130 clients, he said. But it quickly became obvious that the business just wasn’t viable.
“It was an extremely losing proposition,” Nirshberg said. “So at that point, I just tried to minimize my losses. We looked at the files that were dead on arrival, and the people that were just trying to scam the system, that had money to pay. We gave them their money back and just closed their files. And we just continued working on the files that we felt were going to close.”
According to the attorney general’s office, however, Nirshberg and his company took upfront payments from clients that were illegal, did not supply their clients with the proper paperwork and, in some cases, advised clients skip court dates or stop making mortgage payments. Furthermore, the attorney general’s office alleges that Nirshberg did not return the upfront payments to clients as promised when their loan modifications did not go through—and then became difficult to reach.
“In most instances, after the distressed homeowners pay the defendants upfront fees, they have a difficult time communicating with or reaching the defendants,” the lawsuit reads.
Nirshberg denies those claims, however.
“I was doing everything absolutely right,” he says. “I never ever told people not to make payments…whenever we got any court documents, we told people to go to court.”
As for the upfront payments, Nirshberg admits that Acceptance Financial did charge clients an initial “deposit,” which he says the company kept in escrow.
“I don’t know if it’s legal or not,” he says. “You’re not allowed to charge for work that’s not done.”
But, he says, the deposits went toward actual work—compiling files or translating documents for the many clients who were Russian or Polish immigrants, for example.
“The problem with not taking money upfront is that they aren’t the most creditworthy people in the first place,” he adds.
Nirshberg says he has a hard time believing someone filed a complaint against him, but the attorney general’s lawsuit alleges that nine people have done so. Two are named in the lawsuit—a resident of Northbrook and a couple from Worth, IL.
The complaint alleges that Krzysztof and Marta Dziwisz demanded a refund when their loan modification was denied, but Nirshberg refused to return the money, then stopped answering phone calls. Despite their desire to stop working with him, Nirshberg forged their signatures on one of the mortgage documents and still has not refunded their money, according to the suit.
“Despite failing to secure a loan modification for the Dziwiszes, the defendants continue to refuse to refund the Dziwiszes $1,000 upfront fee,” the complaint reads.
Nirshberg says that the Dziwiszes were the ones who stopped answering the phone, not Acceptance Financial.
“If he would have said, ‘I want a refund,’ if he would have picked up the phone we would have given him a refund,” Nirshberg says.
Patch left a voicemail for the Dziwiszes Wednesday but it was not returned before publication.
Scott Handley is the other person named in the suit. A lifelong Northbrook resident, Handley told Patch he received a letter from the attorney general’s office this summer, indicating that if he didn’t answer the questions in the paperwork, it could affect whether he got a refund if his loan modification failed.
At the time, Acceptance Financial had successfully secured a loan modification on his first mortgage on his condo, but the second mortgage was “still in limbo,” Handley says. He admits he was concerned about the status of the mortgage and the trustworthiness of the company.
“I had called and didn’t get phone calls back,” he recalls. “Getting that letter, of course, scared me, because it meant somebody was complaining.”
Today, Handley is still waiting for a loan modification on his second mortgage. But he’s not convinced that he was a victim of a scam, as the attorney general’s lawsuit alleges.
“I’m not educated enough to say if there’s something going on or not, but I don’t think there is,” he says. “I guess [the attorney general’s office] sent this letter out blindly to everyone who dealt with them…I’m just thinking that they’re sending these letters out to everybody, hoping they’ll write back.”
A representative of the attorney general’s office said she was unable to comment directly on the lawsuit involving Acceptance Financial.
“The way it works in our office is our consumer fraud division takes in complaints filed by consumers against businesses,” said deputy press secretary Maura Possley. “For each complaint that comes in we try to mediate them, and when we see a pattern of fraud…we’ll take action on behalf of the state.”
For now, Nirshberg says he’s trying to finish up the loan modifications for the few clients he has left. His staff is down to himself and one person he pays on a contract basis.
“It’s a headache,” he says. “I have to go in and I have to prove, I have to spend more money on a business where I lost money.”