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Swindler Gets 20 Years Prison for Conning Elderly Victims



LOS ANGELES – A long-time con artist was sentenced to 240 months in federal prison for running a multi-million-dollar real estate scam that conned elderly people out of their homes, gouging them with fraudulent threats of litigation and extorting monthly payments for illegal foreclosure and eviction delay.

Michael “Mickey” Henschel was sentenced by United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips. A restitution hearing in this matter has been scheduled for December 2.

Henschel pleaded guilty on May 13 to one count of mail fraud after spending years filing fraudulent documents on homeowners’ properties, and then using the fraudulent filings and fraudulent litigation to steal money from victims, sometimes stealing homes outright, and other times extorting settlement payments in actual or threatened civil litigation.

Henschel – who used various aliases, including “Frank Winston,” “Steve Lopez” and “Ron Berman” – and his co-conspirators deceived vulnerable homeowners – typically elderly people in financial distress, some of whom spoke limited English.

Henschel tricked the homeowners into signing fraudulent deeds on their properties with false promises that the deeds would help homeowners protect properties from creditors or enable them to get equity out of the properties.

Unbeknownst to his victims, the deeds described fake loans that the homeowners were supposedly guaranteeing for third parties, and in signing the deeds, they were pledging their houses as collateral for these fake loans. Henschel used the fraudulent deeds to steal homes and money from the victims.

In total, the scheme generated more than $17 million in profits. Henschel’s fraudulent conduct also caused losses to mortgage lenders in connection with lawful foreclosure actions and to purchasers of foreclosed properties in depriving them of lawful possession to those properties.

Henschel’s criminal conduct devastated his victims, leaving some of them penniless. Many other victims had to face financial insecurity – even homelessness – in their old age as they struggled to pay for basic necessities such as food and clothing. Several victims lost homes that their families had owned for generations.

One victim, who spent her entire career teaching developmentally disabled students, purchased a home and spent decades paying down most of her mortgage, only to have Henschel and his co-conspirators fraudulently steal it from her.

The real estate fraud scheme had two parts: one involving property theft and litigation extortion, and the other involving illegal foreclosure and eviction delay.

“Assault by legal paperwork, unscrupulous litigation tactic, and low-ball settlement demands were all part of the scheme, as victims often found it cheaper to pay defendant than to fight him, and defendant intentionally arbitraged the high cost of state court civil litigation to extort settlement payments,” the government wrote in its sentencing memorandum.

Many of the fraudulent bankruptcies were filed in the names of fictional people and entities, and some involved stolen identities. Henschel and his co-conspirators sent fake deeds and fraudulent bankruptcy petitions to trustees to stop foreclosure sales.

They delayed evictions in a similar way, mainly by filing fraudulent documents in state court unlawful detainer actions and then sending bogus documents to various county sheriff’s offices.

A total of seven defendants linked to Henschel’s Van Nuys-based companies have been convicted of crimes related to the scheme. Those defendants are scheduled to be sentenced later this year.

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Consumer News

Drives Aim to Keep Historic Restaurants Alive During Outbreak



Owner Dimitri Komarov at the famous Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood, Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

LOS ANGELES (Daily News) — With restaurants limited to takeout service or shut down completely by the coronavirus outbreak, a drive has been launched to keep some of Los Angeles’ legendary eateries from fading away.

Known as 1933 Group, the team operates about a dozen themed bars and restaurants in Los Angeles, including the barrel-shaped bar Idle Hour in North Hollywood, Harlowe in West Hollywood, Highland Park Bowl and the Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood.

Many of them have shuttered in recent days amid strict orders implemented by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor Eric Garcetti, aiming to stem the flow of deadly COVID-19.

“We are struggling to survive,” said Dimitri Komarov, the venues’ co-owner. “The impact is dire. We’re losing our […]

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Target Modifying Hours, Dedicated Shopping Time for ‘Vulnerable Guests’



Photo: Wikimedia Commons

(ABC7) — Target is cutting back its hours and introducing dedicated shopping time for “vulnerable guests,” the company announced Tuesday.

Beginning Wednesday, March 18, Target stores will close by 9 p.m. local time daily to allow more time for cleaning and restocking overnight. Any stores that normally close before 9 p.m. will continue to close at their regularly scheduled closing time.

The retailer said it is fast-tracking high-demand items in its supply chain as well as adding extra payroll hours focused specifically on cleaning and sanitation. Customer-facing touchpoints will be cleaned at least every 30 minutes going forward.

Target is also closing Target Cafés, Pizza Huts, Snack Bars, Beverage Bars, Starbucks seating areas and condiment stations in stores until further notice. RELATED: How is […]

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Costco Yanking Food Court Seating, But Still Selling Dogs & Pop




(TMZ) — Costco’s been packed to the gills lately — and to get folks the hell out of their warehouses ASAP … certain locations aren’t even giving you the option to park it anymore for a bite.

Check out these photos TMZ got of the Costco location out in Arlington, VA — just a stone’s throw from D.C. — where they’ve got their act together down to a tee … especially in the food court area, where they’ve yanked all the dining room tables that are normally there.

As you can see … the area in front of the pick-up window — which is usually designated for seating — has been completely cleared. Heck, even most of the food options are limited … looks like their hot dog and soda special is one of the few things you can grab to go (emphasis on go).

When it comes to the other survival staples members have been clamoring for these past few days — it appears the Arlington location lets you know from the jump what’s available … and what isn’t. They got signs out front indicating which products are in stock.

It’s certainly efficient, and right on brand with Costco as a whole. With lines wrapping around the building, it looks like the honchos figured out easy ways to save people time and headaches — especially when it comes to post-spree meals people might wanna indulge in.

Measures like pulling the dining tables are happening at several different locations across the country — and pretty soon … most of them might very well be doing this.

So, don’t consider Costco a place to casually shop and nosh — it’s turned into In-N-Out these days. Hop to it now!

Customers Lining Up For Coronavirus Supplies

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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