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Consumer News

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

LA Alcohol Delivery Sees Massive Spike Following “Safer at Home” Order



Photo by Waldemar Brandt

LOS ANGELES — Following California Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Safer at Home” order, Saucey has experienced an unprecedented number of users on their alcohol delivery platform.

The company has seen a 300% increase in area sales compared to a standard delivery day.

“As the concern over the COVID-19 virus has grown at both the state and public levels, I think you’re not so coincidentally seeing a rise in people ordering alcohol,” says Saucey co-founder and CEO Chris Vaughn. “We’re feeling the effects elsewhere too, like San Francisco and Chicago; we’re doing our best to assist everyone who wants to use us and use us safely.”

The Los Angeles-based app recognizes they are among select delivery services fortunate enough to be helping people in a variety of markets as they practice social distancing and protect themselves from the rapidly spreading Coronavirus.

“It’s good to see so many people making lifestyle adjustments that let them be as comfortable as they can be during this time,” Vaughn said.

There may be something to that comfort thing. Since March 15, Saucey has seen ice cream sales spike by 500% and soft drinks by 150%. Lime sales also spiked by 350%, potentially pointing to more people making mixed drinks.

As for the alcohol, vodka tops Saucey’s spirit sales and is up by 250%. Whiskey, however, saw the greatest spike at 300%. IPAs held the highest increase in sales in their beer category at 300%.

Saucey will continue providing safe deliveries to the people of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, San Diego, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Silicon Valley, Orange County and San Jose.

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Costco Says Don’t Even Think of Returning Toilet Paper




(TMZ) — Costco is unsympathetic to all the folks who stocked up on toilet paper like they were never gonna get another sheet … because the superstore has made it clear — NO REFUNDS!!!

This sign was plastered on the wall of the Costco in Pentagon City outside Washington, D.C. Now that people have settled in, it seems they’re realizing they have waaaaaay too much toilet paper, hand sanitizer, wipes and Lysol, and apparently some are trying to return it for cash.

You gotta be a little sympathetic … lots of people got laid off after they hoarded these items, so money is a huge issue.

Also on the no-return list — Water and rice.

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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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