Fayette attorney charged with theft from elderly
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A Fayette County lawyer was charged yesterday with stealing nearly $100,000 in mortgage settlement payments from older clients.
Mark Morrison, 49, of Hopwood, was charged by the state attorney general's Elder Abuse Unit for an alleged theft and forgery scheme that took advantage of the elderly during mortgage settlements.
The Elder Abuse Unit was created two months ago to address the growing number of crimes targeted at the state's nearly 2 million seniors. The team of 26 people is drawn from prosecutors and civil rights, charitable trust, health care and other lawyers who focus on prosecuting those who prey on seniors.
The charges say that Mr. Morrison, a former assistant district attorney for Fayette County and a former solicitor for the Fayette County Airport Authority, in August and December of 2005, while serving as a private attorney, handled mortgage settlements for two elderly couples in Fayette County. As part of the settlements, Mr. Morrison was supplied with funds to settle all previous outstanding mortgage loans on the properties.
Among other matters, settlement attorneys help collect the necessary funds to close on a property and make sure that payments are forwarded to the seller, lender, real estate agent, and the county and state.
Attorney General Tom Corbett said that, according to the charges, Mr. Morrison used a small portion of the funds to settle smaller mortgages on properties, but kept $99,182 for his own benefit -- concealing the fact that he had not paid off all of the loans, as he was obligated to do.
The charges also say that Mr. Morrison changed the billing address for one of the mortgage loans and began making smaller monthly payments himself.
The alleged scheme was discovered in March 2006 when a payment arrived late and the mortgage company contacted the property owners, informing them that the loan had not been paid off, as they had believed.
Additionally, Mr. Morrison was charged with falsifying documents concerning title insurance, which he claimed to have obtained for the two mortgage settlements.
According to the criminal complaint, forged letters, purportedly from First American Title Insurance, were presented by Mr. Morrison at both closings. Those letters falsely stated that Mr. Morrison was an "issuing agent" or "approved attorney" for First American and bore the authorizing signature of an individual who does not work for the title insurance company.
The charges also state that Mr. Morrison failed to make other required payments from the mortgage settlements, including taxes, hazard insurance fees, broker fees and processing fees.
The attorney general said that, according to the criminal complaint, a review of Mr. Morrison's business and personal bank records showed that the funds to pay off various mortgages were electronically transferred into a secure account controlled by Mr. Morrison, but those funds were depleted without any payments to the mortgage companies.
Mr. Morrison is charged with two counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds and forgery, third-degree felonies each punishable by up to seven years in prison and $15,000 in fines.
Mr. Morrison is also charged with two counts of tampering with public records and misapplication of entrusted property, first-degree misdemeanors each punishable by up to one year in prison and $10,000 in fines.
He was arraigned yesterday in Uniontown and released on $100,000 unsecured bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 21.
First Published August 23, 2006 12:00 am