Two Chicago attorneys who built a nationwide business in the 1990s and early 2000s purportedly helping consumers resolve personal debt issues have been suspended from practicing law in Illinois for the next two years.
Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court announced it had affirmed the recommendation of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission to suspend the law licenses of Jeffrey John Aleman and Thomas George Macey.
The court also announced actions on a number of other attorney disciplinary matters recommended to the justices by the ARDC.
Aleman, who had been licensed in Illinois since 1997, and Macey, licensed since 1993, had partnered to build and manage the practice known as Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, which, according to the ARDC’s report, had represented 30,000 people across the country, including 2,200 in Illinois, with consumer debt issues from 2009 to 2012.
Macey and Aleman are also partners in Macey Bankruptcy Law, which they state is the largest bankruptcy law firm in the country, handling 15,000 cases annually.
The ARDC alleged the pair, however, after 2008, doled out most of the work to nine debt settlement companies in other states, allowing non-lawyers working for those companies to provide legal advice and guidance to clients seeking legal help.
Under the business model, the ARDC alleged Legal Helpers would “market the law firm’s services and refer clients to the law firm … (then) refer the client back to the debt settlement company for ‘law-related services,’ which included managing the client’s file and negotiating the client’s debts with creditors.”
The Illinois Attorney General’s office took action against Legal Helpers in 2011, which was settled a year later. Under that deal, Legal Helpers agreed to stop soliciting and enrolling clients in Illinois and to stop collecting fees from existing clients. Additionally, the company paid $2.1 million in restitution in Illinois and $150,000 to the state of Illinois.
Legal Helpers faced enforcement actions in other states, as well.
In December 2014, the ARDC recommended the state suspend Aleman and Macey for two years, noting the harm the lawyers’ conduct through Legal Helpers had done to “vulnerable and unsophisticated clients” and Aleman’s and Macey’s “significant financial gain and lack of understanding of their misconduct and failure to appreciate the actual harm they caused.”
“Clients came to LHDR because they were under financial pressures,” the ARDC Review Board wrote in its recommendation. “In many instances, their involvement with LHDR caused them to experience even greater financial problems as well as emotional distress. After ending their relationships with LHDR, many clients had to file for bankruptcy and incur additional attorney fees.
“(Aleman and Macey) placed more importance on their own success and financial gain than they did on their clients’ interests.”
Other attorneys disciplined by the Illinois Supreme Court included:
- Matthew Charles Montgomery, of Des Moines, who was disbarred on consent. The ARDC said Montgomery “sought and received reimbursement from his law firm for more than $130,000 in fictitious travel and other expenses purportedly relating to client matters” from 2010-2014.
- Joseph Patrick McCaffery, of Aurora, who was disbarred. The ARDC said McCaffery “misappropriated over $8,400 in client funds, made false statements to a court and the ARDC about his use of some of the funds, and failed to return unearned fees.” They further alleged he had filed a “frivolous request to hold a prosecutor in contempt” and had kept his clients misinformed in a foreclosure case while renting the clients’ property without their consent for his own financial gain, among other allegations.
- Deeba Khursheed Mallick, who was disbarred on consent. She has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of misprision of felony in connection with her role at Gallant Pharma International, in which she admitted to arranging for the importation and distribution of “misbranded, non-FDA approved” chemotherapy drugs. She was sentenced to nine months in prison, as well.
- Jerry Lee Peteet,of Gary, Ind., who was disbarred, in connection with his convictions in federal court on racketeering and attempted murder charges arising from his involvement with the motorcycle club, the Wheels of Soul.
- John Charles Roth, of Naperville, who was disbarred. The ARDC said he filed a false affidavit and medical report in a malpractice case, while placing $16,000 of unearned client money into “an account other than a client trust, then used those client funds for his own purposes without authority.”
- Karim G. Dure, of Evanston, was disbarred on consent, in connection with his guilty plea to federal wire fraud charges arising from his involvement in an alleged scheme to obtain fraudulent mortgage loans to help a client buy two Chicago properties.
- Jerold Wayne Barringer, of Nokomis, was suspended for six months.
- Charles Augustus Boyle, of Chicago, was suspended for 60 days.
- Thomas Andrew Dorsey II, of Springfield, was suspended for six months.
- Robert Vernon Elder, of Sullivan, was suspended for 90 days.
- Andre Mandell Grant, of Chicago, was suspended for 30 days.
- Michael Louis Hill, of Chicago, was suspended for four months.
- Raymond L. Huff, of Peoria, was suspended for six months and until further order of the Supreme Court.
- William Edmund Kelly, of Oak Brook, was suspended for 60 days.
- Pengtian Ma, of Chicago, was suspended for 60 days.
- David Thomas Odom, of Naperville, was suspended for 18 months and until further order of the Supreme Court for representing a client while serving a previous law license suspension.
- Sara Suzanne Ruff, of Taylorville, was suspended for one year and until further order of the Supreme Court in connection with her recent convictions on charges of possession of heroin.
- Yvor Edouard Stoakley, of Naperville, was suspended for nine months.
- Joanne Marie Denison, of Niles, was suspended until further order of the Supreme Court for “repeatedly making false statements concerning the integrity of judges and others” in blog postings.
- George Nicolas Panagoulias, of Des Plaines, who was suspended for two years for violating the terms of a conditional disciplinary probation. He was convicted on DUI charges in Michigan and failed to report the conviction to the ARDC, the commission said.
- David Joseph Simard, of Henderson, Nev., was suspended until further order of the Supreme Court in connection with his conviction in California on charges of grand theft and conspiracy to defraud for his role in allegedly helping a friend defraud an employer of $260,000.