ST. PETERSBURG — Agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement raided the St. Petersburg offices of suspended foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa Tuesday morning.
Acting in conjunction with the Office of Statewide Prosecution, which prosecutes alleged crimes involving two or more judicial circuits, agents removed boxes from space Stopa rented in a downtown office building.
Attorney Todd Foster, whose Tampa law firm represents Stopa, said a search warrant included a list of files authorities want to look at.
"We have nothing to hide and we will cooperate with the FDLE and whoever wants to examine the records," Foster said. "We’re happy to provide (the records) and we would have provided them without a search warrant."
During the raid, Stopa, 41, declined comment to a reporter at the scene. He paced nervously around the building’s parking lot or sat with Foster’s colleague, attorney, Natalia Silver, at the end of a long corridor leading to his office.
"He keeps wanting to go back there," one agent told Silver. "He can’t."
In May, a Pinellas County judge acting as a referee in the Florida Bar’s case against Stopa recommended that he be suspend for a year for numerous violations of Bar rules. Among other misconduct, he nearly cost two clients their homes when he failed to tell them about settlement offers from the banks.
The referee also recommended Stopa undergo at least a year of mental health treatment for what she said was "clearly an emotional problem" evidenced by such angry outbursts that some trial judges threw him out of their courtrooms.
Last month, the Florida Supreme Court issued an immediate emergency suspension after the Bar said Stopa continued to engage in misconduct. Among the new allegations were that he failed to disclose his ownership stake in a company to which a client deeded her house; and that he instructed one client to lie about the amount he had borrowed
That client now faces felony perjury charges.
Stopa once estimated that he had represented 7,000 struggling homeowners during the foreclosure crisis, and his law firm still had 4,000 pending cases at the time of his suspension. Those cases are being handled by lawyers in the firm Stay In My Home, which operates out of the same space.
"Mr. Stopa was the face of the firm but there are many attorneys who are still working hard on representing clients," said Richard Mockler, a Tampa attorney who took over Stopa’s practice. "Mr. Stopa hasn’t been affiliated with the firm since his emergency suspension."
The Bar would not say whether it had referred its case to the Office of Statewide Prosecution.
"Because our case against Stopa… is pending at the Supreme Court, we will continue to pursue a disciplinary sanction and will cooperate with any requests by FDLE for public records from our file," Francine Walker, the Bar’s director of public information, said in an email.
Stopa recently said he planned to start a company to help homeowners negotiate "short pays," a foreclosure alternative in which the bank agrees to accept a lower amount that what is owed. Unlike a short sale, though, the borrower would keep the house but with a new loan under more favorable terms.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.