Two years ago, a striking blond college student from Largo drew national attention for her then-novel approach to job hunting: She made a video resume to send to potential employers.
"If they can see my personality, I'd get a better chance of getting the job," Fallon Rechnitz told the Associated Press for a story that ran across the country.
Rechnitz may have been "at the forefront" of video resumes, as the AP put it, but she apparently failed to land a full-time job in TV news. Instead, the Arizona State graduate returned home and went into the foreclosure prevention business with her father - Gideon Rechnitz, an entrepreneur under investigation by the Florida Bar and the Florida Attorney General's Office for allegedly deceptive practices.
"Are you having trouble making your mortgage payment?" Fallon Rechnitz asks in a flier distributed to bay area homeowners. "If you are, then I may be able to help."
The flier says she is associated with "a group of attorneys who specialize in convincing lenders to lower mortgage payments." The lawyers, who are not identified, can also help "reduce your interest rate" and eliminate the need to "catch up on any payments you're behind on."
"Call me now for a free, no-obligation evaluation of your situation," the flier urges.
On LinkedIn, a social networking Web site, Rechnitz says she worked as a TV intern and as a host for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Los Angeles before starting "my own company,"Loan Modification Enterprises, in March.
State records show the company was actually incorporated by her father. It is at the same St. Petersburg address as other businesses registered to him.
Loan modifications have become a growth industry as millions of Americans face foreclosure. However, consumer advocates warn homeowners to be wary of for-profit companies because they often charge hefty upfront fees and have little success.
State law bans advance fees, but exempts Florida-licensed attorneys who handle loan modifications in the course of representing a client.
Fallon Rechnitz did not respond to requests for comment. Her father referred questions to his lawyer, Sam Heller.
Heller said Loan Modification Enterprises does not take money from consumers and is not involved in renegotiating mortgage terms. Instead, it refers homeowners to a California company, MODS123.com that in turn refers them to lawyers around the country.
Two of the 10 homeowners referred so far by Loan Modification Enterprises hired attorneys, and the Rechnitzes received commissions of about $800 to $1,000, Heller said. Neither he nor a spokesman for MODS123.com knew what the homeowners paid the attorneys, though Heller estimated it at around $2,900.
Rather than get involved in such for-profit transactions, people in trouble with their mortgages should deal directly with the lender or get free help from a Housing and Urban Development Department-approved counselor at a legal aid organization or other nonprofit agency, consumer advocates say.
"Use your money to pay the mortgage instead," the Florida Attorney General's Office advises on its Web site.
History of run-ins
Since June, the attorney general has been investigating allegations that Rechnitz, 62, misrepresented himself in a foreclosure rescue venture that enabled him to acquire dozens of houses at below-market value.
As the St. Petersburg Times reported last year, Rechnitz told beleaguered owners that they could sell their homes to "investors" and stay on as renters until they were able to buy back the property. But many homeowners were confused by the documents Rechnitz asked them to sign and could not meet the strict rental and buyback conditions.
Of the 106 people who signed up for the "foreclosure prevention program," nearly half lost their property even though many had considerable equity. Rechnitz - who didn't reveal that he was the investor - sold some of the houses and rented out others.
Rechnitz has a history of run-ins with regulators, going back to the late '80s when the Federal Trade Commission sued him in connection with a time-share marketing scheme. He lost his Florida real estate license and had to refund $1.25 million to customers.
In 2007, Rechnitz agreed not to represent himself as an attorney following a complaint he had acted like one in obtaining a house from a Manatee County man. Since then, Rechnitz purportedly has told others that he is an attorney.
"We have a pending investigation of him for allegedly engaging in the unlicensed practice of law," said Lori Holcombe, an attorney for the Florida Bar. "We're going to be investigating whether he is violating the cease-and-desist affidavit."
Rechnitz denies the allegation. "He's never told anybody he's a lawyer," Heller said.
Rechnitz is also scheduled for trial this year in civil suits filed by two Sarasota County women who lost their homes to him.
Meanwhile, his 25-year-old daughter has her own legal problems.
St. Petersburg code investigators have cited Fallon Rechnitz six times since June for violating city code by putting up "Save Your Home - Stop Foreclosure" signs on public rights of way. She has been ordered to appear in court Thursday. The violations are misdemeanors that carry a maximum fine of up to $500 per sign per location.
"Those were old signs," her lawyer said. "No new signs were put up after the June citation."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this story. Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at email@example.com.