Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Real Estate

Mark Stopa’s former law firm files bankruptcy petition to liquidate its assets

TAMPA — The former law firm of St. Petersburg attorney Mark Stopa declared bankruptcy Tuesday, marking the end of one of Florida’s biggest and most controversial foreclosure defense firms.

The petition by Stay In My Home P.A., estimates the number of creditors — the people and businesses owed money by the firm — at between 1,000 and 5,000. It includes the names and addresses of hundreds of individuals from all over Florida, apparently homeowners who had hired Stopa’s firm to keep them from foreclosure.

Filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Tampa, the petition estimates the firm’s assets at $50,000 to $100,000 and its liabilities at $100,000 to $500,000 — though those figures could be revised as the case proceeds.

The petition was filed under Chapter 7 of the federal bankruptcy code, commonly known as a liquidation bankruptcy. That means assets are sold to pay creditors. Typically, most creditors are paid only cents on the dollar, if they receive anything at all.

Attorney Richard Mockler, who took over Stopa’s practice in July and signed the petition, notified some business creditors by email on Tuesday.

"I had high hopes for success,’’ Mocker wrote to one creditor. "But, as you may have read in the papers, I had no idea of the quantum and degree of liability and other problems associated with the law firm.’’

AUTHORITIES: Foreclosure lawyer Mark Stopa made nearly $5 million off clients’ homes

In a motion filed in a North Florida foreclosure case last month, Mockler had warned that a bankruptcy filing was imminent given the chaos that had beset the firm.

The problems began this spring when a judge acting as referee in a Florida Bar case against Stopa recommended he be suspended for a year because of professional misconduct. However, he had not yet been suspended when Mockler took over his law practice and 4,000 pending cases.

At that point, "there was no reason to think (the practice) wasn’t salvageable,’’ Mockler told the Tampa Bay Times.

Then came an emergency suspension of Stopa for continued misconduct and a Florida Department of Law Enforcement raid on his offices. The firm’s computers were seized and accounts frozen, leaving no way to make payroll, Mockler said. Most of the attorneys and staff quit.

Stay in My Home, P.A. , formerly known as Stopa Law Firm, is being represented in the bankruptcy case by Tampa lawyer Scott Stichter.

Neither Stopa nor Mockler could be reached for comment. In the application for a warrant to search his law offices, a state agent said Stopa was under criminal investigation for alleged equity skimming, a type of mortgage fraud. Among other things, the warrant said, Stopa used shell corporations to get title to clients’ homes, then rented them out while fighting the foreclosure case.

Mockler told the Times recently that taking over Stopa’s practice "has ruined my life.’’

MORE: Go here for more Business News

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

Comments
They’ve met 475 Tuesdays in a row to help real estate pros rebound from the housing crash

They’ve met 475 Tuesdays in a row to help real estate pros rebound from the housing crash

TAMPA — A decade ago this fall, the U.S. economy was in crisis. The investment firm Lehman Brothers collapsed in the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history. Major banks were about to fail. The stock market plunged. And in Florida, "real estate stopped co...
Published: 10/17/18
Rising mortgage rates push monthly house payments higher

Rising mortgage rates push monthly house payments higher

Buying a house? Rising mortgage rates are pushing monthly payments for the typical U.S. home 15.4 percent higher than they would have been if you had purchased a year ago, Zillow says. Since January, the average mortgage rate has climbed from about ...
Published: 10/16/18
Is Tampa Bay headed for another housing bubble? Not this time around

Is Tampa Bay headed for another housing bubble? Not this time around

Home prices keep climbing. Houses sprout in long dormant parts of Pasco and Hillsborough counties. Condo towers rise in our downtowns. It’s no wonder I’m often asked whether we are creating another housing bubble like the one that plunged the economy...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/15/18

Tampa Bay foreclosure filings soar in third quarter of 2018

Counter to the national trend, the Tampa Bay area saw a sharp spike in new foreclosure filings in the third quarter of this year. Lenders began foreclosing on 1,796 bay area homes, 20 percent more than in the same period last year, according to the ...
Published: 10/11/18
Tampa Bay cracks national Top 10 list for real estate investors

Tampa Bay cracks national Top 10 list for real estate investors

It’s taken 40 years but the Tampa Bay area has finally been named one of the nation’s top 10 markets for real estate investors.And we’re not talking just house flippers but also big-time investors prepared to sink millions into warehouses, office bui...
Published: 10/10/18
Updated: 10/11/18
Habitat for Humanity buys back mortgages it sold to real estate investors

Habitat for Humanity buys back mortgages it sold to real estate investors

TAMPA — Starting Oct. 24, a group of Tampa homeowners will once again make their mortgage payments to Habitat for Humanity Hillsborough instead of to a real estate investment firm. Habitat announced today that it has repurchased 12 mortgages from Sou...
Published: 10/09/18
Insurers begin to stop writing new homeowners policies ahead of Hurricane Michael

Insurers begin to stop writing new homeowners policies ahead of Hurricane Michael

Hurricane Michael is fast-approaching the Sunshine State, and insurers are beginning to put freezes on new homeowners insurance policies ahead of the storm.Citizens Property Insurance, the state-run "insurer of last resort," stopped writing new homeo...
Published: 10/08/18
Want to buy some time? West Tampa cigar factory with iconic clock tower is up for sale

Want to buy some time? West Tampa cigar factory with iconic clock tower is up for sale

TAMPA — Based on size alone, the red brick Y. Pendas y Alvarez Cigar Factory at 2301 N. Albany Ave. was a spectacle when it was built in 1909.But it was the clock tower people marveled at the most.At 120 feet high, it was the tallest in the state, pl...
Published: 10/03/18
Updated: 10/04/18
Mark Stopa’s former law firm files bankruptcy petition to liquidate its assets

Mark Stopa’s former law firm files bankruptcy petition to liquidate its assets

TAMPA — The former law firm of St. Petersburg attorney Mark Stopa declared bankruptcy Tuesday, marking the end of one of Florida’s biggest and most controversial foreclosure defense firms. The petition by Stay In My Home P.A., estimates the number of...
Updated one month ago
11-story boutique hotel planned for St. Pete’s Edge District

11-story boutique hotel planned for St. Pete’s Edge District

ST. PETERSBURG — A Michigan company is planning what would be the first hotel in the trendy Edge District west of downtown St. Petersburg.The area between 16th Street N and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street "is becoming the district to be in whether ...
Updated one month ago