Attorney faces felony charges in foreclosure break-ins

August 11, 2011 7:28:29 PM PDT
A Southern California attorney accused of bilking distressed homeowners is facing felony charges and could wind up getting disbarred. The attorney is advising clients in Marin County and around the state to break into their former homes after losing them to foreclosure.

"I'm giong to precipitate an armed confrontation," Michael Pines said in a cell phone video obtained by San Diego's KGTV. "You want me to say it again? I'm going to force an armed confrontation."

KGTV was on-hand in October when Pines helped a family break back into their foreclosed home in Escondido, the same thing 75-year-old Mill Valley resident Ursula McComas said Pines told her to do after she paid him a $5,000 retainer. The Mill Valley Police Department later hauled McComas away in handcuffs.

"It was just humiliating," McComas said. "I couldn't believe what was happening. It was so inhumane."

The bruises that the handcuffs left were still visible on McComas.

Pines has been arrested numerous times himself for trespassing and confronting security guards while helping his clients break into homes. He sees nothing wrong with the advice he gives his clients.

"Martin Luther King got arrested, I don't know how many times," Pines said. "So did other world leaders that turned out to be right in the end."

Jose Toletino of Novato also hired Pines to save his home -- money that Toletino now says was wasted.

"I don't think he's lawyer enough to get it done," Toletino said. "After we gave him the $5,000, we basically received no service from him."

Manny Fernandez, the executive director of the non-profit Marin Family Action, said it's horrible what his clients have had happen because of Pines. The foreclosure support group invited Pines to speak at one of its meetings not too long ago.

"At this time, everything was clean," said Fernandez. "There were no complaints about him. There was nothing."

Fernandez said seven families in his support group hired Pines and received nothing in return. Many had already lost their homes.

"That's why I said to the do it on your own because I need to meet with this guy," Fernandez said. "We had been screwed over two or three times, and they agreed upon it. I don't feel any responsibility at all."

The Toletino family says they'll be happy if they are able to short-sell their home. For now, all they want is their money back from Pines.

"I feel sad and mad that he didn't do anything for us despite the money that we paid him, so we're hoping to get it back," Anna Toletino said.

As for McComas: She's now renting a home and is ready to move on.

"Once I was out for a while and the trauma eventually passed, I realized that I could reinvent my life and start all over again," McComas said.

The Marin County District Attorney's office has decided not to prosecute McComas. Pines, on the other hand, faces five felony charges in San Diego County. Pines has yet to enter a plea.

Pines is prohibited by the State Bar from practicing law while it moves to discipline him.

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