Connecticut Marshals Make Millions Serving Foreclosure Papers
By DAVE ALTIMARI And MATTHEW KAUFFMAN | Courant Staff Writers
June 23, 2008
Last year, John T. Fiorillo earned almost twice as much as University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma and more than 10 times the salary of Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
The Bristol resident grossed more than $2 million, but not by coaching a team to the Final Four or running state government. Fiorillo is a self-employed state marshal who serves legal papers to people about to lose their homes through foreclosure.
Fiorillo's bounty can be attributed to his relationship with two law firms — Hunt Leibert Jacobson and Reiner, Reiner and Bendett — that have a virtual monopoly on the burgeoning foreclosure market.
Last year, the firms gave millions of dollars worth of foreclosure business to Fiorillo and a small band of state marshals who either work for Fiorillo in Hartford County or have been designated by the firms as the go-to marshalsin other counties. The marshals serve papers on banking institutions, homeowners and town clerk offices, pocketing a state-established fee that typically ranges from $350 to $400 per service.
Six state marshals grossed more than $500,000 last year, including four who earned nearly all of their money serving foreclosure notices for Hunt Leibert and Reiner, Reiner. In addition to Fiorillo, Hartford County marshal Charles Ferrato grossed more than $865,000; in New Haven County, Edward DiLieto collected more than $580,000. Thomas Foldy of Fairfield County grossed more than $525,000.
Connecticut's 217 state marshals are required to file annual income statements with the Office of State Ethics. A review of those filings shows that 61 state marshals grossed more than $100,000 in 2007. Another 53 grossed between $50,000 and $100,000. The marshal who earned the least money was Richard Fredo Jr. of Somers, who reported income of $633.
State marshals aren't state employees earning weekly paychecks. They are independent contractors paid by clients to serve legal papers, mostly from civil cases or divorces. They are not judicial marshals, who are state employees assigned to provide courthouse security.
Until eight years ago, the business of serving court papers was controlled by elected county sheriffs, who doled out the lucrative jobs to political allies. But following a string of corruption scandals, voters amended the state constitution in 2000 to abolish the sheriff system and turn the work over to state marshals controlled by a new State Marshal Commission.
But all of the paper-servers were allowed to keep their jobs, and more than two-thirds of the current state marshals were active when the system was ruled by patronage. Fiorillo and Ferrato, for example, began serving papers 20 years ago under former Hartford County Sheriff Alfred J. Rioux, who was later convicted on federal charges of extorting money from his deputies. And in 1996, Fiorillo and Ferrato were fined by the state Elections Enforcement Commission for making illegal campaign loans to Rioux's successor, Walter J. Kupchunos.
Almost all state marshals have expenses ranging from gas mileage to copying costs. Fiorillo, who maintains an office with clerical staff, lists more than $1.2 million in expenses, leaving his net income at about $878,000 in 2007. Fiorillo did not return repeated phone calls.
Ferrato said the marshals' bounty is based partly on the bad economy.
"What you have to understand is that when the economy is bad, our business picks up. When the economy is good our business drops," Ferrato said. "The amount of foreclosures coming in is mind-boggling. This is why we're so busy. The court can't even keep up with them all."
Ferrato said he no longer does foreclosure work and that all of Hunt Leibert's and Reiner, Reiner's work now goes through Fiorillo. Ferrato said foreclosure papers are sent to Fiorillo's Hartford office, where it is determined if service can be made in Hartford County. If not, the papers are parceled to other marshals designated by the two law firms.
"Everything goes through the Hartford office. It's easier for them to go through and copy it all, catch any mistakes and then the marshals from other counties would pick up their work and serve it," Ferrato said.
"We never picked any of the marshals. The law firms would say, 'This is who we want you to use in New London County or this is the marshal to use in Fairfield County.'"
The money some marshals are making and their relationships with the two law firms has drawn interest from Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
Blumenthal said his office is looking into why only certain marshals are getting all of the work from the two law firms.
"I think it is fair to investigate whether there are any conflicts of interest and to make sure that proper service of legal papers is being done," Blumenthal said.
The large volume of papers to serve and the pressure to serve them quickly also has state investigators wondering if some marshals are cutting corners.
Pamela Wall fought in Superior Court in Milford to get a foreclosure overturned after claiming in court filings that Foldy, the Fairfield County marshal, had failed to properly serve her notice.
Hunt Leibert filed a foreclosure notice against Wall's Seymour property Sept. 18, 2007. As with all of its cases in Fairfield County, the firm used Foldy to deliver the legal papers.
Foldy, who could not be reached for comment, mailed them to an address in California where Wall hadn't lived for three years and also said he hand-delivered them to Wall's home at 606 Post Road in Westport. That address, according to court records, is a post office box.
Unaware that her house was facing foreclosure, Wall didn't file an appearance in Superior Court as required by state law. Within a month, Hunt Leibert filed for default because she didn't appear in court.
It was only about a week before the scheduled sale that Wall found out about the suit and filed a motion asking a judge to reopen the case.
The judge granted the motion, and a few weeks later Hunt Leibert withdrew the lawsuit, even though there was no deal between Wall and the bank on a new mortgage plan.
Wall said she got a visit from investigators from Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane's office seeking documents related to her case.
"It was clear they were investigating whether there was a pattern of illegal service by Foldy," she said.
"I almost lost my house without ever even knowing it because of him."
Last week, Hunt Liebert refiled a foreclosure notice against Wall. This time, Wall said, Fiorillo served the papers.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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