Aurora attorney facing more disciplinary complaints
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain and Matt Hanley firstname.lastname@example.org October 1, 2012 1:20PM
Constance Coleman talks about how she might have to move out of her rental home while sitting in it in Bolingbrook, IL on Saturday, August 18, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 1, 2012 8:09PM
An Aurora attorney already facing a disciplinary complaint for taking money from a fundraiser for a three Aurora teens is now facing more legal problems.
In 2010, the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint against Joseph P. McCaffery, accusing him of mishandling thousands of dollars in donations for the teens, who were seriously injured in a car crash.
Now, he is being investigated in a case involving a foreclosure dispute in Bolingbrook.
For more than a year, Constance Coleman complained to anyone who would listen that the lawyer who rented her a Bolingbrook home didn’t tell her the house was in foreclosure.
Coleman found out that the home’s real owners, Jennifer and Steven Gibson, had no idea their house on Pinecrest Road was rented out by McCaffery after they moved away.
McCaffery was hired to expedite the foreclosure case, Jennifer Gibson said. But the couple now say they believe McCaffery purposely delayed their foreclosure so he could collect more rent money.
McCaffery said he told Coleman the home was in foreclosure. He said he had power of attorney over the residence and he collected rent as payment for legal services.
“It gives me all power with respect to that property,” he said. “I could have sold it. I could have rented it. I could have lived in it. ... I can burn it down if I want to.”
On Sept. 20, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) filed a complaint that alleges McCaffery rented the home without permission.
The document also claims that McCaffery misrepresented himself as the owner’s agent to the Housing Authority of Joliet to collect about $20,000 in rent from the agency’s Section 8 housing assistance program. Coleman paid an additional $8,000 in rent. The complaint also says there is evidence McCaffery “took no action to expedite the foreclosure.”
Gibsons: ‘no idea’
Jennifer Gibson said she didn’t know anything was amiss until she returned to the home in June 2011 and found Coleman living in the house.
“We had no idea he (McCaffery) was renting it, and we never saw any of the money,” Gibson said.
She said the lawyer received a flat payment of $2,500. She also said he didn’t seem to be expediting it as instructed.
“He went for eight months without talking to us,” she said.
The Gibsons weren’t the only people who didn’t know what was going on. The housing authority paid its portion of the home’s rent even after the foreclosure was complete. Some of the money went to pay off an IRS lien for McCaffery’s unpaid taxes.
Joyce Johnson, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program coordinator for the Joliet housing authority, said McCaffery told the agency he was managing the property.
“As soon as we found out something was going on, we stopped the payments,” Johnson said.
McCaffery denies all of the allegations leveled by Coleman, the Gibsons and the ARDC.
“The banks control the pace of a mortgage foreclosure,” he said. “I did not delay the matter intentionally. I did not do it with the intention of lining my pockets.”
McCaffery’s license was previously suspended by the ARDC in 1999 for “neglect of criminal appeals, failure to keep his clients informed of the status of their cases, failure to refund unearned legal fees, repeated false and misleading statements to the court and his clients”.
The 2010 complaint, which includes the Aurora incident, is pending before the ARDC’s hearing board now.
In the Aurora case, McCaffery was representing three Aurora teenagers who were hit by a drunken driver while walking home from a convenience store on the near East Side. The teens suffered various injuries; the most serious was a girl who had her leg amputated.
A fundraising drive to help the families was started at McCaffery’s suggestion.
The teens’ families were upset they could not use any of the money from the fundraisers to help with gas for transportation to the hospital where one of the teens was treated for several months.
McCaffery denied doing anything wrong and said he billed the fundraiser for legal services.
According to records McCaffery submitted to the court, about $4,953 was collected through direct donations and candy bar sales. McCaffery’s records show he paid the families $280, then billed the fund $1,651 for his services and another $3,000 for work done by his wife’s public relations firm.
The complaint says McCaffery wrote checks from the fundraiser account for business or personal reasons until the account was overdrawn by $177. The complaint charges McCaffery with failing to safeguard funds, dishonest conduct, fraud and deceit.
McCaffery previously told The Beacon-News he had a written agreement to withdraw legal fees from the fundraiser. The teens’ families said they never signed an agreement.
McCaffery expects to win his cases pending before the ARDC.
“They’re nothing more than a purge organization for lawyers,” he said of the agency.