-You now live in Cambridge, according to your campaign filings, so why have you not removed the homestead filing in which you declare your Boston property as your principal residence?
-Why did a Florida condo association file a lien against you last month for more than $12,000 in unpaid fees?
-If $1,000 or more of those fees were owed at the end of 2006, why wasn't the debt disclosed on Item 28 in the Statement of Financial Interests (“SFI”) you filed as a candidate this year?
-Why wasn't your status as an officer or director in several entities disclosed in the SFIs?
-The SFI says your have borrowed more than $750,000 on the Boston house and the Florida condo. Why do you not identify your lenders on the SFI? Is there anything in the SFI instructions that permits you to call them “private” without disclosing any more?
-Your SFI says that your law firm grosses $60,000 to $100,000 a year and that you have no income from securities and investments: can you explain how a gross of $100,000 or less permits you to pay your law firm overhead (apparently including an associate's salary), along with your normal living expenses, and the monthly payments on the more than $750,000 in loans you have taken out on the Boston and Florida properties?
-Although you have contributed more than $51,000 to date to your campaign for the Senate, the campaign has raised less than $9,000 from all the 25 other contributors combined and is more than $9,000 in the red as of this week: How do you plan to continue funding your campaign without relying on lobbyists or special interest groups?
-Why do you say in your divorce filings that you left Massachusetts in 2002 or so to work at a New York firm but omit all mention of it in your campaign materials?
-Why do New York authorities say they can find no record of you being licensed as an attorney in their state?
There's a lot more about Ross in the public record, and I'll get to it in a moment. But first, I should probably explain how I came to do the research.
I've never met, spoken with or worked for any of the other candidates in this race – or their advisors and supporters. I voted for Barrios every time he ran, and I still live in the district, but I haven't figured out yet whom I'm going to vote for this time around.
A few years ago, Ross hired me to provide some professional services in a non-political matter. After the job was done, he ignored my invoices, which totaled a little under $2,500, for more than five months. Finally — after I called and wrote to tell him I was thinking of suing — he sent me a brief note saying he'd only pay $200.
I've never had a client respond that way, before or since, and I've been in my current business for more than 10 years.
A couple of weeks ago, I realized that he was the same Jeff Ross who was now running in my district and describing himself as the progressive candidate with “the willingness and the know-how to take on any foe in order to protect the rights of a fellow human being.” I decided that I should spend a little time doing some basic courthouse and public records checks.
What I found so far (and there are lots of places I have not looked yet if anyone else wants to go further), has left me conflicted. I've asked an attorney to contact Ross and see if he will finally pay me for my work. But I also feel I have an obligation as a citizen to share what I know with my fellow voters, even though it may harden Ross against paying.
Before I moved to Massachusetts and switched careers, I spent more than 15 years as a statehouse reporter in Arizona and New York, covering hundreds of state lawmakers and dozens of scandals. I think I have a reasonably good perspective on what a candidate's public record indicates and whether he or she is the kind of person I want representing me.
Here is what I found in public records and what I believe they signify.
THE BOSTON PROPERTY
-Ross' then wife, Cynthia Tsai, quit-claimed a Boston house to Ross for $1 in 1999. The city tax collector obtained a lien for unpaid property taxes in November of 2000 and moved to foreclose in December 2001. After another two years had elapsed, the tax collector moved to dismiss the petition, an action that normally means the owner has made up any deficiencies.
–In 2002, Ross had the building's classification changed from “Apartment Building” to “Residential – One Family” although city building inspector files and filings by disgruntled tenants indicate he continued to rent out apartments, which are subject to a different potential tax rate.
–In January 2004, Ross filed a declaration of homestead on the property, declaring it to be his “principal residence.” The declaration is still unamended on the Suffolk Registry of Deeds website, although Ross states in his campaign filings that he is a resident of Cambridge.
ROSS SFI AND CAMPAIGN DOCUMENTS
–According to his Statement of Financial Interest and campaign filings, Ross lives in Cambridge but owns two properties elsewhere:
(1) the Boston “single-family” one, which is assessed at $1,141,800 and is subject to a “private loan” of “$480,000 (approx.) which he is paying off over 30 years at 6.5 percent and
(2) the Ft. Lauderdale condo, which is assessed at “$350,000 (appr)” and is subject to a “private mortgage” of “$273,000 (approx.)” which he is paying off over 30 years at 5 percent, although it appears that he made no payments for the first year or so.
Both loans appear on the SFI to have been taken out in 2005 as 30 year mortgages, although the balance he lists as of Dec. 31, 2006 is identical to the original amount borrowed. Perhaps that means he has only paid interest so far.
There's nothing I see in the SFI's instruction that lets one avoid disclosure by saying a loan is private. Indeed, I think the purpose of an SFI is to tell the voter what divided loyalties an office-seeker might have. Is the creditor a close relative or a lobbyist for Big Tobacco – there is no way for voters to tell if candidates can just say “private.”
Well, actually, we probably can figure it out by checking for recorded mortgages (unless the lender did not record it). It looks like the Florida loan was initially from the sellers in April 2005, although it was for 5.5 percent, not the 5 percent Ross swore to in his SFI.
[NOTE: it has since been replaced by a $351,000 (100 percent of assessed value) loan from Countrywide Home Loans last month. Countrywide might have wanted to look a little harder before granting the loan: 20 days later, the condo association filed a $12,901.58 lien against the property for past due maintenance et al. through July 23. The lien does not specify when the charges were incurred, but the SFI requires candidates to say if they had any debts or liabilities above $1,000 as of December 31, 2006, and Ross has checked off “not applicable” while leaving the rest of the item blank. It also might be interesting to ask Ross if he ever certified as part of his Countrywide loan application this year that he was up to date on his condo fees. (The condo association also slapped a lien on him in 2005, but that was for a much smaller amount and has since been paid off and released.)]
The Boston loan, which was actually for more than $486,000 appears to be from Summit Mortgage, so I'm not&nb
sp; sure how that would be a “private loan” unless there's another one he isn't telling us about. After all, the house was quit-claimed to him by his then-wife in 1999 for $1, so there could be a lot of available equity. (But maybe not: it looks like the wife took out a $448,700 mortgage on it herself in 2000, after she had quit-claimed it to Ross. As far as I can tell, that's still in effect, although why a lender would issue a loan on property that the borrower no longer owns is beyond me.)
In his SFI Ross also says that he owned no securities or investments above $1,000 in 2006 and that his sole business was the Ross & Associates law firm, which grossed “$60 to $100” a year [presumably $60,000 to $100,000.]. In addition, he says that he was not an officer, director, employee etc. of any other profit or non-profit business during the year.
Okay: where to begin? First of all, the MA Secretary of State's Office shows him as an officer of several other businesses, including at least one that filed in 2006. Also, his own law firm website, in its bio section, describes him as a director of one entity from “2003 -present” and another from “2004 – present”.
Secondly, Ross says his firm grosses $60,000 to $100,000. Even if we assume the associate attorney who works in his office now was not there in 2006 (I can't be sure), the gross has to cover office rent, utilities, equipment, supplies, etc. plus Ross' income tax, plus the monthly payments on $750,000 in mortgages, plus property taxes (the Boston assessment alone is going to be almost $11,000 this year), Florida condo fees, and basic stuff we all need like food, water, clothes and electricity.
Assuming the SFI's interest percentages are correct, the $750,000 mortgage loans alone run more than $48,000 a year. And don't forget that Ross borrowed an additional $70,000 or so this year when he refinancing the Florida loan. We don't know the percentage, but even at a very conservative 5 percent, that would be another $5,500 a year on top of the $48,000.
And that's not his only new expense. The campaign finance statement he filed this week shows that Ross has cash on hand of almost $4,629 against outstanding campaign debts of more than $13,847, leaving him more than $9,000 in the red. Twenty-five people have contributed a little under $9,000 to his campaign so far; he has kicked in the remaining amount, or more than $51,000 to date.
I may be missing something, but I worry that if he is elected, Ross could be very vulnerable to a lobbyist or moneyed special interest. If ever there was a guy who I believe should be asked to show the voters his tax returns for the last five years, Ross is it.
You'll see more on his financial reporting skills a little later, when I get to the section on the lawsuits involving his tenants and clients.
But before I leave the campaign-related paperwork section of this post, let me touch on his 1998 campaign, where he failed to file his 1999 year-end report until after the Attorney General's office sued him, one year later. The elections agency fined him the standard $2,500, but he appealed saying that he had been unable to reach his treasurer when he first got notice of the deadline and “Shortly thereafter, my wife decided to file for a divorce” and his parents discovered they both had cancer. Based on his appeal, the agency waived the fine.
I don't know about Ross' parents, and that certainly shouldn't happen to anyone, but the claim that his wife DECIDED to divorce him in late 1999/early 2000 seems strange: according to divorce court filings and Registry of Deed data, she last lived with him in May 1998 (18 months before the filing date); quit-claimed the house to him in June 1999 (six months before the filing date) and actually did not file a divorce petition until August 2005 (four and a half years after the filing date).
ROSS AS A LANDLORD
OK, let's talk about how he treated some of his tenants while he was telling the tax assessor it was a single-family residence.
Two of them (David Frias and Justin Lavoie) sued him in Boston Housing Court, saying he “has refused to return security deposits 30 days after move-out. They also complained that he had not kept the money in interest-bearing accounts or “pay interest on them throughout the 16-month lease as required by MA law.” He settled the case by paying them in full, but I don't understand why he couldn't he have paid them when they first asked him instead of making them go to court. I also wonder what this says about his campaign promises to help tenants.
A third tenant, Moria Flynn, threatened a rent strike after Ross allegedly ignored her complaints that her apartment lacked adequate electricity, heat and hot water. She also asked, through an attorney, for an accounting of her security deposit (Ross eventually sent her a check as required) and complained to city building inspectors. The inspectors cited Ross for numerous violations, including water dripping onto an el onto an electrical box, overloads, and inadequate electrical service. They also said he had improperly charged his tenant for utilities when the apartment was not metered. Ross, meanwhile, sued to evict her, claiming “you are on the premises illegally to conduct business and have a dog.” He also demanded a rent increase, from $1,375 to $1,625.
Flynn counter-sued, saying that Ross and/or his lawyer “engaged in various actions to intimidate and harass” her and her lawyer “including multiple unauthorized entries into the defendant's apartment.” In the end, Ross settled the case by paying her and her attorneys more than $10,000 in cash, rebates and refunds.
ROSS AS AN IMMIGRATION LAWYER
Some of Ross's immigration clients have complaints of their own, which surfaced after he sued them:
–Consuelo Aguledo hired Ross to help her sons with immigration matters. Under a signed agreement that can be found in the files at Boston Municipal Court, she gave him a $1,500 retainer to cover an initial 9 hours and agreed to pay $225 an hour for any additional work
In turn, he promised to keep “accurate time records” keep her “informed of all developments as they occur” and “personally handle all negotiations of the matter, preparing all necessary papers and documents and arguing the case in court if necessary.”
After she terminated the engagement, Ross sued her for $6,862.50 and tried to attach her real estate.
Agueldo submitted copies of checks she had written to him, saying they proved that she had already paid a large chunk of the bill, long before he sued her. And she raised claims of her own: saying Ross never accounted for the first nine hours as required, was unprepared on at least two occasions, didn't keep her informed, overcharged her and. despite a written promise to “personally handle” negotiations instead sent an assistant who spoke little Spanish in his place, forcing Aguledo's 11-year-old son to serve as an impromptu translator. The final bill was “thousands more than Ms.Agudelo expected and was led to believe by Ross as his fee for services,” especially because one of her sons had dropped the case immediately, so Ross was only working on one case, not two. In addition, she said, Ross never gave her receipts for cash payments and engaged in “unlawful billing and unethical conduct by overcharging and demanding excessi
The case was dismissed by joint stipulation.
And then there is the case of Claudeci Souza, who came here on a tourist visa and began attending school before changing his immigration status.
Ross sued him over an unpaid invoice of $7,541.35, but Souza supplied copies of checks proving he had already paid $4,080 long before the invoice and suit.
In a counter-claim for breach of contract, negligence, wrongful action/abuse of process, fraud or 93A, Souza said that:
–While Ross “held himself out as being experienced and competent with respect to immigration law” he “falsely, recklessly, negligently or maliciously induced” Souza to hire him when he “knew or ought to have known that it would be impossible to achieve the results he promised” because Souza was clearly and irrevocably “out of status.”
–Ross initially promised to do the work for a $750 fixed fee but later demanded another $500 and later suggested a different legal approach for an additional flat fee of $1,500. (Souza also engaged Ross on a non-immigration matter and paid an additional $1,400.)
–“On or about January 8, 2004, Souza requested a status of his matters with Ross, where more than six months had elapsed, and he had not received a visa, nor been interviewed by the immigration authorities. Unsatisfied with Ross' evasive responses, Souza consulted with the Board of Bar Overseers as to his options, but declined their offer to intervene at that time, in the hope that Ross would, eventually, be able to obtain one or both of the visas.”
–At subsequent conferences, Ross either “falsely reassured” Souza that the cases were progressing or gave “improper advice” such as that Souza should “marry an American citizen” even though Souza was already married. Souza then called the BBO again and agreed to have them ask for an accounting and the return of any unearned fees.
–Ross had deposited the funds to a personal account or cashed them without depositing them to an IOLTA trust account.
Ross denied many of Souza's claims and raised a number of what are called “Affirmative Defenses.” I'm not a lawyer, but as I understand things, an affirmative defense means that EVEN if what the other side says is true, it doesn't matter because of this. For example, if you are accused of killing someone, your affirmative defense might be that you had to do it in self-defense. In other words, even if you DID shoot, it was justified.
Many of the affirmative defenses that Ross raised were standard things: Souza breached the contract himself, for example, or Souza didn't suffer any damages as a result of what happened. But there were some “affirmative defenses” that Souza's lawyer called “scandalous” and that the judge tossed out. The one that struck me was when Ross argued that even if Souza was right in claiming breach of contract, fraud etc., he shouldn't be allowed to pursue the claims because “Souza is a[n] illegal non resident alien.”
So, if I read this correctly, and I think I do, Jeff Ross is campaigning as an immigrant rights lawyer while arguing that an illegal alien loses the right to sue when he is defrauded.
Obviously, there is more than one side to any story, and maybe those he sues are lying in court. Maybe they just have mistaken recollections. But it doesn't look like Ross is winning a lot of these cases, and it does seem like there are some patterns that recur, including allegations of what is at best sloppy accounting: not returning security deposits, not depositing funds in segregated accounts and suing for more than what might be owed.
This is my first time posting to this group, and I apologize if I have violated any of its standards. I have tried to be civil and substantive at the same time. I'm sure that I have gone on for far too long, but I thought it important to lay the foundation for what I have said. The original documents on which I relied are in the courthouses, recorder's offices and websites for anyone to see, but I have also submitted copies to Dave, Charley and Bob so that they may review what I have written and post anything documentation that the feel is appropriate.
If I have said anything that is inaccurate, I will be very pleased to correct it.