MYRTLE BEACH — Mark Brunty, a Myrtle Beach lawyer who has been suspended from his law practice by the state Supreme Court, is accused in court documents of forging the signatures of prominent business leaders in a scheme to steal $700,000 from a pair of out-of-state investors.
Brunty allegedly forged the names of Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc. President Jim Apple and Alec Elmore, the vice president of First Federal Savings & Loan in Charleston, on documents used to persuade brothers Morris and Saul Kravecas to invest in phony business deals along the Grand Strand, according to a lawsuit filed in Horry County’s circuit court. The brothers’ investment, which was supposed to be kept in Brunty’s trust account, now is missing.
“It’s flat gone as far as we can tell,” said Amanda Bailey, a lawyer representing the Kravecas brothers.
Brunty also is missing. Bailey said she has not been able to locate him in order to serve him with a copy of the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, reports with Better Business Bureau offices here and in other states show consumers have filed numerous complaints about a mortgage loan modification program Brunty promoted through email and telephone solicitations he made to people facing foreclosures. According to the complaints, people who responded to the emails received generic loan modification information from Brunty’s law firm and a request for an advance payment of $3,000. The complaints state that Brunty cashed clients’ checks but did little work to help them save their homes.
Brunty could not be reached for comment Monday. A recording states that his telephone number is out of service and an answering machine at his law offices states the business is temporarily closed.
Mary Ann Peebles of Sacramento, Calif., is among the consumers who have filed complaints against Brunty. Peebles told The Sun News that someone from Brunty’s office called her offering assistance with a mortgage modification. Peebles, a 76-year-old widow, said she sent a $3,000 payment to Brunty’s office but never received any help.
“Like a fool I fell for it because I always thought attorneys were supposed to be honest,” Peebles said.
Brunty also is facing a legal malpractice lawsuit in which he is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a client’s wife. Horry County State Bank has filed a lawsuit accusing Brunty of defaulting on a $50,000 loan and another bank this month foreclosed on Brunty’s home in the Dunes Lake neighborhood. That bank obtained a $294,031 deficiency judgment against Brunty as part of its foreclosure proceedings.
Brunty – along with business partner Dennis Dellinger, who also is named as a defendant in the Kravecas lawsuit – were supposed to keep the investors’ money in a trust account but instead used the money for personal expenses, according to court documents. Morris and Saul Kravecas accuse Brunty and Dellinger of fraud, civil conspiracy and other charges. They are asking for unspecified actual and punitive damages.
Trey Deschamps – a Myrtle Beach lawyer representing Dellinger – said his client also was duped by Brunty. Dellinger trusted Brunty to handle legal aspects of the sales and keep the Kravecas brothers’ money in his law firm’s trust account.
“He [Dellinger] wouldn’t have had any access to that money,” Deschamps said. “You have an attorney, you’re supposed to be ale to trust him.”
According to the lawsuit, the Kravecas brothers, Brunty and Dellinger formed a partnership in which Brunty and Dellinger were to identify distressed properties and loans that the Kravecas brothers could purchase. In exchange, Brunty and Dellinger would receive 20 percent of the profits from any deals they brokered.
The first deal involved a $2.7 million loan by First Federal to a Myrtle Beach business that had defaulted on its payments. Brunty and Dellinger told the Kravecas brothers that they could purchase the loan from First Federal for $600,000 and then resell it within 30 days for a $150,000 profit. The Kravecas brothers wired $600,000 to Brunty’s law firm to be held in a trust account to purchase the loan. Brunty and Dellinger then sent a document titled “loan sale agreement” to the Kravecas brothers. That document purportedly had Elmore’s signature on it.
When the sale failed to close on time, the lawsuit claims Brunty and Dellinger sent a document titled “extension agreement” to the Kravecas brothers. That agreement purportedly had Elmore’s signature on it.
Elmore, in an affidavit included with court documents, said his signature on both documents is a forgery.
The second deal involved the purchase of two parcels in the Grande Dunes area of Myrtle Beach – one parcel with 27 ready-to-build home lots and another parcel of nearly 20 acres of undeveloped property behind the Lowe’s grocery store off 82nd Parkway. The Kravecas brothers wired a $100,000 deposit to Brunty’s law firm to be held in a trust account. Brunty and Dellinger then sent two letters allegedly confirming the property sales to the Kravecas brothers. Those letters purportedly had Apple’s signature on them.
The lawsuit claims that Apple’s signature was forged on both letters.
Bailey said the Kravecas brothers have invested in real estate deals in the past, but not in the Myrtle Beach area. Morris Kravecas is a doctor living in the Miami area while Saul Kravecas is a retired corporate executive living in New Jersey.
Bailey said the allegations in the lawsuit didn’t come to light until after the state Supreme Court suspended Brunty in November. The court’s order did not specify why Brunty was suspended, although the suspension falls under rule 17-b of the state’s Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement. Rule 17-b states that “upon receipt of sufficient evidence demonstrating that a lawyer poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public or to the administration of justice, the Supreme Court may suspend the lawyer or transfer the lawyer to incapacity inactive status.”
Lesley Coggiola with the state’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel said the department’s investigation of Brunty is ongoing and he will remain on suspension at least until it is completed. If the department finds sanctions are warranted, it can either enter into an agreement with Brunty or file charges against him for a hearing that would be held before the state Supreme Court. Coggiola declined to give details of the investigation or the complaint that sparked it.
Contact DAVID WREN at 626-0281